In 1949, Helen Sohns received word that the Village of Ephraim planned to sell the one-room schoolhouse where she once taught. “So she got together a group of friends and they raised money within a week or two and purchased [the schoolhouse] and that is our first museum,” smiles Thea Sophia Thompson, executive director of the Ephraim Historical Foundation (EHF).
Now Pioneer School House is one of seven properties the EHF preserves and one of five museums open for free tours on June 20 from 11 am – 4 pm. The other museums include Anderson Barn, Anderson Store, Goodletson Cabin, and the Iverson House. “We will have docents in each building, some volunteers,” explains Thompson. “Come hear about what programs we are offering this summer, see what we are doing.”
Thompson especially encourages families to expose their children to local history. “I think it’s really important for kids to get involved in history because it gives them a sense of place,” she explains. “If kids have an understanding of what their parents’ lives were like and their grandparents’ and so on and so forth, I think it gives them a sense of ownership of that history and that in turns brings in the idea of stewardship, caretaking. It’s even something as simple as making your grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe – it’s reminding you of those who came before you, essentially solidifying your place in the community.”
Even those who do not call Door County home can find relevance and interest in the foundation’s museums: “I think people like to be reminded of quote, unquote simpler times,” says Thompson. “We have a lot of people who, maybe their family is not from Ephraim, but their family had Scandinavian roots or their grandmother went to a one-room schoolhouse, we have that. It’s fun to people.”
The foundation also strives to create displays and exhibits as authentic as possible. For example, when putting together the Iverson House, members of the foundation examined letters written by those who lived there at the time, the Pettersons.
“The foundation has done a wonderful job remembering specific people within this museum,” says Thompson. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, we’re gonna put some 1880 stuff up.’ [Mrs. Petterson’s] pantry is set up the way she had it.”
The home, Thompson emphasizes, “belongs to the Pettersons as much as it belongs to people today and people in the future,” adding, “One of the things I feel very strongly about and the foundation feels strongly about as well is the concept of stewardship. We are not taking care of it for ourselves, we’re taking care of it for the people who came before and the people who will come after us.”
For more information about EHF and Free Museum Day, visit ephraim.org or call 920.854.9688.