Research leads to a 120-year-old time capsule in Yellow Medicine Courthouse

120-year-old courthouse is about to give up secrets about the county it serves, thanks to the curiosity of a veteran' service officer turned historian.

Back in time
Yellow Medicine County Veteran's Service officer Michelle Gatz uncovered a newspaper account from 1889 that described the placement of a time capsule in this granite stone during the dedication of the courthouse on July 4 1889. The newspaper account describes many of its contents, but also hints at "secrets'' to be learned with its opening. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

120-year-old courthouse is about to give up secrets about the county it serves, thanks to the curiosity of a veteran' service officer turned historian.

"Maybe we'll have to rewrite the county's history,'' laughed Michelle Gatz, Yellow Medicine County veterans service officer, in describing the "secrets'' she hopes to find revealed in a time capsule.

The capsule is a copper box placed in a granite cornerstone of the courthouse during its dedication ceremony on July 4, 1889. Gatz intends to remove the stone and open the capsule on July 4, when she'd also like to insert a new one in its place.

She knows many of the contents that will be found in the time capsule, thanks to an old newspaper account she uncovered. But the article also contained a tantalizing message in reference to the time capsule and building: "Years, decades, ages, centuries will elapse before the building will give up its secrets ... '' stated a July 9, 1889, article in the Granite Falls Tribune. It was most likely authored by James Putnam, a one-time riverboat acquaintance of Samuel Clemens and the paper's editor at the time.

A longtime maintenance worker in the courthouse had once mentioned to Gatz that he believed a time capsule had been placed "somewhere'' in the building. No one seemed to know if this was rumor or fact.


She learned the veracity of the story while doing research on the county's Civil War veterans for a book. For the past two years she has been tracing the histories of 265 different Civil War veterans she was able to identify from the county's formative years.

She made repeated trips to the regional history library at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall and pored through endless pages from old newspapers, diaries, letters and official documents. She was completing work on the final two veterans for the book recently when she stumbled on the newspaper account describing the 1889 dedication of the courthouse. Her curiosity about a possible time capsule compelled her to scan through the article.

She learned that there was a time capsule, and it was certainly no secret 120 years ago: The newspaper described how a marching band led a large crowd of people to the courthouse grounds for the building's dedication and the placement of the copper box with its contents meant for the future.

The article also described the stone in which it was placed, and Gatz rushed back to the courthouse building to find the weathered rock she had walked by dozens and dozens of times without ever paying it heed. The stone with its inscription "July 4, 1889'' is within a few yards of the Veterans Memorial Park she helped develop on the courthouse grounds.

Her next step in the process was to bring a metal detector to the stone. It shrieked like an alarm bell.

"It went crazy,'' said Gatz, who admitted that her own excitement over the find was on top of the scale too.

The newspaper article lists many of the contents in the time capsule, and it could be revealing. The article mentions that information on the "removal'' of the county seat from Yellow Medicine City to its present location in Granite Falls is included in the copper box. Other items waiting to be uncovered include an edition of the county's first newspaper, "The Granite Rock,'' and information on the first settlers and their organizations.

Other items listed include a photograph of the county seat community, information on the bonds sold for the courthouse project (at 12 percent interest), and data ranging from the county's population to the number of votes cast at the last election.


The 1889 newspaper editor wrote that a copy of the Granite Falls Tribune was also included in the copper box, and offered his own prediction: "Indeed should the beautiful edifice stand the ordeal of an hundred winters and not be torn from its foundation by the rude hand of man, things of interest will be found in company with the Tribune.''

Gatz said the copper box and its contents will be turned over to the Yellow Medicine County Historical Society for preservation following the July 4 opening event.

What To Read Next
Get Local