Closing in on two centuries ago, men who wanted sovereignty over their own land and interests crossed the Atlantic, and a good portion of North America, to settle in Wisconsin. With the rudimentary tools of the time, they first erected homes, later on places of gathering, worship, learning and business. Most of you already know this story.
I mention it because, as I investigate this week’s destination, I think of a proud immigrant and his family, living in a log cabin constructed by his own hands. I bet he never dreamt that one day a group of people would rebuild it in a living museum. What was once his home is now an exhibit where men, women and children can see it for a fee, trying to imagine his way of life.
When I started blogging, I was oblivious to the many interesting places that exist in my home state of Wisconsin. Sometimes, I marvel to think such a location endures. Other times, I wonder why I have never heard of the destination before my research, as I have found spots with priceless info and history. This week I uncovered a figurative silver dollar practically right next door.
I’m sure the people of Manitowoc County have heard of Pinecrest Historical Village before, but I live about a half hour to the north. I had never knew of its existence, and its a shame. I must admit, I do appreciate the aesthetics of a Stylish older building. Yet, I prefer a practical shelter with a great backstory; you know, that lore that has been passed down for generations. In Pinecrest, there are a healthy variety of buildings that served people of the past.
I’m starting out on I-43, heading south from my hometown of Green Bay on a gorgeous Thursday afternoon. As I relish one of the last days of May, I discover a Manitowoc exit, the Hwy 10 and County Rd JJ exit. I use the ramp and follow the green landscape of JJ west for three miles, as I adhere to the road signs that lead me to the Pinecrest Historical Village.
When I pull into the winding gravel drive that turns into a small parking lot, I find a modest white reception building. I’m a little doubtful that what I’ve read about this place will actually prove true. I stroll through the door of this headquarters, which also houses a timeline museum, and am greeted by a woman who gives me a rundown of the park.
She also hands me a digital device with a touchscreen. I look at her curiously and she explains that it is an audio tour. I simply choose the building I’m investigating and a character will give me a ton of info.
Before I begin my tour, she also explains. “All of the buildings found here were taken from their original locations in Manitowoc County. There are no replicas. The furniture inside the buildings is period correct. These are all genuine local structures.” I’m psyched because I love original old buildings.
I pay my ten dollars, thank her for the info and head out the backdoor, arriving on a graveled path curving through rolling Wisconsin terrain. I’m delighted to find some rather small ordinary wood buildings set among the handsome scenery. First up, is a doctors office complete with a surgical table and dentist’s chair. I learn anaesthetic was rarely used because it was hard to regulate. Yikes!
There’s a bunch more. After perusing a print shop, I wander a Pioneer log cabin, Scandinavian house and a German home along with its smoke house. Smoked meat is old world living at its finest! Of course, like any museum of this type, there is a church and school house. These I love, as the school house even has the housing for the school bell.
Along with the standard Museum pieces, or at least the ones I’ve found at other Wisconsin living museums, this one holds places of gossip, business and social gatherings I haven’t seen anywhere else. There’s a dance pavilion, train depot(with a locomotive, flat car and caboose sitting outside), saloon, poll station, dress makers shop, bank, meat market and carpenters shop. And probably more, but these stand out in my mind.
There’s also the standard buildings like a blacksmith shop and general store. Some others that may be of interest, as I have seen similar establishments in other living museums but prefer Pinecrest’s, are the cheese factory, fire station and print shop.
The audio tour is really helpful. I guess I prefer actual people dressed in period attire. Yet, sometimes these volunteers are a bit hazy as to the actual history of the building, of course, you will also find those that are totally into it. The audio tour is consistent and gives reference to the history of the building. Not only that, it tells how these buildings fit into daily life and the community. It also gives great historical info on the functionality of some of the items inside these structures.
What I love about such a place, animated with good humored tour guides, is that a precursory lifestyle unfolds before my eyes. I can sense the sweat of the men in the blacksmith shop, the pleasant social gathering a church service allowed, the nerves of a passenger about to make a journey by train,the male bonding taking place at the saloon or the jubilant courting abounding at the dance pavilion.
There’s bits from the audio tour I find humorous and quite factual also. For instance, at the bank, the man playing the banker is trying to convince me that I can rest easy with my money in his safe, though he seems scared senseless of bank robbers.
There are also three buildings under construction. The poll station, livery stable and stage coach house all are available for audio tour, however, all I can do is view the building from the outside. I should also mention that the blacksmith shop does have actual blacksmiths every Thursday. You can check them out as they forge Iron into fun creations. It happens to be Thursday today and I ask a few questions.
When I finish the tour, as I wind it up with a stroll through the train depot and an investigation of the caboose, I’m left satisfied with the visions brought to my head. Ordinary people, possibly some of my ansecstors, used some of these buildings daily. As a matter of fact, some were the central places for the communities they resided in.
There are scheduled days when a tram is used in the park. You’d have to check the website for that however. There also are fun events all summer long too. There was a civil war enactment this past weekend, with a price tag the same as normal admission to the museum.
I’ve been to three Living Museums centered around pioneer and homestead era life. This is my favorite. The variety of buildings is surprising. I mean, basically think of a building that existed during that time and you’ll find it at Pinecrest. They may not be the biggest or most ornate, but they tell of a local history that was vibrant and, at times, difficult. I do encourage you to see it.