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Our History Programs bring Anoka County history to you!

Have a historian present a one-hour program to your group at your location. Choose one of our current programs, or we can develop a special program for your group.


Please inquire about availability and costs.

Mileage is charged for programs presented outside of Anoka County.

Additional fees apply for development of special programs.

Living History Programs

Civil War Christmas

A fashionable women of the 1860s would have worn her very best to celebrate the season and that is just what this living history presentation brings! A spirited talk from a woman presented in full 1860s fashion shares stories of how a tree might have been decorated in this area in the 1860s, what Christmas treats could have been prepared, the kinds of gifts exchanged and more. Guests hear the music of the season and get a taste of what a Christmas in Anoka County celebrated during the hard years of the American Civil War may have been. Suitable for all ages.

Fashion Trends

This program is presented by a fashionably dressed woman of 1860, her dress reflecting the era of early Minnesota statehood and one of the most recognizable fashion periods of American history. The audience will look at the history of clothing worn in the mid to late 19th century, following women’s fashions from the sewing machine to ready-made clothing that came from the mail order catalog. The influences on fashion from political, social, and etiquette issues provide a glimpse at how our foremothers dressed and why. The program also features period clothing and allows guests to see what a slat bonnet really was or how stiff corset boning felt. Though focused on women’s clothing—it changed the most—the influence of men on style is included and makes this program fun for everyone.

Soldiers’ Aid Society

The patriotic fervor that swept across the North when the first shots were aimed at Fort Sumter in 1861 did not just affect the men who enlisted in droves—women were caught up in the excitement of cause as well.  Restricted by convention and society, the ladies of the North soon created a way they could support the war effort in a new and highly organized system, the U.S. Sanitary Commission.  The root of this vast network of women was the Soldier’s Aid Societies and nearly every community had one.  This living history presentation shares stories of their work and the results of what these determined women accomplished.

Tastes and Sounds of the Civil War

This program provides a hand-on approach to a discussion of the Civil War. Artifacts, music, and a special taste of a soldier’s typical fare are shared with guests by an authentically costumed presenter. Stories of Minnesota troops and their misconceptions, adventures, and disappointments during the turbulent years of war help people of all ages gain a basic understanding of the Civil War from a Minnesota point of view.


History Programs

These programs are talks with accompanying PowerPoint slides to show images. Programs are 60 minutes long unless otherwise specified.

Elections in Anoka County

We have just come through the most electric and polarizing Presidential election in modern memory…or have we? Come investigate the controversial elections of Anoka County’s past including the tumultuous years during WWII, the Progressive Era, and even as far back as the 1800s. Who got caught in the middle and who came out the winner? You’ll find out during this presentation.

Farms to Flamingos: Suburbanization in Anoka County

Anoka County was largely a rural county with a population of just over 35,000 people in 1950.  By 1960, there were more than 85,000 people calling it home—a population increase of 181% in a single decade!  Almost overnight, the face of Anoka County changed from one of farms to sprawling Suburbia. How did this happen?  Two men, Vern Donnay and Orrin Thompson, were largely responsible for the boom of the 1950s and 60s, but they were not the first ones to see living in the clean air and healthy environment outside of the “big city” as potential for development. Learn about the first local ideas of suburbanization in Anoka County and how those ideas were replayed decades later to build the communities we know and live in today.  This program looks at the challenges (roads, schools, safety) and pleasures (country clubs, big yards) of building and living in Anoka County’s suburbs.

So, What Are You Gonna Do About It?

The Era of the Great Depression (1930-1940) brought many hardships to the people of the United States and across the world.  The decade saw a stock market crash bring people to complete ruin.  Millions of people were unemployed with almost no social safety nets to provide even the basic necessities of life.  The decade saw the coldest winters on record as well as some of the hottest and driest summers ever, leading to crop failures and the Dust Bowl. This program looks at how the Great Depression affected people in everyday middle America.  Stories and reports of what was done to make do and get by and how the Federal government responded to the crisis puts very human faces on the struggle to survive.  With a focus on Anoka County, Minnesota, these stories bring home the people and the programs that got Americans through the tough years of the Great Depression and points out the echoes of those programs that still remain today.

