“Our guiding vision for the Historic Fort Snelling revitalization has been to inspire a better future by providing a place to learn, share and connect to all of the complex stories that shape history in Minnesota,” said Kent Whitworth MNHS director and CEO in a statement. “Historic Fort Snelling has been a site of diplomacy and conflict; pride and tragedy; service and sacrifice. Today, the site reveals more of this remarkable history with spaces for visitors to study, reflect, connect and learn.”
The first National Historic Landmark in Minnesota, Fort Snelling underwent $34.5 million in improvements—$19.5 provided by State of Minnesota appropriations and $15 million in private funding. The new Plank Museum and Visitor Center was originally constructed in 1904 as U.S. Army Cavalry barracks and later converted to an outpatient VA Clinic forty years later, but has been vacant since 1989 without power, water, or an HVAC system. According to the Historical Society, floors were covered in asbestos and lead paint adorned many walls. Water damage accrued throughout the building from roof leaks, causing wood floors to warp and ceilings to cave in.
The renovation now includes more than 19,000 square feet of public accessible space, event and meeting spaces, an upgraded museum store, and a gallery for traveling exhibits.
With scenic views located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, known as Bdote, the Fort became a point of convergence—for the Dakota, Ojibwe, and enslaved people, to fur traders, immigrants, soldiers and veterans—all contributing to its complicated history.
Fort Snelling was the site of a concentration camp for 1,600 Dakota after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. While Minnesota was a free territory, federal army officers enslaved African Americans, including Dred and Harriet Scott, within the Fort’s walls. It was also where the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment launched, with 25,000 soldiers who fought against slavery in the Civil War. Fort Snelling was also an induction center for more than 300,000 soldiers in World War II, and home to a Military Intelligence Service Language School where Japanese Americans, many whose families were held in domestic concentration camps, used language skills to aid the war effort.
While Fort Snelling is normally closed in winter, the new visitor center will host “expanded musical and theatrical performances and explorations of the site’s changing landscape throughout the seasons.”