Virginia Area Historical Society Museum

Dedicated to collecting and preserving the historical treasures of the Virginia area.
Heritage Museum

The Virginia Area Historical Society’s Heritage Museum and office is located in the Olcott Park house, the former home of Virginia’s park superintendents. The museum is a showplace for the history of Virginia and the surrounding area. Donated by area residents, these items

have special significance because they reflect the lifestyle of the region’s early settlers.

The society’s first home was a two-room log cabin built in 1910 by Oscar Hokko, a Finnish immigrant. Originally, the cabin was located 18 miles north of Virginia. After being donated to the society in 1981, it was dismantled and relocated to the shore of Bailey’s Lake. When the city of Virginia made the park site available, the log cabin was moved again to take its place as part of the museum complex in Olcott Park, along with a tourist cabin donated to the society by the Soroptimists Club, the Rotary Club and the Lee Anderson family.

The main museum houses three major exhibits: The logging era, Virginia’s two decimating fires, and the trolley line that traversed the Iron Range until 1927. In addition, the log cabin exhibits recreate the heart warming feeling of “home” in the early days. Also, hundreds of photos and an outstanding collection of vintage postcards are available to researchers.

Park House History

Olcott Park was named after W.J. Olcott, an officer of the Great Northern Mining Company. The company first leased the 40 acres of land to the city of Virginia in 1905 for the sum of one dollar per year if the city agreed to pay all taxes assessed. In 1939, the city purchased Olcott Park for $9,015.

Ardys Hawkinson Nelson lived in the park house from 1936 until 1943, when her father, Carl, served as park superintendent. She relates that it was moved from a nearby location to its present site in 1915, at which time a second story was added. In 1917, further improvements were made, including plumbing, heating, sewers, bath extensions, chimney, fireplace and basement floor…. All for under $900.00.

In 1940, it underwent another renovation. The second floor of the house was raised five feet and the kitchen chimney and outside stone facing were removed. The living room was extended and an adjoining garage was constructed.

Olcott Park: A City Treasure
The stone entrances to Olcott Park were constructed in 1916 and remain standing as landmarks today. In 1935, with a $46,000 grant from the Conservation Work Administration (CWA), over 1,000 trees were planted in the park. The CWA was a Depression era work program established to encourage employment. It also enabled the construction of Monkey Island and a native rock house and knoll for two mountain sheep.

“Monkey Island” was one of the more interesting features of the park. From 1941, when 50 Rhesus monkeys were housed there, until 1964 when vandals forced the closing of the compound, thousands of people visited each summer to watch the monkeys play with little boats and rafts in the water filled moat surrounding their castle.

Another federal work program, the Work Projects Administration (WPA) enabled the construction of a three acre rock garden in the park. At a 1936 Rotary Club meeting, Carl Hawkinson testified to the success of these work creating projects. “During the past year,” he said, “we have had 15 regular employees and 70 part-time employees on our park payroll.”

The park also became famous for its illuminated fountain. Constructed by General Electric Company, the fountain was one of only a few built in the United States. When it opened in 1937, policemen were posted at the site to control the traffic. Its fascinating combination of colored floodlights and sprays was created by a seven-projector device with 360 variations per hour. The operation was controlled in the base of the fountain by an electric motor with rotary switches which ran from 8:30 in the morning until 10:00 at night.

The greenhouse located adjacent to the Heritage Museum is another focal point in the park. With its vibrant display of exotic flowers, the greenhouse is one of the city’s more famous landmarks.

Directions: Exit off Highway 53 in Virginia on 9th Street. Go about one half mile. Virginia Regional Medical Center will be on the left and Olcott Park will be on the right. Go to the intersection of 9th Street and 9th Avenue and turn right. Go about one block, and the museum is located on your right.

Admission: Open May 1 through September, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and October-April, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. No admission fee but donations are accepted. Group tours and school groups welcome. Tour guide on-site. Available by appointment.

To request a Free Heritage & Attraction Brochure visit our Free Vacation Guide section.

Virginia Area Historical Society Museum
800 9th Avenue North
Virginia, MN 55792