There’s a quirky and surprising museum in Minnesota that’s tucked away off Interstate 35, and I’ve driven by here for years between Duluth and the Twin Cities without knowing about it.
It’s the Pine County Historical Museum in Askov, and it’s quirky and surprising because it’s a local history museum inside a big school!
The outside is nothing extraordinary – it just looks like an old school building, with some historic farm equipment outside.
But inside, there’s a plane, a car covered in wood, a model railroad room, dolls, a cafe, and much more!
And the school was a real school until the early 2000s. It then opened as this museum in 2012, and they continue filling it up today!
I found out about this museum from a collaboration with Old Highway 61, which seeks to feature and encourage tourism to the many cities and sites in Chisago, Pine and Carlton Counties in east central Minnesota. I discovered a lot of fun sites from this (check my Facebook and Instagram pages for more pictures and video from this visit!).
I took my kids to the Pine County Historical Museum on the first day of summer vacation.
I think that makes me an awesome mom, or maybe a mean mom (?) because I took them, on their first day of summer vacation, to a SCHOOL building with classrooms like this one. You decide…Haha…
But there was much more!
When you enter, you get a map with a self-guided tour, which describes the whole museum, room by room. It’s HUGE! And it’s full of everything imaginable.
It’s typically a 1-hour tour, but you could easily spend hours here, reading books in their library, reading everything on every exhibit, enjoying food in the cafe (which we did – and it’s good).
And there’s a surprise at every turn!
For example, there’s a classroom full of DOLLS. It includes doll collections, which are notably an 1850 doll and buggy belonging to an immigrant girl, and an electrified dollhouse.
The Military Room has artifacts from WWI, WWII, Korean War, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, and more.
There’s a Music & Crafts Room with handwork, spinning wheels, pianos, organs, and instruments, plus much more.
There’s a Religion to Politics Hallway with a church area, then pictures and memorabilia of area politicians.
A highlight is the Chrysler car covered in wood!
And the Train Room is a hit with train fans. The layout of the room runs through all of the cities in Pine County, and the landscape moves through the four seasons. Look up for a larger scale train that runs around the ceiling!
If you can’t get enough of transportation here, there’s plenty you’ll like here.
And the gym has the biggest exhibit here – a Wright Brothers Flyer! It’s truly Planes, Trains and Automobiles here…
Be sure to stay for breakfast, lunch or dinner – or a treat – in the Little Mermaid Cafe! I had a veggie omelet, my kids had sandwiches. It’s cute with a mermaid sculpture, and a variety of little rooms to explore including a library and Christmas room.
Why is it called the Little Mermaid Cafe? On their website: “Our Little Mermaid was carved by Cliff Letty of Sturgeon Lake for the Danish Brotherhood Society of Askov. The Community’s Danish heritage remains strong today as you will notice the the bilingual (English/Danish) street signs around town in the red and white colors of Denmark’s flag.”
Here’s more of what the museum has to offer:
- Quilt Room
- Life Skills (Bee Keeping, Medical Displays)
- Event Center with a stage
- River Corridor (Native American tools, archaeological items, 7000-year-old bison skull)
- Main Street Hallway (Cobbler, Toy Store, Blacksmith, Clothing, Jail, Post Office, etc.)
- Home & Family Room
- Logging Room
- Machines & Miscellaneous
- Pine County Cities (a whole room highlighting all the county cities)
- AND MORE!
They also have guided tours available upon request, and helpful volunteers to answer questions. I talked to two who were great, and one actually used to work with my mom! Small world…
Be sure to see the farm equipment collection outside too.
And visit the gift and antique shop in the museum, plus the thrift store across the street! The thrift store is open on Saturdays.
What is in the area?
If you’re wondering what else to do nearby, check out Banning State Park! It’s beautiful and has a waterfall, Kettle River, and camping.
It’s also not far from Hinckley! Hinckley has the Hinckley Fire Museum, Tobies, Whistle Stop Cafe, thrift stores, Grand Casino Hinckley, and several hotels. See my Reel all about what we discovered here.
The Pine County History Museum is also only 60 miles south of Duluth. Heading to Duluth? Read my guide, “Ten Ways to Enjoy Duluth on a Budget.”
Here’s a map of where the museum is:
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