Dassel History Center

Ergot Saves Lives – and a Building

The Universal Laboratories Building was built in 1937 by Rice Laboratories to produce yeast and to collect and harvest ergot, a toxic fungus found growing on rye that has been used medicinally since the 16thcentury. During World War II, medicine derived from ergot was used to suppress internal bleeding and to treat “bomb shock.” The laboratory provided ergot to pharmaceutical firms until the 1970s, but eventually the building fell into disuse. The deteriorated structure was donated to the Dassel Area Historical Society (DAHS), and then eventually to the city of Dassel,

The museum’s unique, multi-level layout houses local history displays and exhibits about the building’s pharmaceutical past.

which was in a better position to support its rehabilitation.  In 1994, the restoration of the building began – a project spanning over seven years and completed in six phases, with costs totaling about $500,000. The project was funded by Minnesota Historical Society grants, donations to the Dassel Area Historical Society, and the City of Dassel. The building reopened in 2001 as a museum to interpret the significance of ergot and the area’s community and ethnic heritage.

An addition to the historic building, completed in 2008, includes restrooms, catering kitchen, community room, and lobby, as well as the historical society’s offices and archives.

Community Room Builds on the Vision

After the successful restoration of the Universal Laboratories Building, DAHS started the “Building on the Vision” capital campaign for the construction of an annex to house a large community meeting space, kitchen, accessible restrooms, and the historical society offices. Funds were contributed through private donations, as well as commitments from the city of Dassel, Dassel Township, and Meeker County. Today, the Dassel community room in the annex is used for receptions, meetings, reunions, and other events. The Universal Laboratories Building has exhibits about ergot and pharmaceuticals, local history, and traveling exhibits (including the Smithsonian’s Museums on Main Street series). An attic-level community room, which has great atmosphere due to the warm tones of the wood floor and exposed rafters, holds meetings and events including small theater performances and concerts.

The large community room is available for hosting a wide variety of events.

According to DAHS director Carolyn Holje, a large part of the success of the restoration project and the construction of the annex was due to the continued support and investment from the community. The building now serves as a vital center of community life, a place where residents come and go all throughout the day, and where groups can meet to play cards, socialize, celebrate, and learn together.

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