Ours is an unintentional museum. What we now know as Heritage Hall Museum & Archives began as a simple collection. A collection that grew.
The museum story begins back in the 1910s. Freeman was still a young town of about 700-800, boasting “fair connections" via the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, and “three nice churches, Lutheran, Mennonite, and Reformed, offering worship in both the English and German language.”
A quarter mile south of Freeman stood a lone white school building, home of Freeman College. Here about 100 students attended preparatory or secondary classes, with additional coursework offered for those interested in ministry, business, or in becoming country school teachers.
According to the 1912 Freeman College catalog, a “friend of the college” began a “Museum of Geology and Minerology” at the school in the winter of 1911-12. Described as “a helpful collection of specimens,” this small assortment was the genesis of the extensive and varied collection that is found here today.
In 1926, a new school building alleviated crowded conditions and allowed growth for this young “museum” of rocks and minerals. Benjamin P Waltner, instructor of agriculture and science, invited additional donations of interesting rocks and fossils for students to study. Community members responded, bringing in more rocks and fossils, as well as Native American artifacts and various items used by pioneers who had settled the area just a generation earlier.
Over the decades that followed, the collection moved to various places on campus as it continued to grow. In the late 1950s, we find the first notes of accessions and list of 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.
In 1975, this unintentional museum was finally given a home of its own just south of the Freeman Junior College & Academy campus. 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. The Diamond Valley Country School served students from 1896-1969. The Johannesthal Reformed Church held services from 1902-1967. The Bethel Mennonite Church was in use from 1920-1992. The Ludwig Deckert pioneer home was built in 1879 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Each historic building has a unique story that adds dimension and depth to understanding the early years of the greater Freeman community.
Today, Heritage Hall Museum & Archives operates as an independent organization, relying heavily on volunteers and funded solely by admission fees, memberships and the generous donations of supporters. This unintentional museum now boasts one of the region's largest and most diverse collections, with items that represent the heritage and history of the greater Freeman community but are familiar to many who grew up in the Great Plains region.
We would love to have you 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!
Heritage Hall Museum and Archives strives to preserve, educate and foster appreciation for the diverse natural and cultural history of the greater Freeman area, settled largely by Germans from Russia in the 1870s.
Heritage Hall Museum welcomes individuals and families, as well as school and tour groups. Large groups are encouraged to call ahead to arrange for guides as needed.
May through September
Monday - Friday 9 am-4 pm
Weekends 1-4 pm
October through April
Monday - Friday 12-4 pm
(Closed all weekends and holidays.)
The Archivist is available Monday-Friday or by appointment.
Copyright © Heritage Hall Museum & Archives | 605.929.7545 | firstname.lastname@example.org | PO Box 693, 800 S Cedar St, Freeman, SD 57029
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Heritage Hall Museum in Freeman, South Dakota tells the story of the German-from-Russia immigrants and others who settled in southeastern Dakota Territory in the 1870s. Our South Dakota museum has over 20,000 historical items on display!