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Florence museum has new exhibit for season

FLORENCE, Wis. — The Florence County Historical Society will recognize “Past Celebrations” with a new exhibit for the 2024 season.

The museum, which opens Thursday, has developed displays from years of Labor Days, Reunion 2000, Centennial Daze and Firemen Tournaments.

Many photographs from these activities will be on display, as well as additional albums available for the public to view.

“People are going to remember the annual Labor Day celebrations in Florence that started in 1931 with the American Legion and ended in 1973,” Florence County Historical Society President Karen Wertanen said.

Wertanen noted how each year the celebration drew in large crowds from all over.

“The parade was long — we had drum and bugle corps coming from everywhere to take part,” she said.

They also have photographs of all the floats over the years.

Another important piece of the history the historical society obtained is the old Ford fire truck, which FCHS Secretary/Treasurer Debbie DeMuri was instrumental in getting restored. “We are lucky to have it,” Wertanen said.

Because they are a small museum, they rotate exhibits to keep things new for visitors, DeMuri explained.

“They usually stay up for two years, but we keep adding to them every season,” DeMuri said.

This year, the rotating display features hunting camps and how the sports went from the traditional buffalo plaid of red and black to hunting orange.

“We have a handmade cabin that is a great example of what camp life was back then,” Wertanen said.

They are constantly adding information and photos to a wall that includes historical articles on cemeteries, jail, boulevard, a conservation officer and even a midwife.

The society recently obtained information and photographs on the Mathee farm from family members.

“This was an old farm in Florence, which was considered to be state of the art for its time, that included electricity,” said Wertanen, noting it was a very large operation and had 1,000 acres.

“They cultivated crops as well as had a pine tree plantation,” she said.

“The timber was used to supply the iron mine for the shafts they made.”

Today, the only thing left on the property is the farmhouse.

“We knew it had history but not to this extent,” Wertanen said.

“It’s incredible what we have from them,” DeMuri added.

Some of the featured permanent exhibits include its Heritage of Iron and Timber and special case dedicated to Hiram D. Fisher, who discovered iron ore in 1873, along with his family.

“Soon after, the area grew to be a mining and lumber location,” Wertanen said.

The Veterans Room is a permanent display dedicated to local veterans that covers the Civil War Grand Army of the Republic through to Desert Storm, DeMuri said.

Some of the highlights include World War I hero Charles Whittlesey, who was commander of what was to be called the “Lost Battalion.”

“He was born and raised in Florence for his first 10 years,” DeMuri said.

Other features include Martin Neuens, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam; local women who served; and other artifacts and memorabilia, including military medals.

They recently acquired a World War I helmet that has been authenticated.

“We add several more artifacts that come in over the year,” DeMuri said.

The museum has an extensive collection of more than 2,100 photographs that have all been digitized. All have detailed information.

The public is welcome to come and view the photos as well as make copies.

The hard copies are used by the Florence County School District’s fourth-grade class throughout the school year for Wisconsin history lessons. The society recently hosted a tour of the courthouse and jail for the class.

FCHS has participated the past couple years in National History Day.

The museum is always looking for artifacts, photographs, articles or books pertaining to Florence County’s history. “Anything that will improve our whole museum — we are interested,” DeMuri said.

“A lot of time people think something isn’t worth donating, but we encourage everyone to share what they have with us,” Wertanen added.

They also want to remind the community that the past 50 years is history, too.

“I tell people yesterday is history,” DeMuri said.

The museum has several fundraisers and activities planned this summer.

The site will honor local veterans from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 15. They are welcome to tour the veteran and military room and view the new exhibits. A light luncheon will be available at the Webb-Judge House.

The annual Quilt Show and Strawberry Social is planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 15 at Maxsells Suites and Celebrations in Florence. The event features an array of quilts made by local residents. The social will be on the grounds, offering shortcake.

The raffle quilt, “Aurora Borealis,” along with other raffle prizes, is on display at the museum. Tickets are available for purchase.

Due to the construction in downtown Florence, the Historical Walking Tours will be delayed until the project is completed.

DeMuri has been working on a virtual tour of the three cemeteries in the Florence area. Because the cemeteries are not walkable, they hope to show the PowerPoint presentation in July.

“It will feature photographs and stories of the numerous residents that have made an impact in the community,” DeMuri said. “It’s absolutely amazing what some of these people have accomplished.”

The society acknowledges Rachel and Don Egelseer for providing space for the museum, as well as the use of the facilities for special functions.

The society has updated its Facebook page and website.

The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday through Saturday during the summer months. Volunteers will be there to answer questions regarding the history of the county.

The Florence County Historical Society welcomes new members, as well as volunteers to assist with tours.

“We would love to see new members,” Wertanen said.

Anyone interested in volunteering or looking to schedule a tour can contact Wertanen at 715-528-4744 or DeMuri at 715-528-3597.

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