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Wells Depot Museum celebrates 10-year anniversary

It is open again after shutting down because of COVID-19 pandemic

By Chuck Hunt - Editor | Oct 25, 2020

The Wells Depot Museum is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The museum is operated by the Wells Historical Society.

The Wells Depot Museum is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, despite the fact that it has not been the best of years.

“Like everything else, COVID-19 and the shutdown hit us hard, too,” Betsy Hermanson, the director at the museum said. “We had to be shut down for months.”

The museum reopened on Aug. 7, just in time to celebrate the 10th anniversary. The ribbon cutting ceremony for the completely restored depot was held on Aug. 20, 2010.

“We had some things planned for this year, but it has not worked out,” Hermanson said. “However, we opened again, and we have some items for sale for the 10th anniversary. Our calendar for 2021 is also available.”

The museum is currently open on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.

Last year the museum had over 930 visitors through September, Hermanson says. This year, through September, there have been 91 visitors.

“Of course, we were closed for a long time. But, I think people are still staying home a lot,” Hermanson says. “Older people especially are afraid to go anywhere.”

The museum has precautions in place, like other places. There are arrows on the floor directing people to just go in one direction and not meander around the place. And masks, of course, are required.

While Hermanson is the museum director, Carmen Meyer is the president of the historical society. They recall the history of getting the depot to what it is now.

It all started back in February of 2004 when the IC&E Railroad made known their intent to demolish the 1903 depot in Wells and put up a metal building that would fit their needs instead.

In 2005 the once dormant Wells Historical Society was resurrected, Hermanson says, and convinced the railroad to get land elsewhere for their building.

“The historical society ended up buying the building for a dollar from the railroad,” Hermanson says. “But it was really in terrible shape.”

The society received some grants from the Minnesota Historical Society, the Milwaukee Road Historical Society and a large, $266,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. It required a 20 percent match, but Hermanson says it was the key to getting the restoration work done.

“It took six years, from the first idea to getting the work all done,” Hermanson says. “And now it is hard to believe it has been 10 years since we opened it.”

What is next for the Wells Historical Society?

“We now purchased the old lunchroom depot cafe building next door,” Hermanson says. “We received a nice grant from the Wells EDA which gave us seed money to do some things, like architect plans, which we needed to be able to apply for a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society. We are very grateful to the EDA for that.”

She notes that the plan is not to turn it back into a cafe or restaurant, despite some rumors around town. They would use it for some more local displays from past Wells businesses in the building, as well as use some of it for storage.

She notes there are many historical items being donated to the museum all the time. Some are in storage in the former baggage area of the museum.

“That depot cafe building served lunches to passengers on the trains for years,” Hermanson says. “In recent times it housed several businesses, including a real estate office and a dog grooming place, I believe. It was even a private residence at one time.”

For now, the hope is that people will start coming back to the Wells Depot Museum and see all the exhibits, including the ones about the World War II Prisoner of War Camp in Wells, and the three competing cigar factories which once called Wells home.

Yes, German POWs and lots of cigars are a part of the history of Wells. You can learn more at the Wells Depot Museum.