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New Becker County history book set for 2021 release: Museum looking for photos, oral histories to include in 150-year retrospective

This 1892 image from the Becker County Museum's files shows Detroit Lakes — or the village of Detroit, as it was then known — as it appeared from atop the Hotel Minnesota, looking westward.

Though it doesn't have a title, or an official release date for it as of yet, the Becker County Museum has already begun searching for photos, as well as both oral and written stories from area residents, to include in a new 150th anniversary book on the history of Becker County.

"The county board has commissioned us to write a book that 'bridges the gap' between the original Becker County pioneer history book, which was written by Alvin H. Wilcox and published in 1907, with the present day," says Becky Mitchell, the museum's executive director.

As part of that project, she added, they will also be updating Wilcox's original book, "A Pioneer History of Becker County," to include more historic photos and correct any inaccurate or incomplete details that were included in the narrative.

"It will be a two-volume set," she said.

The updated Wilcox book, or first volume, will be published sometime in 2020, with the new history book, compiled and written by museum staff, to be released in 2021, which will coincide with the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the official organization of Becker County.

In order to "flesh out" the narrative of the new history book, the museum's staff is looking for a little help from the public.

"We need stories, and old photos, from every township," said Jenn Johnson, the museum's research librarian.

"We want to know about the businesses that are 50 years and older," Mitchell added. "We want stories about farm life, church life, school life, sports, activities, work and careers, and how they have changed through the years."

"I also have some questions about the impact of technology on daily life," Johnson said. "Not just computers and cell phones, but TV, radio, appliances, and so forth, and how they affected life in Becker County."

In addition, Johnson said, they would like to hear any stories local residents have about how national political movements like the fight for civil rights and women's suffrage, or protests against the Korean and Vietnam wars, might have affected local residents' lives — protest marches, sit-ins, or even less peaceful forms of civil unrest that have occurred locally through the years.

Written accounts may be submitted, Johnson said, but if nothing was ever put down on paper, that's not a problem.

"We want to record your stories," said Mitchell, noting that any oral histories they record as part of the information-gathering process for the new book will eventually become a part of the museum's digital library, as will any photos or written stories that are submitted.

However, because gathering the information and images for the new book is going to be a lengthy and time-consuming process, Mitchell said that the sooner people call and set up an appointment, or submit their photos, stories and artifacts, the better the likelihood that they will be included.

"This is a large project, and will take us many months to compile the information," Mitchell said, "so please don't wait."

"Please contact us as soon as possible, by calling anytime between 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday," said Mitchell, noting that the museum's phone number is 218-847-2938.

"Or they can email me at jenn@beckercountyhistory.org," Johnson added.

Even 'snowbirds' and former residents of the county who won't be immediately able to come into the museum and record their stories in person, or drop off their information and photos, can contact the museum now and set up an appointment at a time that works for them, Mitchell said.

The Becker County Museum is located at 714 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes. For more information, please call 218-847-2938 or visit the website at www.beckercountyhistory.org.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454