History Center site

Members of the Chippewa County Historical Society unveil a donations tracking sign at the site of the future History Center at 12 Bridgewater St. in Chippewa Falls on September 6.

CONTRIBUTED, Chippewa County Historical Society

After over 40 years at 123 Allen St., the Chippewa County Historical Society has taken another step towards a spacious new facility next to Irvine Park.

The society announced September 6 that a capital campaign for a new history center has begun. A sign to track donations was revealed at 12 Bridgewater St., the site of the future History Center and Genealogical Society. The society is already $775,000 toward a $3.5 million goal.

Chippewa County artifacts flooding in

On top of accessibility and structural problems, the historical society simply doesn’t have room to display the community’s historical treasures, its vice president Jim Schuh said Tuesday.

Schuh sorted through a huge table covered in new donations. He showed a donated worn wooden yoke, used to carry water buckets many decades ago. “We don’t really have any agricultural exhibits. That’s one of our goals for the new museum.”

On Thursday, he said, he is picking up more antique farm tools from the 1800s. “Now that people know we’re getting a bigger building, we’re just getting inundated,” Schuh said.

The society’s current building, a former convent built in 1883, is not handicap-accessible. A lack of temperature control can mean problems for fragile artifacts.

Space to teach, learn

A plan draft for the new History Center said its design would be based on a 20,000-square-foot building. The approximate floor plan includes five offices, a genealogy library, 800-square-foot auditorium and gift shop.

Schuh said the auditorium would help area schools immerse their students in local history.

“We have about 600 fourth-graders who spend a day in camp,” Schuh said, gesturing to a small room on a lower floor of the current Society building. “If we had the space, we’d be able to do a lot more with the schools.”

He said the society is working with history teachers from Chippewa Falls schools to get their input on the new facility’s design.

Hours would also be drastically extended. The current Historical Society is open Tuesdays and one Saturday per month. A new history center would be open almost every day, he said.

New facility relies on donations

The facility needs $3 million to begin construction and an additional half million for exhibits and design — but according to a Historical Society press release, a corporate fundraising company won’t be hired. “This is a cost saving, all-volunteer fundraising,” the release said.

After initial donations from large company givers and Historical Society members, donations are officially open to the public.

Schuh hopes the project will take roughly two years. A Historical Society brochure estimates construction beginning in spring of 2018, completing in spring of 2020 and a grand opening taking place in summer of 2020.

The site of the future History Center at 12 Bridgewater Ave., that formerly housed a Dairy Queen and later Piff’s Pizza, was purchased for $91,000 in December 2015.

Donations to the Historical Society can be made at the Community Foundation of Chippewa County at 404 1/2 N. Bridge Street. For more information, visit chippewaareahistorycenter.org.

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Sarah Seifert covers the city and community of Chippewa Falls for the Herald. Contact her with tips, story ideas or just to say hello at 715-738-1608 or at sarah.seifert@lee.net.

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