The Story of the Douglas County Historical Society
The Douglas County Historical Society can trace its roots back to September of 1854. At that time it operated under the name of the Superior Historical Society and its president was Colonel R. P. Carlton, the oldest resident of the area. By 1902, the Superior Historical Society still had no collection and was holding meetings only once every four years. The meetings were then discontinued due to lack of interest until October of 1931 when, under the leadership of John A. Bardon, a collection was developed that included photographs, objects and documents. In 1934 the group’s name and mission was changed to include all of Douglas County.
The new Douglas County Historical Society was offered the home of the A. A. Roth family to use as their museum in 1938. After remodeling the building, the collection was moved to this location in 1939. It wasn’t long, however, before the Historical Society began to outgrow this home. By the 1960’s they were looking for a larger space to house their ever-increasing collection. An old armory at 16th Street and John Avenue was considered in 1961, but then they received news that the Superior Children’s Home was closing and an even grander scheme developed. Yet even this would have its hurdles to overcome.
The Superior Children’s Home had been in service for 42 years, since the Victorian-era mansion that housed it had been left to the Children’s Home and Refuge Association by its owner, Grace Pattison, when she left Superior in 1920. Built by her husband, Martin Pattison, in the late 1800’s, it was Mrs. Pattison’s wish that the Children’s Home Board destroy the building and sell the property rather than use it for something other than a children’s home. At first it seemed unlikely that anyone would be able to convince them otherwise, but City Attorney Marcovich pointed out that Mrs. Pattison had left an alternative: let the title to the home revert to the Pattison heirs for disposition. The Pattison heirs, it turned out, felt that the home should be preserved and then turned the title for it over to the City of Superior.
The Douglas County Historical Society moved its collection into this grand home in May of 1963. The home, known as “Fairlawn,” served as its headquarters for many years. In later years, gala events, such as Victorian teas and murder mystery dinner theaters, were held on Fairlawn’s grounds by the Historical Society, making their name and that of Fairlawn nearly synonymous. In 1999, however, the lease for this property was lost and the organization again went in search of a place to call “home.”
For two years, the Historical Society was located in the lower level of 1401 Tower Avenue, in the heart of Superior’s old downtown business district. The building, known as the “Old Post Office,” dates to around 1905 and once served as the city’s post office and federal building. Today it has been renovated and restored to its original grandeur and contains the offices of a number of local businesses. This location, however, simply could not house the society’s large collection and so the search for permanent headquarters continued.
In November 2002, The Douglas County Historical Society was pleased to announce that the search was finally over. The organization had purchased and moved into another historic building in Superior. Located at 1101 John Avenue, it was built in 1925 for $35,000 and was known as the Vasa Temple. Newspaper articles of the time inform us that it was erected by the Svea and the Freja lodges of the Vasa Order of America, which was a Swedish American organization. Lidgerwood-Mundy bought the building in 1948 and has been there until recently, when they moved their engineering and accounting divisions to their main headquarters. They have maintained the building very well, keeping the wiring updated and re-roofing the building in 1991.
Besides room to spread out to work on the archives and house the collection, the building’s 40 by 60-foot former ballroom is big enough to hold exhibits as well as public functions.
If you’ve ever wanted to get involved more with DCHS, now is a great opportunity. With your help we can work together toward, as former DCHS President Bob LaBounty says, “celebrating the history of the many communities of Douglas County, providing a base for historical outreach, and for being a good neighbor within the community.”
To find out more ways in which you can help, please contact us.
Our mission is to collect, preserve, interpret and exhibit artifacts, archival materials and photographs of the cultural, social and political history of the people and communities of Douglas County, Wisconsin.