Stamp museums keep historic properties in the spotlight

Written by By Marilyn Hefley, CNN

For those who have been living in a neighborhood for their entire life and later move out to the suburbs, the first thing they notice about their new neighborhood is that it’s spick and span.

You can walk just about anywhere, to work, school or your favorite bar. And like one of those people who lives within sight of a water tower, you take great pride in maintaining its appearance.

But what happens when your community winds down? A water tower’s inimitable beauty can often come and go with the seasons.

By keeping the same version of the water tower in place, you’re communicating to everyone that your community has lived longer and more successfully than your new one. A water tower’s historical value becomes even more pronounced.

That is why we focus on asking individuals if they would like their community to be preserved in some way, and we plan a series of local and regional events that showcase how local communities have successfully retained their water towers. These will highlight people and organizations that care for these landmarks.

For example, this video profiles the historic Haynard Wax Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota. While downtown has changed in the last several decades, St. Paul’s history is one of the things that has survived.

While moving to the suburbs helped to shore up the newspaper, bank and butcher shops that once called downtown home, the community has kept the same water tower. And if you go there, it still looks pretty much the same. The Haynard Wax Museum and Stamp Museum, on the other hand, is about to get a makeover. The property owners, the Hickman Hagedorn and Gill family, want to turn the Hagedorn Park water tower into a museum of stamps that once circulated between the US Postal Service and the St. Paul Literary Guild in the 1800s.

“We’re envisioning a new history of stamps in the city,” Jason Hagedorn, executive director of St. Paul Magazine, tells CNN Travel. And unlike the typical giant museum, in this case, the building wouldn’t just be an old stamp warehouse — it would also host stupendous local events.

“We hope to have former stamp collectors wandering through the building, meeting people who are working in stamps, and educating them on what stamps did back in the 19th century,” says Hagedorn.

These oil paintings, retrieved from the Los Angeles Museum of Art, make up one piece of the new Haynard Wax Museum. (Photo credit: La Senza Photography/Courtesy of the Haynard Wax Museum)

Historic oil paintings from a secret archive

Haynard and Hagedorn are good friends. Over the years, they’ve helped each other introduce the importance of stamp collecting to a wider audience, including the publishing giant Penguin Group, which owns St. Paul Magazine.

Hagedorn hopes that the historical video tour, and the new Haynard Wax Museum, will drive more local events and fundraising to keep the quaint block of downtown St. Paul in the limelight.

“In some ways, St. Paul and cities like it were a breeding ground for stamp collecting in the 19th century,” says Hagedorn. “To this day, there are very few cities that had any serious history associated with stamp collecting, and for us to have had this history preserved is pretty spectacular.”

Hagedorn says that working with a local organization, such as the St. Paul Literary Guild, is essential to preserving these historic buildings. When Hagedorn was a kid, he says, it was extremely difficult to buy stamps as a kid. Now, with the digital age, the teens who “were born under a water tower,” aren’t quite as selective when it comes to buying stamps. If they had been to a Stamp Museum, though, Hagedorn would have found that the bin of stamps they found in the back of the library was worth the price of admission.

A piece of civil disobedience

The Civil Rights movement almost destroyed St. Paul. But while there were many catalysts for change, including the rise of Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., many protestors took a stand against the water towers of St. Paul by covering them with text messages (now known as mural paint).

In 1947, the Union Gospel Mission of St. Paul converted a water tower and intended to install an organ, but local protests forced its removal.

Black families were not happy that water companies would increasingly feature the Union Gospel Mission on their water meters.

“People were protesting,” remembers Joyce Taylor, a local librarian who turned activist. “It was the black community that was upset over the changes to these water providers. The Lorraine Motel was filled with black people who had just been bombed.”

Many fire departments

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