By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor
“I’m really happy they said our little project was worthwhile,” stated Barb Scottston.
Scottston was referring to a $2,000 grant Jefferson Township was awarded by the Minnesota Historical Society for the preparation of a manuscript documenting the history of the Winnebago Valley.
The Jefferson Township clerk and fellow resident Terry Atherton applied for a Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant (“Legacy” Grant) for the township, located in extreme southeast Houston County.
Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants are made possible by the Minnesota Legislature from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund created with passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution in November 2008. The grants are awarded to support projects of enduring value for the cause of history and historic preservation across the state.
The eastern portion of the valley of the Winnebago Creek was a significant entry path for early settlers migrating inland from the Mississippi River.
While Jefferson Township is likely one of the smallest in Minnesota with a current population of 129 (according to the 2010 census), it had 484 residents enumerated on the 1880 census. That population helped support two of the southeastern most towns in Minnesota. Neither of these towns exist today.
A building listed on the National Register of Historic Places however, represents each: the Jefferson Grain Warehouse in Jefferson, and the Johnson Mill in Winnebago Valley. The geographic area between these two locations is the subject of the project, and it includes a small southeastern portion of Winnebago Township, as well as southern portions of Jefferson Township. The time period between the 1850s and the 1930s is represented.
The research has been collected by Atherton and Scottston, who are both working as volunteers. They have been busy on this project – independently and collaboratively – for several years. The grant funds will now be used to pay the ‘hard’ dollars costs of professional editing and manuscript preparation.
According to Atherton, “The project began because the Catholic Church had not maintained any records on the St. Patrick’s Jefferson Cemetery. It was well known locally that many more persons were buried in unmarked graves.
“Our quest to identify these folks quickly expanded to include oral histories and photographs from the area, as well as genealogical research using census, Civil War, plat map, township death certificate and obituary records,” Atherton continued. “We can now add 60 documented names to the 118 known graves in that cemetery.”
“We are thrilled that the Minnesota Historical Society has recognized the merit of our project here in our little corner of the state,” Scottston added. “Who knows, perhaps someday book copies could be printed. But for now we are very pleased to contribute our local history to the state’s collection.”
Scottston noted that they do plan to submit a grant application to have a book published in the near future.
It’s not too late to contribute stories or photographs of interest to the project. Contact Scottston at 507-542-4567 or firstname.lastname@example.org
“It is wonderful to see so many communities and local organizations benefiting from the Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants,” said Britta Bloomberg, deputy state historic preservation officer.
“Minnesotans should be proud of the unprecedented opportunities these grants provide for organizations to preserve and share our history and cultural heritage. The impact of projects supported by Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants will be felt throughout the state for many years to come.”
The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. Its essence is to help illuminate the past as a way to shed light on the future. The Society collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing.