Dakota County’s history museum and home to the Historical Society, the Roche Memorial Museum will reopen with new exhibits this month after undergoing a $1.2 million renovation to make the space more accessible.
Several new exhibits, including upcoming exhibits specifically aimed at school children, offer visitors insight into a fresh batch of local history topics.
Dakota County owns the Rocher Building, built in 1978 in South St. Paul.
“A lot has changed since then,” said Matt Carter, executive director of the Dakota County Historical Society. “This was our first major renovation. It doesn’t look like it used to.”
Grand opening scheduled for January 21 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Overall improvements are seen. The museum features new elevators, a refurbished gift shop and front desk area, and state-of-the-art restrooms on both floors, with his second-floor facility reworked as his ADA-compliant family bathroom.
The second floor features a large archive area for staff and a renovated conference room with a new in-ceiling projector and speakers for presentations on topics such as family trees. Meeting rooms available for rent also include a kitchenette with ADA access.
The museum provides hearing aid packs for conference room visitors who are deaf.
There will also be new parking lots for disabled people, new parking lots for school buses, and some energy and safety-related improvements, county officials said.
The update was funded by the county’s capital budget, officials said.
Improvements are desperately needed, said Steve Cook, 2023 president-elect of the Dakota County Historical Society Board of Directors.
“We want to keep moving forward,” Cook said of the museum. “This kind of new baseline or platform is created that allows you to jump further.”
One idea that comes to mind, he said, is adding a second floor to the Great Hall, a large exhibition space with high ceilings. Today, the floor is decorated with a colorful Dakota County map.
see and touch new things
A long-standing feature of the museum has been the Old Town exhibit, which shows what the barbershop, general store, and clinic looked like at various points in history.
However, Carter said the area had narrow passageways that were inaccessible to everyone, including wheelchairs, so it was demolished.
The space will soon have four or five new exhibits, including an agricultural history, a women’s medical history, and an exhibit on black settlers in the county, he said. There are adapted versions of previous exhibits that focus on World War I or the women’s suffrage movement.
Jack Nord, curator of Mendota’s Sibley Historic Site, designed the agricultural exhibit. He was preparing to paint on Friday, among paper taped to a ladder and wall showing where the exhibition panels would go.
“I have more time than I thought,” he said. “As far as county museums go, this one is pretty big.”
In front of him was a rust-colored plow. Although now part of his exhibit, Inver was once used by the Plan family on their farm in his township Grove, he said.
Exhibits focus on how agriculture has changed while highlighting its continued importance to the county.The diversity of modern farmers, from the influence of Farm Aid to members of the Hmong American Farmers Association to share various information.
Some of the old town artifacts, such as cash registers and stained glass windows, are still on display in the Great Hall.
reaching out to the children
Carter said the museum is planning an exhibit for children for the first time. They include a prehistoric Dakota County exhibit that showcases giant squid fossils, and an area dedicated to the museum’s namesake, Fred Roche. Children can create their own ‘wonderbox’, a take-off of the diorama that Lawshe enjoyed creating.
There are also planned exhibits about the South St. Paul Stockyards and how electrification has changed the county. “To some extent, it’s all going to be hands-on,” Carter said.
Dakota County Commissioner Joe Atkins, who frequently includes historical tidbits in informational e-mails, is always amazed at people’s interest in local history.
He said history should be accessible to everyone.
“For history lovers like me, [Lawshe] A very cool place to visit.