University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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Historical Houses Project Supported by
NEH Consultation Grant

 MAILED:  Nov. 4, 2004

EAU CLAIRE — Representatives of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the Chippewa Valley Museum and the Waldemar Ager Association are working together to develop a single interpretation of three local historical houses — the Ager House near Luther Hospital, the Schlegelmilch House in downtown Eau Claire and the Anderson Log House on the museum grounds.

The UW-Eau Claire Center for History, Teaching and Learning and the history department received an $8,705 consultation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the project, said Kate Lang, associate professor of history and interim director of the Center.

The consultation grant is the first step, said Lang, who directs the project.

"Our goal is to develop an interpretation of these houses, not as a celebration of the past, but as a way to help visitors understand the houses' place within the broader context of immigration to the Chippewa Valley," Lang said. "We believe a new interpretation will bring the people who lived in these houses to life as dynamic members of their communities."

The three homes are all middle class structures, which often are not preserved because they are commonplace, Lang said. "We are fortunate to have three homes in close proximity to each other," she said.

The consultants met with the project team to help them focus on themes and develop formats that will enable visitors to experience the interconnections between the houses and also to understand their place within the broader story of immigration to the country's heartland.

The consultants will help the project team integrate and expand upon ongoing work by the Chippewa Valley Museum and the Ager Association as they develop formats for new public programs linking the houses and the people who lived in them to tell a single story, Lang said. They plan to use formats such as a booklet that will incorporate the histories of the three houses into a driving tour, reader's theater productions, feature stories on local public radio, public lectures and an interactive Web site.

"Eventually school course materials will be developed for fourth graders when they study local history," Lang said.

The idea for the project came from Johannes Strohschänk, UW-Eau Claire professor of German, who in 2001 was invited to serve as a consultant to the Chippewa Valley Museum in re-interpreting the Schlegelmilch House, which was built by German immigrants in 1869. Students from his honors course researched the Schlegelmilch and Barland families' history with the help of family papers in German and English archived at the museum. They also interviewed a surviving member of the Barland family.

"The resulting reports and papers serve as a basis for the current project of making the Schlegelmilch House come to life, not only as a museum but also as a forum where teachers, students, researchers and museum curators meet to make the connection between the past and the present," said Strohschänk, who has published several pieces on German immigration and is working on a book with William G. Thiel, "A Critical History of German Immigration to Wisconsin."

"My own take is that the histories of the three houses are interwoven because the people occupying them took part in community life from the beginning to create a social fabric that was strong enough to see Eau Claire through some difficult times," Strohschänk said.

The consultants include Max Van Balgooy from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Tobias Brinkman from the University of Southhampton (England), Kathleen Conzen from the University of Chicago, Russell Kazal from the University of Toronto, and Stephen Long from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City.

The project team includes Janet Dykema, director of public programs at the Chippewa Valley Museum; Robert Gough, UW-Eau Claire professor of history; Tim and Karen Hirsch

from the Ager Association; Susan McLeod, executive director of the museum; John Mann, UW-Eau Claire assistant professor of history and member of the Eau Claire Landmark Commission; Heather Muir, head of Special Collections at UW-Eau Claire; Jane Pederson, professor of history; Strohschänk; and Lang.

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Updated: November 3, 2004