From the 1912 fire that nearly destroyed the small town, to the beginnings of the Min-Aqua Bats, to train models of the early Lakeland area, the Minocqua Museum preserves and displays the Island City's history.
"What we've tried to do is simply reflect the way people live," Elcy Brooks, Minocqua Museum docent, said. "There are more people who come in and say 'I remember that.' And it's that kind of connectedness a small town gives you, not only with each other but with the times and the past, because if you don't know where you've been, you don't know where you're going."
Pieces of Minocqua history
Exhibits in the main gallery are changed on a regular basis and have covered subjects like "The Auto and Island," "General Stores, Main Street Minocqua" and "Early Resorts."
"Every two years we always feature a family that homesteaded here, which means these were people that came at the turn of the century, and we try to tell something about their lives," Brooks said.
This summer the Bassett family, their contributions to the community and their genealogy are being highlighted.
"We try to give a genealogy of the family. We try very hard to because you never know when you're going to get a member of the family that's several years removed," Brooks said.
One of the Bassett family's key contributions to Minocqua was Wadhams Super Service Station, one of the community's first gas stations of its time.
"The Thirsty Whale was Bassett's Boat House, but he also had a gas station," Brooks said. "We're not quite finished with the Bassett exhibit yet. We've got more things coming - parts of their family, things they collected and maybe things that they made."
One corner of the museum is dedicated to the early lifestyles of Minocqua, and includes a kitchen setup, living room furniture and a 1910 turntable.
"These [armchairs] came from the Madden Resort on Lake Kawaguesaga, and guarantee you they're very comfortable, and they're also horse hide," Brooks said. "They were a gift to the museum from John Tonne. Now John Tonne's father started Paul Bunyan's, so there's the connection. Madden Resort opened for business in 1910, so that's approximately the ages of these chairs. So we're talking turn of the century."
Toward the rear of the museum is an artifact that people to this day remember from Eloise and Pat Titus's drugstore.
"This diorama hung in the drugstore over the soda fountain for years. We have folks that come who remember the drugstore and sitting down, drinking a soda and seeing that. It's just such fun," Brooks said.
Built by Pat Titus himself, the diorama is of a ship called the St. Paul, and is commonly mistaken for the Titanic.
Other historical Minocqua exhibits highlight the Min-Aqua Bats, the catastrophic 1912 fire, and a restored 1908 Cameron Model 9 car.
"Bill Cameron was interested in cars, and it's a Cameron car, but there's no connection - it's purely serendipity," Brooks said. "He started out with this wooden tub and restored it. He put a lot of work into it, but it was the love of his life. He was never happier than when he was working on the car."
The two model train sets at the museum depict the Northwoods in its early years as a logging community.
"The Northwoods Model Railroad Club is doing [the one in the basement]. One of the members is an architect, and he's done some accurate, to-scale buildings for it done from pictures. They've been working on it three years down there, and they're not quite finished," said Greta Janssen, Minocqua Museum docent.
Historical research of Minocqua
Putting together the homestead family exhibits take time, effort, and hours of research.
"Some of the families do their own exhibit, and we step in where we're needed," Janssen said. "Dan Scrobell is on our board, and he's sort of our historian. He has a great amount of information on his computer because he's been reading the newspaper files ever since he got here. So he put in Bassett, for example, and he got 150 pages from up to 1932. He said this is every mention of the Bassetts in the newspaper."
For 20 years Scrobell has been researching old newspaper files and real estate records to learn more about Minocqua's history.
"One primary source would be the Minocqua Times, which I have largely on computer from 1891 to 1947 in word processing format so it's searchable. There's just a wealth of information in that," Scrobell said. "I also have real estate records organized where I can do a search for who owned property and when they transferred it. So the combination of those two things give me a real firm data source."
With such a large quantity of historical data, organizational skills play an important role.
"There's research files on just all sorts of topics. For example, through all those years of newspapers, anything that had to do with a doctor or dentist is in a separate doctor or dentist file," Scrobell said.
For those who wish to do their own research and learn more about their family history, the museum is a genealogy resource available to the public.
"People are welcome to come in and do some genealogy work on the Pillsbury table," Brooks said.
Prior to making a name in the baking industry, the Pillsbury family helped form the foundation of Minocqua, and a piece of their family history rests at the Minocqua Museum.
"Pillsbury was one of the gentlemen who helped to own the Land, Log and Lumber Company that started all this here," Brooks said.
The table was donated to the museum by Brooks' son and daughter-in-law who lived in Minneapolis.
"The Pillsbury family was having an auction and decided to get rid of a bunch of stuff. [My daughter-in-law] bought the table, and when she found out about the museum, she and my son donated it," Brooks said.
Minocqua Museum's history
Typical of many smaller towns, starting a museum was a means to awaken interest in local history.
In 1986 the Minocqua Museum was founded as an offshoot to the town's Centennial Celebration. For its first three summers, the museum showcased small displays in the former Grundy Watch Repair Shop. Community support started to pour in, and financial help made construction for a museum building a reality.
In 1989 the Minocqua Museum was finished and dedicated as a memorial to honor one homestead family that made a generous contribution to the building project - Mary and Patrick E. Bolger and their family.
From 1989 to 2002, the museum was located on the lot where the Minocqua Police Department now sits.
"When the city decided that they wanted to move the police station closer to the fire department and city building, they made a deal with the museum," Brooks said. "We traded them our piece of property for this piece of property."
The old museum building was loaded up and moved across town from Chicago Avenue to Dorwin Park.
"It was great fun, we moved lock, stock and barrel over here. It's been rebuilt and put up on a new foundation, and then we added on because we had the depth of property that we didn't have before, and we needed the space," Brooks said.
Located at 503 Flambeau St., Minocqua, the museum is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., until Labor Day. For more information, call the museum at 715-356-7666.
"Most of the artifacts were donated. We do depend a lot on our neighbors and members of the community who help us," Brooks said.
With no admission fee, the Minocqua Museum lets visitors take a walk through time and experience what the Island City was like prior to the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and smart phones.
"There's something about a small town. I would never live anywhere else except a small town, and it isn't because it's easier or different, it's just a little more intimate. And this feels to me, with my love of history, that it's a center for people to come and find out about the small town they live in. It's a hub, is the best way I can put it," Brooks said.
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Article comment by:
Hi, I am researching William H. Bradley & associates, among them Oliver P. Pillsbury and David M. Benjamin. According to newspaper story in 1891, Benjamin was President of Wisconsin Land, Log and Lumber Company of Minocqua. He was refusing to release water from Minocqua dam so 70 million feet of logs could be sent downriver to mills at Merrill and Wausau. I have been unable to find any more info about Wis. Land, Log & Lumber. Do you have any info about the principals and the operation of the company?
I was interested to read that Pillsbury family helped form foundation of Minocqua. Which Pillsburys were involved in Minocqua? Thanks. Ron Johnson