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Creating Old World Wisconsin

The Struggle to Build an Outdoor History Museum of Ethnic Architecture

John D. Krugler

Publication Year: 2013

With its charming heirloom gardens, historic livestock breeds, and faithfully recreated farmsteads and villages that span nearly 600 acres, Old World Wisconsin is the largest outdoor museum of rural life in the United States. But this seemingly time-frozen landscape of rustic outbuildings and rolling wooded hills did not effortlessly spring into existence, as John D. Krugler maintains in Creating Old World Wisconsin. As dozens of historic buildings were transported in the 1970s from various locations throughout the state to the Kettle Moraine State Forest, researchers, curators, and volunteers launched a massive preservation initiative to salvage fast-disappearing immigrant and migrant architecture. Researchers, curators, and volunteers created a backdrop against which twenty-first century interpreters demonstrate nineteenth- and early twentieth-century agricultural techniques and artisanal craftsmanship. The site, created and maintained by the Wisconsin Historical Society, offers visitors a unique opportunity to learn about the state's rich and ethnically diverse past through depictions of the everyday lives of its Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, German, Polish, African American, and Yankee inhabitants. Creating Old World Wisconsin chronicles the fascinating and complex origins of this outdoor museum, highlighting the struggles that faced its creators as they worked to achieve their vision. Even as Milwaukee architect and preservationist Richard W. E. Perrin, the Society's staff, and enthusiastic volunteers opened the museum in time for the national bicentennial in 1976, the site was plagued by limited funds, bureaucratic tangles, and problems associated with gaining public support. By documenting the engaging story of the challenges, roadblocks, false starts, and achievements of the site's founders, Krugler brings to life the history of the dedicated corps who collected and preserved Wisconsin's diverse social history and heritage.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Writing a book is a collective effort. Recognizing those who provided critical assistance is both exhilarating and humbling. Marty Perkins, the curator of research at Old World Wisconsin, sat for numerous interviews, searched relentlessly for documents and photographs, never balked at my numerous requests for information, and served as my ultimate fact checker. ...

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Introduction

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pp. 3-13

This is the story of a few individuals who struggled to fulfill a vision. The Wisconsin vision entailed salvaging fast disappearing artifacts by relocating them to a protected environment. Nothing surprising, except that in this case the artifacts were houses, shops, barns, and a variety of outbuildings. ...

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Chapter One. Visionaries

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pp. 14-33

Several inspirations affected the creation of state-funded museums in the United States. The great outdoor history museums of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, funded by private philanthropists, influenced state-sponsored museums. ...

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Chapter Two. Managers

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pp. 34-57

Lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709–84) once remarked: “Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.” As will be demonstrated, perseverance was the key weapon in the Society’s arsenal. ...

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Chapter Three. Master Planners

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pp. 58-78

As the acquisition of the site bogged down in protracted negotiations, Fishel moved to accomplish another major incremental goal. He knew the vision had to be transformed into a plan that would guide the acquisition and relocation of buildings on the anticipated site. ...

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Chapter Four. Conflict Management

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pp. 79-106

The battle of Eagle took Society leaders by surprise. After the protracted struggle with the DNR to secure a lease for the state forest, they never imagined that an even more intense conflict awaited them. Fishel knew that implementation of the Perrin vision might face obstacles, and for that reason he moved slowly on the outdoor museum project. ...

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Chapter Five. Fund-Raisers

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pp. 107-131

If one phrase can capture the Society’s struggles, it is Mark Twain’s twist on a biblical concept: “The lack of money is the root of all evil.” A lack of money thwarted the Society’s efforts to build the museum in a number of ways. If, for example, the Society could have purchased its 500 acres in the mid-1960s, creation of the site would have taken a very different course. ...

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Chapter Six. Builders

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pp. 132-161

To this point, the story has concentrated on the Society, the proposal for a site to relocate salvaged buildings, writing a master plan, acquisition of the site, legal entanglements with the Town of Eagle, and fund-raising. This chapter shifts the story to the construction of the site and its exhibits. ...

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Chapter Seven. Toward an Insecure Future

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pp. 162-192

Scientist Niels Bohr once observed, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” No one claimed creating a museum would be easy. But then, no one foresaw the incredible struggles that the Society would encounter. By October 1975 the Society had confronted many of these challenges. ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 193-204

In his analysis of American outdoor museums and living history sites, Sten Rentzhog concentrated his analysis on Vesterheim (a Norwegian American Museum in Decorah, Iowa), Greenfield Village, Colonial Williamsburg, Old Sturbridge Village, the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, ...

Abbreviations

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pp. 205-206

Notes

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pp. 207-240

Sources

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pp. 241-246

Index

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pp. 247-258


E-ISBN-13: 9780299292638
E-ISBN-10: 0299292630
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299292645
Print-ISBN-10: 0299292649

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 36 b/w photos
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Wisconsin Land and Life

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Old World Wisconsin (Museum) -- History.
  • Historical museums -- Wisconsin -- Eagle -- History.
  • Agricultural museums -- Wisconsin -- Eagle -- History.
  • Open-air museums -- Wisconsin -- Eagle -- History.
  • Historic buildings -- Conservation and restoration -- Wisconsin.
  • Historic farms -- Conservation and restoration -- Wisconsin.
  • Ethnic architecture -- Conservation and restoration -- Wisconsin.
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