The Port Washington Historical Society is moving, and thanks to a $1 million anonymous donation, the transition will include quite the upgrade.
The society is leaving its former home — a small, temporary — to move in downtown, where it will occupy two historic locations.
Historical Society Board President Jackie Oleson called the donation "a transformational gift."
"The gift was directed to save another historic building from demolition and devote it to showcasing the history of Port Washington," Oleson said in a press release. "Through the considerable generosity and vision of this family, the Port Washington Historical Society will acquire and renovate the former Business Men’s Club building located at 118 N. Franklin Street, a structure the Society hoped would be saved from the wrecking ball."
Over the past several months, the Port Washington Historical Society . (This structure was built in 1852 by businessman Barnum Blake).
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This donation does not mean the society will abandon that adventure, however. Instead, the society plans to use the the former Business Men’s Club building as a museum, and dedicate the building at 205 N. Franklin Street to its collections and archives as well as the society's office to form what the group has labeled its "Resource Center."
"This building will facilitate the management of the Business Men’s Club building and will provide the 3,000 square feet needed at this time to carry on the business and archival work of the Society," Oleson said.
The former Men's Club building will then house a museum, with anticipated exhibits to include: the Wisconsin Chair Company; shipwrecks; Dan Muller art collection; Civil War draft riots; history of Port Washington; harbor development; commercial fishing; early explorers; Native Americans; Paramount Records; the breweries of Port Washington; and more.
"Thirty-five hundred square feet of space will be devoted to interpretative exhibits highlighting the history of the community and the maritime history of the area, an exhibit area far greater than would be possible at 205 N. Franklin St.," Oleson said. "Restoration will begin later this year with completion of the work projected for late 2013."
The Historical Society is hopeful the addition of this attraction will draw more tourists to Port.
"The 1860 lighthouse, maintained and managed by the Society, draws between 2,000 and 3,000 visitors on weekends during the five months it is open to the public," Oleson said. "The Business Men’s Club museum of local history will draw visitors and residents, giving greater exposure to the 1860 lighthouse, broadening the historical focus and increasing the number of visitors to both the lighthouse and the museum."
The Business Men’s Club was built in 1907 by Henry & Hill, and began as a social gathering place for the businessmen of Port Washington, offering billiards and bowling, Oleson said. At one point it was home to a five and dime and a grocery store, and eventually became a part of the First National Bank.
Port resident Gertjan Van Den Broek purchased the former M&I Buildings earlier this year, with plans to develop the building ; .
"The downtown of any community needs to remain vibrant and appealing to a variety of people," Oleson said. "A museum within the historic setting of the Business Men’s Club will serve to complement the restaurants, businesses, and retail venues in the downtown area. A community as rich in history as Port Washington can draw on its past to offer another reason for visitors to linger and return time and time again."