August 1, 2011

Wisconsin’s Historic Gems

These five small museums offer some interesting surprises

There are thousands of interesting stories to tell in Wisconsin and a great place to hear these stories is one of the many small local-history museums that you’ll find in nearly every corner of the state. These small museums each communicate a part of Wisconsin’s history and give you a chance to experience some of the eccentric personalities that built the Badger State. If you’re looking for something interesting to do on your next trip to Wisconsin, you need to visit some of these unique museums. Here are five of the very best.

State Agriculture Museum along the Wisconsin Great River Road

The Stonefield Historic Site, which features a re-created rural village, is also home to the State Agricultural Museum. The museum houses Wisconsin’s largest collection of farm tools, models, and machinery. You’ll see the machines and equipment that made Wisconsin one of America’s leaders in agricultural practices. The collection includes the 1896 McCormick Auto Mower, the oldest tractor in North America. Every aspect of Wisconsin agriculture is covered, from planting corn to milking cows. For those interested in agriculture, the collection is truly thrilling. But for the visitor without any agricultural background, the museum inspires an appreciation for an important aspect of Wisconsin’s history.

The State Agricultural Museum at the Stonefield Historic Site is open daily from 10am-4pm, May 28 through October 9. Learn more about the museum.

Dr. Kate Newcomb Museum in Minocqua in Vilas County

The Dr. Kate Museum highlights the extraordinary dedication of one woman to provide medical care for residents in the Northwoods and the sense of community that made such care possible. Known as the “Angel on Snowshoes,” Dr. Kate served as the sole doctor for the area surrounding Minocqua, often trudging remote forest paths through deep snow in order to get to a patient. Dr. Kate’s work was made famous on the television show, “This Is Your Life.” Today, she is revered as a hero. The museum features Dr. Kate memorabilia and a variety of changing exhibits. It’s a heart-warming slice of the Northwoods you don’t want to miss.

The Dr. Kate Newcomb Museum is open Monday through Friday, 11am-4pm, mid-June through September 1. Learn more about the museum.

Middleton Historical Museum in Middleton

The Middleton Historical Museum is actually two museums in one. The Rowley House Museum, which dates to 1867 is the Middleton area’s original history center. Inside this historical landmark, you’ll find hundreds of artifacts used by Middleton’s first European residents. A notable collection is the one of the largest and most comprehensive displays of Depression glass in the Midwest; the collection features more than 150 identified glass patterns. The museum’s carriage house presents a life-size horse and doctor’s buggy and showcases a wide variety of early farm implements and tools. The Rowley House Museum is open Tuesdays and Saturdays from 1pm-4pm, mid-April through mid-October. The Museum at the Depot is open year-round. Learn more about the Middleton Historical Museum.

When you’re done at the Rowley house, stop in at the Museum at the Depot, located inside the old Middleton train depot (1811 Parmenter Street), opened last year. Rotating exhibits include a Middleton timeline, Victorian dollhouse, early immigrant artifacts and railroad history. The Museum at the Depot is open year-round.

Old Courthouse Museum in West Bend

Photo Credit: Evan Butz

The Old Courthouse Museum is the centerpiece of historic downtown West Bend. The building is one of the Midwest’s best examples of Richardson Romanesque Revival architecture. The red-brick structure was built in 1889 and served as a courthouse until 1962. Today, the building houses a local history museum that is widely thought to be among the best in the Midwest. Learn about the history of the West Bend area, from the last Ice Age to the Industrial Era. Throughout the museums galleries, you’ll find fascinating exhibits and hands-on activities. Be sure to also visit the nearby Old Jailhouse Museum, a remarkably well-preserved example of an early 1900s jailhouse.

The Old Courthouse Museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 11am-5pm, Saturday from 9am-1pm and Sunday from 1pm-4:30pm. Learn more about the museum.

Logging Museum Complex in Rhinelander

In the late 1800s, Rhinelander was one of the most important centers for the logging industry in Wisconsin. The white pine that surrounded Rhinelander helped to build a nation. Today, you can experience that era at the Logging Museum Complex. The buildings you’ll find are a true-to-life replica of a lumber camp of the 1870’s. You’ll see a bunkhouse, a cook shanty and a blacksmith shop. The buildings house artifacts related to the lumberjacks who worked the forests. Exhibits include forgotten tools, such as peavies, pike poles, cant hooks, and cross-cut saws. Photographs of loggers, their camps and the landscape give you a great glimpse into this short-lived era. The complex also includes a Soo Line Depot, a model railroad display and a variety of logging equipment.

The Logging Museum Complex is open daily from 10am-5pm, Memorial Day through Labor Day. Learn more about the museum.


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