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The idea for a community museum in Aberdeen dates back almost 70 years. In 1938, John Murphy, a Northern State College professor, and Marc Cleworth, a salesman, created the Northern South Dakota History Museum which was housed in the Central building on Northern's campus. The collection of this first museum grew rapidly through loans and donations until by 1941, it had amassed a collection of over 500 items.
The museum closed in 1941 when space was needed on campus to train pilots. The collection pieces were either returned to donors or placed in storage where they remained until 1970 when they were added to the collection of the new Dacotah Prairie Museum
The idea of a museum resurfaced in 1963 when a group of past presidents of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) met to consider possible community projects for the group. By 1964, the AAUW committee, along with representatives of other community groups, began looking for possible sites for the museum.
In April 1968, the Aberdeen Parks and Recreation Department offered the Anderson Recreation Center (now Senior Center) as a temporary home for the museum. The Museum's board of directors accepted the offer and, in 1969, opened the Dacotah Prairie Museum featuring small exhibits on L. Frank Baum, early life in Brown County and Native Americans. The search for a permanent site continued.Back to the top.
On March 11, 1970 , Fred Hatterscheidt, a local businessman, offered the building at 21 South Main to the County for use as a museum. The County Commissioners accepted the offer and by mid-summer renovations to the building began.
On October 25, 1970, the Dacotah Prairie Museum opened the doors of its new home to the public. To celebrate, an opening ceremony was held with Governor Frank Farrar as the featured speaker.
In 1970, the Museum's exhibits area included only portions of the first floor. As the decade progressed and the remaining tenants vacated the building, the Museum expanded its exhibit space to the entire first floor and half of the second. By 1980 all tenants had left the building, and the Dacotah Prairie Museum occupied the entire building. Staff and volunteers worked to ready new found spaces to accommodate staff, exhibits and collection storage.Back to the top.
During the 1980s and 1990s the Museum continued to define itself. A mission statement was adopted, and policies of operation were put into place. Staff numbers increased as did the Museum's tax-supported budget. Grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the South Dakota Arts Council, and the South Dakota Humanities Council supported many special projects. The Dacotah Prairie Museum Foundation was incorporated in 1985 to assist the Museum in raising outside funds to supplement the annual budget.
During these two decades, several professional assessments were conducted to assist the Museum improve its collection management methods, maintain the integrity of its historic building, and strengthen its overall operations.Back to the top.
Currently the Board of Directors concerns itself with long range planning for the Museum's future: its mission its funding and the restoration of its historic building. Working toward professional accreditation from the American Association of Museums is also a priority for the board.Back to the top.