New Book Aims to Bring Brown County History Alive

By Serra Muscatello

For native New Ulm woman Cj Carmichael Braun, it all started with her request to the Brown County Historical Society for a summer job... but it has turned into much more than for her. 

On Monday, July 17, a concise, portable and artistically attractive 130-page book called "Marking Time - An Illustrated Guide to Brown County's Sites of Historical Interest" will be released to the public for sale. This will be the fifth publication by the Brown County Historical Society, according to Bob Burgess, Director of the Brown County Historical Society in New Ulm. 

Carmichael Braun has played an instrumental role in organizing, researching and photographing 120 historic sites in Brown County that are featured in the book. She also used her educational background in art to assist in overall graphic design elements she used in the book. 

Cj (Charis) Carmichael Braun is the daughter of Gary and Caroline Carmichael of New Ulm. 

"I'm just excited about it. It's a must-have if you like history, " said Carmichael Braun. "It's (the book) never been done before. It is a wealth of information." Her goal in creating the book was to make Brown County's history more attractive to a younger generation of people. "This is one of the most saturated areas in southern Minnesota in terms of history, said Carmichael Braun. "Such amazing and important things happened here - so many people do not realize it. What I found was that when I was going out and researching this, things just came alive ... We have a very solid sense of 'place' where history has not be obliterated."

The sites chosen for the book were easily accessible and also had a significant contribution to the county‘s history, according to Carmichael Braun."There are more sites out there that were not included," said Carmichael Braun, "There's altogether about 170 sites of historical interest - whether marked or not - in the county. Hopefully, the book will encourage a curiosity to go beyond what is written to find out one's history for oneself." 

The overall effect of her volunteer effort in creating this book will make the stories of Brown County's history a little easier to find for people, said Burgess. "It's kind of an educational boon to what we all know is important," said Burgess, "It's a superhighway to our past. I know historical societies rely on new ideas and new people. And this is what she's brought to us so generously." 

Many years ago, the late attorney Victor Reim, his wife Marie, and a few other members of the Historical Society contributed resources to a campaign to begin historic sign placements within the county, according to Burgess. "It was his (Reim's) plan to someday have a guide of some sort, " said Burgess, "The effort of Charis enabled us to now make these (sites) compiled and available. We've lots to see and do really close ... within a half an hour's drive really." 

Carmichael Braun used her 'gut instinct' in coming up with a title for the book. "When you place a marker somewhere, it solidifies and almost immortalizes what happened at that point," said Carmichael Braun. "What's in the book is just the gateway to the more exciting and the colorful stories that are sometimes forgotten and not mentioned." 

The book features many photographs (mostly taken by Carmichael Braun) and information about the historic markers. There are also easy to read maps in the book, including a fold-out map of Brown County. The maps were reviewed by Aronol Koelpin of New Ul, who is the president o the Brown County Historical Society. 

"It's (the book) very nicely done," said Koelpin. "It will be in spiral binding. It will be very servicable [sic] for travel, but it's more than that ... It's really an art piece. We have to give credit to Charis for that. I think for the 150th anniversary of Brown County it's a fitting tribute." 

All of the cemeteries found in Brown County, school houses, natural and scientific areas, parks and places to stay can also be found in the book, Carmichael Braun said. 

Her research project began while she was a student attending Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato. She was pursuing a degree in studio art and was looking for a summer job in 2001. She approached the Brown County Historical Society for work, Carmichael Braun said. "I brought an interest in research, an interest in history and also graphic design so I could facilitate the creation of the book ..." said Carmichael Braun. The project, which started out on a small scale, was also used as an internship for credit at her college. Carmichael Braun said. "During the course of the project it morphed into this huge book ... I wanted to do something comprehensive," said Carmichael Braun. "We were able to reduce it down into something that was portable, manageable, clear and attractive to a broad audience." 

One thousand copies of the book have been printed. People may purchase the book for $14.95 at the Brown County Historical Society and also the Sleepy Eye Depot. Any business or store that would like to sell the book would be able to carry it. Two upcoming book signings are scheduled for Carmichael Braun. The first signing is from 3-5 p.m. on Thursday, July 20 at the Sleepy Eye Depot. The second signing will be held from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday, July 22 at the Brown County Historical Museum in New Ulm. 

Carmichael Braun is employed as a staff photographer for The Journal and also by Schell's Brewery in New Ulm. 

originally published: Muscatello, Serra. “New Book Aims to Bring Brown County History Alive.” New Ulm Journal, 16 July 2006. Print.