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Relive Yesteryear in a Minnesota Historic Venue

By Roger Gordon

Minnesota may be known as the “Land of Lakes,” but it could be referred to as the “Land of Historic Sites,” as well. From Grand Rapids to the Twin Cities to Red Wing, there is a cornucopia of historic venues in state that recall the days of yore. The following are 10 renowned spots that will take you back in time.

St. James Hotel, Red Wing

Any company that stays in business for 140 years is doing something right. The St. James Hotel opened in 1875 and provided the need for a first-class lodging establishment in the port city of Red Wing, the wheat-trading center of the world. Ever since, through just three ownerships, the hotel, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, has continually provided guests with the same old-world service, innovating amenities and delicious delights that it did when it opened.

“When guests walk into the St. James, they feel like they’ve stepped back in history,” says Marilyne Bouteiller, director of sales and marketing. Between the 13 meeting rooms and 18,000 square feet of space, there is a variety of options for groups. Intimate settings like the Mezzanine Boardroom is ideal for smaller groups, while the Summit Room can accommodate more than 300 people.

The Depot, Minneapolis

The last train left in 1971, but the Old Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis still stands as a monument to adventurous rail days gone by. Now a spectacular complex that includes the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel and the Residence Inn Minneapolis Downtown, The Depot is filled with history.

“Many of our clients had parents or grandparents who worked for the railroad,” says Michael Clark, general manager of Renaissance Minneapolis and managing director of The Depot Complex (which was constructed in the 1890s). “Some of the folks remember taking a train out of the station or welcoming someone home.”

Two of the four buildings comprise the original—but renovated—Milwaukee Road Depot, which includes 20 Historic Suites and two large ballrooms, while three newer buildings have many more guest rooms and meeting space. Combined, The Depot offers more than 60,000 square feet of event space for groups of 10 people all the way up to 2,000. The Renaissance is slated to undergo a full renovation in 2016 that will include 110 new guest rooms.

Alexander Ramsey House, St. Paul

Built for Alexander Ramsey, Minnesota’s first state governor, the Alexander Ramsey House offers special events and programming in which visitors can soak in aspects of the Ramsey family’s life and the Victorian era.

“Guests love the ambiance because the house is furnished with the family’s original objects,” says Site Supervisor Kelsey Hokenson. The 11,000-square-foot home can accommodate up to 70 people for a stand-up cocktail party, 20 for a seated event and 14 for a sit-down meal. Groups can provide their own caterers or employ Forepaugh, located across the street.

Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, Onamia

For an authentic tribal experience, the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in Onamia is the place for you. The museum tells the story of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and the adjacent trading post that opened in 1918 as a general store offers more than 2,000 items made by American Indians.

A study seats 10 people, a meeting room holds 35 for a seated affair and 50 for a lecture, and a craft demo area and lobby together seats 100. The Four Seasons room and tour, however, is the one that attracts the most attention.

“It’s a life size diorama of how the Ojibwe lived a couple hundred years ago,” says Site Manager Travis Zimmerman.

International Market Square, Minneapolis

In the market (pun intended) for the world’s best in high-end interior design? The International Market Square, made up of five interconnected buildings under one glass roof, offers expert trade professionals 60-plus showrooms and 5,000 square feet meeting and banquet space. Formed 30 years ago, the IMS is one of fewer than 20 design centers in the United States.

“Before that, it was the Munsingwear headquarters,” says Darlene Personius, senior property manager of Greywolf Partners, Inc., which manages the IMS. “It’s like being in a shopping center.”

Nontenant events are held either in the central atrium, in one of two conference rooms or in a large meeting room provided by D’Amico Catering, which is located in the basement. D’Amico handles all outside events.

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis

Interested in learning about the intertwined histories of the flour industry, the Mississippi River and the city of Minneapolis? Then drop by the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis. The Museum is built along the Mississippi and within the ruins of the National Historic Landmark Washburn A Mill, which was once the largest flour mills in the world and was the flagship mill of the Washburn-Crosby Company that later became General Mills.

“The museum tells the story of the people, the industries, that built Minneapolis, transformed a region and influenced the world,” says Dave Stevens, public programs specialist. “We offer award-winning exhibits and interactive and live programs.”

“One of the spaces we use is an open-air, ruined courtyard that’s surrounded on three sides by the walls of the original mill,” Stevens says. “Within the building itself, there are a variety of striking spaces.”

The museum can host events of up to 500 people. D’Amico Catering handles them all.

North West Company Fur Post, Pine City

Step into a reconstructed British fur post from the winter of 1804. Meet a French voyager, a British fur trade clerk and visit an Ojibwe campground. Guests experience all of the above when visiting the North West Company Fur Post in Pine City.

“The reconstruction is based on archaeology that was done here in the 1960s,” says Patrick Schifferdecker, site manager. “We added a visitors center in 2002, which contains a museum that’s 2,700 square feet of exhibits that tell about the fur trade, the stockade and traveling in birch bark canoes.”

The Fur Post normally gives 40-minute tours. It holds up to 100 people for a seated event, 120 for theater seating and 150 for receptions.

Forest History Center, Grand Rapids

Sitting smack on the shores of the Mississippi River some 100 miles from the Canadian border, the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids tells the story of forests in northern Minnesota. Spanning 171 acres of forest, grasslands and wetlands, the center is an environmental history and learning hub that offers a multitude of naturalist programming. The site also has 5 miles of nature trails.

“We really offer a glimpse of what a forest ecosystem is like in the northern part of the state.” Site Manager Jeff Johns says. “We’re representative of most of those types of ecosystems in northern, and also central, Minnesota. We’re also known for having probably the greatest logging camp tour in the north woods, including a circa 1900 logging camp that includes a large cookshack.”

The center offers a multipurpose room for rent that accommodates 60 people.

The Van Dusen Mansion, Minneapolis

The Van Dusen Mansion in Minneapolis was built in 1892 for George Washington Van Dusen and his wife, Nancy. Mr. Van Dusen was an entrepreneur who had founded Minnesota’s first, and most prosperous, grain firm in 1883. After he passed away, the estate remained in his family for decades until it was sold in the 1940s and began serving a variety of commercial uses. Many years later, the property was abandoned. Just before it was to be demolished in 1994, a heroic investor bought it and restored it to its original luster, earning distinction on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, The Van Dusen Mansion is an events center equipped for the 21st century but at the same time offers old-world affluence and charm.

“It’s ideal for small events all the way up to those of a few hundred people,” says Jennifer Anderson, director of sales and marketing. “Because we have three buildings, many of our events have a progressive nature to them so that you’ll start in one space and then kind of float to the next and onto the next.”

The mansion, which can fit up to 200 for a seated dining event and 350 standing, uses Mintahoe Catering and Events for food and beverage.

James J. Hill House, St. Paul

The James J. Hill House tells the story of its namesake, builder of the Great Northern Railway, through historic programming, including guided tours of the house, changing art exhibits in the gallery and a wide array of events. Located in St. Paul, the Hill House is a National Historic Landmark.

“We do any kind of meeting,” says Site Manager Craig Johnson, “from the standard sort of corporate or nonprofit holiday party, dinner or reception to a smaller, daytime event where groups can use one of our second-floor conference rooms or a retreat maybe combined with a tour of the house.”

The home seats up to 120 people for both seated dinners and theater seating and up to 400 for receptions.