About the Trading Post
Jeannette and Harry Ayer moved to Mille Lacs in 1918 where they applied for and recieved a license by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to trade with the Indians at Vinelend. In 1920 the Ayers built a store on the present location of the museum and trading post. (Pictured at right: Indian Trading Post, Mille Lacs, 1920.) Initially the Trading Post was operated as a general store, selling both food and non-food staples such as gasoline, cloth and sewing supplies. In the late 1920s the Ayers also added rental cottages, a dining room, a boat-building business and started guiding fishing expeditions.
The Ayers employed a number of local band members. In 1923 when the boat-building business began, 18 Indian men were working for the Ayers. The Trading Post and the additional businesses were a major part of the Mille Lacs economy and community. (Pictured at left: Interior of Trading Post, showing Ojibwe and other Indian crafts for sale, 1935.) By the 1940s, the later businesses were dissolved and the Trading Post changed its merchandising plan. Capitalizing on the opportunity to acquire local Ojibwe craftworks and their location near Minnesota's Scenic Highway (now Hwy. 169) the Ayers prospered by selling American Indian arts and crafts from throughout the United States. During this time, the Ayers kept a display of their personal collection of Indian-made objects in the back room of the store. In the late 1950s they built a cinder-block museum to house the collection. In 1959 the Ayers retired and donated the collection, buildings and land to the Minnesota Historical Society. In August 1960 the state opened the first Mille Lacs Indian Museum. In 1996 a new museum and restored Trading Post opened. Changes to the Trading Post included reinstalling the original south porch entrance, installing new windows to match historic locations, and returning original interior finishes. Outside, signs and gas pumps recreate the 1930s roadside tourist stop.
A small exhibit area is located in the front of the Trading Post's sales room floor that tells the history of the site and the original owners. Inside, visitors can shop for the region's finest handmade authentic American Indian products like porcupine quill baskets and birch bark products as well as Pendleton blankets, dream catchers, jewelry, books, music, wild rice and maple syrup. Contemporary artwork from some of the areas premier artists are also available.
Artists in Residence programs and Indian Art Markets and traveling exhibits offer visitors an opportunity to learn more about the techniques and materials used in various art forms today. (Pictured at right: Indian crafts such as moccasins are available today at the Mille Lacs Trading Post.)