After forty years, the Delbridge Museum of Natural History is closed to the public. The museum has been home to one of the Midwest’s most comprehensive collections of taxidermy, procured and displayed over many decades in the mid-1900s by Sioux Falls businessman Henry Brockhouse.
As a merged organization, the Great Plains Zoo (GPZ) and the Butterfly House & Aquarium (BHA), are participating in master planning, which considers the best use for every area on the zoo’s 40-acre campus. Part of that discussion includes the Delbridge Collection. The specimens were harvested in the 1940s through the 1970s. Prior to the 1980s, it was common to use strong chemicals – including arsenic and asbestos – in the taxidermy process all over the world for preservation of the hides. Railing barriers and “do not touch” signs have been in place since the museum’s inception to prevent physical contact with the mounts because of this, for both the safety of our visitors and to protect the specimens from more rapid degradation.
As the specimens age and naturally break down over time, there could be more opportunity for human contact with potentially harmful chemicals. While most guests have been respectful of the museum rules, zoo staff regularly catches individuals breaching barriers and touching the mounts.
Out of an abundance of caution, leaders from the City of Sioux Falls and Great Plains Zoo have agreed to close the museum, while a decision can be made about the future of the animals.
As a city asset, a decision about the next step for the collection must be approved by the Sioux Falls City Council. Members of a work group appointed by the mayor’s office are engaged in an extensive series of discussions, research, testing, and consultations about best practices to manage aged taxidermy with experts at other reputable museums. This process will take several months.
The collection was purchased on public auction from the Brockhouse family by Sioux Falls attorney C.J. Delbridge in 1981 for $550,000. It was donated to the City of Sioux Falls for the benefit of the community and has been displayed at GPZ as the Delbridge Museum of Natural History since 1984.
The collection includes 100+ mounts from six continents that were hunted by Brockhouse and displayed at West Sioux Hardware until his death in 1978. Many of the species are now critically endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Act, Lacey Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Several museum specimens were procured from other donors, as well.
GPZ and the City are committed to ensuring the zoo is a safe, educational destination for discovery and family fun. Master planning is underway, and GPZ plans to share the vision for the next chapter in the near future – including a state-of-the-art aquarium experience.