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Historic Cook County Update on Sites

Cook County Historical Society

Grand Marais, MN, April 9, 2024 — Just ahead of turning 100 years old in 2025, Cook County Historical Society has many projects in the works.

This year, the Cook County Historical Society (CCHS) is focusing its efforts on restoring the Chippewa City Church to help ensure its legacy for the next 100 years. CCHS is cur­rently working with MacDon­ald & Mack Architects on the final Historic Structure Report (HSR) that will help us to hon­or the building’s legacy while helping it evolve to remain vital for generations to come. We will be laying out priori­ties, project phasing, and cost estimates based on the HSR treatment recommendations, the existing conditions, and our goals.

Part of this restoration process includes taking preventative measures on the land surround­ing the Church. Recently, CCHS met with a representa­tive from the Minnesota De­partment of Natural Resources (DNR) Forestry Division and a member of the Grand Marais Fire Department (GMFD) who provided input on how we can be proactive in protecting the Church as well as restoring an ecological balance in the sur­rounding woods. A few things were marked as potential threats, including:

  • The proximity of some of the trees to the Church structure caused concerns about potential damage to the structure (through threat of wildfire and fall­ing trees).
  • Spruce bud­worm (and sub­sequent damage) identified in sur­rounding spruce trees.
  • A large collec­tion of balsam fir, which is one of the main host trees for spruce budworm larvae (and found to be more affected), has shaded out other native trees and plants.
  • A large collec­tion of vegetation in the understory of the surround­ing woods could be a potential fire danger.

It was recommended to thin the trees and vegetation, however, once work started, our crew of Wes and Paul Higgins found that there weren’t as many viable trees as initially thought. Unfortunately, this meant that much of the area had to be cleared, which is not the outcome we had hoped for. Fortunate­ly, moving forward, we can now work to identify native spe­cies to plant and cre­ate a more sustain­able ecosystem.

Over at the Bally Blacksmith Shops, Nordic Electric just finished bringing our electrical up to code in the metal fabrication shop. We had LED lights and two small heaters installed making for a much more pro­ductive workspace for our projects and repairs. A replace­ment for the heavy and worn overhead garage door which currently represents a significant safety hazard, is another un­dertaking. We will be working with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) on our plan to add ADA ramps to the blacksmith building. Last­ly, the repainting of exterior signage which was last done in the 1980s is currently being estimated.

The Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery is finishing up HVAC work and prepping to install a new lighting system to replace the current obsolete fixtures. Necessary window upgrades and an ADA door are being considered. This summer will bring a new sculpture creat­ed by artist Sam Gathje to the front yard and additional land­scaping projects will continue.

The History Museum is look­ing to remedy persistent water issues in the basement which has led to an ongoing shortage of storage space for the collec­tions. We have been cleaning out areas and reorganizing to accommodate more shelving wherever possible. An addi­tional SHPO project is in the review stage to add a small staircase onto the back deck to create easier access to the museum from the east. If ap­proved, this project will also help with hosting the Minne­sota Children’s Press Letteracy Deck project on our deck this summer.

Across the harbor in the Grand Marais Recreation Area our 1935 Nee-Gee fishing tug and replica 1930s Fish House await next steps. The Park Board’s master plan will help us de­termine how long these can stay in their present location. Also under consideration are their current conditions. The Nee-Gee boat has recently been through several assessments in consideration of future resto­ration efforts. Local experi­enced boat builders determined that almost every piece of the boat would need to be replaced, making it a rebuild instead of a restoration. For now, we plan to focus on preservation and taking the lines off the boat so that they are recorded. Wherever the boat will live for the next several decades, we want to expand the shelter to better protect it from the ele­ments, build a longer viewing deck with an ADA ramp, and add additional interpretation through signage. The Fish House will either need repairs to the rock cribs under the dock or be moved further back onto land to avoid further issues.

Finally, we are working hard to find the best available option for improving the storage con­ditions for our collections. To date we have invested in land acquisition, initial designs for a storage facility, and civil engi­neering design planning. Preserving these Cook County historic sites and collections shows our community’s inter­est in honoring the area’s her­itage and valuing its sense of place and character. Stay tuned as we make progress at all of our sites!

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