Rice County’s Natural History
The large topographic map of Rice County at the entrance to the main exhibit gallery shows the geographic layout of the county before Hwy 35 was built. This map illuminates the numerous lakes in the western half of the county, the source of the Cannon River at Shields Lake, the confluence of the Straight River into the Cannon River at the site of Faribault, the diagonal course of the Cannon northeasterly through Dundas and Northfield on its flow to the Mississippi at Red Wing.
The Wahpekute have lived in Minnesota for thousands of years. They are one of seven tribal bands that make up the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota Nation. We acknowledge that the land that is now Rice County, MN, was their homeland and for many tribal members today, it is still their home. They also included the Milacs area in their seasonal movement until the late 1600s when all Dakota were driven south by the Ojibwe Indians. Their winter homes were teepees made from American Bison skins. During the summer the Wahpekute made their homes in elm bark lodges near the lakes and rivers. The land that is Rice County was opened up to European Settlement after the Treaty of Mendota was signed in 1851. This created great opportunities for those coming from other places, but it came at a great cost to the Dakota.
The first display cases hold a portion of our large collection of Native American artifacts which date from 10,000BC to 1600 AD – all of which were found in Rice County. Also included are three Mammoth bones which are over 10,000 and were all found in three different locations in Rice County.
Schimmel Piano Company
There are several pianos in the entry area of the museum, all of which were made by the Schimmel Piano Company of Faribault (1883-1920). Most remarkable is the “VertiGrand” piano. Only one of five remaining in the world, this piano has the sound and scale of a grand piano in an upright. Fred Schimmel was innovative and exacting in his work. He even invented several wood planing tools that were used to mill the wood for his pianos.
Most of the paintings in the entry area to the gallery were painted by Grace McKinstry, a Faribault artist. (1859-1936). Grace was well known in Minnesota, across the country, and internationally. She was described in 1907 as, “an artist whose growing fame is placing her in the front ranks of American painters.” Her works can be seen at the Minnesota Historical Society, Minnesota State Capital, and the Smithsonian among others. Of all the holding institutions, the Rice County Historical Society has the largest collection of her works totaling more than 40.
Bruce Smith was the winner of the Heismann trophy in 1941. Currently, he is the only Minnesotan to win this, the highest award for college football. Born and raised in Faribault, Bruce graduated from Faribault High School in 1938. He was playing for the University of Minnesota when he won his Heismann in 1941. The Heisman trophy on exhibition is an official Heisman trophy, acquired by RCHS from the New York Downtown Athletic Club. The plaque on the face of the trophy has been replicated with Bruce’s award details.
Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple
The center exhibit is dedicated to Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple. Whipple was encouraged to come to Faribault by Alexander Faribault and liked it so much, that he made it his home. He built the first Episcopal Cathedral in Minnesota as well as several other Episcopal churches around the state; including the Holy Innocents Church which is now located in the museum’s Village. Whipple also founded several schools in Faribault: Shattuck, St. Mary’s, St. James, and Seabury Divinity. Whipple was also a friend to the Dakota and Ojibwe people. They called him “Straight Tongue” because of his honest dealings with them. Many of the items on display are part of the collection that can be found at St. Mary’s School, the Sibley House Historic Site, the Minnesota Historical Society, and the Science Museum of Minnesota. Whipple lived from 1822 to 1901 and is buried in the Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior in Faribault.
Military History in Rice County
The items in this case date back to the Civil War and Spanish American War. Minnesota was the first state to volunteer troops to fight in the Civil War. Men from Rice County fought in many of Minnesota’s Regiments. Look through the list of names to find soldiers from Rice County.
Across from this case are artifacts from WWI and WWII soldiers and around the corner is our newest portion of this exhibit featuring artifacts and experiences of those who fought in Korea and Vietnam.
The Sellner Company
Herbert Sellner founded Sellner Manufacturing Company in Faribault in 1914. The Company’s first products were furniture, kitchen sets, and lamps. Herbert Sellner, an inventor at heart, created a water toboggan slide that he thought would be popular in Minnesota’s 10,00 lakes. He was right. It soon became the firm’s main product and forever changed the company’s focus to entertainment products. In 1926, Herbert Sellner produced his most famous amusement ride of all, the Tilt-A-Whirl. The tilt-a-whirl quickly became popular and over the past 75+ years, more than 850 rides have been made and sold worldwide.
The RCHS Main Street Exhibit comprises one wall of the museum and is a timeline of businesses found in many small towns of Southern Minnesota. It begins with an 1880s train station and concludes with a 1920s home. While this is not intended to represent any specific town, all of the objects are from Rice County.
The Fleckenstein family, which had been in the brewery business in Bavaria since 1577, came to America in 1850. Upon arrival in Minnesota, they began to build the family business here. Faribault was an ideal location because of its artesian water, ample grains, and the Straight River Bluffs, which offered a good location to make cool lagering rooms for the beer. The Fleckenstein Brewery began operation in Faribault in 1856 and would produce assorted beverages for the next 108 years. The exhibit features a wide range of photos and objects from the Upper and Lower Breweries.