Herald JournalHerald Journal, June 6, 2005

Wright County planning big events for 150th anniversary

By John Holler
Wright County Correspondent

Earlier this year, Wright County and Heritage Center officials were posed with a daunting question – how do you wrap up 150 years into one day?

While likely an impossible task, that’s precisely what it planned for Saturday, June 25 when the Wright County Heritage Center plays host to Wright County Sesquicentennial Celebration Day.

“Wright County has changed so much, especially in recent years,” said Heritage Center Director Mo Galvin. “Hopefully, this celebration and other events we have planned for this year will get people thinking about how much the county has changed and, where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s a chance to celebrate our local history.”

Among the events scheduled include demonstrations of butter making, weaving, chair caning, blacksmithing, rope making, corn shelling and wool spinning. In addition, there will be music provided throughout the schedule (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) at Chatham Town Hall and dance performances at the Heritage Center that will include the ethnic culture of Sweden, Mexico, Czecholovakia, Ireland and Germany.

There will also be several arts and crafts guilds represented, exhibits on medical care and rural electricity history in the county and several vintage vehicles will be on display.

The celebration will be an opportunity for newer residents who don’t know the 150-year history of Wright County to get in touch with the new hometown roots, be an outlet for children to partake in a petting zoo and moonwalk bubble and for the old-timers to reminisce about the past.

“The people of my generation and before were the last storytellers of Wright County,” said Commissioner Dick Mattson, who has served on the sesquicentennial board. “We’re completely different generations. Historians need to keep the message going to the young people so this story doesn’t get lost.”

Several of the exhibits inside the Wright County Heritage Center trace the history of the county, from its name after former New York Senator and Governor Silas Wright to the first settlers and the formation of the county government. Even some who think they know a lot about the history of Wright County may be surprised what they learn.

“I have an aunt who turns 103 this summer,” Mattson said. “She tells the story about what is now the Wright County Fairgrounds in Howard Lake. During World War II, German POWs were brought here and a POW camp was set up where the fairgrounds is now. She made a point to have the children wave to the POWs when they went by that area to let them know that the people here were nice.”

The event has been intentionally designed to reach people of all ages in hopes that the histories of individual families can be tied into the history of the county – even for those families that have only recently made Wright County their home.

“We’re trying to have an event that will appeal to different generations and would like to see three or even four generations of a family enjoy the event together,” said Commissioner Pat Sawatzke, who serves on the sesquicentennial committee.

“It’s a chance for people who are interested in the history of Wright County to see how it has evolved. It’s a celebration that can get young and old alike to view and discuss the history of Wright County.”

The celebration is a joint effort of the county and the Wright County Historical Society. The event is free and open to the public and the only charge will be from food vendors who will be on site.

With a crowd of 1,000 to 2,000 anticipated at one time or another during the day, people will be asked to park at the public works building. Shuttle buses will be provided to transport people to and from the heritage center.

More information can be obtained by going to the newly developed historical society website at www.wrighthistory.org or by calling Galvin at (763) 682-7323 or toll-free 800-362-3667 and asking for extension 7273.

The website will be updated in the days leading up to the event with a full schedule of planned events – both for the sesquicentennial celebration day and other events planned through the remainder of the year.

Those involved are hoping for a big turnout and see the celebration as a way to heighten awareness as to the amount of history Wright County loses every year as it continues to evolve from a rural agricultural county into a growing suburban county.

“I’m hoping this celebration will help people realize what we’re losing every year,” Mattson said. “You can’t tell a farmer he can’t sell his land when a developer is offering him three times what its value as farmland is. You can’t re-grow land. Each year we’re losing a chapter in our history. It’s easy to tear a building of historical value down, but it isn’t as easy to replace that value. Hopefully, this event won’t just be fun for the family, it will get people thinking about how valuable our history is here in Wright County.”

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