Rachael Martin travels through history

Rachael Martin had a sense of d?j? vu on her first day of work as the new director of the Carlton County Historical Society (CCHS) June 16. That's because her family hails from Wright and she remembers coming to the building when it was a library.

Rachael Martin
New Carlton County Historical Society Director Rachael Martin points to one of the spots on the map where a visitor to the CCHS hails from. The map is just one of the new innovations Martin has made at the History and Heritage Museum on Cloquet Avenue. Recently, she said, visitors from Japan made their mark on the map. One of Martin's sidelines is doing costumed historical presentations depicting significant women from the area's past.

Rachael Martin had a sense of déjà vu on her first day of work as the new director of the Carlton County Historical Society (CCHS) June 16. That's because her family hails from Wright and she remembers coming to the building when it was a library.

"When this opportunity opened up here in Cloquet, I was very excited," she said. "Carlton County is my old territory, and there aren't that many opportunities in this area for this exact kind of work."

Martin's mother grew up in Wright and met her father when he came to Wright for his first job - as principal of the local school. Her father later got a job as principal of the Kettle River School, and the two were married shortly thereafter.

After Kettle River, her dad worked in Deerwood, Riverton (where Rachael was born), and eventually Duluth, where Rachael and her sister grew up.

"Because my dad was a school teacher, he got the summers off," she explained, "and so he always planned a two-week driving trip for somewhere in the United States on our vacation. My dad was very much a teacher, even when it came to his family, and that's where I gained my love of history, because to me, history meant vacation time!"


She said one of the more memorable trips was when her dad insisted on finding the grave of Sacajawea, the Indian guide who went on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

"It was somewhere in southern Utah, at the end of an old dirt road," she related. "The road was just horrible, all desert and windswept. All that was there was a little cross where her son was buried, but there was no actual gravesite for her. We got all dressed up for it because we thought we were going to an important place, but there we were, in the middle of the desert, in our crinoline skirts!"

She said they also got to visit Disneyland when it first opened in California, and also took a trip to Cuba before the United States put travel restrictions on it.

"We were planning a trip to the Southeastern United States to Florida and the Keys," she said. "My dad always wanted to have at least one big adventure on each trip, and this time he decided we were going to take our first airplane flight and hop over to Cuba!"

She said those trips were the reason she grew up liking history, plus she had a really fine teacher in high school who taught a course where he combined American history and American literature for a two-hour class.

"As we were reading about Thorough or Nathaniel Hawthorne, we were also studying that time period in history," she said. "That really was in inspiration to me."

After high school, she went to Gustavus Adolphus and then on to the University of Minnesota to pursue a degree in American Studies.

While in college, she did some work training volunteers for the Peace Corps, and the first summer she was assigned to the Four Corners area of Utah, training people to go to Africa. Following graduation, she worked as a Peace Corps staff member in the Caribbean.


After a year, the Peace Corps branch closed down, so she found work in Washington, D.C. for the next 10 years in the field of travel and tourism. She started out as a local Washington, D.C. tour guide and moved up the career ladder conducting tours for bus groups visiting Washington, D.C.

"I liked the idea being a tour director, which is the next step up the ladder," she said. "That's the person who goes along on the two-week tour with the group from beginning to end that takes you to all these

different places."

She sent her resume to a tour company and landed a job almost immediately, later discovering she was the first female tour director they'd ever hired.

Her first assignment was in the Southwest, guiding tours between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

"I would meet the group at the airport and we'd go and tour Phoenix, Sedona and Flagstaff, then Bryce and Zion national parks and end up in Las Vegas," she said. "Then I'd take a plane to Phoenix, and when I landed, there would be my next tour group! I had 45 minutes off - and that was the flight between Las Vegas and Phoenix. It was 26 weeks, non-stop, without being able to sit down because they sold every seat! But it was one of the most fun things that I've done."

She was then assigned to conduct tours in New England and eventually landed a position in West Virginia working on the governor's commission on tourism as the executive director of a regional travel council.

And then, her father died, and she felt bad that she'd only had limited time with him as an adult.


"I decided I wanted to take the opportunity to get to know my mom," she said.

Since she had been toying around with the idea of going back to graduate school, she applied at the University of Minnesota, where she received a full scholarship, and she finished up her final quarter at the University of Minnesota Duluth to be closer to home.

She earned her master's degree in American Studies, but this time the focus was on the history of the Great Lakes region.

"In all my travels, I realized that although all those other places were beautiful, unique and fun to be in, I compared every single one of them to home."

While she was at UMD, she met her husband, Bob, who was also a student in graduate school there. They married in 1984 and bought a 40-acre farm in the countryside outside of Superior, where she now has seven vegetable gardens and her husband's hobby is beekeeping. The two sell vegetables and honey at the farmers market, which they've been doing for the past 20 years.

Martin worked for a time at UMD and then was hired at the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center at the Depot in Duluth. After five years, an opportunity opened up as executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society in Superior. She worked there for 10 years. During that time she was able to secure a grant for $1.7 million to accomplish the renovation of Fairlawn, the 1890s Victorian mansion where the Historical Society was located.

After that, she worked as the educator at the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, working with volunteer recruitment, tours, exhibits and school



"That was really fun, working at Glensheen, because they have such a beautiful collection to work with," she related. "I also had the opportunity to interview all of the Congdon family members."

In her free time, Martin teaches community education and continuing education classes on local history, and conducts tours of historic churches, gardens, cemeteries, and other places.

She also teaches classes at The College of St. Scholastica and as a sideline performs costumed historical interpretation, wearing a costume and portraying a local woman from out of the area's history.

"I have nine different characters that I do," she explained, including an Ojibwe Indian woman who lived in the Mille Lacs area; Julia Nettleton, who came here in the 1850s and settled in Superior when it first became a city; Mrs. McDougall, whose husband invented the whaleback ships; Mrs. Prindell, whose husband was a real estate agent and built a mansion in east Duluth that was most recently used as the John Duss Music Conservatory; Mrs. Hartley, wife of Gilbert Graham Hartley, whose daughter was married to one of the Congdon sons; Mrs. Pattison, the wife of the mayor of Superior who lived at Fairlawn; her own grandmother, a Finnish immigrant who came here with her husband in 1905 and settled on a farmstead in Wright; a Swedish maid who worked at Glensheen; and her own mother, who grew up on a Finnish


Martin also writes a monthly history article for the Senior Reporter magazine and works on private projects as well, such as the recent year-long anniversary celebration of the Kitchi Gammi Club.

She is thrilled with the new opportunities that being director of the Carlton County Historical Society affords her.

"At first, there were a lot of things that required crisis management, such as the basement flooding when it rains hard, a broken front door, and ants all over the yard," she said. "I don't mind these types of problems because they are things I've experienced before and I don't shy away from them. It's also very exciting looking at all the things in the collection and getting ideas for new exhibits."


She already has plans for the next couple of exhibits and is planning to do one for October, November and December on the cemeteries of Carlton County, including information about local veterans who are buried here as well as the architecture of the headstones themselves. In January, February and March, she wants to tell the story of the building in which the historical society is now located when it was a library.

"I want to tell the story of the old library while people still remember it," she said.

She also hopes to start a historical book club sometime next winter.

While she is literally bursting with new ideas for the future of the CCHS, Martin said she is enjoying each moment as it comes.

"I have loved every day of it," she said with a happy grin.

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