Giving to Grant County Historical Society

When I consider what organizations and causes I want to support with my hard-earned money, I ask myself what good will my donation do? What will they do with my money?

If you ask those same questions, I can assure you that Grant County Historical Society will use your funds wisely. Since 1935, volunteers have steered the organization and given generously so that our generation and future generations will have access to the manuscripts, one of a kind photographs, clothing, tools, and other “material culture” held by the Society. These 35,000 objects tell multiple and complex stories about our collective past. They are exhibited at the Grant County History Museum and at the Mitchell-Rountree Stone Cottage in Platteville. They are studied and puzzled over by researchers- history enthusiasts, school-age students and their teachers, and professional historians- at our Grant County Research Center.

The dining room at the 1837 Stone Cottage

We maintain three historic buildings. Our headquarters are at the Grant County Research Center at 129 E Maple St in Lancaster, which previously housed The Cunningham Museum. The vast resources of the Grant County Genealogy Society are on the first floor along with the Historical Society’s archives and offices. On the second floor of the old Cunningham Museum building we are developing a safe storage home for our artifacts. With conditions moderated by an independent HVAC system, we can protect our vast collections for generations to come.

In the basement, we store many of our artifacts. Removing artifacts from the moist basement is a primary goal to protect the collections. Your donation will go towards maintaining the integrity of this historic building and protecting the artifacts. We need to purchase 10 large shelving units that cost about $200 each. We also need hundreds of acid-free archivally safe boxes in which sorted, cleaned, and catalogued artifacts will be placed for their safety and longevity. These boxes are very expensive as they are specially treated so that the box will not harm the contents within. Boxes and other supplies to preserve the documents and photograph collection alone will cost about $5000. Boxes to store our beautiful costume collection and military uniforms will cost another $2000. To supervise this large project, we need trained curatorial help. These are not frivolous purchases, but are meant to save the collection or our kids and grand-kids and their kids.

Acid-free box

Next door to the Research Center at 135 E Maple St in Lancaster is our new Grant County History Museum. Chocked full of interesting and well documented exhibits that tell the story of our region, this Museum space is meant to create excitement and curiosity about our history. It is intended to be a gathering space for the communities we serve.

When we move past the Covid-19 pandemic, we know this will be a dynamic place with activities and programs for young and old alike. The historic building that houses the Museum has a water leakage problem during heavy rain storms. We need to fix this problem as soon as possible so we can continue to build out the lower level of the building to conduct workshops, demonstrations, and lectures. The cost of the stonework repair and building out the lower level to become a multi-use space is estimated to be about $10,000. Much of the labor for these projects is donated. We have an awesome volunteer crew!

We also maintain and preserve the Mitchell-Rountree Stone Cottage in Platteville, sited on 2.5 acres on Lancaster St at the corner of Madison. This amazing property was bequeathed to the Society by Laura J Rountree, a great grand-daughter of the original owner. Reverend Samuel Mitchell, a Revolutionary War veteran from Virginia, and his wife Eleanor, decided to retire in Platteville so they could be near their daughter. In 1837, they purchased forty acres for just $50.00 and built the Stone Cottage in a unique architectural style known as Virginia Tidewater. It is the oldest home in Platteville but also a rare example of this type of early home and an architectural gem. Laura J Rountree lived in the home from the day she was born in 1870 to the day she passed away in 1966. She made it her life’s work to preserve the Cottage to its beauty and charm. Her 2.5 acres of property, the Cottage, her furnishings and effects were donated to the Grant County Historical Society in 1959. The Society raised money in the early 1960s to allow Laura to remain in the home during her last years.

The home needs continual maintenance and sometimes repairs and rehabilitation. Currently the Society is raising funds to build a new front porch railing, replace seventeen broken window panes, tuckpoint the stone exterior, and complete a non-invasive weather-proofing project. These projects which are sorely needed are estimated to cost $5,000. We recently received a small grant from the Platteville Community Fund to pay for some of this, but your donation is needed to fill the funding gap.

The Cottage houses over 3000 artifacts left by Laura Rountree which need preservation and care. We received a Covid-19 Emergency grant in August to begin cataloging and housing the artifacts that are not on display in acid-free boxes. To complete this project with the cost of a Collections Manager to oversee volunteer efforts and buy the remaining needed boxes and supplies, we estimate this project to cost about $12,000. We also plan to create new exhibits during the next year.

