Lindström, Minn. – All of a sudden, people in Chisago County are getting excited about history.

The Chisago County Historical Society has added nearly 200 members in the past year and a half, almost doubling its membership. And now it is about ready to unveil its new headquarters — a renovated gift shop on Lake Boulevard downtown that is scheduled to open later this month.

The 4,500-square-foot building, on the city's main drag, will house a number of new exhibits, including a replica of a classroom from a one-room schoolhouse. Another display will feature artifacts and advertising from local businesses.

The building front is being rebuilt with reclaimed wood and tin and will be turned into an old-time general store, where visitors can buy old-fashioned candy and donated antiques.

The new location has increased the society's visibility, which in turn has sparked an increase in donations of historical items, said Lin Strong, a director of the society.

"Now that we're here, people are donating so many wonderful things," Strong said. "We're running out of storage space already."

It's a good problem to have. The society previously was located in two separate homes donated by the late Marlene Smith, owner of a local plastics company. Having two locations was awkward, Strong said, and the homes weren't well-placed to attract casual visitors.

The society sold one home and was able to buy its new space with no debt, thanks in part to a generous price break on the former gift shop from the property owners, Gordy and Vida Meland.

Now there's more room for the society's research center, which houses a wealth of local genealogy materials as well as stacks and stacks of old newspapers. There's a separate area set aside for collecting oral histories from area residents, and the walls will display paintings by local artists.

Ruth Quarn, a new volunteer from Chisago City, was looking into her family history when she stopped by the society seeking information. She was instantly hooked when she discovered that the society housed an 1894 photo of her husband's grandfather with his trick dog, Fido.

Since then, she's volunteered regularly, helping with the renovation. She and her husband, Butch, built the schoolroom exhibit and laid the wood floor.

"The problem with museums is, nobody comes in," Strong said. "You have to make it interesting."

John Reinan • 612-673-7402