By Hannah Wingert
While walking around Harmony recently, you may have noticed some new signs up around town. They’re part of the Harmony Historical Society’s new walking tour and were unveiled on June 16 at a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Some of the members of the Historical Society had seen historical walking tour signs in other towns, including Decorah and thought it would be a great idea for Harmony as well. Harmony resident Vicky Tribon heard about a $10,000 grant available through the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, or SMIF, and brought it to the attention of the Historical Society. Tribon helped with the grant process and in early 2017, the grant was approved. The grant terms stated that the project must be done by September 1, 2017, but the street and sidewalks of Main Street in Harmony were under construction during the summer of 2017 so they were unable to meet that deadline. “The SMIF people were so gracious,” Historical Society secretary Mary Lou Zombory expressed. “They extended it (the deadline).”
The project took well over a year to complete and included extensive research into the history of Harmony. “We were blessed with ladies from the town years ago who documented everything with journals, newspaper clippings, pictures, and more,” Zombory said. Former Harmony resident Ida Johnson kept detailed journals of everyday life in Harmony, which were very useful for the Society members as they researched information for the walking tour signs.
Historical Society Members Sharen Storhoff, Marv Wicks, Ralph Beastrom, and Mary Lou Zombory along with other individuals worked hard to curate the information for the signs. “It was hard picking which things would go on the signs, but we had to narrow it down,” Zombory said. After the information for each sign was decided on, Zelda Productions of Decorah, Iowa, took care of the graphic design. Ten signs in total were created. Nine of those were 2’ x 3’ sloped signs that were placed strategically at locations in Harmony where the history portrayed on that sign could be visualized. A larger 12’ x 2’ sign showcasing the timeline of the City of Harmony from 1848-2017 was installed at the visitor’s center where the walking tour begins.
“The main thing is that we don’t want the history to be lost,” Zombory said. “We need to keep the history alive.” Although the project was a lot of work, it was also a lot of fun for those who worked on it as they learned more about the history of Harmony.
Members of the Historical Society visited the Decorah historical walking tour several times during the span of the project to get tips and ideas for the Harmony project. Harmony has the distinction of being the first town in Minnesota to create its own historical walking tour. That meant that MnDot had to figure what policies and procedures to set up for signage placed on a MnDot right of way. Those policies and procedures can then be applied to future similar projects in other Minnesota cities.
When spring came and it was time to install the signs, the society ran into some more delays with unexpected snowstorms through April. Once the weather finally improved enough to pour the concrete pads, members of the Lions Club helped to install the signs around Harmony. When the signs were up, they were left covered, waiting to be unveiled at the June 16 ribbon cutting.
The day of the ribbon cutting was a beautiful day, albeit hot, and was well-attended. Among the speakers were Representative Greg Davids and Harmony Mayor Steve Donney. “I would like to thank Cliff Johannessen and the whole historical society for putting this project together,” Donney said.
“HAHS (Harmony Area Historical Society) is continuing with efforts to restore the history of Harmony,” Society president Cliff Johannessen said. Their next project is the restoration of the grain elevator that sits beside the visitor’s center.
Walking tour maps can be picked up at the Harmony Visitor’s Center and other select locations around town.