Investigating the Cultural Geography of St. Cloud State University

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2017 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund
St. Cloud State University
Recipient Type
Public College/University
Start Date
December 2016
End Date
December 2017
Activity Type
Counties Affected
Project Overview

To hire a qualified historian to research the cultural history of St. Cloud State University.

2017 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Other Funds Leveraged
Direct expenses
Administration costs
Number of full time equivalents funded
Proposed Measurable Outcome(s)

Available upon request. Contact

Measurable Outcome(s)

Short Term
1. A sizeable database of primary objects in University Archives at St. Cloud State University and Stearns History Museum.
a.The main Excel workbook for this project included as of 12/15/2017
i.650 lines of data
ii.Still Images: 405 lines representing more than 3,805 images
1.1 album, 3 books, 2 boxes, 80 folders, 320 objects
iii.Text: 188 lines representing more than 843 documents
1.4 collections, 44 folders, 133 objects
iv.Maps: 57 lines representing 87 maps
1.2 collections, 55 objects
v.We easily met our goal of a 'sizeable' database of objects or collections of objects that begin to tell the story of the changing land use of St. Cloud State University. However, we spent twice as much time than anticipated to create this database.

b.Rengel created a secondary workbook to track the addresses of the homes and lots within the North Campus and South Campus and to track the various campus buildings and businesses on the campus. (The East Campus area apparently never had homes on it or structures other than those related to campus facilities.) This secondary spreadsheet, though in rough draft form, begins to shape by street address the built environment that became the campus. Data here could help create metadata based upon address, in addition to the geographic information in the main spreadsheet.

2. Increased knowledge and understanding of the cultural forces that shaped the choices of buildings and structures that would become St. Cloud State.
a.Through the act of reviewing so many collections within the St. Cloud State University Archives and Stearns History Museum, through questions shared and answered, or at least raised, between Ms. Rengel and the staff members at these two organizations, through attempts by all to identify contents of photos, to compare photos to maps to documents, the knowledge at both locations has expanded significantly. Awareness has grown significantly. One challenge, though is the transfer of much of this knowledge from the researcher to the permanent staff and the presentation of information to benefit researchers in the future.

b.The project clearly led to a significantly increased knowledge about what happened. Much more work is needed to explain why people made the decisions they did over the years.
i.An example: Looking at the Curtis Survey of this area, which was done in 1855, 14 years before the state's third normal school opened in St. Cloud in 1869, might lead one to believe that the neighborhood was already a grid, with graded streets and avenues meeting at right angles and clearly defined lots. But looking at the 1902 photograph of the block that would become home to the Performing Arts Center, taken by the Minneapolis Tribune, one can see only the beginnings of that grid system, with streets not yet created and land spreading off into the distance where homes will eventually be built.
ii.Another example: Photographs and Sanborn Insurance maps show what appear to be single-family homes. But comparison to information in campus directories and even reviewing the Talahi yearbooks, tells the story that many houses were used, as early as the 1880s and 1890s, as student housing, some filled only with students, some where a student lived in the home with a family. Eventually, St. Cloud State would own apartment buildings on the campus where once stood homes that provided rooms to students.

Intermediate Outcomes:
There are four intermediate measurable outcomes to this project.
1. The vastly increased knowledge of staff at University Archives and Stearns History Museum of the information in their collections related to the St. Cloud State University campus. Rengel intends to put her increased knowledge to work on behalf of both organizations by:
a. Conducting an MDL digitization project for maps in the John D. Morgan collection at University Archives.

b.Conducting an MDL digitization project of rare photographs in University Archives and the Stearns History Museum's collection.
1.Earliest photographs in both collections
2.Work of photographer E.S. Hill

c.Conducting a collaborative digitization project of photographs within both collections of several of the campus areas identified in this project.
1.St. Cloud Water, Power and Mill Co's Subdivision
2.First Avenue South

