Education, people, and history – the three keys to the Kenosha History Center

Education, people, and history – the three keys to the Kenosha History Center

We sit down for an in-depth Q&A with the Executive Director of the Kenosha History Center, Chris Allen. The Kenosha History Center is located on Simmons Island at 220 51st Place and open Tuesdays – Sundays.

Q: What is the Kenosha History Center’s mission?

A: Our mission is to collect and preserve Kenosha County history through education programs and exhibits.

Q: What is the favorite part of your job?

A: It goes back to the people that we deal with every day here. It’s our staff, it’s our volunteers, and it’s our visitors that come back, and lots of times, it’s neat because they’ll come in and they’ll view our exhibits. And then it’ll spark memories.

A lot of our visitors are from Kenosha, or they’ve lived here in their past, and they’ll see something in the museum that sparks a memory for them, then they’ll share stories with us. So, we’re learning more history every day. Being the caretakers of Kenosha’s rich history. It’s a great job to have, and we have a lot of fun doing it.

Photo by Katie McAuliffe

Q: Chris, can you tell us what the History Center is all about?

A: We’re all about saving history, and displaying it. It’s our mission to collect and preserve Kenosha’s history. So, we save artifacts and other documents so that we can display them and make them accessible for people to learn from in the future. So, we’re all about history. We’re all about local history, and then displaying that history so that people can learn from it.

Q: So how long have you been the Executive Director and what made you interested in the position?

A:I’ve been the Executive Director since December of 2016. So over four years here. I really got interested in the position by working with the people that we do every day here. We have a great staff. We have great members, great volunteers, and it’s fun working with the community, envisioning these exhibits that we put together. It’s just a nice challenge.

Q: : What got you into history and made you want to get your bachelor’s degree in history at Carthage?

A: It’s been a lifelong interest. I grew up in New Jersey, and I lived right off of Washington Valley Road. That was a road that George Washington marched on with his troops in the Revolutionary War. It’s always been a lifelong interest of mine.

As a kid, we used to go on trips. We’d go to Colonial Williamsburg, out to Gettysburg, just all over the country. I’ve always just had an interest in history. So, I went and studied at Carthage and got a history degree. And while I was at Carthage, I started an internship at the Kenosha History Center and became really interested in Kenosha’s history. Because there’s definitely a rich history here with industrialization and going back even before then.

Q:  While you were an intern in 2009, did you ever think someday you’d be the Executive Director?

A: No, I didn’t. When I was in college, I had an interest in working with collections. So, organizing photographs, researching for future exhibits, preserving artifacts – that’s what I thought I would do. My professional career took a different path and I ended up on the administration side. But no, when I was a student, I always thought I’d be working  hands-on in the collections. Whether it be here or somewhere else.

Q:  What can you tell us about the Kenosha History Center being a non-profit?

A: We are a non-profit – a 501c3. We’ve been that way for a long, long time. We were organized in 1878, and I don’t believe there was nonprofit status back then; maybe there was. But shortly after that, we became a nonprofit. So, we operate as a private non-profit here in the city of Kenosha. Because of that, we’re able to accept donations and people can take tax write-offs on those donations. That’s really about it. We work with a lot of other nonprofits to promote local and community programs and that sort of thing.

Q: The History Center does fundraisers during a normal year. Do you have any fundraiser plans in the future?

A:Right now, we’re focusing on smaller events. We’re doing our Library Park Walking Tours. Those are the second Saturday of the month, May through September. And then we’re also doing something new this year. It’s the Kenosha History Center Cruise-In Nights. We’re doing those every last Friday evening of the month, May through September, in front of our building in the parking lot.

Connecting with the classic car owners in Kenosha, we really, really enjoy doing that. Obviously, automobile history is a very large part of what we do here and a large part of Kenosha history. We’re looking at a few other options as things are opening up now.

Photo by Katie McAuliffe

Q: Before the pandemic kicked in and changed our world, you had another problem with a flood at the History Center. Has the building totally recovered from that flood?

A: Yeah. I’d say that we have. We were very fortunate in that flood. I mean,  it’s never fortunate to have a flood, but the fortunate side of things was that we didn’t have any artifacts damaged.

So, was kind of a miracle in that regard. It took some quick thinking by our staff and getting equipment in here to move the water.  We were able to save everything, nothing got damaged. And then we had to ask ourselves, ‘What do we do with the building to make sure that this doesn’t happen again?’

