Park in Annandale gives families a chance to experience pioneer living.
There’s excitement in the air when a school bus filled with young children arrives at Minnesota Pioneer Park in Annandale. When school tours are scheduled, Kitty Pallies and a number of dedicated park volunteers dress up in period costume and act as guides as school children get the opportunity to experience pioneer life for a few hours. Volunteer Carol Weir of Annandale has guided school tours for many years. “We look like pioneers,” she said. “The kids are so cute and they’ll ask, ‘Do you live here?’” Pallies, Pioneer Park’s office coordinator, said she gets emotional when that happens. She added, “You know you did a good job as a guide when a child asks you that.” The children in school groups are surprised at the size of the one-room schoolhouse and they’re curious about the school day of a century ago. What would it be like to sit in a classroom with brothers and sisters and neighbors of all different ages and grades? They can only imagine having chores like bringing in a bucket of drinking water from the well or hauling in wood for the stove. “In our pioneer village, there is a doctor’s office where many of Dr. Ridgway’s medical devices are on display,” Weir said. (Ridgway was a well-known country doctor in that area.) “ The kids are just fascinated with the skeleton hanging there…Yes, it’s an actual skeleton which the doctor used as a teaching tool. The kids are surprised to hear about our Titanic history too.” More on that, later. Minnesota Pioneer Park in Annandale is an open air historical museum which portrays pioneer life in that area from the 1800’s to the early 1900’s. Its mission is to encourage an appreciation of the pioneer heritage of Central Minnesota. The park opens Memorial Day weekend and closes in mid-October; however, there are year-round special events for people of all ages. Pioneer Park is located on Hwy 55, east of downtown Annandale. Nobel Shadduck was one of the early founders who dedicated himself to the park’s establishment. It all started when the Soo Line Railroad donated the original Annandale Depot, built in 1919, to the city. Some citizens, including Park Director Shadduck, wanted to build a historical park/museum around the depot. The village council agreed to lease 55 acres of land for the park, and in 1972, Pioneer Park was incorporated as a non-profit organization. A year later, an 1886 caboose was donated by the railroad and moved to the park site. Pioneer Park has one part-time staff person, Pallies. But there are dozens of enthusiastic volunteers, mostly retired, who do things like cleaning, general maintenance and repairs, as well as act as guides. Some volunteers are there nearly every day of the week working to display and teach the history and culture of early settlers to the area. There are three buildings at the park which were part of the original farmstead. A log cabin, built in the mid 1800’s with a 1902 addition connected to it, is original, as is the 1940’s barn and granary. The park’s pioneer village is a replica of a typical main street in the 1890’s. Walk down the boardwalk and see a blacksmith shop, which came from downtown Annandale, a 1917 dentist office, barbershop, town hall, post office, funeral parlor, millinery shop and a number of other buildings, all fully furnished with artifacts. The Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church built in 1886 was moved to the park in the early 1970’s. It was originally located near French Lake, south of Annandale. The church has ties to the Titanic tragedy because its pastor, Rev. William Lahtinen and his wife, Anna, both died when the ship sank in 1912. Weir explained that the couple, both in their 30’s, had been in Finland and were returning to their home in Minnesota when the ship sank. The church has a tin exterior and the interior walls and ceiling are of embossed tin. The church is the site of occasional weddings and even a Finnish-spoken service from time to time. The park holds an annual church service and brunch around the Fourth of July holiday each year. Gary Weir, park board member and volunteer, said about 100 people came to last year’s service. “It’s like an old-fashioned get together and sing along,” he said. The service is in English. The 1902 one-room schoolhouse was moved to Pioneer Park from Albion Township, south of Annandale, in 1974. The schoolhouse was actually in use until 1970 so it does have some modern features. Thousands of school children have toured the schoolhouse over the past 40 years. Pallies said that this year she sent out 356 invitations to area schools inviting them to tour the park. Years ago, when school budgets weren’t so tight, over 3,000 children came through the park each fall and spring. Pallies noted that the numbers are down now and that there are fewer field trips scheduled for school children. She estimates that between 1000-1300 students in school groups visited during the past year. There are plenty of opportunities for people of all ages to visit the park. It’s open every day of the week, except Monday, during the summer and early fall. People can take a self-guided tour or come to one of the many special events. There is a small admission fee. Studebaker Day, held in May, is a time to check out classic cars from area antique auto clubs. At the Fiddler’s Festival in August, fiddlers from all over the Midwest come to entertain crowds and compete for prizes. Some other special events include pancake breakfasts, the Country Church service, the 40th Anniversary/Nobel Shadduck Harvest Festival, Pioneer Christmas, and the Halloween Spooktacular. Carol Weir is organizing a new event to be held in July—the Area Artisan’s Expo, which will showcase the talent of area artists. She is encouraging people to Save The Date-July 28th. Pallies said that the Halloween event drew huge crowds last year– around 1,500 people. She expressed amazement at the 75 to 100 volunteers “who came out of the woodwork to make the event a success.” Volunteers decorated throughout the park, creating a haunted village and a spooky trail through the woods. They handed out candy and helped decorate cookies. A group of women who call themselves “The Pioneer Daughters Club”, meet regularly to make handmade items to sell at the Poke Bonnet Gift Shop, located in the former baggage room at the historical Depot. The shop looks like a country store from the early 1900’s. Some of the things the women have made include aprons, mob caps, cornhusk magnets and clothespin dolls. The gift shop also sells old-fashioned candy, turn-of-the- century toys and other gift items. Funds raised from special events, school tours, admissions and the gift shop go toward building maintenance and repairs. The park also sells memberships. Pioneer Park has a full kitchen and dining facilities so it can be rented for weddings, family reunions or other special celebrations. Board member and volunteer, Marilyn Gordon, of South Haven, is part of a committee that is working to establish a library in the upper level of the Big Woods Museum building at the park. “The Gordons have lived in the Annandale area since the Civil War,” she said, adding that she wants to leave a lasting memorial in her family’s name at the place where she has been involved for the past 40 years. Gordon and committee members plan to open a research library where members of the public can come and browse or do research year-round. They look through boxes of donated books, catalog each book, classify them by subject and place them on shelves. The project will be completed this year. For more information on Minnesota Pioneer Park and their event schedule, check out their website: www.pioneerpark.org