Great Northern Railway Historical Society

GNRHS St. Paul Archives

Most organizations that are similar to the Great Northern Historical Society are conducting some kind of archival activity. Some of the railroad groups, such as the Union Pacific Historical Society, have long-standing and close affiliation with their namesake, while others are just beginning to establish such connections. In this regard, our Society has recently taken a very positive step by associating itself with two other fine organizations: the Minnesota Transportation Museum and the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association.

Jackson St. ArchiveThe Minnesota Transportation Museum has a 40-year history of preservation activity, primarily in the operating of restored equipment.  Anyone close to Minnesota will know that their trolley, steamboat, and excursion train rides have been a part of the metropolitan scene for years.  With the addition of the Jackson Street Roundhouse, the museum has a "home" for conducting its restoration projects and preserving the history of transportation in Minnesota.

The fact that the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association and the Great Northern Railway Historical Society have formed an archival agreement will make the preservation of Great Northern's history a practical reality.  For the GNRHS, the core of the archival activity is the GN Property Accounting record, which have been in our custodial care for more than twenty years.  Moving the records into a secure and climate-controlled environment makes it practical for researchers to secure information about various historical considerations on the railroad.

AFE Archive

The RPC (Record of Property Change) ledger books and AFE (Authorization For Expenditure) capital project records have been moved to the museum and are organized for individual research.  Staffing is all-volunteer, so researchers need to communicate well in advance with the archivist so that the correct material can be pulled and made accessible for any research being completed.

The researcher will also wish to explore the extensive material at Minnesota Historical Society and other public institutions in the metro area.

Photo Archive

The principal collection of GN photos in the archive is the Keyes collection, now supplemented by the Newby, Werkema, Bohi and other collections. Currently, we are scanning photos into a digital format and cataloging the collection. Our primary desire is to make this collection available for the publication of the Goat, but also to legitimate research as well.

As with any published material, photo copyright is an issue that must be respected.  We will not sell or distribute material that is not ours to distribute.  We can show examples of what is there for personal research, but only marked digital photos will be printed and released.


On several occasions, the museum and archives have been able to help individuals wanting to conduct research with the collections we hold.   In all cases, the individuals communicated their interest and we were able to narrow down their search and have materials pulled for review at the museum.

Other individuals have been helped who have been directed to us via our officers, directors or our website.  General questions often come our way via  Archives contact information is also printed regularly in the masthead page of the "Goat".

Archive Storage

PNRA ArchiveAs reported earlier, we had to take some time off in establishing a storage area in the museum because of physical problems with the building.  That situation is behind us now and we do have a secure room with shelving erected and filling rapidly with archival materials.  Volunteers from the NPRHA and GNRHS worked successive weekends getting the shelving set up and a secure door on the storage room.

A file indexing system has been established, and items that may be donated will be placed in proper storage units for preservation.  Our collections will remain physically separated in the storage area from those of the other organizations, as well as tracked via a cataloging system that is being developed.  By utilizing the storage placement system and cataloging system, collections will not be lost or forgotten.

Archive Cataloging

GNRHS Member Jeff Otto has developed an excellent database for cataloging the archives at the museum.  Based on Microsoft Access, the database is interactive in cross-referencing the collection, the donor, collection contents, and location of storage.  Several individuals have been assisting in cataloging NP, BNSF and GNRHS archival materials, but we could really use additional volunteers to help with the GNRHS collection.  Completion of the cataloging would be a big step towards making the archives more available to researchers.

A joint (GN/NP) archive computer committee was established to research the current and eventual needs of the archive.  Together the GNRHS & NPRHA at Jackson St currently have 7 data entry computers as well as a high-capacity server for digital storage.

With the vast data being entered on collections and the size of the photo files, memory will remain a critical resource of the system, and expansion of data storage capacity a necessity in the future.  Also, we have been working hard to make our collections and indexes available on the Internet via

We have been cataloging the AFE index for several years, and have entered over 100,000 entries into the system.  That is only about half the total that will be required.  It is hoped that others will help out by taking sections of the index and increasing the number of entries many times over.

Need for Help, Need for Donations

The facilities are ready and the systems are in place.  To make this the best archive around, we need members to continue to support the cause any way they possibly can.  We need people to volunteer their time and expertise to make this effort successful. Contact us with an idea of availability and ability to assist in our efforts.

For those who have GN material, keep us in mind when you have material that can be donated.  GNRHS is an IRS 501(c)(3) non-profit so your donation is tax-deductible, and will be a great way to preserve part or all of your collection for posterity.  We will gladly work with members and non-members who have collections and are seeking guidance on disposition.

We receive donations of materials continuously.  Each week something comes our collective way.  Thanks to those who already have been so helpful and thanks to those who have lent their support to the project.  We will not disappoint you.

Search and our Archives