The Nerdery - Overnight Website Challenge

Twin Cities 2014, April 12-13

Dakota City Heritage Village, Inc.

In 1859 when Minnesota was a new state, a village named Dakota City was platted on the south banks of the Vermillion River, along the stagecoach road (currently Highway 3) that connected St. Paul to Faribault, MN. Some homes, businesses and even a school were built in Dakota City, but the promoters of the little village were sadly disappointed in 1864 when the Minnesota Central Railroad tracks were laid a mile to the west.

Not only was the rail line a mile away, the railroad also built a little station house beside its tracks and named it Farmington. Dakota City was soon abandoned and the buildings were relocated near the railroad station as part of the new town.

Dakota City Heritage Village was established by the Dakota County Agricultural Society in 1978 and named for this first Dakota City. For more than thirty years, historic structures from communities throughout the county have been relocated to our re-created Dakota City, restored, and found new life, providing historical and educational programs for children, families and senior citizens.

Dakota City currently has three part-time personnel: an Education Coordinator, Exhibit Coordinator, and Maintenance man. Our office administration, bookkeeping, marketing, fund-raising, event and curatorial services are provided by full time volunteers and Dakota City board members. Some 248 other volunteers serve in a wide range of duties, from guides and historical interpreters of living history, to food service workers to the Machinery Men who keep the vintage tractors in peak condition.

In 2013, Dakota City was host to 3,860 students participating in our educational programs. About half of the children come from public and private Dakota County schools. The other half come from communities in the southern half of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area and from as far south as Red Wing and Wanamingo. We have drawn 11,421 visitors to our public events, such as our Victorian Tea, our World War II Re-enactment, the County Fair, Harvest Moon Festival and our Christmas in the Village (2012 attendance).

As an historical repository, the public continues to donate historical objects that reveal how people lived, as well as their time and money to our preservation efforts. Ahlberg Heritage Center, our on-site museum, houses more than 10,000 artifacts depicting social and rural history, with an emphasis on agriculture.

In 1994 Dakota City Heritage Village, Inc. was incorporated as a volunteer organization to operate educational programs to the public. This organization has obtained IRS Non-profit 501 © (3) status for historic educational service.

What new functionality we are looking for

Besides having a professional looking and easily navigable website, the following items are things we would want to have in a new website:

- Provide clear and interesting information about Dakota City that will that will drive (motivate) attendance at events and programs, as well as entice people to become volunteers.

- Ability to have people complete an online volunteer application.

- Ability to post volunteer openings and to sign up volunteers online.

- Secure payment system with minimal fees to accept online donations.

- Program and event registration integrated with payment system.

- Social media links.

- Links to partners (i.e., Master Gardeners, Dakota County Historical Society).

- Ability to include videos (virtual tours, event teasers).

In addition, we want to engage children with interactive games, such as dressing in the 1900 era styles, finding hidden objects, word games and mazes.

How the new functionality will help

Our mission “to connect current generations” means we must reach out to people where they're at, and today that is electronic media. We need to engage with them online, helping them visually “step back in time” via technology and motivate them to experience Dakota City Heritage Village in person. We know we've an excellent historical resource here; we've only to make the connection to the current generations. The Nerdery can make that happen for us.

How our organization will use the technology

Who will use the technology

10 Messages from Supporters

2014-03-13 21:11:49 UTC
Alisa Peterson

I am the Volunteer Coordinator and Education Director for Dakota City and have worked here for 5 years. I work with the public to schedule visits to our village. I also am a contact person for anyone who wants to volunteer with our programs or the village in general. I think it is important for Dakota City to have a good, interactive and functional website along with other social media that the public is able to understand and use.

At Dakota City, we try to portray what life was like in a rural village in 1900. We want to have people come on our grounds and experience the old-fashioned life from long ago. They can experience this life as they walk through the buildings, hear the interpreters tell the building's history, touch the ironworks in the blacksmith, use the chalk and slates in the school house, put the washed clothes through the wringer, see all the items that were for sale in the general store, smell the fire from the blacksmith or what is cooking on the wood-burning stove in the home, etc. I think it would be great to have, on our website or other social media, not only fun still pictures but also short movie clips of people doing some of these things, to motivate the public to come in person and experience for themselves how people lived long ago. For children, it would be great to have some interactive site where they could “play” in the village. For example, click on objects to find out what they are or what they do, find hidden objects, “dress” a doll or person in 1900s clothing, explore the barn area, etc. to increase their desire to want to visit the village in person and interact directly with the people at Dakota City.

