Reflecting on 2019 at GCHS

Dr. Rachel Lewis, Museum Director

2019 was a banner year for the Grant County Historical Society. Our major achievement? The opening of the Grant County History Museum. Taking an empty store front and making it into a museum is not easily done. For 3 months in 2019, I poured all my time and energy into making that museum happen. What resulted was the new Grant County History Museum (GCHM). It was a monstrous push that involved a lot of long days and the help of some extraordinarily dedicated volunteers. I could not have done it without them.

Renee Heimdal did all of our graphic design for the project, including this logo.

With the new museum complete and open to the public, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain to you my thinking about the museum. I used three objectives for this new museum and made all my decisions about the museum with these things in mind.

1) Visitors leave with a sense of the history of Grant County and what makes it unique
2) Create a space that could be self-guided 3) Create a structure for the museum that would allow us to easily add in or switch out collection items as desired.

Joe Greer’s Chaps in the Arts & Entertainment portion of the museum.

These criteria led me to select items for display that had a known story connected to Grant County. If the item didn’t tell a story about Grant County, it did not make it into the first rounds of moving. Having only been in my position a year, I am sure there are items in our collection that I overlooked. That is one of the advantages of the way the museum is structured. We can easily add items into the space without totally upending the exhibits.

The structure of the museum is based on 8 broad categories that the museum committee chose: Land, People, Arts & Entertainment, Education, Industry, Medicine, Military, and Agriculture. Each has collection items on display as well as interpretive panels. There are stories of Grant County that are not represented in GCHM simply because we don’t, as far as I am aware, have the material culture (stuff) to go with those stories. As soon as we have that material culture, those stories can be added.

Agriculture section of the museum

The large interpretive panels mentioned above cover the broad history of that theme in Grant County. Visitors will have the option to guide themselves through the museum at their own pace – whether that be 20 minutes or two hours. Nothing can replace a guided tour, but having a self-guided option may help with visitation and recruiting new volunteers; including you, dear reader.

As always, none of this work would be possible without your continued support. The time and talents of our volunteers as well as your financial support all go to supporting our mission to enrich lives by collecting, preserving, and sharing the history of Grant County.

As I am sure you have noticed, this post is about the Grant County History Museum and not the Cunningham Museum. Back in September of 2019, the GCHS Board voted to change the name of the museum to the Grant County History Museum as they felt the previous name did not reflect all that was in the museum and visitors were not coming to the museum as they were unsure of what it was. With a new location, it felt an appropriate time to reconsider the name of the museum.

Lillie Greene Richmond Sings

The Wisconsin Folk Music Project was a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin and the Library of Congress to record music from the state’s diverse population. In the summers of 1940 and 1941 Helene Startman-Thomas and Robert “Bob” Draves traveled throughout Wisconsin recording folk music. Stratman-Thomas was a faculty member of the University of Wisconsin School of Music. Draves was a graduate student and her recording technician. In the summer of 1946, Startman-Thomas was assisted by student-technician Aubrey Snyder. In their travels they recorded over 700 performances by singers and musicians representing more than 30 ethnic and regional groups. On August 24, 1946, Lillie Greene Richmond performed in Lancaster, Wisconsin for the Folk Music Project. She was the only African American included in the project.

Lillie Green Richmond portrait, seated outdoors
Photograph of Lillie Greene Richmond taken August 23, 1946 by Helene Startman-Thomas. WHi Image ID: 25305

Read moreLillie Greene Richmond Sings

Wisconsin’s Winter Storms

By Dennis Wilson

High winds, snow, ice, extreme cold: Today we have the means to moderate these curses of wintertime, but things were different in the “good old days.” Farm families spread across the vast American landscape knew the meaning of the word “snowbound,” and the struggles that term implied. We get blizzard warnings from The National Weather Service created by using supercomputers and satellites. The television weatherman gives us the definition of a blizzard: “sustained winds of at least 35 mph lasting for a prolonged period of time— typically three hours or more. A ground blizzard is a weather condition where snow is not falling but loose snow on the ground is lifted and blown by strong winds.” We settle in, turn up the gas furnace, flip on the television, and wait the weather out in comfort. Even those who must travel turn on the heater and the stereo, and drive in front wheel or four wheel drive vehicles on a modern highway usually cleared by large, powerful snowplows. It wasn’t that way in the past. People experienced the full force of nature.

Horses pulling log sleds

By 1870 Wisconsin’s population had grown to 1,054,670. Three quarters of its citizens lived on farms or in cities with a population of under 2,500. In the 1870’s and 1880’s winters were often extremely harsh. The “Little Ice Age” which had persisted from about the year 1300 was coming to an end. The winters in the years before the 20th century were characteristically colder and longer.

Read moreWisconsin’s Winter Storms

GCHS Welcomes A New Director

Portrait of the new director outside the Cunningham Museum
Dr. Rachel Lewis outside the Cunningham Museum.

The Grant County Historical Society is pleased to announce that Dr. Rachel Lewis of Lancaster has been hired to be the museum director for the Cunningham Museum. She started November 1. This is the first time the Cunningham Museum has had such a position. She comes to the Historical Society with almost a decade of museum experience, working mostly for local and regional museums doing everything from processing archival material and collections items to writing interpretive plans and grants. She received her PhD in public history for Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. “I’m looking forward to all the opportunities and challenges this position has to offer. Grant County has a wonderful resource in the Grant County Historical Society and it is a pleasure to be a part of it” said Lewis.