Being involved with your local historical society is a great way to be involved with your community. Whether you are from a small community or big city, most of these places have a historical society or two. In Wisconsin the majority of historical organizations are affiliated with the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS). If you are interested in getting involved with your local organization check out the WHS’s database and find yours!
I am a lifetime member of my local historical organization in Markesan, Wisconsin. Our historical society might be in a small town, but we have a magnificent museum and intriguing collections. Although I am currently attending school some 40 minutes away, I still find myself wanting to be more involved in promoting our organization and museum of who we are, what we do, and what we have. I am in the process of developing another blog that could share information, pictures, documents, and some of the exhibits that we have. By doing this our organization could attract more attention.
We are more than just history enthusiasts who get together and talk about the past. We are educators, historians and preservationists. Local histories are the puzzle pieces of what makes up the larger picture of state and national history. It’s important to keep that history alive and share it with the public. Our museum is free to tour and we also offer free research appointments.
Smaller historical societies sometimes have a difficult time attracting new members and volunteers. There is also the task of keeping people interested and coming to the museum. If visitors have been there once, they have seen it, and there is no reason to go back. Whereas larger museums have permanent exhibits and also traveling exhibits. Although we have some spectacular permanent exhibits, which I will get to later, it would be helpful if limited exhibits or special exhibits could be created. One idea that I have heard being recommended is having a family history case. The case would be reserved for a selected family to insert pictures or heirlooms to tell their family’s history from the past. That could be a very good way to get more involvement, and it could also offer the opportunity for new material.
Another prospect that should be looked into is getting the youth involved. Our historical society offers a scholarship for graduating high school students. Students who are going on to study areas of history or education are those that are considered for the scholarship. Instead of just handing out a check, these students could be given the opportunity to volunteer at the museum doing cataloging, tours, organization, and planning to earn their scholarship and gain experience. Afterall, it is the youth that will continue to keep the organization alive.
The Markesan Historical Society operates the Grand River Valley Museum. Our museum consists of three buildings. The main building houses our research information, Old Streets of Markesan, Utley Depot, gift shop, and other smaller exhibits. One of the most interesting and unknown collections we have is the Gene Albright Presidential Necktie Collection. It is a set of one personal necktie from Presidents Eisenhower through George H.W. Bush. With each tie is a signed letter from each president gifting a tie to the collection (President Kennedy’s tie and letter was sent from Jacqueline Kennedy after his assassination). We are currently trying to updated the collection by acquiring ties from Presidents Clinton, W. Bush and Obama. Maybe someone at the White House will see this blog post and help us out.
The second building that is a part of our museum is the former Markesan railroad depot. Inside is a schoolhouse exhibit, railroad office, with working telegraph, and other miscellaneous exhibits.
The third and most recent addition to our museum is the Arthur Jahns Memorial Agriculture Museum. This 60′ x 100′ building houses antique farm machinery and tools. On every wall is a beautifully painted mural depicting the seasons and equipment associated with them (spring planting, fall harvesting, etc).
Our organization is truly amazing. We have a vast collection and donors are giving us more collectibles everyday. We are proudly preserving the history of our hometown, and we want to share it with people. What are other historical organizations, big or small, doing to keep people interested and change things up? It would be beneficial to know how they keep people interested.