So you can see, with the energy and commitment of our volunteer team, part-time professional oversight, and your donation, we can preserve, teach, and share the history of Grant County and southwest Wisconsin for generations that come. We can create interesting, thought-provoking exhibits, offer programs for all age groups, come together with our neighbors, and meet new friends as we explore the rich cultures and history of Grant County.

Please become a member today or donate toward one of the projects mentioned above. We need you! Click here to learn about becoming a supporter!

The Beauty of Grant County

The Platte River

Having grown up in the Chicago suburbs, as a child I was not familiar with the landscape where I have made my home over the past 30 years. Moving with my family to Galena, IL in 1991 was a big change and one I’ve never regretted. As we drove northwestward with a truck loaded down with our worldly possessions, we left the city in the rearview mirror.

My mother’s family removed from England in the 1820s to permanently settle in the United States. They arrived at Galena soon after the Black Hawk War- a struggle which drove the Sauk and Mesquakie nations from the booming lead mine camps in Jo Daviess County, IL. A large part of my interest in moving to Galena was that I wanted to continue my research and writing on the lead mine district in the upper Mississippi River valley, a study I began as an undergraduate. I also wanted to continue my family history research. Once in Galena, I became the curator of the Galena History Museum, conducted research, and wrote many lectures on regional history topics.

I was not then familiar with the concept of “Driftless”. Over time, I came to understand that a relatively small region, which includes parts of Jo Daviess Co, IL, parts of Dubuque Co, IA, and along the Mississippi Valley to a northern point at about Menomonie, WI, was spared from the last ice age, thus we find ourselves in an unglaciated region where the immense packs of ice and “glacial drift” did not flatten the topography.

When I moved to Platteville in 2011 to accept a position in the History department at UW-Platteville, I began to explore Grant County. I have come to admire its beauty and the many opportunities to get up close and personal with the land. I have kayaked the lower Platte, hiked up the M, and discovered remnants of the 19th century lead mining boom. I recognize that I am walking on land traditionally occupied by the Ho-Chungra, or Ho-Chunk, and other nations prior to their forced removal from lands south of the Wisconsin River in the 1830s. I think about the generations of families who lived, raised their families, worked, and passed away among these beautiful hills and valleys.

Wigwam village typical of the Ho-Chunk, Mesquakie, Sauk and other local nations

One of the natural phenomena that delights me most is that our region is filled with springs. The water seeps from cracks and crevices. Rivulets of fresh spring water course though pastureland and in quiet hollows, and then tumble down to create wild rivers that flow to the mighty Mississippi River or to the Wisconsin. These two great rivers- The Mississippi and the Wisconsin River- form Grant County’s western and northern borders. Both rivers served as early highways to move people and goods from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River. Native Americans and early European explorers and traders used these rivers to travel from Quebec in Canada all the way to the Gulf Coast.

Little waterfall in Grant County

Grant County’s beauty is seen in its ancient oak groves, its mounds, its creeks, and rivers. It is seen in the shy mink who dances about the rocks along the Rountree Branch, in the turkeys who awkwardly cross the country road, looking back to beckon the rest to the flock. The impossibly large eagle’s nest, protected by wary parents and the meadowlark flitting in the field are sources of great joy to me.

Eagle’s Nest along the Platte River

In this season of Covid-19 with its multiple disruptions, I find great solace in the beauty and majesty of Grant County’s landscape. Being outside in our parks and reserves throughout the county fills me with hope and joy. I drink in the quiet and the let my mind wander. I let my attention be drawn to the birdsong and scuffling of small critters. I put my phone on silence. I hope you get outside soon to take in the fresh air, beauty, and peace awaiting you in Grant County.