2. The number of ideas for projects built upon this work
a.University Archives graduate student assistant Kayla Stielow, who began work in archives in August as an intern and a student assistant as this Cultural Geography project was underway, will use the data from Ms. Rengel's research to investigate the expansion and change of St. Cloud State overtime to develop a narrative of the campus's history. Her project is part of St. Cloud State's sesquicentennial celebration. We anticipate this work will also inform at least two classes, one graduate and another undergraduate, as they investigate the history of St. Cloud State that will also inform the sesquicentennial, too.

b.Slide shows on the significant areas of campus.
ii.Miller Center
iii.Education Building
iv.The Original Campus: Between the Mississippi River and 1st Avenue
v.Stores, restaurants, churches on this land
vi.Before the grid: the land before square blocks with streets and avenues became the norm

c.An Aerial Time Machine --- using digitized aerial photographs, and/or digitizing aerial photographs to present a flying tour of campus over time.
i.As if a helicopter were hovering over the south end of the main campus and time flashed by in the cockpit window
ii.OR, as if the helicopter were circling campus and the years changed with each circle.

d.Speculation -- What if the plans that weren't chosen had come to pass? ' An image-based project to show what might have been.

e.Digital 'Flip Book' of campus maps to show growth.

f.An in-depth investigation of St. Cloud city directories for other uses of the land and the buildings, such as churches, lunch counters, office space, etc.

3. A list of some collections and organizations that merit further investigation:
a.Collections at the St. Cloud State University Archives.
i.Chronicle student newspaper ' Because the information is easily accessible, and often secondary, we chose early on not to do in-depth research into this publication right now. While we did include photographs and articles when we encountered them, we left a deeper exploration for a later date.
ii.University Communications (Information Services) press release collection ' We included some press releases as we came across them in the research and discovered that the press release collection could provide additional information. It deserves a thorough review.
iii.Oral Histories ' Time did not permit us to investigate the data in oral histories, nor the few oral histories within the collections. Doing so would add interpretation and perspective to the facts of the land use information.
iv.Minutes of the governing bodies for St. Cloud State, including the Normal School Board, the State Teachers College Board, the State College Board and the State University Board. While essentially secondary resources, these minutes often contain the only surviving information on the development of the campus, particularly in the early years. Additionally, they often provide clues and leads for further investigation.
v.Minnesota legislation ' We see potential for investigating legislative records for laws critical to the development of the campus, such as Amendment 2 to the Minnesota Constitution, passed in the early 1960s, which eliminated a debt limit and allowed borrowing for building and capital improvements. Much of the work of campus development was done in coordination with Minnesota state agencies and was governed by legislative approval.
vi.We focused our work on primary sources, photographs, maps and documents older than 1970. We would expand our information to include materials created since 1970.

b.Collections at Stearns History Museum
i.Myron Hall, long-time photographer to the St. Cloud Times, contributed his extensive collection of negatives and prints to the Stearns History Museum. This treasure trove needs much preservation and cataloging work to preserve and mine all of the valuable information in it. Once that cataloging is done, it will provide priceless resources on the cultural geography, at least from the late 1930s through the early 1970s.
ii.St. Cloud city directories. This collection could provide land use information, to capture the flow from undeveloped prairie and woods to neighborhoods to campus buildings. While the city directories helped Rengel identify photographs of homes in the geographic areas under examination, she did not take the time to delve into them as deeply as she would have liked, once she realized their value.
iii.Frank Jackson & Associates collection ' We included reference to this architectural firm's collection in the spreadsheet but did not have time to investigate the materials. Such an investigation could prove extremely valuable for capturing the discussions of how and why the buildings Jackson created for the campus took the shapes they did and were situated in the community as they were.
iv.Additional collections ' Stearns History Museum is in the midst of a Cultural Heritage grant project of their own to inventory collections. The database they are creating pointed us in directions for our cultural geography project and following up on the collections Stearns has been identifying will provide us with excellent resources and information.
v.St. Cloud newspapers ' Stearns History Museum and St. Cloud State University Library each has extensive microfilm collections of St. Clouds newspapers. Stearns History Museum has formed the basis of much of their public-facing resources on these newspapers and staff experience with St. Cloud's newspapers would suggest that work within these collections be conducted there. Additionally, using the Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub through the Minnesota Historical Society for very early St. Cloud newspapers would expedite research within these publications.

