The Wisconsin History Tour officially opened Thursday at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.
The Wisconsin Historical Society is the group that put together the History Tour, said WHS Archivist Linda Mittlestadt. She added that the History Tour has been traveling all over the state for the last couple of years as an outreach initiative of the WHS.
“This is going to be one of the last stops probably,” she said. “My role with this is just to kind of facilitate the programing and making room for everything that’s going to be happening … in coordination with the history tour.”
Mittlestadt said the idea of the traveling history tour is to take history on the road to make it accessible to all of the people of Wisconsin.
“It kind of goes back to the Wisconsin idea of sharing everything,” she said. “The boundaries of education don’t stop in the classroom, they go out beyond and that’s what the History Tour is trying to do.
“Sometimes I think people forget how rich and varied our history really is.”
Mittlestadt noted that the WHS has been around for longer than our state.
“They were formed in 1846 and the state didn’t become a state until 1848,” she said. “The Wisconsin Historical Society has been collecting documents and papers and everything about the history of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest for well over 160 years.”
Mittlestadt said it’s good to know your background in order to make informed decisions about your present and the future.
“The History Tour actually just shows, really, the variety of ways you can address history,” she said. “Sometimes people think history is just about looking at an old book but the History Tour actually shows that there’s a lot of different ways you can access history.
“It kind of expands your idea about what history can provide.”
Some of the exhibit’s highlights include underwater archeology, inventions in Wisconsin, Native American history and a touch screen Wisconsin history quiz.
“The local highlight is actually about the resorts of Northern Wisconsin and utilizing some of our collections from the Alan Born Collection and other great photographs and then talking about that rich history of resort culture in Wisconsin,” Mittlestadt said. “Because the History Tour always is traveling all around the state … wherever it goes to they try to incorporate a local section.”
The exhibit itself will be open until July 31 on the second and main floors of the NGLVC and will feature a week of special events.
“June 14 through the 17 is all programing and it starts at 10 in the morning and most nights it goes until … like 7 at night,” Mittlestadt said.
Special events that week include author talks, preservation workshops for people's family treasures and a presentation about shipwrecks in the Apostle Islands from an underwater archaeologist.
State Historic Preservation Officer Jim Draeger will give a presentation on June 16 at noon, “Communing with Nature: The Development of the Northern Wisconsin Resort,” as well as giving the only off-site presentation.
“He wrote a book called “Bottoms Up,” about different breweries in Wisconsin, so he’s going to be talking about that down at the Alley on Wednesday night,” said Mittlestadt.
Mittlestadt said Ann Lewis – author of the “Ship Captain’s Daughter: Growing Up on the Great Lakes” – would be on site for a book talk on June 14 and Dennis McCann – author of “This Superior Place” – would be having his own book talk on June 16.
“Then what I’m really excited about,” she said. “Larry ‘Longboard’ Williams is going to be here giving a talk about surfing on Lake Michigan.”
Mittlestadt explained that on June 17, Williams would be talking about how he and his brother Larry Williams turned Sheboygan into what surfers now call the Malibu of the Midwest.
“They surf Lake Michigan and … the book just came out and it’s a wonderful book,” she said. “I can’t say enough how great it is. It was a good read.”
Mittlestadt said Williams would also be talking a little bit about Tom Blake.
“He’s done a lot of research … He knows all about Tom Blake,” she said. “That’s going to be a very interesting one on Friday afternoon.”
Mittlestadt noted that the exhibit and all of the events are free and open to the public.
“A lot of times people get caught up in history and thinking it’s just maybe old musty papers and things like that and stuff that doesn’t really pertain to them but the History Tour does actually … make things kind of pop for you,” she said. “You realize everything really does kind of fit together and it has an impact.”
Mittlestadt added that everyone is welcome and encouraged to stop by the archives at the NGLVC.
“We do help a lot of folks with their family history and a lot of research for other things also,” she said. “We’re open from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday to the public and of course by appointment always.”
Mittlestadt said they often help people with genealogy.
“We have naturalization records, and census records and we can go through vital statistics and things like that for folks,” she said. “We’ve got the Ashland newspaper from 1888 up to 2000 all in microfilm.”
Mittlestadt said they also have maps, manuscripts and a lot of different types of records.
“Call and ask us,” she said. “We can help you find collections and if they’re not at our archives we’ll have them shipped up here. Again, that goes back to that Wisconsin idea of making things accessible to the public.”
Mittlestadt said the WHS’ archives are second to none, except to the Library of Congress.
“It’s something the people of Wisconsin I don’t think are always aware of but they certainly should be proud of,” she said. “It’s a wonderful resource.”
For more information on the Wisconsin History tour, visit the Wisconsin Historical Society website wisconsinhistory.org
For more information on this and other exhibits at the NGLVC visit them online at nglvc.org or call them at 715-685-9983. Ashland Wisconsin History Tour brochures are available at the NGLVC.
The NGLVC is located at 29270 Co. Hwy. G and is open seven days a week (except some holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.