Brown County Historical Society
2 N. Broadway St. (Corner of Center and Broadway), New Ulm, MN. 507-233-2616. http://browncountyhistorymnusa.org/
$3 adults, students free. Free parking on-street and behind museum. Stroller accessible–maybe–see below. Restrooms available.
I’ve known for a while that my four-year-old is atypical in many ways, but still I was surprised when his favored subject this summer became the Dakota Conflict of 1862. After visiting the Lower Sioux Agency and Fort Ridgely historic sites, he still had questions, and first and foremost in his mind was this: How much of New Ulm was burned in the battles?
On a hot and sunny summer day, we set off to New Ulm to find the answers. I remembered seeing historical plaques around the downtown area. Our first stop was at the New Ulm visitor center (corner of Center and Minnesota, http://www.newulm.com/), where a brochure helped us ensure that we saw all the markers. Then we walked around downtown and saw the plaques explaining the boundaries of the battle and some of the important buildings, such as the Erd building, the Kiesling House, and the Grand Hotel.
Armed with this information, we headed to the Historical Society Museum to see what else we could learn.
The museum is in the old New Ulm post office, and it’s a building I’ve driven past and admired many times, but had never gotten around to stopping at, partly because I wasn’t sure how kid-friendly it would be. My first obstacle met us even before the door–a forbidding set of beautiful stairs to the main entrance, stairs that a stroller would not easily ascend. I sent my six-year-old up to inquire whether there might be another door that we could use with the stroller, and he came back with the message of “no,” so I proceeded to carry my 25-lb toddler up the stairs in her stroller. (It’s a good thing I had the “lightweight” stroller that day.) Now, while it is possible that he misconstrued either the question or the answer, after carrying the stroller up the steps and struggling with the door, we were not offered an alternate way of leaving the building.
Here’s a hint, however: there is a handicapped entrance on the north (well, New-Ulm-north, which is actually pretty much northeast, but that’s another story) side of the building; it is visible from Broadway. I didn’t notice it until after our visit, but if I attempt to visit again with a stroller, I’m certainly going to try to beg my way into that entrance.
Once inside, we fared much better, however; an elevator moved us from floor to floor. There were several artifacts from the Dakota Conflict as well as some paintings that showed the amount of destruction to the town. In another exhibit area, information on general Brown County history was presented, and I found the exhibits on shoes and butter (two different displays, by the way) to be surprisingly interesting.
We succeeded in quenching most of the 4-year-old’s knowledge about the Dakota Conflict, although we did have to go to the library, and Memories of New Ulm, translated from the German, became his bedtime story for several summer evenings.
If you ever visit New Ulm, there are other fun things to do there with kids.
- If you’re not afraid of heights, and can handle walking spiral stairs, make the trek to the top of Hermann Monument (aka “Hermann the German”) for a spectacular view of New Ulm and the Minnesota River valley. And don’t worry, dreams of being chased by men with swords are only occasional. Besides, my children quickly reasoned that if they are ever chased by someone with a sword, they should run away quickly and close the door. End of problem.
- If your kids can sit through a short video and then a guided tour, and if you show up on the right day of the week, a tour of Schell’s Brewery can be interesting. Beer (regular and root) is provided at the end of the tour, in case you need some incentive. If you aren’t up for the tour, though, wander out to Schell’s anyway and visit the gardens. The kids love to look for deer in the fenced area and peacocks wandering about the place.
- The Glockenspiel is fun to visit if you catch it at the right time. Usually we’re a ways down the street so don’t get to see it in action, but the kids know it when the hear it. Unless they get it confused with one of the church’s chimes. Sometimes I’m not sure where the bells are coming from, but it’s hard not to know what time it is in New Ulm.
- German Park, or as we affectionately call it, “the castle park,” has only one piece of playground equipment, but it sparks more imagination and creativity than any other park I’ve seen. Is it a castle? Is it a jail? Is it a store? Is it a drawbridge? This is my kids’ favorite park, and convenient located just two blocks from the Glockenspiel.