I also work with the volunteers for many of our education programs. I am responsible for finding, recruiting, training and scheduling volunteers. I would like a spot on our website that would grab the attention of people looking to volunteer and entice them to come volunteer in our village. I would like it to be easy for them to fill out a volunteer application and send it to me. Another thing I do is make sure each tour or scheduled event has enough volunteers to be able to interact with the students or other people in the village. Currently I have sign-up sheets for the volunteers to look over and choose when they can help. This involves the volunteer having to come to the office to see what is available, or having access to email so I can email the sign-up sheet to them, or I do a lot of phone calling to fill needed positions. I think it would be nice if there was some way I could post the volunteer positions needed, all the volunteers could access it and sign up for what they want to do, in real time, so all the other volunteers could also see what is still available.

According to the Minnesota Tourism department, most people age 18 – 36 currently go to electronic media, in more than one place (i.e. Facebook plus links, websites plus links), to find their information. Even though Dakota City emphasizes history and rural life as it was long ago, I think it is very important to keep up with the times and have information available to the public in a modern format. In order to bring them to the past, we need to be able to connect with our target audience where they are today, which is online and connected to social media. By having a well-designed, informative and easy to use website with links to other social media sites, we can give our audience the information they need in a current, up-to-date format they are familiar with using.

Dakota City is a volunteer-based non-profit that does not have the funds to build a website that would do everything we would like it to do and move us into the future. We would really benefit from this opportunity from the Nerdery to bring our organization into the 21st century and be able to connect with the public where they are now.

2014-03-13 15:45:12 UTC
Joe Walsh

I have worked with Dakota City for many years. I am suprised how over the years the way the word gets out about DCHV has changed from written flyers and word of mouth to web sites and the internet. DCHV as a non profit needs help updating its web site to make it more advanced and usable for all. Its great to be able to help teach children and adults how the world in Dakota County was in the early 1900s. A very good web site should help to get people from outside of Dakota County to find out about our buildings, history and activities. Let DCHV be selected to get the help of Nerdery to set up a web site. Thank You!

2014-03-13 17:35:51 UTC
Greg Kaslow

I have been involved with Dakota City for the last five years working on building maintenance projects to grants with the Minnesota Historical Society. This organization depends on a core of hard working volunteers that put on many events that the surrounding communitys enjoy and learn from. My oldest son can't wait each year to sign up for the summer day camps and the week of the camp that's all he is talking about to his friends. A new and improved website would greatly help this organization carry out it's mission.

2014-03-14 21:10:34 UTC
Lynn Radvansky

I'm a former Dakota City Board Member with expertise in fundraising and nonprofit development. While I was on the board I created their current website, which has been maintained by a current board member, both of us as volunteers. While we've done the best we can, we know there is so much more Dakota City could be doing through its website to extend its unique historical education experience and impact. Just 30 minutes from the Twin Cities, Dakota City is easily accessible to metro area families, students, retirees, and organizations and is positioned to serve them both physically and virtually. Thank you for your consideration and generosity in providing this website challenge.

2014-03-15 21:32:14 UTC
Lynn Stegmaier

While Dakota City Heritage Village portrays 1900 era life in an agrarian setting, we can not rely on publicity methods of that time. Word of mouth, phone calls and press releases do not create the impact we need.
We must reach people where they're at and today, that means social media. Dakota City should have a website that engages with visitors, perhaps have one's personal photo scanned in, so our website could allow them to see how their life may have been lived in 1900. Their photo would step them back in time with hair styles and clothing of the period as they visualize the activities of daily life back then. I believe such an imaginative interaction would motivate website visitors to come experience local history at our setting. Developing a positive public awareness and attendance should improve other issues also, such as volunteer recruitment and monetary donations.
There are more administrative functions our website must provide, like online registration and scheduling of volunteers, program regi-stration and payment receipt. These additions would allow our three part time staff members and 250 dedicated volunteers better product-ivity of their time.
Dakota City Heritage Village has a great historical setting and a 35 year record of serving the public. A well-designed, interactive website would be a great first impression to the world.
Thank you for your consideration, Lynn Stegmaier, Board Member

2014-03-16 19:21:10 UTC
Pearl R. Shirley

I understand The Nerdery may possibly assist our organization - Dakota City Heritage Village, Inc. - to develop a new website. DCHV is a non-profit 501(c)3 entity. Our present website was designed and executed by a non-professional and it definitely needs to be redone.

