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The Kensington depot (left) is now located near the Kensington Area Heritage Society Museum, once the New Co-op Creamery. (Contributed photo)
The Kensington depot (left) is now located near the Kensington Area Heritage Society Museum, once the New Co-op Creamery. (Contributed photo)

History lives on in Kensington

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news Alexandria, 56308

Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

Many vestiges of our area's past are gone forever. Historic buildings have been torn down, burned or fallen down. Main street businesses have either disappeared entirely or changed from pioneer to more modern functions. Some old structures have taken on new purposes because most in their original form would be impractical in the 21st century.

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Stately old homes have fared the best in small towns and rural areas, but the large timber or frame barns that used to be on every farm are now becoming a rarity. In fact, they are such an endangered species that contests are held to locate them and awards given for their restoration and preservation.

Besides houses and main street businesses, two other structures that were once seen in almost every small town were a depot and a creamery. With major changes in rail traffic and consolidation of the dairy industry, those two familiar sights have now almost disappeared.

Depot and creamery buildings still exist, but usually, they are either empty or have been turned into anything from storage units to living quarters. In Kensington, those two structures have taken on new lives of their own in recent years.

The brick New Co-op Creamery was built in 1932 to replace an earlier one that was destroyed by fire. It continued as a creamery until the 1960s when bulk milk became the norm. Since then it has been used for storage. The building is a typical sturdy structure of that era, and many wondered what would eventually happen to the 80-year-old landmark. After much deliberation, hard work and fundraising by its directors and members, the Kensington Area Heritage Society bought the building, financed by the Kensington Bank, and took on the monumental task of converting it into the KAHS Museum.

The 125-year-old Kensington depot has a much longer history, having been built in 1887. Its original location was near the present-day elevator but was later moved a couple blocks west. There it remained during the busy years of rail traffic, both passenger and freight, until it was no longer used and moved out to Kensington Runestone Park. Planned changes at the park required that the depot be removed.

Under the guidance and leadership of the KAHS and supported by the Douglas County Parks Department, the depot was moved back into town this summer and placed near the creamery, a spot that is only a few hundred feet from its original location in 1887. The depot is unique because it has not been remodeled or changed since it was built. It is truly a piece of rail and town history.

The two historic buildings have been saved for now, but there is much more to be done. Upkeep, maintenance and repairs are ongoing for both structures. A few hard-working volunteers have moved, lifted, carried, arranged, labeled and displayed items in the museum and organized files of old pictures, documents and clippings. It's a big job requiring countless hours of work for the ongoing project.

Now local residents and visitors to the area can experience two vital parts of the community's history. Although such sights may be familiar to many from the past, the younger generations might ask, "What is a depot" or "What is a creamery?" They may be more familiar with a Home Depot store or a Coldstone Creamery ice cream shop.

When you drive through Kensington on Highway 55, slow down and look at the historic complex. If you're passing through on County Road 1, the museum and depot are located just one block to the east. The depot is expected to be open to the public in 2013. Visitors to the museum should call (320) 965-2573 to have a volunteer open the doors.

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