History of the Lake County Historical Society and the Smith-Zimmermann Heritage Museum
The collection housed in the Smith-Zimmermann Museum began as the Lake County Collection in the early 1950's by the Lake County Historical Society. The Society was founded in 1952 by incorporators George Smith, Cory Christensen, Estelle Runkel, Bret Hart, L. F. Ericsson and Dr. J. A. Muggly. There were 122 charter members. The original copy of the Articles of Incorporation with signatures of all the charter members hangs in the north entry way to the Museum.
Once the Society began, the collection of historic artifacts started shortly thereafter. The collection was at first housed on the General Beadle College campus but was soon moved to the basement of the Lake County Courthouse. George Smith was the principal volunteer who presented the collection to the public. The kids of that era thought George was a wonderful storyteller.
In 1959 George Smith and charter member, Lillie Zimmermann, together donated $75,000 for a museum building to be constructed on the College campus. The money was donated to the state and the legislature passed Senate Bill 252 allowing construction of the building. The legislature also allocated $25,000 of state funds for the construction of the Museum, and the bill outlined its purpose and its operation and management which would be a cooperative effort between the State and the Society.
The building was constructed in 1960, and the collection moved in 1961. Over the objection of Smith and Zimmermann, the building was named in their honor.
At the beginning the Museum was a truly cooperative effort between the State and Society. The state owned the building and maintained it, the State and Society operated it, and the Society developed and owned the collection. In 1978 the state hired a full-time curator for the Museum, and in 1982 the Society turned over the collection to the state. In 1996, the state chose to no longer provide the curator nor maintenance nor funding of any kind for the Museum. Its operation, management and the collection was turned over to the Lake County Historical Society which now runs it as a county museum.
The collection primarily reflects the ethnic groups who settled Lake County. Many artifacts in the Museum were brought with these early pioneers or purchased by them in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The artifacts include household articles, period clothing and war memorabilia.