Germans From Russia: Our Story

​The Story of the Germans from Russia Who Settled in Southeastern South Dakota & the Building Up of the community of Freeman

Ours is an unintentional museum. What today is known as Heritage Hall Museum & Archives began as a collection. A collection that grew in to this amazing South Dakota Museum.

The museum’s story begins in the 1920s, when Freeman College Professor Benjamin P. Waltner asked his students to bring interesting rocks and fossils to study. By 1930, the Freeman Junior College Catalog listed the collection as “a museum of geology and mineralogy.” And so it began.

People from the community brought in more rocks and fossils, as well as Native American artifacts and random items used by the pioneers who had settled the area just a generation or two earlier. By the 1940s, this eclectic collection outgrew the school halls and was moved to the original college building – today’s “Music Hall."

In the 1950s, the second floor of the Tieszen Industrial Arts Building became the new home for this unintentional museum. It is during these years that we find the first notes of accessions donated to the cause and lists of the artifacts on display: 2 plows, 2 copper kettles, 4 wooden rakes, 1 cabbage cutter, 4 mud bricks, 2 oxen yokes, 1 buffalo head, 1 street lamp, 1 hand grenade, 1 doctor’s chair, 1 surrey… and the list goes on.

By the 1970s, this fledgling museum had once again outgrown its confines and moved to a new building just south of the Freeman Academy campus. This new community-focused museum now had a name: Heritage Hall Museum. A 1998 addition almost doubled the floor space available. Here also, the growing archives collection was given its first formal home.

Over time, several historic buildings were added to the museum complex. Each historic building has a unique story that adds dimension and depth to understanding the early years of the greater Freeman community.

Fast forward to 2019. We now have four part-time paid staff and we greatly appreciate all the volunteers who come to help out. With a collection this large and diverse, there is always something new and interesting to work on! We rely solely on admission fees, memberships and donations in order to operate, so we are grateful for each and every person that walks through our door or sends us funds that help us continue our mission!

We have one of the area’s most unique and diverse collections of items that represent our heritage and the history of this community. You would be hard-pressed to find another museum in the region that has a collection to rival ours. We are both a tourist destination and a resource for students and scholars alike. 

We invite you to participate in the work that is being done at Heritage Hall Museum & Archives. Become a member, stop by and volunteer for a few hours, lend your expertise to develop a new display, consider a monetary gift that will help the work here continue. Or come visit us!  Most folks spend an hour and a half to two hours here, and there is always more to see. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Welcome to Heritage Hall Museum & Archives 


Summer Hours:
May through September
Monday - Friday 9 am-4 pm
Weekends 1-4 pm

Winter Hours:
October through April
Monday - Friday 12-4 pm
(Closed all weekends and holidays.)  

The Archivist is available Monday-Friday or by appointment.