The Anoka State Hospital

The Anoka State Hospital opened its doors to patients over 100 years ago and became an integral part of the community. Learn why this local institution was built in Anoka, get details about the buildings and grounds, and hear behind the scenes stories of what life was like there for patients and staff. This program provides an overview of the sometimes-fraught history of this institution, as well as our shifting views of mental illness and what we can do to help those who suffer from it.

The Decentralization of Mental Health Care

The State Hospital of Anoka has a long and storied past, but what happened after it closed? Where did the patients go and how did this change affect their families? Using Oral History interviews conducted by the historical society, this program will discuss the decline of the institutional system following the 1950s and the rise of decentralized mental health care that followed. (30 minutes)

Love and Valentine’s Day in Anoka

Valentine’s Day.  It is the day of love, couples and all things romance. The skeptics may say that it is only a plot from the greeting card and candy companies….but Anoka County residents were celebrating and engaging with Valentine’s Day long before Hallmark Company even began.  Find out how Valentine’s Day has been celebrated here from the county’s founding up until the present. Valentines, newspaper advertisements, parties, and more tell the story.

Greetings From the Halloween Capital of the World

In September 2016, the Halloween Capital of the World served as the official First Day of Issue site to unveil four Jack-O’-Lantern Forever stamps, bringing together the worlds of Anoka Halloween and stamp collecting. In this program, you can learn more about the philatelic world, investigate the heritage of the Postal System in Anoka County, discover why the Old Post Office is listed on the National Register, and of course, learn about the history of Halloween events in this river town.

A Logger’s Life

Anoka was a logging town.  Situated on two rivers, it was a perfect place to power the saw mills needed to processes the logs floated down the waterways from logging camps.  With this program, you will learn about the different aspects of the logging industry in Minnesota and its connection to Anoka.  We will explore how a logging camp worked from first-hand accounts, learn what River Pigs were, and look at the sawmills and manufacturers on the banks of the Rum River.

In Memoriam

Death touches everyone’s life at some point. This program looks at how death has been treated over the last 200 years. From burial practices and mourning rituals, the way we remember those who have passed, how we show respect for the dead, and ways we commemorate their lives are discussed.

Quilt Facts, Folklore and FABRICation

What do we really know about the history and traditions of quilt making? So many stories have been handed down, but they don’t always hold up under a close look at history. Find out the real stories behind what we all thought we knew about the history of quilting. Actual quilt squares, small quilts, books and period patterns are available for visitors to see and compliment the many color photos of antique quilts in the program. The “warmth” and variety of this program is sure to delight even non-quilters.

Quilts and Their Stories

Quilts can do much more than warm your toes on a cold winter night! The can tell stories, paint pictures, and bring back memories. This program presents slides of some very special quilts, along with their stories of life in Anoka County.

Rum Runners and Temperance Tantrums

The 18th Amendment made it illegal to manufacture, sell, or transport intoxicating liquors and it took effect on January 17, 1920. That, however, did not eliminate the problem! The clash between those opposed to intoxicating beverages and those who wanted to imbibe was sometimes violent, sometimes comical or even just amazing. Why was such a law thought necessary, how was it enforced (or not) and the people it affected make for great stories. Bootleggers and rum runners thrived in Anoka County and Minnesota even before prohibition went nationwide in 1920. The Minnesota map was a patchwork of dry and wet counties, dating back to before statehood. This program looks at the battle over booze, illegal and otherwise, that divided communities.

Women of the Civil War

The War Between the States may have been fought by great armies of men, but women filled many vital roles in society and even in the military. Women such as Clara Barton and Dorothea Dix immediately come to mind, but what about Minnesota’s women? This program highlights the incredible stories of Minnesota women who protected their homes, supported their soldiers, served the army in many different ways, and kept the home fires burning throughout the four years of the Civil War. Some were dedicated enough to continue working for veterans even after the war. Their stories, long overlooked and forgotten, bring a new perspective to the history of America’s most bloody war.

History of [Your City]!

Want to know more about the cities in Anoka County? We do programs about the communities that make up our fascinating county! See the list below for programs that are currently available. If you don’t see your city, let us know and we can work on creating a new program!

-History of Lexington & Circle Pines
-History of Hilltop & Columbia Heights
-History of Blaine


Special Programs

Don’t see a program you like? We might be able to create one for you! If you have interest in a special history topic, contact us to develop a special program for your group.

Additional fees apply to special program development and are dependent on staff or volunteer availability.  Contact us for details.