County resident O.D. Sell founded the Carver County Historical Society (CCHS) in 1940. The original task was to collect and preserve the history of Carver County and Minnesota. He had a large personal collection of objects relating to the county's history that he wanted to share with the public. This forms the core of the CCHS collection.
In the beginning, the CCHS had no permanent home. For the first few years, the collection was stored in attics and barns. Sell, a Mayer resident, was then allowed to use space in the city's school building. A few years later, in the mid-1940s, the CCHS moved to Waconia. The collection was again stored in different buildings. It was made up of mainly pioneer and American Indian objects, as the focus was on collecting historic objects at this time. The Society was not yet collecting contemporary pieces, though donations were beginning to be accepted.
Sell was the first president of the organization, serving through its first twenty years. He created a strong working relationship between the CCHS and the county government. Carver County has helped fund the Society for many years. In 1960, the CCHS and the county worked together to raise money to build a permanent home for the CCHS. That same year, the CCHS lost long-time director O.D. Sell. He died shortly before the new building opened. From Sell's death in 1960 through the mid-1980s, there was no professional staff. Volunteers ran the CCHS, performing all the jobs of the organization. This included putting together exhibits, allowing public visitation, and helping guests with research in the archives and collections.
Over time, the CCHS building grew too small for the growing number of school groups who came to visit. The collection was outgrowing its storage space as well. After years of planning and fund raising efforts, construction began on an addition in 1996. The newly renovated building opened on January 1, 1997. The new section included staff offices, a research library, a boardroom and three new gallery spaces. This freed up other space for an education classroom and the growing collection. The CCHS also owns a house to store the bigger collection pieces, and a historic log granary on the county fairgrounds.
The CCHS is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. Its mission is to collect, preserve and interpret the history of Carver County. The organization and its staff spend their time on keeping a working collection of county related artifacts and records of past events. Carver County history is taught to the public through exhibits and programming. The CCHS also helps support the exhibits and work of four affiliate organizations in the county. These are the Chaska Historical Society, the Chanhassen Historical Society, the Wilkommen Heritage and Preservation Society of Norwood Young America, and the Watertown Area Historical Society.
The goal of and vision for the CCHS is to be the leading organization for Carver County history and preservation. Highlights of their historic work include the library of the Deutscher Leseverein Bibliothek, the archives of Benton Township, the Andrew Peterson collection, archived, searchable copies of every county newspaper, and exhibits on the county's early settlers and military veterans. The CCHS has also moved the collection of over 13,000 photographs into better storage, and digitized the photographs for greater ease of access.
Carver County Historical Society. "2009–2019 Strategic Plan." Strategic Plan. Carver County Historical Society, 2009.
Carver County Historical Society. About Us.
"Carver County Museum Moved to Waconia." Carver County News, July 13, 1944.
"County Historical Society in Process of Moving Into New Building." Waconia Patriot, June 8, 1961.
"County Historical Society President Dies at 84." Norwood Times, March 10, 1960.
"Historical Society Building Contract is Awarded." Waconia Patriot, September 1, 1960.
The Carver County Historical Society, founded in 1940 to collect and preserve the history of Carver County, receives funding for a permanent home in 1960, allowing the Society to greatly expand its exhibit, research, and program offerings to the public.