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Historical group moves from courthouse to hall

Three times the space previously available to the organization in the courthouse is found in the Pierce County Historical Association's new headquarters at the Ellsworth Village Hall.

The group relocated from the courthouse's lower level to the former quarters of the probation and parole office in the hall's lower level last month.

"Ten months ago, they moved out," Audrey Gilbertson of the association said Thursday about probation and parole, which now operates from the back of the State Farm Insurance building at Main and Grant streets.

Despite the historical organization having only part of that operation's former area, there are three rooms instead of just one, Gilbertson said. The rooms have now been designated for main office, staff and storage purposes.

"Our new main office alone is the size of the entire one we had before," she said, crediting past Association President Reta Sanford for skillfully organizing the holdings to fit at their small courthouse site.

Last week, several members were still arranging books and other materials on shelves and in cabinets at the hall. Gilbertson said plans call for building a wall across a hallway between the association's area and the rest of the facilities, expected to eventually house another tenant, as well as close up a counter window once used by probation and parole.

"We don't need that light," she said, referring to the window opening and how historical documents are better preserved under less natural light.

A more immediate concern was the ability of association patrons to find the relocated headquarters inside the village hall building, she said. Signage was in progress, but meantime directions call for entering the hall's east side (back) lower level door off the parking lot, going all the way down a hallway straight ahead, turning right and right again through a door into the association's area. The area is at the west end of the building.

This headquarters is actually one of four physical presences the association has in the county, said Gilbertson of Diamond Bluff, who also chairs the Mississippi River Bluffs Chapter. The others are at a storage unit in Hager City, the River Bluffs History Center in Bay City and a nearby log cabin. Prior to situating at the courthouse in the early 1990s, the main outlet was at the UW-River Falls library archives.

With the additional space, the association is able to accept more donated items, she said. The group is seeking more members, too, and toward that end the board of directors is examining ways to make participation less of a time commitment, Vice President Donna O'Keefe said.

The 10-member board met Wednesday and began formulating a strategic plan for the next two-to-eight years, she said. They're seeking public input; for more information, phone 273-6611 and leave a message. Besides O'Keefe and Gilbertson, the board officers are: John Norquist, president, Pat Mory, secretary, Kathryn Deiss, corresponding secretary, and Harold Henn, treasurer, while the directors are: Eileen Gulbranson, Gene Olson, Ed Sjostrom, Sam Kittelson, Nick Schommer and Jerry Voje.

Plans are being made for an open house at the headquarters, with the date to be announced. Normal hours there are Mondays through Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m., though the hours occasionally change because the office is staffed by volunteers.

Gilbertson praised Al Huppert and Jerry Forss of the courthouse maintenance crew for helping with the recent move. There were plenty of shelves and file cabinets, plus a large locked cabinet to be transported. Two van loads of items went to Hager City, too.

"Without them, we'd never have gotten this far," she said, adding, "I think there may be some sore backs."