Murphy is still on all the signs out front. But Murphy's days -- at what most people still know as "Murphy's Landing," the historic village along the Minnesota River -- are numbered.

Officially, it's now the Landing. And, soon enough, once new designs are created, the signs will reflect the change -- one of many quietly taking place at the site as its new owner pours hundreds of thousands of dollars into upgrading it. Even more profound changes are planned in years to come.

The name change reflects a change in the way the village is being seen -- and a step away from seeing white settlement as the defining element of our history, according to Jefferson Spilman, who manages the property for the Three Rivers Parks District.

"We realized that Major Murphy was one person, who only lived here for 20 years," he said. "Native Americans had a village here before he did, and were here for thousands of years. After Murphy, many people lived here. We decided that the river was really the key. 'The Landing' offers a broader way of thinking about human history here. Murphy will remain part of our story, but not the official name."

A big stack of shingles alongside a log home and squat scaffolding down the road are clues to other changes the site has seen since Three Rivers (formerly Hennepin County Parks) bought it from a nonprofit, the Minnesota Valley Restoration Project, in 2002. Buildings were decaying for want of the kind of resources a major operation like Hennepin's can bring to bear.

"Since 2003, we've spent more than $200,000 a year, on average, on rehabilitating buildings out here," Spilman said. "Nearly all of it has been for exteriors. We need to preserve as many as we can, knowing we may get into the interiors later."

Kathleen Klehr, executive director of the Scott County Historical Society, which once had a share of the site, applauds the changes.

"This has really been a good deal, on the whole," she said. "Three Rivers is a big organization that knows how to handle parks. In this economy, it's tough for a little piddly guy like us to do that. We've lowered staff numbers already, and that was a huge thing."

The 88-acre, partly wooded site -- between Valleyfair and downtown Shakopee along Hwy. 101 -- was created in 1969 as a living history museum. It has grown to roughly 40 historic buildings, including a church and town hall, with the goal of depicting life.

It's located at the site of what was at the time a major ferry crossing, with Murphy's Inn nearby. While the inn today is just ruined foundations, Three Rivers has cleared it of brush to make it more visible.

The Landing has a paid staff of 30, including seasonal employees and a corps of volunteers. But more funding could mean even more access.

"The buildings are not all accessible, even when we have a lot of interpreters on site," Spilman said. "Some need to be restored, or are reserved for staff, or we just don't have enough people to open all the doors. We try to make at least 15 interiors available on weekends," when usage is greatest.

The site is open weekdays as well, though on one recent weekday most of the guests were members of groups: a Civil War reenactment camp for kids and a day care outing, with kids drinking water from the pump on the town green with the aid of a bonneted interpreter.

Within the next five to 10 years, if approval is granted, there are plans for major changes, including a move of the main parking lot to the opposite end of the long, slender site, closer to the main village cluster, and the construction of an education center and a modern visitor center with gift shop.

"Last year we redid a Victorian house and the general store," Spilman said. "We've been clearing brush away and creating dramatic new views of the river. We finished in February a massive restoration of two barns, costing $350,000, with new shingles and timbers. They now look just like they would have originally.

"Our main goal now is to get people out to see the Landing -- and the Fourth of July would be a perfect time to do that."

David Peterson • 952-882-9023