by Bob Grawey
A year ago the Otsego Heritage Preservation Commission (OHPC) was nearly disbanded by the city council due to inactivity and a seemingly general lack of interest beyond restoring the Peavy House in Otsego.
That has all changed.
Talk of the controversial Peavy House, which city council members say is cost prohibitive, has been pushed off-center by OHPC members.
New people have joined the OHPC and fresh projects have surfaced that are not only getting the attention of Otsego City Council members, but the renewed push for preserving Otsego’s overall heritage is getting action as well.
In July, 2010, council members stopped talking of de-commissioning the OHPC, and gave the group a new home; office space in the city’s public works building.
Since then, projects have been brought forward with newfound vigor. Here is what the OHPC plans in 2011:
One of the first things it wants to focus on is to rebuild the foundation of the OHPC.
The commission obtained a $1,945 grant from the Minnesota Legislature’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to take part in the StEPs program offered by the American Association for State and Local History.
StEPs is a self-assessment program that looks at specific areas that build a solid foundation for heritage groups like the OHPC.
Steps include and cover:
• Mission, vision and governance.
• Stewardship of collections.
• Stewardship of historic structures and landscapes.
“It’s a way of revamping and learning strategic planning,” Toni Seroshek, one of the OHPC members explains. She also wrote the group’s grant application. “As a commission, we are going to look at who we are and what we want to do. What is our purpose and how do we see ourselves down the road?”
A project recently completed is a driving tour of historical places of interest in Otsego. It includes a map with 14 points of interest along with photos.
Other sites have since been uncovered and may be included in a revised map or as a separate driving tour map.
A historical river canoe tour could also be in the offing as well, Seroshek says, as there are remnants of old mills and crossing points along the Mississippi River.
Another project the OHPC plans is to digitalize old photos and old Otsego plat records.
Though no one yet knows how old this plat record is, the data is recorded on cloth and preserved by the OHPC.
Seroshek says this information is a vital link for those interested in genealogical records, not only from local citizens, but from people in places like Maine and New York where many Otsego pioneers came from.
These records have been digitalized along with records of the Justice of the Peace dockets from 1884 – 1916.
“That is very fascinating reading,” Seroshek says. “These cases of someone stealing a bucket and a piece of rope tell us about who we are and where we came from, Back then, how hard was it to afford a bucket and some rope? Those things were valuable.”
Seroshek adds that even when Otsego was a fledgling town, it had a process in place to govern through law and order.
“It’s pretty cool to see that in 1884, the community followed a due process,” she says, “using arrest warrants, sending the constable out, arresting the person and gathering evidence connected with the crime; all to make the community a law abiding place to live in.”
Yet another area of historical documentation genealogists seek is cemetery records.
OHPC members would like the Otsego Cemetery records digitally preserved so people can have better access to them.
Many times, Seroshek explains, genealogy groups will even adopt a local cemetery and make it their project to detail all a cemetery’s records and to fill in any missing data gaps for families who may want to trace their ancestry.
The OHPC has other projects in mind, too.
To find out more about the Otsego Heritage Preservation Commission, call 763-295-5426 or city hall at 763-441-4414.
Otsego residents are always encouraged to become involved with the OHPC, Seroshek says. The commission’s next meeting is Saturday, Feb. 19 at Otsego City Hall from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Meetings are otherwise normally held at city hall every second Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m.