Central station for history

The Grand River Valley Museum opened its doors to the public in August 1991 and is open Saturdays through September from 1 to 4 p.m. or by appointment. Joe Schulz photo

by Joe Schulz

Since 1991, the Grand River Valley Museum has been giving the community a blast from Markesan’s past through a treasure trove of artifacts.

Open Saturdays through the end of the month from 1 to 4 p.m., it showcases life in the 1900s, a one room schoolhouse, an 1800s train depot and the history of agriculture.

This year, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, many of the mannequins in the museum are wearing military uniforms.

The museum has handicapped-accessible parking, displays and restrooms.

Despite being open primarily on Saturdays, the museum will open its doors to the public Sunday, Sept. 15 from 1 to 5 p.m. for Heritage Day.

Beyond museum tours, Heritage Day offers demonstrations, music, popcorn, pie and ice cream.

One demonstrator is Author and Ripon native Karl Stewart, who will be discussing his latest book “Fare Thee Well Harvey’s Creek.”

The Grand River Valley museum is comprised of three buildings, each housing artifacts that come together to tell the story of the area’s history.

Markesan Historical Society President Gayle Schultz noted each building has a unique flavor out of necessity as the historical society acquired many artifacts over time.

“We have a very interesting little town,” Schultz said. “We have a lot of history here and we have a lot of artifacts.”

The main building, constructed by August Arndt in 1916, originally was a carpenter shop.

Over the years, the main building served as a car dealership, a grocery store and a motor repair shop.

Schultz noted in the early ’90s, the historical society had plenty of relics, but nowhere to display them.

At the time, what is now the main building, was owned by Markesan resident Mildred Draeger and it was being used as a motor repair shop.

Meanwhile, the historical society was storing its relics in an empty building in downtown Markesan.

The historical society approached Draeger about the possibility of turning the building into a museum dedicated to the history of Markesan.

Draeger agreed to donate the building, in memory of her husband, Edward.

The motor repair shop moved out and the historical society began converting the building into a museum.

Schultz noted it took a lot of work to renovate the building as each display in the rooms had to be built by historical society members.

“They didn’t have to build the building, but they did put in all the partitions and do all the displays,” Schultz said.

In August 1991, the Grand River Valley Museum opened to the public.

The main building houses six residential rooms displaying life in the early 1900s, a veteran’s corridor and a church room.

This wall displays every veteran from Markesan. Any veteran not represented on the wall is asked to contact the historical society so they can rectify the situation. Joe Schulz photo

It also holds “the streets of Markesan” with shops of the late 1800s and a room full of genealogy archives.

“We have all the yearbooks from [Markesan] High School as well as scrapbooks that people kept over the years; obituaries, wedding announcements, that kind of thing,” Schultz said. “So anybody that’s doing a genealogy or research can come down and see what they can find.”

The second addition to the museum was the depot, built in 1884.

The historical society eyed the depot as a potential site for the museum in the early ’90s, before Draeger donated the main building.

Schultz noted at the time, the building was about a block east of its current location and it still was operating as a working train depot.

Eight years later, the historical society purchased the depot from the railroad company for $1 and moved it down the street, next to the main building.

After moving the building, Schultz noted the historical society had to take 12-feet off the back of the structure because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said it was too close to the river.

“They took the back off, shortened it up and put the back on,” Schultz said. “So, it’s the original [building] but shorter than the original.”

Dedicated in 1998, the depot is home to a train station waiting room and the depot agent’s office, which houses working telegraph and railroad memorabilia.

It also contains a one-room schoolhouse. The schoolhouse is dedicated to Leona Weber, a founding member of the historical society.

In the back of the depot, there’s a loading dock that displays potato harvesting equipment and a milk bottle collection.

The Arthur Jahns Memorial Agricultural Museum was the third addition to the museum complex.

The museum is named after educator Arthur Jahns, who left half of his estate to the historical society after his passing.

“Even though he had never been to the museum, he wanted to see a museum depicting 1950s-era farming,” Schultz said, noting he donated a collection of ’50s farming equipment along with barns in Manchester, Wis.

Because the historical society is a volunteer organization, it couldn’t operate a museum in Manchester.

So it decided to sell one of the farms and purchase land on the east side of the main building.

The agricultural museum — or “The Barn” as Schultz calls it — was dedicated in 2005 and depicts farming during both the horse-drawn era and the 1950s-tractor era.

The barn also features a blacksmith and harness shop, milking equipment and transportation of the past.

The historical society’s newest acquisition is the Landmark Services building across the street from the museum on East John Street, which was purchased in 2018.

The structure will be known as the “Kienas Building” after the man who rebuilt it in the 1960s: Walter Kienas.

“Eventually we will have storage over there, so that when we want to change displays, it’ll be much easier to find the things,” Schultz said of the acquisition. “Also, we’re thinking of moving our office and our archives over there, which would open [the main building] up for more display.”

She believes preserving history allows future generations to gain a better understanding of their origins.

“They need to know where they came from and what their ancestors went through in order to have an understanding of themselves and their life,” Schultz said.

The museum also is open by appointment.

Schultz added anyone interested in history should take the time to visit the Grand River Valley Museum.

“We’d love to have more visitors,” Schultz said. “We are not a 20-minute tour. One thing that’s unique about our museum here is that we have actual artifacts. We have the things that people can actually see, and we have a lot of them.”

To schedule a museum tour, call Schultz at 920-398-3359.