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.