Your four best bets for local history
When it’s cold outside this winter, head indoors and warm up with a good dose of Wisconsin history. People have called the Badger State home for the past 12,000 years—there are many great stories to be told. These local history museums tell about the Native Americans, European explorers, fur traders, lumberjacks and farmers that shaped this state. Here are four of Wisconsin’s best local history museums.
The Old Courthouse Museum – West Bend
The Old Courthouse Museum is one of the best local history museums in the Midwest. The Washington County Historical Society, which operates the museum, dates to 1873, which helps to explain the quality and richness of the exhibits you’ll find here.
The museum’s building is a historic gem. The red brick structure was built in 1889 and is a superb example of Richardson Romanesque Revival architecture. Inside, you’ll learn the stories of the people who built West Bend and the communities of Washington County. You’ll be taken on a journey from the last Ice Age to the Industrial Age. Many of the exhibits are interactive and visitors of all ages will find something to capture their interest.
Jackson County Historical Society Museum – Black River Country
Black River Falls is home to the Jackson County Historical Society Museum. This small museum is located in a former Carnegie Library, one of 1,689 such libraries built in the early 20th Century with funds from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
Inside this historic building, you will find an array of artifacts and exhibits relating to the history of Black River Country. Exhibits cover two floors and include the Clay Post Office and an authentic turn-of-the-century dental office. Several displays showcase logging and lumbering, which were important in the development on the area. The Native American history of the area is represented through photos and beadwork.
For hours, visit blackrivercountry.net/attractions.
Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center – Wisconsin Great River Road
The Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center at Freedom Park is located on a bluff, high above the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers in Prescott, Wisconsin. From the bluff-top overlook at the center, you can gaze down to see the clear waters of the St. Croix River mixing with the muddy waters of the Mississippi River. It’s a beautiful view.
The view inside the center is impressive as well. Visitors are greeted by a full-size eagle’s nest, complete with a bald eagle. The exhibits throughout the museum focus on the different storylines that weave together to create the history of the Upper Mississippi River. Learn about the Dakota people, commercial fishermen, boat builders, riverboat pilots and wildlife. Most of the exhibits are hands-on and feature audio-visual components. It’s one of the most interesting museums in the region. If you’re driving along the Wisconsin Great River Road, this is a must-see attraction.
Oshkosh Public Museum – Oshkosh
Fun and family-friendly, the Oshkosh Public Museum is a great place to spend a winter afternoon. The museum focuses on the history of Oshkosh and the Lake Winnebago Region. The museum offers 10,000 square feet of exhibits, covering women’s history, the Civil War, the Spanish American War and the First and Second World Wars. You’ll learn about the early pioneers and the later waves of European immigrants that came to the Oshkosh area for a better life.
The eight-foot Apostles Clock is the most popular attraction at the Oshkosh Public Museum. Every hour on the hour, the clock chimes. Be sure to plan your visit to make sure you don’t miss it.
Through March 4, 2012, the museum is featuring the exhibit, “Bling!” which features “100 years of over-embellished fashions.” It’s a great example of the fun and fascinating exhibits that make the Oshkosh Public Museum so unique.