The Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) has launched a statewide effort, now through Nov. 15, to gather public input on the name of Historic Fort Snelling, in light of the ongoing revitalization and the expanded stories of history being shared at the historic site.
Phyllis Goff, MNHS governing board past president, will chair a task force to lead the public input process that will include additional board members as well as independent community leaders. Following public input, the MNHS board will consider the findings and determine a course of action by early 2020.
Should the board recommend a name change, it would then go to the Minnesota legislature, which has final say over name changes for properties in the state’s historic sites network.
Six facilitated meetings are being held statewide that will help further the conversation, including one in Redwood Falls. That meeting is scheduled for Oct. 17 from 6-8 p.m. at the Redwood Area Community Center.
For more than a decade, MNHS has worked to broaden the stories shared at Historic Fort Snelling, Minnesota’s first national historic landmark. The property is owned by the State of Minnesota, managed by MNHS and located on 23 acres of land adjacent to the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, known as Bdote in the Dakota language. The site includes the historic fort as well as several historic and newer buildings outside of the fort.
MNHS is looking at whether the current name, Historic Fort Snelling, adequately reflects the experience visitors have at the site, engaging with the history of the many women and men who have crossed paths there. These stories are of soldiers, veterans and their families, enslaved and free African Americans, Japanese Americans and Native Americans who have lived in the area for 10,000 years.
“We’ve received excellent feedback from visitors to Historic Fort Snelling about the expanded programming we’ve developed with our community partners and about our plans for the site’s revitalization,” said Kent Whitworth, MNHS director and CEO. “MNHS remains solidly committed to our vision of telling the stories of all Minnesotans and serving all the people of our state.”
Specifically, the public is being asked to comment on the name of the MNHS historic site, Historic Fort Snelling. The name of the restored 1820s fort structure, which sits on about four acres of the 23-acre historic site, will not change. It will continue to be called Fort Snelling in state and federal records.
MNHS is asking the public to weigh in whether the name of the entire site should be expanded to reflect the broader area and many stories of history now shared there.
Initially named Fort St. Anthony when soldiers began building the fort in 1820, the U.S. War Department changed the name to Fort Snelling in 1825 to recognize Josiah Snelling, the commanding officer who oversaw its construction.
In 1960, the fort became the state’s first national historic landmark, and in 1970, MNHS began actively interpreting the site for the public. Over the years, the historic site has had a number of different names as the management of the property has changed hands, including Fort Snelling State Historical Park and Old Fort Snelling Historic District.
The name Historic Fort Snelling first appeared in state law in 1993. For generations, the Dakota have called the land where the fort sits Bdote, a descriptive name that refers to the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.
In 2017, MNHS installed temporary signs at the site that added the phrase “at Bdote” following the name “Historic Fort Snelling” to reflect the additional stories shared at the fort and the location of the fort itself. While the official name of the site, Historic Fort Snelling, was not changed, the signs caused public confusion about whether the name had changed.
The temporary signs will be taken down while the public naming process is under way and as construction for the revitalization project starts. Removal of the current visitor center is slated to begin in early 2020. As part of the revitalization and efforts to expand stories being shared, additional interpretive signs will be created that provide more information on Bdote and the site’s broader history.
“We welcome the input of all Minnesotans in this process, whether online or in person,” said Whitworth. “The best way for anyone to engage is to first visit Historic Fort Snelling to experience our expanded programming and be reminded of the significance of this national historic landmark and the thousands of years of human history in the area.”
For more information and to provide online feedback visit www.mnhs.org/naming.
– Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society Web site