ENTER AND SEE: New History Center Opens Doors to Community’s Past
Chippewa Area History Center creates an innovative experience of the past
The former Chippewa Area History Museum, hosted by the Chippewa County Historical Society in a renovated convent on the East Hill, was structurally designed to keep people out. The artifacts were pressed into tight spaces, it wasn’t handicap accessible, and there was no room to move around. Then, Dave Gordon, president of the Chippewa County Historical Society, proposed to the board a radical idea: to tell the Valley’s history, but from scratch.
The idea remained just that: building a facility that could host and secure a multitude of artifacts, that was prominently placed in downtown Chippewa Falls, and that could be accessible the point where history could be experienced through the eyes, minds, and hands of more people. Taking on over four years of fundraising and a few more of construction, through private funding the brand-new history center now stands just outside the entrance to Irvine Park.
“that‘s my hope for (the museum) – to be an anchor for this community.”
director of the chippewa area history center
The center, which opened in early February at 12 Bridgewater Ave., Chippewa Falls, draws people with its unique design and grand stature. “I can guarantee you that everyone has an opinion about the outside of the building,” Frank Smoot, director of the Chippewa Area History Center, said. However, once inside, “everyone has been really surprised.”
The artifacts are securely stored and are being moved around, and folks who walk through the museum will often find themselves surprised at the accessibility of it. Unlike most museums, this museum is meant to never stay the same. “We don’t have an infinite amount of space, but we do have an infinite amount of time,” Smoot said. With the multitude of artifacts available to display, the museum will rotate out exhibits to keep the artifacts pristine and to get people interested in what else the museum has to offer in the future.
This was first experienced by folks who entered at the museum’s soft opening on Feb. 3. “So far, I think people really attach to this idea that it’s fun to watch the museum come together and to see its finishing touches,” Smoot said. “Feb. 3 was the starting line for the museum, and now we’re running the race and we’ll be running it forever,” he laughed.
The museum hosts two organizations: the Chippewa County Historical Society, since 1970, and the Chippewa County Genealogical Society, since 1980. Both groups have operated for decades thanks to the involvement and love for the community their volunteers have expressed. Their enthusiasm has only grown stronger in the wake of a new, grand opening. “It’s been really wonderful to see all the people in the community come together and either get on a ladder or write stories or sit at the front desk greeting people,” Smoot said.
The center will host a grand opening event in late May, encouraging everyone in the community to come celebrate a historical building for the community. There will be music, cake, games, and plenty to explore.
“The thing that I really hope for the museum more than anything else,” Smoot paused, “is that it will become one of those civic institutions that people would day, ‘Wow, how did we get along without this for so long?’ ”
“That’s my hope for it – to be an anchor for the community.”
Learn more about Chippewa County, the new history center, and how you can get involved with the community’s history at chippewaareahistorycenter.org.