Passersby along First Street in Princeton may have noticed an unusual banner hanging from the fence in front of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society’s museum at the former Great Northern train depot in Princeton. The banner reads: “Top Secret: Seven Secrets of Princeton.”
Anyone who is wondering just what kinds of secrets a historical society might be keeping, Barry Schreiber, the society’s president, has a few answers.
“Seven Secrets of Princeton” is the name of a new exhibit the historical society is hosting at the museum, at which attendees will be able to learn about seven interesting and perhaps previously unknown aspects of Princeton’s history.
“These are just facts about the Princeton area that we think people will find of interest,” Schreiber said.
There’s no unifying theme to the facts included in the exhibit. It features photographs, documents and items highlighting topics as diverse as industry, medicine, war and baseball, all at the local level.
“Seven Secrets of Princeton” makes use of a space toward the front of the depot the historical society recently cleared for the specific purpose of hosting such periodic displays of local history. The first major exhibit hosted was “Mysteries of Brickton” last year, which delved into the story of Brickton, a small community once located between Princeton and Milaca that was once a flourishing manufacturer of bricks.
When attendees walk into the exhibit space for “Seven Secrets of Princeton,” they will be greeted by seven numbered black placards arranged around the room, hiding the identities of the seven secrets, although some visible parts of the exhibit do give hints, like a two-person saw under a glass case and a blown-up page from an early 20th century edition of the Princeton Union featuring headlines about the town’s veterans.
The first “secret” is “Princeton’s Primal Forest,” which highlights the logging history of the area and offers a glimpse of the kind of wilderness that existed here before the area was widely settled.
The previously mentioned two-person saw is part of this display, and Schreiber notes the saws loggers used had to be so long because the trees they encountered could be 5 feet wide.
“We have photographs of trees that are 3 feet big being taken out of Long Siding,” Schreiber said. The photographs are from 1919, and Schreiber notes those trees were being taken out after logging had already been going on in the area for 50 years.
Another “secret” is that of major league baseball legend Ted Williams, big in the 1940s and ‘50s, who married a woman from Princeton and spent a great deal of time in the area.
Schreiber noted the “Mysteries of Brickton” exhibit brought around 500 visitors into the depot museum, many of them folks who didn’t frequent the museum previously. “Seven Secrets of Princeton” even makes use of some historical materials that have only come into the Mille Lacs County Historical Society’s possession recently, including the field medicine case of Charles “Doc” Wetter, a beloved local veterinarian who cared for many locals’ livestock and pets.
“We had no idea this still existed until it was brought in,” Schreiber said of the case, which was given to the historical society in June of last year.
During the next couple of months the society will be organizing for the launch of another exhibit called “Potatoes, Peat, and Prisoners of War,” which covers, in part, the period of time during which Princeton was a major player in the potato industry.
Schreiber said “Seven Secrets of Princeton” may be repeated in the future with other sets of Princeton facts, since the society easily came up with many more than needed for one exhibit.
If you’re curious about the rest of the seven secrets, you will have to go on down to the museum yourself.
The “Seven Secrets of Princeton” exhibit is open on Saturdays. Schreiber recommended calling ahead to schedule a tour, since the museum is run on a strictly volunteer basis. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and free for children under 10. Schreiber said the exhibit will probably be open until March or April. To schedule a visit, call Schreiber at 763-607-3195.