MCHS at 70: The Pioneer Building

The Mower County Historical Society is dedicated to the preservation and sharing of all things Mower County history.  In 2017, that includes our own history as MCHS is celebrating its 70th Anniversary!  To celebrate the anniversary, we will be looking at the historical society’s early years, the history of some of the buildings, and any other fun tidbits and stories we run across through the year.

Richard Rahilly, first president of the MCHS Board of Directors.

It is impossible to tell about the beginning of the Mower County Historical Society without looking at the Pioneer Building.  In 1947,  a group of 52 Mower County men and women were honored for 50 years or more of farming in the county.  A luncheon was given in their honor and they all had their pictures taken.   The group decided they wanted to form an organization to honor all of the people who contributed to Mower County, not just the farmers, and immediately started making plans.  Although this is the first record of anyone taking steps to create an official Historical Society, there was an interest in local history because some artifacts were displayed in a tent at the east end of the fairgrounds during the county fair beginning in 1945.

On September 30, 1947, the group held a meeting in the Crane Pavilion on the Mower County Fairgrounds.  Richard Rahilly, John Skinner, J.H. Aultfather, Guy Wold, Charles Fox, N.F. Banfield, and P.J. Holland are just some of the recognizable names listed in attendance.  They formed the Mower County Pioneer Association and Historical Society and began talking about the possibility of constructing a building.

Pioneer Building groundbreaking ceremony. Austin Daily Herald, April 28, 1949
Newspaper story about the time capsule. Austin Daily Herald, May 23, 1949.

At the October 8, 1947 meeting in the Austin High School auditorium, the group appointed a committee to draft by-laws, make plans for a building, and work out some of the membership details.  They also received permission from the county commissioners to construct a building on the country fairgrounds.  The new Historical Society raised $30,000 for the building and decided to dedicate it in honor of Mower County Civil War veterans.  The McIntyre Post #66 (Austin) of the GAR donated money to preserve the “relics and mementos of the Civil War.”  The Women’s Relief Corps #27 of Austin also gave money for the building.  In addition to these donations, the Historical Society sold $10 memberships.

The Pioneer Building.

The Pioneer Building was dedicated in August 1949 as part of the Minnesota Territorial Centennial Celebration (1949 marked 100 years since Minnesota became a territory).  It was the Historical Society’s first official building and was truly a community effort.  Several local and state officials attended the dedication ceremony, including Judge Nelson, Gov. Luther Youngdahl, former governors J.A.A. Burnquist and Hjalmer Petersen.  Father D.A. Cunningham gave the address.  At the dedication, a time capsule was placed “somewhere in the fireplace” on the north end of the building.  The exact location

The Pioneer Building dedication. Austin Daily Herald, August 10, 1949.

was recorded in the Recorder’s Office in the courthouse.  It is scheduled to be opened in 2049 for the expected “2nd Centennial Celebration.”  A dinner at Queen of Angels Hall following the ceremony where more speakers entertained the crowd.  Will Phillips spoke for the 50 year farmers, Mrs. J.H. Skinner spoke for the pioneers, and Roy T. Anderson represented the county war veterans.


As the Mower County Pioneer Association and Historical Society began its work, they added several buildings and displays to the Pioneer Building.  Over the next year, we’ll continue to explore the history of MCHS as well as Mower County history.  Be sure to follow along on the links below. Be sure to check out the “Events” tab on our web site and follow our Facebook page for information on upcoming 70th Anniversary celebration events.  Thanks for reading!


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