c.Other organizations
i.City of St. Cloud's 'SCGIS: Interactive Mapping Tool,' ( ' This is database provided primary information on the current land-use, zoning codes, building values, etc. Information could be harvested as needed on vacated streets and alleys, original survey information, and coordinates for geographical information. It is, however, limited to modern land uses, but would provide an interesting starting point for creating GIS information for buildings that used to occupy this land.
ii.City of St. Cloud offices ' There are likely records in the city offices, particularly the planning office, that relate to the development of the St. Cloud State campus.
iii.County Recorder, Stearns County ' As the keeper of all deed information, it would be valuable to visit the County Recorder's office. Staff at Stearns History Museum are aware of documents there worth investigation. Also, we expect there are specifics records there that would track back to the beginnings of the county and the city.
iv.County Recorder, Sherburne County ' Only Selke Field and Brainard Hall, which we have designated as the East Campus, are located in Sherburne County, but it may be interesting to at least visit this county's recorder office to capture early deed information. Should this project expand to include the Talahi Woods and the quarry lands near the Minnesota Correctional Facility (Reformatory) known as George Friedrich Park, Sherburne County Recorder's office would provide valuable information.
v.Minnesota Historical Society ' We recognize that deeper research within the collections at the state historical society will help us flesh out details of the cultural geography of St. Cloud State, particularly records that pre-date the formation of the third normal school in 1869.

4.An article for Stearns History Museum's 'Crossings' magazine, which Rengel will write, that focuses on the personal story behind her search for information in University Archives and at Stearns on the neighborhood of her childhood, her father's college years, and the town she calls home.

Long lasting results of this research include but are not limited to
1.Increased communication between the St. Cloud State University Archives and the Stearns History Museum on resources in the two collections that tell the story of St. Cloud State University.
2.Increased knowledge at the staff level of the cultural geography of this land.
3.Understanding of the interrelated nature of the collections in preserving and using the information in the collections to tell the story of campus.
4.Establishing a format and method for searching for and the presenting information on the materials in the collections.
5.Inspiration. This project showed us what dedicating a person's time to the work of exploring the collections can yield. The grant funding provided us with the opportunity to deeply explore collections at the repositories and to pull together in one online resource the results of that exploration.
a.This work, in essence, allowed us to remove the silo walls that separated the collections at two repositories and to combine them, at least within the scope of the cultural geography of St. Cloud State, into one whole picture of the 150-years of change upon this land.

The work of this project strives to point researchers to resources that can help them understand and share answers to the questions 'How and why did we become who and what we are?' Answering those questions is extremely challenging, especially for people who are the beneficiaries of the work of earlier generations. Soon the goals, the values, the promises of one generation get lost in time as projects move forward, advancing, shifting, retreating as forces of the day demand. The answers to 'How' and 'Why' are often answers of the moment. The work of this Cultural Geography project aims to show where at the St. Cloud State University Archives and Stearns History Museum those answers are preserved and to lead researchers to the maps, photographs, and documents that will help them answer the questions of 'how' and 'why.'

Source of Additional Funds

Available upon request. Contact

Recipient Board Members
MnSCU board of trustee members: Ann Anaya, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Duane Benson, Elise Bourdeau, Kelly Charpentier-Berg, Alex Cirillo, Jay Cowles, Dawn Erlandson, Robert Hoffman, Philip Krinkie, Maleah Otterson, Thomas Renier, Louise Sundin, Michael Vekich, and Erma Vizenor
Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
St. Cloud State University
Street Address
262 Stewart Hall, 720 Fourth Avenue S
St. Cloud
Zip Code
Administered By
Administered by

345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155