And I guess one of the other positive things is that the water level in Lake Michigan has started to go down. That was a big help. We’ve done a few other infrastructure upgrades here. So yes, we have completely recovered. We’ve completely reopened.

Q: So after that flood, COVID hit, then the civil unrest, resulting in the History Center closed down for some time, and now you have reopened about a month ago. Can you tell us about the process of closing, what you had to do, and then the nice grand reopening?

A:  It was an interesting time. I mean, and that’s putting it lightly.  We know everybody here has lived through 2020, and it was an interesting year to live in the city of Kenosha. It was an interesting year, period. And we had to deal with it just like everybody else had to deal with it.

And one of the things that we talked about was keeping our community safe. We didn’t want to put anybody at risk. We have our staff and volunteers as well. So, we decided to shut down. We didn’t think that we’d be shut down as long as what we ended up being but, the safety of our staff, our volunteers, and our visitors was always the number one goal of ours.

And we were able to attain that goal. While we were closed to the public, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on at our building and with our collection. We took a look at some of these projects that we were putting on the back burner for years. And we said, ‘Okay, now we can get some of this stuff done.’

We have a very small staff here, but we’re able to attack some of those projects. Including reorganizing our collections and doing some work at the lighthouse with renovations and restoration. There’s a lot of stuff being done behind the scenes. We’re still collecting. And now, with people at home with not much to do, they’re finding treasures of Kenosha history. We have had quite a few donations come in  last year, and also a lot of people took an interest in genealogy and other research during 2020. So, our research team, our archival team, we were quite busy answering questions about family history, business history, stuff like that.

In that regard, our operations continued and actually probably got a little bit busier than in a typical year. But we certainly did miss seeing people’s smiling faces walk through.

Photo by Katie McAuliffe

Q: After the civil unrest in Kenosha last year, did the History Center look to collect any pieces to document what happened?

A: We put out a lot of calls. 2020 was an interesting time to live in this community.

We put out calls. Asked, what was it like to live through a pandemic? What was it like during those days in August? We have a lot of photos from the events last year. A lot of video was taken during the civil unrest in that period of time. We’ve gotten some response, and we’ll continue to build that collection as years go on.

Q: Has COVID or the civil unrest changed your plan regarding collections and the focus of your exhibits?

A: I don’t think much has changed in our strategic plan. I would say the biggest change is just collections. What we’re deciding to collect.

Soon we’re going to be launching an oral history project to try to engage the community and get people to tell us their stories and their side of things. There’s many different angles and thoughts when it comes to 2020.

And it’s our job to collect stories from all angles and really capture people’s thought process and the emotions people were feeling.

Q: Can you tell us about your current featured exhibit?

A: We’re calling it AMC Additions. One aspect that gets people coming back to the museum every year is we change our exhibits. And the major one that’s most obvious is when you walk into the Rambler Gallery, with all the automobiles.

This year we have a 1973 AMC Hornet – Levi’s Edition – the interior is all denim. It’s a really neat car. We were aware of a lot of—not a lot, but a few—Gremlins that were made in this style, but not very many Hornets were made this way. So, this is a pretty special car.

Going along with that vehicle, we have a 1978 AMC Matador, Barcelona Edition. So again, the interior is a special design, really unique. And that one, a little bit bigger car, too. Those late seventies cars, they’re a little bigger. That’s a tough fit to get through those front doors, but that’s where we bring everything in.

And we have a 1987 Renault Alliance. The cool part about that car is that they didn’t make the convertibles in France. They only made those in Kenosha. When the executives from France came over, they kind of scratched their heads and said, ‘What are you doing?’

But that’s a neat car. And to us, that’s a special car because it’s one of the last cars that came off the line of an independent automaker in Kenosha. It was right before Chrysler bought AMC. So, we put it right next to our 1902, the first car ever made in Kenosha. We have got the first and we’ve got the last. It’s kind of neat to have those bookmarked.

Photo by Katie McAuliffe

Q: What is your favorite display or feature at the History Center?

A: We did an exhibit a couple years ago, where all of our cars were red, white, and blue. And it was called All-American: Kenosha Style. We worked with a lot of local guys to set it up.  Actually, that one got national recognition—maybe international recognition.

We made it into Muscle Car Review, which is a pretty neat magazine—pretty big magazine for us. So that one was neat.

