With passion for geography and history, a love for his community and a work ethic that never quit, the late Otto Diedrich (O.D.) Sell was more than just a resident of Mayer; he was a pioneer. As a community volunteer, Sell often came across old historical items and tools that were beginning to dwindle away. He started collecting and soon began to envision a museum to store everything he found. In April 1940, Sell realized his dream and founded the Carver County Historical Society.
The nonprofit organization housed and restored many artifacts and items that were breaking apart, or becoming rusted or obsolete. “The society became incorporated in 1940, and we kept many items in a store [near] Watertown, then city hall, and now the items have moved to our current building,” says Wendy Petersen Biorn, executive director of the society.
Sell’s mission was to get the current location of the society built to house more items, but he wasn’t able to see the finished result. The building was started in 1960, but he died in February of that year; the building opened in August and still serves as a museum and library.
In the museum, you can find everything from a veterans gallery to an exhibit called Choosing Carver County, which shows the history of why people settled here and for what purpose. Items you might see include rifles used in the Civil War, an old pedaled lathe machine and a butter churn. With items like these entering the facility, the society knew it would need more room. “In 1996, we added on to this building and acquired the building next to it,” Biorn says. “The second building was to mainly be a collection site for the museum, and the idea was that we would eventually take it down and expand elsewhere.”
With the new additions, the library portion of the society started to see an increase in products. Everything from plat maps and newspapers to county marriage records and census information can be found there. And recently, much of that information became available on the Carver County Historical Society’s new website, which launched in mid-December.
The new website offers newspaper indexing, plat maps and more than 15,000 photos that have been scanned into the system. Members of the society can access all of the information online. Through the website, members can also buy books, renew a membership and find educational programming for students.
The society also offers volunteer opportunities. “Many retired persons come in and help us with newspaper indexing, painting the walls for exhibits, and even sit down at the fair for two hours,” Biorn says.
Internships are also available at the society. Some of the work the interns did in the past couple years was to research the programs that are offered at the society, and then write about what they discovered.
No matter who you are there is always something to do or participate in at the society and the best part is, “We’re free,” Biorn says. “All of our school programs are free to all nonprofits in the county and we even have our volunteer coordinator travel to schools to talk about our different programs. It’s a great place to be in.”
Werner Studios Photography Exhibit
One of the many collections of interest in the Carver County Historical Society’s vault includes the old cameras, lighting and props from Werner Studios in Chaska. The photography studio operated for several decades, through the mid 1970s, and the exhibit includes a spot to take pictures using Werner backdrops and props. Bring your own camera and recreate an old family photo. The exhibit is on display now through the end of the year. A photo display accompanying the exhibit will rotate bimonthly.