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Business of the Month: June 2022

Eagle River Historical Society

VCEDC June Business of the Month

Congratulations to

Eagle River Historical Society

Eagle River, WI 54521

Phone: 715-337-0811

1.The Eagle River Historical Society announced some very significant news in May. Please share that with us and why this is important. 

In 2017 the Eagle River Historical Society (ERHS) implemented a strategic plan goal when it led the formation of the Northern History Caucus (NHC), a group of northern historical societies, all affiliated with the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS). This month that group resolved to apply for non-profit status in its own right. The benefit of that decision is that the group, now the Northern Wisconsin Heritage Council, will be able to open its own bank account, apply for grants and solicit funds directly and more clearly direct its own projects. A group of Vilas County societies have hung historic photos in the Courthouse addition. The newly formed Council is developing a digital map geolocating all historic sites, museums, listed buildings and other historic features across multiple counties. Parallel with the digital version there are plans to also print the map for wide distribution. This step also implements an ERHS strategic plan goal: to become a recognized economic asset to the community. While historical societies are not by nature economic engines, we chose to pursue this goal to underline the importance of heritage tourism. As long ago as 2018 heritage tourism was identified as a major growth segment of the overall market. Heritage tourists spend 60% more than average and tend to make longer visits. This segment also makes more visits.

Heritage tourists favor ‘off the beaten path’ destinations and technology has been identified as a driver for their planning.

2. Tell us a little bit about the history of the Society, your growth over the years, and how many staff/board members you have. 

The Eagle River Historical Society was formed in 1966. Operating without a physical base until 2007, much of the archival and physical collection was housed privately and displayed occasionally in merchants’ cases. In 2007 space was leased at Trees for Tomorrow, Eagle River, and soon followed by renting the remodeled railway depot. When the Trees lease was lost shortly after the Depot came online, a search for a permanent, owned home began. In 2012 the ERHS purchased the former Knights of Columbus Hall on Highway 45 and spent eighteen months remodeling the hall, a building moved on site from a disused boys’ camp. The Eagle River Historical Museum opened in May, 2014. In the following eight years the Society has transitioned from a closely held affinity group to a board led and managed organization, eliminated $50,000 in debt, developed an endowment, has a board selected to fill specific criteria and who undergo periodic board education and developed a reputation for high quality events and home tours. We have three paid staff members and a seven-member board. We are interviewing to fill a vacancy. The ERHS has grown significantly since 2014. So much so, that we are developing plans to double the footprint of the main campus building. The plans are preliminary, but we hope to make announcements within a few months and have a soft target to break ground in 2023.

3. You give back to the community in so many ways through your partnership with the Northland Pines School District (NPSD), the Eagle River library, and special events. Please tell us about that. 

The Schools Program is one we cherish. Annually the entire fourth grade of NPSD visits the Historical Museum for tours led by costumed docents. The ERHS has traditionally funded the transportation cost for all children who come from Eagle River, Land O’Lakes and St. Germain. We also host an annual open house for all NPSD faulty and administration. Several years ago, the Society began purchasing fourth grade Wisconsin history textbooks for the district, as part of our commitment to education. This book meets all current social studies standards and is very visual and inquiry-based. We began with one book for each 6-child study group and now have provided one book for each two students. The goal is one book per child. This summer a program called Kid Curators began. Interested children visit the museum and with help from staff, choose one item to study, research and write about. A special display will be mounted and the children will act as docents for their friends and family at a private viewing.

4. How can someone get involved or donate to the Society? 

We recruit volunteers continuously. While we have dedicated staff, volunteers bring a special and individual voice to the museums and programs. The community offers so much energy and talent. We are also blessed with generous donors who are a big part of what keeps the ERHS vital and active. There is no talent that we can’t use: writing, gardening, woodworking, art, research and many more. There are several ways to reach us with questions and to get more information. Emails can be sent to [email protected], direct calls made to 715-337-0811 or 262-212-6369 or postal mail to P.O. Box 2011, Eagle River, WI 54521. We have a range of membership levels, conduct an annual giving month, offer memorials and a legacy program and accept gifts to our growing endowment investments.

5. Serving as President of the Eagle River Historical Society is a great honor, especially as this community is beloved by so many generations of families. Why is this role important to you? 

I served as president of the Society for five years and am now the first executive director. I am honored by the trust placed with me by our board, members and the entire community. It is a wonderful experience to be able to meet so many people in my role as ambassador for the Society. I have been able to advocate at the state legislature, meet exceptionally talented people from the Wisconsin Historical Society and have the privilege of helping to develop young talent with our interns. I grew up in a military family and Eagle River has become my hometown. Until I lived here, I had never spent more than a few years in one place. Through learning its history and being able to know its past, it has become part of my past too. I love to share with our community and visitors this rich heritage. It has become clear to me what a unifying factor our shared history can be.

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