It was the first car that they had painted red, white, and blue. A1967 Rambler, which was painted red, white, and blue at Topel Rambler; took it down to the Chicago auto show. And then, AMC caught wind and they said, ‘Oh, this is pretty neat. Let’s do this.’ And they borrowed that color scheme and started doing that on a lot of their cars.

The Trans-Am Javelin that we had there, it was one of a hundred ever made and one of about 25 still in existence.

And then in the corner, it was probably my favorite car—I shouldn’t say my favorite—but it was one of my favorites that we’ve ever had here. It was a Pacer, and it was a red, white, and blue State Farm Pacer. I think this one was made in 1976 for the bicentennial. And they only made, I believe, 13 of those for the dealers in this area. It had the State Farm logo on it. This one used to sit over on 30th Ave. This was Joe Werwie’s car. So, a lot of people in Kenosha remembered that car. But we stuck the Pacer in the corner for that exhibit, and it was kind of a lot of fun.

Q: Can you tell us how you find an exhibit, and how it gets approved? And then how do you get it in the building?

A: It takes a lot of imagination. We meet with our staff and talk about different possibilities. We look at the artifacts in our collection. And then also with the bigger stuff—with the cars, automobiles—we have a whole network of people that we talk to. And when there’s a really neat car available, we work with them to try to figure out – how does this fit into a larger exhibit and a bigger story?

Then ultimately, once we hammer through all those details and come out with a coherent and interesting exhibit, then it’s working with the public and the community to just get everything in a timely manner and present it appropriately.

As far as the cars, we drive those right through the front door. Those days are a lot of fun. Because we’re dealing with small spaces here, we do have to think it out. And sometimes it’s playing ‘musical cars’ in here, as we’re moving exhibits out of the way so we can get others in. But it’s a lot of fun. It takes a lot of imagination. And when it’s done, we are able to tell some really neat stories with all these different artifacts, and these cars that  people have collected and preserved over the years.

Photo by Katie McAuliffe

Q: How many Kenosha history photos do you believe you have in the archives?

A: I don’t have an exact number, but it’s tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. We’re constantly working to catalog and digitize more photographs. And as we’re doing that, we’re receiving more photographs as donations. So, that’s the largest part of our collection is our photograph collection. Many of them can be viewed online through our website. We’ve worked with a couple of different groups to make these available and accessible online. But definitely either tens or hundreds of thousands of photographs. So quite a few.

Q: So can anyone come in and go through the old photographs?

A: Many of these have been digitized and made accessible online. We deal with requests on a case-by-case basis. If we’re working with a researcher or someone doing a news article, we receive a request, and our staff will go and find the photographs, make copies, or provide a high-quality scan for whatever project’s happening. We also work with a lot of businesses in the area.

A lot of people like these old photographs to place on the walls of their businesses. We definitely provide photographs with a small fee for cases like that. Recently, one of the courthouse rooms had a renovation, and they purchased some photographs to be hung in there.

So, no, not anybody can come in and view them. It’s really reserved for staff, and that’s for preservation reasons.

We don’t want too much contact on these physical photographs, some of these photographs are coming from glass negative slides, so they’re pretty delicate. But we’re always willing to answer a request and try to find a photograph for somebody.

Q: What are the three exhibit galleries at the History Center?

A: So, at the History Center, we have the Lyman Gallery, and that’s really our entryway gallery where we do a lot of rotating exhibits. We have the Yesteryear Gallery, and that focuses on pioneer and settlement history, about 1835 until 1900. And then the Rambler Gallery, that is going to be our industrial and automotive collection.

Q: What can people find at the gift shop?

A: At the gift shop, we have unique Kenosha keepsakes, some things that you can’t find anywhere else. We have Kenosha-related history books and apparel. So stuff from Kenosha, unique Kenosha keepsakes.

Q:  And the History Center also has a merchandise store, courtesy of The Lettering Machine.

A: If you can’t make it down in person, or if you’re just looking for something else, and the convenience of shopping online, you can go onto our website, and there’s a link to this online store. There’s a lot of apparel on there. We sell some of our pins and some of our books through the store as well. And it is provided courtesy of The Lettering Machine, a local business.

Photo by Katie McAuliffe

Q: If someone want to donate an item, how do you inspect it and make sure it’s a real artifact?

A: It’s usually pretty obvious if something’s authentic or not. Also, it’s not just the physical artifact, it’s a story that goes with it. And I say all the time: the most important thing when we’re dealing with these donations, it’s to collect the story along with it.

We ask: Why is this important to Kenosha? Who used it? If it’s an object that was in use. Was it from a local business? Was it used at a church? What is the tie to Kenosha?