I am a 79 year old volunteer at the Village, here in the office every weekday from about 9 to 3 p.m. I have been a volunteer here for close to 30 years, as a tour guide, trolley guide, food service worker, administrative assistant, officer of our organization, etc. DCHV is a very educational and enjoyable place to visit and learn about and appreciate our agricultural heritage. I fully support our mission.

I am excited about the possibility of The Nerdery helping us - we need to advance to the modern age and make use of any social media available to us now and in the future.

Thank you for considering our organization for The Nerdery - Overnight Website Challenge.

2014-03-16 19:35:27 UTC
Austa Harmer (via Diane Schmidtke)

Note: This submission was received in writing at the Dakota City offices from Austa Harmer, a 90 year old volunteer. Since Austa does not use a computer, I said I would enter her testimonial for her.

I have spent a lot of time at Dakota City Heritage Village since it first started with just a few buildings. I've volunteered in many of the buildings both during the Dakota County Fair and Christmas in the Village.

I've always wondered how the people in charge manage to keep things running so smoothly for 10 days! I'm sure there must be some panic behind the scenes, but they manage somehow to pull it all together and make it look easy!

I hope that DCHV will continue for many years; it's an event that hundreds of people look forward to. I plan to volunteer as long as I can.

2014-03-17 03:08:01 UTC
Suzann Clemens Ellis

I am a museum professional and have served as a volunteer for Dakota City for two years. The supporters that have posted before me have reported the existance of a strong and dedicated corps of volunteers who share their skills and talents to the benefit of Dakota City. While the dedication of the volunteers is indeed impressive, the project continues to lack the resources necessary to create a successful internet presence. An interactive website could serve as an extension of the project allowing for the continual growth and management of the volunteer corps, the promotion of special events, educational and entertaining activities for young and old, a facility for processing monetary support and much more. Such a website is an essential component in the growth of this worthwhile project. By helping us reach a larger, relevant audience, by increasing our accessibility, and by providing new ways to reach our community, receiving this award would support our goals to connect modern generations to the rural life and agricultural heritage of Dakota County in ways we're currently unable to manage. Quite simply, we need the technology of the future to assist us in preserving our past. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to apply.

2014-03-17 03:16:11 UTC
Lea Guenther

Dakota City Heritage Village is a hidden gem, a wonderful place that transports visitors back in time more than century. It is my pleasure to serve as one of the many volunteers who work hard to interpret our 1900-era village for visitors of all ages. But DCHV needs help to present and teach the history of that time to more visitors, enlist more volunteers and promote monetary donations. To reach those goals, DCHV must bring its methods of communication into the present century. We have no one on our small staff or among our volunteers who has the ability to update our website and add the features that would enable us to grow and reach more people. The selection of DCHV to receive the Nerdery's expertise would be an immense benefit to future visitors and volunteers alike.

2014-03-17 14:14:14 UTC
Diane Schmidtke

During the summer of 2013, my 8 month old grandson, Ky, rode the Dakota City trolley with me in the Dew Days parade held in Farmington, Minnesota. Ky is the fourth generation of my family to be involved in Dakota City. My mother, a schoolteacher, and my father, a blacksmith, began volunteering at Dakota City in the early 1980's. My siblings and I were regularly called upon to help clean and make ready the one-room schoolhouse for school tours and events. In the 90's, my son along with nieces and nephews inherited those chores with their grandmother. In 2012, I joined the Dakota City board of directors and this is my second year as board president.

Dakota City is a wonderful, magical place and should be shared with many more people. I feel very strongly that with the gift of being chosen by The Nerdery for the Overnight Website Challenge, we will be able to reach many more people and begin their multi-generational relationship with us.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of our application.

Our Mission

It is our mission to connect through education and interpretation current generations to the life and agricultural heritage of early twentieth century rural Dakota County. We have developed hands-on educational programs for daycare age visitors, elementary age children, scout troops, as well as for adults to experience rural life, the source of food and fiber that sustain our daily lives. We actively seek to partner with other community organizations, such as Eagle Scouts, 4-H, the Dakota County Historical Society, Master Gardeners, and businesses. While our Dakota City site is important, the historical education we offer is critical, for future generations can only know where we are going when we understand our past.