By Coco Mault

Just south of downtown Minneapolis, past the Stevens Square neighborhood is the Washburn-Fair Oaks Mansion district. There is a central neighborhood park full of large mature trees, and the surrounding neighborhood is home to quiet, stately houses. It’s clear this is one of the older neighborhoods in the city despite the fact that many of the more impressive mansions from the neighborhood’s heyday — the 1850s to 1880s — no longer exist.

Relatively newer structures still exist, however, including the George Christian House which was completed in 1919. It’s named after the businessman who had the house built after having made his fortune perfecting a new process of milling wheat. This gray, castle-like structure has avoided restructuring to accommodate multiple tenants, unlike many of the older houses in this neighborhood, or being razed altogether, thanks to The Hennepin County Historical Society. In 1957, the historical society purchased the George Christian House, which is now home to the Hennepin History Museum.

This house is quite large for a single family home, but as a museum it’s a not an overwhelming all-day affair for visitors. In fact, due to the nature of the exhibitions that are typically on display here, visitors are bound to a glimpse into smaller — but still very interesting — details of Minnesota history that the bigger museums may end up overlooking.

The Hennepin History Museum always has a few small exhibits on display throughout the first and second floors of the house. One of its past exhibits was Catgut Is Not Our Friend, an examination of medical implements and images from the permanent collections. This is a fitting exhibit, considering Minnesota was the first state to require a license to practice medicine. It was a fascinating exhibit, full of medical bags and pointy, cringe-worthy instruments. Visitors also got a glimpse into an old curio cabinet of early medicinal drugs, and, thanks to the museum’s rare photographs, a look into old operating theaters, too.

hennhistmuseum5 Museum Spotlight: Hennepin History Museum

(credit: Coco Mault)

“Curiosities and Remnants I” is an ongoing exhibit at The Hennepin History Museum, and it features some objects that may have guests doing double takes. There is a case of tools, some of which have faces carved into them. There is even a collection of old doorknobs from various institutions in the cities, including hospitals and courthouses. There is an especially notable display in this exhibit, and it’s sort of a miracle it was never thrown out years prior to the museum knowing about it. It’s a rare collection, indeed: a podiatrist’s collection of foot problems. Really. This display includes actual clipped ingrown nails, plantar warts, and other various bits.

“The Century of the Child” is a permanent exhibit at the museum, and takes a look at a time when children’s faces weren’t constantly masked by portable video game devices. Visitors will take a look at other toys, such as rolling hoops and hula hoops, as well as other aspects of what it was like to grow up in Hennepin County, including education, and how children dressed and worked.

Every year the museum celebrates Minnesota’s Aquatennial history — 72 years and going strong — with a special exhibition of memorabilia including coronation items, ambassador uniforms, and one of a kind scrap books. Past royalty have been known to make appearances occasionally, too.

There is always something to look forward to at Hennepin History Museum, and this October will bring “Curiosities and Remnants II.” And after that Podiatrist’s kit, let’s just say the bar is set pretty high.

According to the Hennepin History Museum’s website, this installment will include artifacts and oddities from private collections as well as other museum collections, including the original Angel Gabriel Weathervane and the sterling silver West Hotel presentation vase created by Tiffany and Company.

Hennepin History Museum
2303 Third Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55404
(612) 870-1329
Gallery Hours: Sundays, 1–5 p.m.; Mondays, Closed; Tuesdays, 10 a.m.–2 p.m.; Wednesdays, 1 p.m.–5 p.m.; Thursdays 1 p.m.–8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 1 p.m.–5 p.m.
Adults $5; Seniors and Students Under 18 $1; Members Free
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