Tom Achartz appreciates a good story.
There are many of them to be unearthed among the vintage photographs, videos, news articles and artifacts in the Eden Prairie Historical Society Museum collection.
As the Historical Society volunteer curator, Achartz enjoys digging into Eden Prairie’s past for interesting yarns and sharing them on social media.
Achartz posts the stories on Eden Prairie Remembers, a Historical Society public group on Facebook.
This is where he combines his technological expertise with his love for history.
“I like bringing things to people they haven’t seen before,” he said.
He started Eden Prairie Remembers on May 1, 2020, but posts on the page have become more frequent since Achartz retired from his job as an Optum network specialist on Jan. 28.
Retirement, Achartz quipped, allows him to follow his curiosity down the rabbit hole of history.
“One of my efforts is to bring those files out to other people to see what’s in the collection,” he said. “Some of the stories wouldn’t get out there unless someone specifically came into the museum and asked questions.”
How he got involved
Achartz is not a native of Eden Prairie. He moved here about four years ago from Minnetonka.
“I always loved history,” said Achartz, who served as the Dakota County Historical Society president while living in Burnsville. “And, I knew it’s a great way to immediately get to know your community.”
So, three years ago, Achartz got involved with the Historical Society, one of its many members who serve as volunteer stewards of the city’s history. He worked to digitally upload materials from the museum’s collection to a collective access project called MN Collections for much of that time. People can browse historical artifacts on the site from community museums in Minnesota.
After retiring from Optum, Achartz offered to take on the curating role previously done by Ann Higgins. If you wander into the museum when it’s open, between 2-5 p.m. Mondays, Achartz is there to offer assistance.
“I was happy to retire,” he said. “So I asked myself, ‘What do I want to do in my spare time? And given my love of history, I thought this would be a good fit.”
Achartz said embracing technology such as social media, video streaming (the Historical Society recently bought a 4K video camera), and online archives can help make history more accessible.
Eden Prairie Remembers is gaining a solid following. The group has nearly 700 members.
Here are a few of the more recent items posted there:
- A newspaper article (date unknown) reported the discovery of an 1882 book titled “Register of Dog Licenses for the Town of Eden Prairie” in an old house. According to the book, there were 57 dogs in Eden Prairie in 1882. About half were shepherds, and most of them were named Rover, Watch or Shep.
- A photo of four young women labeled in the collection as “June 17, 1971, Prairie Queens” without any further elaboration. The vague description didn’t deter people in the comments from identifying the four: Cindy Anonsen, Peggy Johnson, Merri Lee Patterson, and Julie Anderson.
- One post asked for help in determining the location of a long-ago pickle factory in Eden Prairie. According to those who responded, the factory was near Eden Prairie and Scenic Heights roads but was not affiliated with Gedney, which had a plant in Chaska for many years. In the original post, Achartz noted that Gedney Tuttle (of the Gedney pickle family) used to live in Eden Prairie and had a room that had a dedicated pickle theme.
- A photo of the Windy Hill Grocery in the 1950s. The city’s first modern grocery store was located on Highway 5 near Prairie Lawn and Garden.
- A story from the March 28, 1946, edition of the Hennepin County Review is titled “Eden Prairie Cockfight Interrupted by Deputies.”
Achartz is proud that the posts have jogged memories or sparked discussions.
“One of the things I’m trying to tap into on Eden Prairie Remembers is an interactive component,” he said. “I want people to be interested when they look at the page, that it feels fresh and vital to them. I want them to say ‘I didn’t know that.'”
The future of history
Achartz’s efforts go beyond chronicling the pioneering families that helped build Eden Prairie. He said the Historical Society welcomes the narrative and donations from all of the city’s diverse communities and is eager to hear the stories of all its current and former residents.
“History is even today and tomorrow,” he said. “We want to do, with the collective access or Eden Prairie Remembers or videotaping, to tell the story of now because people don’t recognize its value until the time (passes).”
That is his vision of how history should be captured and presented. People are vessels of history, even if they don’t know that yet.
“When you expose yourself to the life stories of people, you realize how fleeting life is and how profound seemingly unimportant things at the time really are,” he said. “The simple things are really profound in the long run. Those little details.”
A Cub Scout pack recently came into the museum. The youngsters sat at antique school desks while he told them about Eden Prairie.
“I emphasized that history is also about the present and the future,” he said.
Achartz had them write down their favorite moments from the visit. He also snapped their photos.
“You can come back here in 20 years,” he told them, “and we’ll have your story here.”
The Eden Prairie Historical Society Museum is open from 2-5 p.m. Mondays. It’s located on the lower level of Eden Prairie City Center, 8080 Mitchell Road. Note: Hours can occasionally fluctuate but are posted on Eden Prairie Remembers in advance.
Building on the past work of others
Boxes filled with old photos that haven’t seen the light of day in years are Tom Achartz’s favorite part of the History Museum’s collection.
Those are where he typically finds the items he posts on Eden Prairie Remembers.
He notes that others put those files together. That includes two late amateur Eden Prairie historians, Marie Wittenberg and Ernie Shuldhiess.
“I’m lucky that I have the technological expertise to tell you how to bring things online,” Achartz said. “But I can only do it because other people did the work before me, like Ernie and Marie, and (current Historical Society President) Kathie Case. I’m enjoying the benefits of their hard work.”
At the top of Eden Prairie Remembers is a digitized file listing milestones for local people, events and places chronicled in the Hennepin County Review from 1925 to 1968. Originally compiled by Shuldhiess, the list can be used as a guide for finding the actual stories at the Historical Museum.
But, there are more stories to be told, stories not in the archives at the museum. He encourages people to look for old photos, letters and stories in their closets or drawers.
“They’re out there,” he said. “And we need them.”