Walworth County Historical Society

WALWORTH COUNTY HISTORY CENTER BECOMNG A REALITY



The location of the Walworth County History Center of the Walworth County Historical Society has now been permanently established. Thanks to the generosity of Paul and Katherine Schmidt, Keefe Cares. United Way and Doris M. Reinke, the building has been purchased and the renovation is well underway.

The new history center will include the Doris M. Reinke Resource Center, the Paul and Katherine Schmidt Library, the genealogy center, two exhibition galleries, an auditorium, an “Exploratorium” for kids, a print shop museum as well as room for expansion of storage space and work space is well underway a 9 South Broad Street in Elkhorn.

The Walworth County Historical Society’s longtime need for creating a history center for our county has now completed Phase One of the project with the re-establishment of the Doris M. Reinke Research Center.

At the corner of Walworth and Broad Streets many have been noticing a heightened level of activity as the new history center facility started to become a reality in late 2021. With the purchase of the Municipal Building at 9 South Broad Street, Elkhorn the stage was set for some remarkable change for Walworth County History. In October of 2021 the Society indicated that it was willing to purchase the “City Hall “/ Municipal Building from the City of Elkhorn. Thanks to the insight and efforts of City Administrator Jim Heilman and members of the Elkhorn City Council the purchase became a reality. The former police and fire station, city hall and retail shop are now in the process of being re-purposed into an historical center that all the citizens of Walworth County can be proud of and enjoy. Further, the ninety-year-old landmark Art Deco building is being preserved. It will serve the purposes of Walworth County Historical Society for many years to come in terms of adequate storage and work space as well as plenty of room for exciting and enlightening changing and permanent exhibits.

WCHS has enlisted the help of consultant Danielle Benden of Driftless Pathways ( a firm of state and region-wide renown) to oversee the project and planning necessary to make this dream of a well-designed museum and state of the art research center come true.

“The overall project will be a wonderfully important change from what once existed,” according to James Boardman, WCHS President. “We were blessed with a significant gift from the late Doris M. Reinke, for who the Research Center in the new building is named,” Boardman continued. The gift from her estate allowed for the replacement of the building’s roof, the replacement of over 25 windows, the renovation of the street level offices into a massive storage space and workspace for the Research Center, creation of a genealogy center, furniture, flooring and painting.

A gift from the Paul and Katherine Schmidt estate allowed the historical society to build and improve the extensive historical library to this building by the end of 2021. The recent Keefe (now Compass) Realty’s Keefe Kares grant will allow for the purchase of new computers and digital devices that will keep the Research center current with new technology. WCHS was also gifted cash contributions by many individuals during a capital campaign in 2020-2021.

The Society is also grateful to Frank and Pat Eames for the donation of the many important artifacts that made up the print shop of the Elkhorn Independent for many years.

The Society is now committed to Phase Two which will further develop the site to include two large exhibition galleries and renovate the remarkable Art Deco Auditorium on the second floor into a wonderful meeting and event space. All –in-all this history center/museum will be a unique attraction to the downtown area of Elkhorn.

The Society will retain the Webster House Museum and the Boyd Carriage Barn site at 9 East Rockwell Street in Elkhorn and will also continue to work with the County Fair Board in utilizing the Old Sharon Town Hall and the Blooming Prairie School House located in the park at the Walworth County Fair Grounds.

With all the building upgrades there will be a significant improvement in changing exhibits and history programming. “We are looking forward to involving the public in our planning for exhibits and programs so that all county citizens can enjoy and take pride in the renovated facility, the ever changing exhibits and the rich history of our county” according to Dan Richardson, Past President and Board member of WCHS. “Being located at the County Seat in Elkhorn, the museum will truly be the history center of the entire county from Zenda to Whitewater and East Troy to Sharon and everywhere in between—all sixteen towns,” Richardson added.

Over its 118 years existence the Walworth County Historical Society has continued its mission to collect, preserve and share the rich history of Walworth County. It has accumulated, curated and shared the thousands of historic items including the original handwritten lyrics to Webster’s well known song“ The Sweet Bye and Bye,” the carriage of General John Boyd, rare land grants and indentures, the earliest (1857) plat map of Walworth County, the Eames print shop, a Korean War Era military Jeep, a diary of Joseph P. Webster family, Civil War artifacts pertaining to Walworth County and numerous other artifacts that museum goers will find intriguing, curious and amazing--including the original elk horns for which the City of Elkhorn was named.