Persistence pays off.
The History Center in Cedar Rapids is noting its 50th year this year, but its beginnings date to 1904.
That early interest in history led to the formation of the Linn County Historical Society. The organization hit pause during the two world wars and came back together as an organization in 1951.
But it wasn’t until May 22, 1969, that Laurence Van Note led the first formal meeting of the reconstituted Linn County Historical Society, now doing business as The History Center.
The month before, 39 people were at a meeting indicating they were interested in forming an organization dedicated to preserving Linn County’s history. The first formal meeting followed in May.
People like former state Sen. Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids were among the charter members. Ed Kuba was a longtime member as were other notable people in the community. Family memberships were $10 a year,
In 1974, the society won tax-exempt, nonprofit status.
Goals the same
The society’s goals and plans have been remarkably the same over the years — providing a repository for historical artifacts, a place for scholarly research, coordination of historical groups, membership opportunities and programs of interest.
Those goals, in one form or another, still are being pursued at The History Center.
Foremost in people’s minds was having a place for the repository of artifacts and items of historical interest. It is the collection of any museum that gives meaning and leads to engaging exhibits and programming.
The charter members understood that collecting and saving the history of Linn County was important.
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Many people knew that significant parts of history were slipping away — unknown and unkept for lack of home or knowledge — lost because no one knew the context or importance of the thing that was left behind.
To cite just one example, a fountain that was given to the city of Cedar Rapids in 1908 by the Daughters of the American Revolution was put into storage in 1911 and wasn’t found until the 1980s — in a garbage heap in Ellis Park. It was moved to the Linn County Historical Society on Eighth Avenue SE and was on display for several years. It now is again on display at The History Center’s new headquarters on Second Avenue SE.
Finding a home
The historical society’s long-term goal for many years was to find a physical space for the growing collections. Donated historical items were stored in the basement of the old YMCA on First Avenue NE in the 1980s.
Finally, in 1986, a building complex at First Street and Eighth Avenue SE was acquired and renovated to include some space for exhibits and, most importantly, a home for the growing collection.
By the time The History Center moved to 615 First Ave. SE in 1999, the collection had grown to more than 35,000 artifacts.
At present, the collection has grown to more than 60,000 artifacts.
As in museums all over the United States, only a small portion of a collection — 5 percent, on average — is ever on exhibit. Much of The History Center’s collection continues to be stored off-site.
Who we are
The collection holds the stories of who we are as a people and tells us why people chose Linn County as their home. From photographs, to clothing, to musical instruments and machines, each item tells a story.
Perhaps the biggest artifact and story of all is the home of The History Center itself — the old Douglas Mansion/Turner Mortuary at 800 Second Ave. SE.
The persistence of the founding members paid off. The History Center now has a remarkable artifact for its home and a perfect place to share the stories and history of Linn County.
• Linda Langston is a former Linn County supervisor and former director of The History Center. She worked in Washington, D.C., and continues to consult with counties around the United States on resilience. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The History Center Over the years
The Linn County Historical Society, now doing business as The History Center, has had several homes. The locations have been:
• 1984: Building at 101 Eighth Ave. SE
• 1999: Building at 615 First Ave. SE
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• 2018: Douglas Mansion, 800 Second Ave. SE
How to visit The History Center
• Where: 800 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
• Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
• Phone: (319) 362-1501
• Website: historycenter.org
• Admission: $7; $5 for students (with ID); free for members and for children 4 and younger; group rates available