State Parks in Grant County

Nelson Dewey State Park, Cassville https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/nelsondewey

Wyalusing State Park https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/wyalusing

Recreation Areas in Grant County

Grant River Recreation Area, Potosi https://www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Mississippi-River-Project/Recreation/Grant-River-Recreation-Area/

There are wonderful trails and bike paths throughout the county- google by village or township

If enjoying the great outdoors while fishing, this site lists Grant County fishing locations https://www.huntfishcampwisconsin.com/GrantM.html

Kayaking in the backwaters of the Mississippi River

Laura Rountree’s 150th Birthday Party

Join us from 1:00-4:00 pm on Saturday September 12, 2020 at the Mitchell-Rountree Stone Cottage at the corner of Madison and Lancaster Sts. in Platteville. (Rain Date: Sunday September 13, 2020)

Come celebrate Laura Rountree’s birthday with Grant County Historical Society. Laura (1870-1966) was the grand-daughter of Reverend Samuel Mitchell who commissioned the building of the Mitchell-Rountree Stone Cottage in 1837. Laura, artist and musician, lived with her parents and then alone in the Cottage all of her 95+ years. She bequeathed the Cottage, the 2.5 acres on which it sits, and all the articles in the house to the Society upon her passing.

The celebration will include birthday cake, beverages, and tours of the Cottage. There will be a special exhibit of Laura’s small artworks. Tours are $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children. This is the last time this season the home will be open to the public. Groups may make a reservation for special tour dates throughout the year by calling the Society at 608 723-4925.

Please help us to preserve the cottage building and grounds and catalog and preserve the items within by generously making a donation to the Cottage fund. Donations can be made in cash, by check or on-line at https://grantcountyhistory.org/support/donate/

You and Local History

Local history is the celebration of place.  It is dynamic and not static. As each era and each generation asks new questions of the past, we come to learn a fuller, more inclusive history of who we were and who we have become.

Grant County has a unique past rooted in lead mining and trade on the mighty Mississippi River. It is rooted in the undulating Driftless landscape where HoChunk, Mesquakie, and other peoples were born, raised families, and passed away over many centuries’ time.

Left Hand with his Wife and Son by George Catlin, 1841 Detroit Institute of Arts

Our past is rooted in the deep earth where lead ore was discovered, causing an influx of colonists from the southern states, the eastern seaboard, and from other countries to make this their home. This movement of Euro-Americans into southwest Wisconsin caused clashes with those who already called the region home. Thus, through warfare and treaties, native Americans were driven from their lands. From these beginnings, southwest Wisconsin grew into a diverse region, eventually dominated by farming and educational institutions.

Lead Mining in Upper Mississippi – John W. Barber and Henry Howe – The Loyal West in the Times of the Rebellion, chapter title “Illinois”, p. 321.

With rich, well-watered soil, and the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers allowing for transportation, opportunities to work and farm abounded. Many groups came to this land that we call Grant County. Black freeman, Irish and German immigrants, and many other groups joined the eastern and southern newcomers to make this their home. Each group created vibrant institutions, churches, and communities that made a mark on the land and in history.

Members of Pleasant Ridge, WI, c. 1895 WHI

 

St. Thomas Catholic Church, Potosi, WI

Grant County Historical Society is a vibrant organization which got its start in 1935 when a group of dedicated citizens and university affiliates began to collect and preserve the documents and objects of the region. These manuscripts and artifacts help to tell the stories of our area, helping people of all ages in Southwest Wisconsin connect with the land and people of the past.

The new ADA-compliant Grant County History Museum in Lancaster, created in 2019 by many volunteers and a trained professional museologist, brings local history home with updated exhibits and artifacts that help school children, researchers, and the curious learn about the experiences of those who lived before us.

Grant County History Museum 135 E Maple St Lancaster, WI Photo by DA Wilson

Becoming more and more curious about our past is a way to connect with our place and being curious about local history is only natural. Whether your family has been in Grant County for centuries as have the Ho-Chunk, or if you just arrived, you are connected with the people and the stories that are animated by the research and sharing of local history. You and your family can dig into your curiosity at the Grant County Research Center, Grant County History Museum, and at the Mitchell-Rountree Stone Cottage.

Covid-19 has forced the Grant County Historical Society to temporarily close to the public. However, when it is safe to open you will find a world, your world, to explore which will allow for wonder and reflection about who we were, who we are, and who we are becoming. Please join us on this adventure.

Grant County Historical Society COVID-19 Announcement

The Grant County Historical Society will reopen all three of its public sites on May 1, 2021. Masks and social distancing will be required until further notice.

Please check the Grant County Historical Society’s Website grantcountyhistory.org/events/ or our Facebook page for updates on upcoming events and programs. Thank you for your support!