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Showcasing history

There is only one place where the most influential people, landmarks and events of the past 150 years can come together.

The ALEX150 exhibit is shaped after the Minnesota Historical Society's 150-year exhibit in St. Paul. It displays 150 items deemed to have significantly shaped the community of Alexandria since 1858.

Put together by the Douglas County Historical Society and the Douglas County Library Friends and Foundation, this project is meant to "inspire memories and conversation when people look at it," said Rachel Barduson from the Douglas County Historical Society.

This past February, invitations were sent out to the public to nominate people, places and things that have shaped the Alexandria community over the past 150 years. The ALEX150 exhibit is a combination of these nominations from the people.

Barduson said they received entries from people who have lived in Alexandria all their lives, from people who have moved away, and others via e-mail.

Paired with memorabilia from the past, the nominations are now on display at the AAAA Theatre. ALEX150 opened on June 7, and will be housed at the AAAA Theatre until the end of June.

The public is encouraged to visit the displays that are sure to evoke memories and reminiscence during the hours of 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. After June, the exhibit will be moved to the Douglas County Library where the public can view it until the end of the summer.

A committee is also working on a publication of these 150 items that will include pictures. They will be printed and ready for sale by Christmas.

A wide variety of items are on display. Some of the landmarks included are Big Ole as well as Olof Ohman and the Kensington Runestone. Buildings like the Douglas County Courthouse are also accounted for.

Evidence that times are changing is apparent in the displays of the advancements in transportation from the railroad to the "Interstate 94 exit to Alexandria." The ALEX150 exhibit also includes such innovations as telephones and television.

Some events that people nominated were the Vikingland Band Festival, the Douglas County Fair and the Homestead Act of 1862. This piece of legislation was passed by Congress and was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. Taryn Flolid, who submitted this nomination, described the Homestead Act: "Homesteaders were provided 160 acres of land if they lived on it for five years and cultivated the land."

Just a few of the influential people in Alexandria that were represented are Knute Nelson, representative, senator and statesman, and explorer Leif Erickson, who is credited with leading the Vikings to Alexandria, making this town known as the "Birthplace of America."

Pioneers are among the groups of people who citizens thought had a huge impact on our city. With the pioneers are the Jefferson High School Carolers, Douglas County veterans and the Alexandria Fire Department, just to name a few.

"Weather (or not)" was another nomination in this exhibit. The caption was accompanied by an old black-and-white photograph of snow forts made in the huge snow banks along the sidewalks of downtown Alexandria. Another nomination that rings true as a huge shaping factor in both 1858 and today is "Neighbor helping Neighbor."

There were some very unique entries submitted to the ALEX150 exhibit. One such nomination was the "Sidewalks of Alexandria." The description of this item - along with an old black-and-white photo of workers laying cement on a portion of Alex's sidewalks - was submitted by Flolid. "Alexandria was built for walking, with sidewalks and a grid street pattern... From Sunday church to Saturday night dates, the sidewalks of Alexandria were busy all week."

Area businesses, both past and present, are also highlighted. An example of this is Andy and Jeanette's popcorn stand. "Going to the Movies" and "Sunset Drive-In" were other things that people felt have shaped Alexandria.

A cardboard jukebox labeled with the nomination "Saturday night in Alexandria" can also be seen at the ALEX150 exhibit. "What many people have forgotten was that it provided town and rural folks alike with the greatest 'stop and chat' opportunity ever... When Saturday came, people went downtown and sat in their cars on Main Street to 'watch the people go by,' " wrote Joan Ballard Larson, submitter of this entry.

Other items on display include churches, their activities and schools.

For more information on other events celebrating Alexandria's sesquicentennial, check out the historical column in the Life section of today's paper.