Grinnell Historical Museum plans for reopening and expansion


Sofiia Zaruchenko

The Grinnell Historical Museum is expanding to 703 First Ave. to showcase larger and more diverse pieces.

Marcy Cassidy-Mapp, Staff Writer

Plans for the reopening and expansion of the Grinnell Historical Museum are underway, with a tentative reopening date of April 2023.

After the Grinnell Historical Museum, located at 1125 Broad St., indefinitely closed the doors at its main building due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum’s board purchased the building which formerly housed the Uhlmann furniture store, at 703 First Ave., in November 2022.

The museum’s board decided to convert the former storefront into an additional space to showcase the museum’s exhibits, particularly the larger ones, like the 1893 voting machine, and newer pieces, like former Grinnell resident Isabella Beaton’s piano.

The museum board’s decision to expand the museum out of its 18th-century Victorian home was made to improve its coverage of the town’s broader history. As the museum receives most of its exhibit items through donations, a large portion of its collection comes from predominantly upper-class Grinnell residents, and changing spaces presented an opportunity to engage the past with a different environment and perspective.

“Having a Victorian home, we weren’t able to tell a much richer story about the town and different types of people that lived here, different diverse communities, different time periods,” said Michael Guenther, president of the board and professor of history at the College.

With a current estimated cost of 1.5 million dollars to renovate the space and official contracts yet to be signed, the board has yet to finalize a definite opening day for the new museum space, Guenther said. The board hopes to reach its financial goal through fundraising. The museum board has partnered with the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation to receive financial management support.

It allows students to get to know this place… A fair number of students come here and don’t feel particularly welcomed or they just don’t know anything about this place and don’t develop much connections.

— Michael Guenther, president of the board and professor of history at the College.

“There’s a lot of fiscal, legal liability,” Guenther said. “It’s one thing to accept $200 donations for the museum; it’s another thing to get a $60,000 donation from a company.”

Guenther said he intends to temporarily house exhibits from Grinnell College’s Smithsonian affiliate program at the new location on behalf of the College. The museum’s board hopes to continue its academic relationship with the College by offering to host interns and allowing students to design exhibits.

The museum’s reduced activity partially resulted from lower foot traffic in the wake of COVID-19, but despite setbacks to attendance and staffing, Guenther said this was a productive time as staff and board members used the opportunity to organize the museum’s collection in anticipation of their new location.

“COVID shut us down in those ways, but we’ve been doing a lot of organizing and planning, and it’s been more productive than some years,” Guenther said. “It’s this mixed bag, and I think, ultimately, we’ll know more of what I want to think of this period [of the museum’s history] depending on how successful the new museum is.”