A complete collection of Door County Fair buttons, three restored fire trucks, Native American arrowheads, old-fashioned farm equipment, a spectacular wildlife diorama – and I’m barely skimming the surface of what’s inside the Door County Historical Museum, which turns 75 years old this year.
After walking through exhibits varying from fish boils to folk art, local inventors to a historic street scene, Assistant Curator Steve Rice says, “It’s a rare thing for a community this size to have a museum like this that has this amount of history – 75 years of history – and has this quality of exhibits and this number of artifacts. It’s really a unique experience because on the one hand it is a small museum, it’s very informal, it’s very casual, very community-focused, but on the other hand the quality is very high and there is always so much to be done, so many artifacts to be worked with.”
While I lingered at the school exhibit, wondering how children practiced writing, math, and more with just little black board slates and how teachers in 1872 had a social life after they were given their “Rules for Teachers” handbook: (“Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, visits pool halls or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop, will give good reasons for people to suspect his worth, intentions, and honesty.”); Rice often lingers at the “Cabinet of Curiosities” exhibit. “To me, something about the spirit of the county is said with that – just random little things like a stuffed armadillo or a meteorite that fell to the Earth in Brussels a hundred years ago and all those weird little things that don’t really quite fit in anywhere else,” laughs Rice, adding, “and this county is kind of about that, there’s flotsam and jetsam, a lot of interesting little stories that don’t quite fit. Door County has been a haven for eccentrics and creative people for years and years apparently.”
Each item in the museum – from the hearse to the cherry-picking ladder – has “so much history,” says Rice, “how we got them and where they came from. This [museum] was really assembled piece by piece for 75 years.”
The museum is also a great resource to the community and beyond: “A lot of people come in here with questions,” says Rice. “I had a gentleman in here a couple days ago who had been to a resort in the county in the ‘30s and didn’t remember where it was, so we had a conversation about that. There are a lot of people looking for family history or trying to track down people they remember from vacation, looking to donate items. We get a surprisingly diverse array of visitors here.”
In recognition of their 75 years, the museum will host a celebration on July 26 (more details coming soon). Until then, pop into the Door County Historical Museum, 18 North 4th Avenue in Sturgeon Bay, and learn more about this fascinating, eccentric little peninsula.
For more information call 920.743.5809 or visit map.co.door.wi.us/museum/.