The Ashwaubenon Historical Society began as a private non-profit organization in 1971. It began as a historical committee composed of individuals, who realized that preserving a communities’ past would provide a path for the future. The group occupied two former classrooms at Cormier School, the first public school in Ashwaubenon founded in 1872. The small group began busily collecting many artifacts linking Ashwaubenon to its agricultural past even though many thought of the area as a purely suburban community.
The committee published books and maps and sponsored a parade for the Ashwaubenon Centennial celebration. The committee became known as the Ashwaubenon Historical Society. On September 16, 1976, it became incorporated and was named the Ashwaubenon Historical Society, Inc. Between 1976 and 1983, the Ashwaubenon Historical Society held monthly business meetings and held monthly bingo games raising approximately $50,000 to provide funding to preserve our artifacts. In 1977, the Town of Ashwaubenon became the Village of Ashwaubenon.
As the years went by the Society grew in size and participation from 10 members to today’s membership of over 50. They sponsored well-attended lectures and fine arts performances linked to history. Tapes and documentations of these events were preserved at the Cormier School. In 1987, they erected a monument on the corner of the school property, noting that the site provided over 100 years of continuous education to Ashwaubenon youth.
In 1992, the Society became a member of the Wisconsin Historical Society. In that year the Ashwaubenon Historical Society received a Brown County Cultural Grant of $2,000, which funded 17 performances of history of the county through songs, poetry, and journal readings entitled “Destination LaBaye.” The society continued to have its monthly meetings at Cormier School and collected and stored artifacts there. A new village hall was built in 1994. The Society filled glass display cases in the foyer, which were there until our present museum opened. Also displayed were ten framed pictures of former Town Chairmen and Village Presidents, which had been presented by the Society to the Village in 1990. In September of 1994, the Society presented, “Country School Memories,” a slide presentation of old school buildings in Wisconsin with folk music selections and memories of former Cormier School teachers.
From 1995 to the present, numerous social and fundraising events were held relating to the beautification of Ashwaubenon. The Society held a tulip bulb sale, an annual plant/social, planted gardens on Oneida Street and at the burial site of Chief Ashwaubomay.
Unfortunately the call for more room by the school district meant that the society needed to move out of the Cormier School building in 1995. Meetings were then held at the Ashwaubenon Village Hall. The Ashwaubenon Historical Society kept collecting materials and recording Ashwaubenon’s history. Artifacts were placed in storage at the Ashwaubenon village garage until it was razed. Storage needed to be rented after 1999. In 1998 the Historical Society contacted Village President, Ted Pamperin, concerning enlarging our partnership to include the use of the Ashwaubenon Water Utility building. Over the next few months we examined the feasibility of using the building. In 1999 it was decided to bring a proposal to the Village Board utilizing TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) funding from the Village to gain the money to refurbish some of the interior and add on a foyer way. That board passed the partnership and the TIF funding on a 6-1 vote. The Village continues to own the building.
The Society continued activities even during this “homeless” period. In 1997, in partnership with the Village, the Society organized and participated in a parade celebrating Ashwaubenon’s 125th anniversary. During 1998 the Society sponsored a two-week wagon train journey during the Wisconsin Sesquicentennial celebration. The wagon train traveled along the entire route of the Old Military Road, spending 16 days traveling 264 miles by horse and wagon following a route that was cut through the wilderness in 1836 by soldiers from Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chen, Fort Winnebago at Portage to Fort Howard in Green Bay. A wagon train display booth was placed at the Brown County Fairgrounds and at the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena for the Senior Expo. The Society was awarded a Wisconsin State Humanities Council grant to be used for the Wagon Train. Along the route, each stopover included community gatherings during overnight stays.
In 2000, the architect began to develop plans for the new Historical Society building, which included over 10,000 square feet of space. Along with the help of Tom McKay from the Wisconsin Council of Local History of State Historical Society, the inside was designed to include a ceramic tile entryway, overhead garage doors to move items in and out of the facility and many more amenities. The Village of Ashwaubenon agreed to do some renovating with TIF funds, although the Ashwaubenon Historical Society has added several items that cost thousands of dollars. These included all carpeting, tile, display areas and cases, lighting and wiring, shelving and storage, a Computer system etc. The Village Board agreed to continue to plow the parking lot, cut the grass and maintain their portion of the building which houses the well.
Also during this time period, we were approached by the Kohler Foundation who wanted to gift one of the largest collections of hobo and tramp art to the museum to help us get started. The Kohler Foundation advised us in building cabinets and cleaned and catalogued the hobo and tramp art collection. The Kohler Foundation also helped us install the exhibit, along with the artist Adolph Vandertie who either collected or “whittled” the art.
The Society had a sneak preview day for community leaders where we got up temporary exhibits on the history of the village. This was also a time for donations. Our next major pre-grand opening event was the unveiling of three WPA murals which had hung at Cormier School. We found the wife of the school principal who ordered the murals and in a formal ceremony with possible benefactors and the public, unveiled the murals. Finally, we opened our doors with a Heritage Festival in 2001 which included exhibits from this area, entertainment, music, children’s activities, food, refreshments and of course, our museum as the focal point. The LaChapelle Family who lived in Ashwaubenon in the early 1900’s even scheduled their family reunion at the celebration and were among featured guests. They came from as far as California.
Major exhibits collected include the following:
· Adolph Vandertie Hobo and Tramp Art display, which was permanently gifted to the Society by the JM Kohler Foundation.
· Military Memorabilia from Ashwaubenon veterans from the Civil War through present conflicts.
· Cormier School related items, classrooms furnishings, texts, annuals etc. from the early and Later Ashwaubenon Schools.
· Historical documents (both community and personal), plat books, certificates, books (past and present), town and village leaders photos, church books, and school annuals.
· Agricultural display – farm implements and pictures of old farms.
· Recreational Display – Harness racing, 1800 sleigh, buckboards.
· Fashions from the early 1900’s.
· Ashwaubenon household furnishings items including antique organ, furniture, wash machine, loom, butter churn etc.
· Permanent Art Exhibits – Permanent depression art, murals, and art works donated by local artists. Temporary gallery display areas opened to local artists and art groups.
· Cultural Displays – Oneida Indian Tribe and German American Society.
The Community remained involved in our fund raising activities, social events, and educational activities.
1. Sale of bricks for entryway.
2. Annual grade school visits.
3. Annual Veterans’ Day event.
4. Annual plant/bake sale.
5. Annual Christmas party.
6. Special events.
Fund raising efforts have brought us donations from United Way, Wisconsin Public Service, Retired Lighting Union, Lyndahl Funeral Home and IBM. A museum worker was hired for 1 year funded by the federal program for older workers.
The variety of activities the society is involved in has required commitment by the total membership. Volunteers have accomplished administration and development of the museum facility. Other community groups such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, High School students, Optimists, Lions, lionesses and Village of Ashwaubenon employees have supported our endeavors.
The quality of our programs has brought many visitors to our museum facility. Letter of documentation have shown the admiration and appreciation of community leaders for what we have accomplished.
Memories are the glue that holds people together in a common bond. History is a set of collective memories. At the present time, the Society also holds these memories in writing and photographs. The Ashwaubenon Historical Society believes in preserving our past in order to secure it for the future generations.