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Heritage Group North preserves local artifacts, asks public for help finding more

On a warm Saturday afternoon, Pine River residents gathered at the Depot to watch a film starring friends and family, many who passed away long ago. This and other opportunities were made possible by donations from local community members and charities alike.

This past weekend’s film was one shot by John Rohr, once owner of Pine River’s Marlow Theater. Rohr had purchased a 16mm video camera in the 1930s and began to film local events. He ran the footage at his theater as a sort of “news reel” to attract locals in to see themselves on the big screen.

“A lot of them were familiar, but I can’t figure the faces. They go too fast,” said Doc Cadwell, a resident of Pine River since 1935. “I try to pick out names for them (the audience). I liked the prom, I could pick out most of them there.”

Rohr’s son, Tom, donated approximately 11 hours of this original footage to Heritage Group North. Tom Rohr even agreed to speak at one of the gatherings to view the film.

“We were looking forward to that, and he took ill and suddenly passed away,” said Steve Cox of Heritage Group North (HGN).

Tom’s passing is a reminder of HGN’s mission.

“It’s to preserve the history of the area. It’s not just Pine River, it’s the surrounding area,” Cox said. “We just want to preserve area history and make it available to the public. They don’t really teach a lot of that stuff to young kids today and it’s important to preserve that.”

As time goes by, as the John and Tom Rohrs pass away, so do the memories they collected over the years. But if some of the artifacts of their lives can be gathered and preserved, then some of that history can be preserved, too.

“We don’t have all that much to display right now but we hope to get donations from the public. Get them in here so they can see what we’ve done. Maybe they would like to donate artifacts or Pine River memorabilia. We can also just scan photos and stuff and they can have their stuff back if they like, so that’s not a problem,” Cox said. “Any of the early stuff from way back in the teens and ’20s, any Pine River memorabilia. Anything. Don’t throw it away. Let us look at it first. Sometimes people think, ‘Oh, that’s just an old piece of junk,’ and they just throw it. There’s a lot of stuff out there. We just need to raise the consciousness of the people.”

“There’s so much,” added HGN member Jerry Peterson. “Pencils with names of the businesses, things people would think, ‘Oh this is just an old pencil or calendar.’”

HGN is perhaps best known for its advocacy of the Pine River Depot and its restoration. What you might not know is that since the successful relocation and renovation of the Pine River Depot, HGN has been gathering Pine River history under the roof of that building that was once all but condemned. Since the closing of the Pine River Journal building, HGN has gladly provided storage of more than 100 years of local newspaper archives.

Furthermore, the family of Glen Glover, a man sometimes known as “Pine River’s first photographer,” donated 118 glass slide negatives for preservation, reproduction and storage. Those photos are being scanned by the Minnesota Digital Library through its Reflections grant program.

“(The photos go) into the public domain then because it’s with the Minnesota Digital Library, so you can access that online,” Cox said.

These valuable donations are slowly filling the once empty nooks and crannies of the Pine River Depot. It is donations that HGN depends on to preserve the area’s history.

“Those plates do deteriorate over time. They have an emulsion on them and that tended to peel and lifted off, and she said the kids had played with these plates many times over the years and at one point they were to be sold at a rummage sale. So we would have lost them forever then. We’re most fortunate they survived,” Cox said.

In addition to donations by local residents, HGN’s projects have only been possible thanks to grants through the Legacy Foundation and other groups. Donations like this have funded the digitization, preservation and storage of Pine River Journal archives, the John Rohr film reels and the Glen Glover glass slide negatives.

Two walking tour projects of Pine River were also funded by $7,000 grants, another $55,000 paid for the interior renovations of the depot, and more grant money was also given to HGN for the purchase of “PastPerfect,” computer software for museums.

“Any major project is through a grant. We just don’t have the money,” Cox said. “They award grants for quite a variety of things (The Legacy Foundation), not just history stuff. Everybody has kind of found out about it, and there isn’t enough money to go around.”

HGN also survives on donations of time. Volunteers are invaluable, member Peterson has donated hours to construction of not only the interior of the depot, but also a home for the Pine River Fire Department’s old fire engine.

“We do need to appeal to the people, anyone that is a history buff. The dues are only $10 a year. We do need volunteer help,” Cox said.

Other future HGN projects include: the publication of a Pine River Fire Department Centennial book using records compiled by Marilynn Lodine from hundreds of hours of research into the Pine River Fire Department, city and Journal records, the reprinting of the Log Sleds to Snowmobiles Pine River Centennial Book, and the publication of a Pine River Area Transportation History book.

HGN expects that some of its projects will be completed by this July. These include the digitization of the Pine River Journal archives by (archives can already be found there), the open source digitization of the Glen Glover film negatives by the Minnesota Historical Society, and the DVD release of the John Rohr film reels.

The Pine River Depot building is expected to be open to the public Fridays and Saturdays this summer.