And that’s what we’re most interested in because we’re the keepers of Kenosha history. If it doesn’t have a tie here, it could be the neatest thing in the world, but it might not belong at our museum.

It’s rare that we really have to check authenticity. Most of the time, it’s rather obvious. In the museum network, there are people that we can call, experts that deal with a certain subject matter or a certain type of artifact. And we do have those connections. And every now and then, we’ll reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this object?’

So I would say that’s more of the exception than the rule. Most of the time, it’s rather obvious, but sometimes we do have to reach out to some experts in our field.

Q: How do you protect these historical items?

A:  It comes down to collection care. It’s making sure these objects have spaces which  are temperature- and humidity-controlled. When we have them on display, we make sure that they are protected, and nobody can harm them while they’re being viewed.

And every object, every artifact, every document, is a little bit different. So, it really goes back to best practices in the museum world of collection care, and we do the best we can to do that.

Q: What is the weirdest artifact or object that you have seen in the Kenosha History Center?

A: We’ve had some odd ones. I guess the one that I can think of right now is a tanned walrus hide.  And you might ask, how is a tanned walrus hide connected to Kenosha?  Well, it has to do with the Allen Tannery, a multi-acre tannery which operated in Downtown Kenosha over a century ago – for some reason they tanned a walrus hide.

So, we accepted it in the collection at the Kenosha History Center because it was a tanned object from this local tannery, and the Allen Tannery was one of the largest in the country. So, pretty interesting, and very odd. We have some odd science and medical instruments in our collection as well.

But I’d say the tanned walrus hide probably takes the cake.

Q: What’s the oldest artifact you’ve ever had here at the Kenosha History Center?

A:That’s a tough question. We have artifacts that predate our settlement here. So, I guess the one that I think of right off the bat is from 1837—we have an ox cart that came here in 1837 from the Upson family. We have that on display in the Yesteryear Gallery. That’s one of our oldest artifacts that ties directly to the community here. We have some other artifacts that predate that, and they came from those early settlers.

Photo by Katie McAuliffe

Q: How do you imagine the Kenosha History Center in the next 50 years?

A: We will continue with our mission here.  I’d like to just continue to grow and improve, increase our capacity to preserve artifacts, and tell more stories.

We’re always trying to think ahead and say, okay, what are people going to be interested in 50 years from now? Because that’s what we’re collecting today. But to continue to increase access to our collections through things like digitizing artifacts and photographs, and then increasing access by having more people come in and learning this history.

So, more education, more ability to preserve artifacts and tell stories.

Q: What time period in Kenosha’s history do you personally find interesting and why?

A: I would say the most interesting for me is the industrialization period in Kenosha, when we started having these really big corporations coming to Kenosha. We saw a shift from a farm town right on the harbor, shipping out wheat and other crops, to these big smokestacks and shipping out products and putting products on train rails and shipping them around the world.

When I was at Carthage, I did my thesis on the industrialization of Kenosha. So, I looked at Zalman Simmons, and how he started manufacturing cheese boxes here. And eventually he started making mattresses.

At the turn of the century, we have Jeffrey move from Chicago where they were making bicycles; and start making automobiles.

That’s the part of history in Kenosha I find the most interesting.

We had all these huge businesses, huge industries that their names were known around the world, and their products traveled around the world. It’s really amazing that that happened right here in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Q: What is the most tedious part of being the Executive Director? And what’s the most exciting?

A: I’d say the most exciting is imagining a new exhibit. Working with our artifacts, working with our staff and our volunteers, and trying to figure out — how do we make these artifacts into an engaging and exciting exhibit? Talking with our automobile collectors and just really imagining a new exhibit and putting that together.

The most tedious part of the job, it’s got to be probably the financial parts, and just making sure bills are paid, lights are on. The day-to-day minutiae with that.

Q: What is your favorite movie that involves history?

A: I was a big fan of The Patriot growing up.  I was a big fan of the Revolutionary War. I read a lot of books about it. And when The Patriot came out… Mel Gibson is riding through the woods. It was one of the first scenes in the movie, and he’s the ghost in the woods. And he takes out a whole regimen of British military troops. So, I’d say The Patriot. There’s a lot of good scenes in that movie, but that was probably one of my favorites.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you while being the Executive Director of the Kenosha History Center?

A: One day I was giving a tour at the lighthouse, and we did pretty much the whole tour. And then this gentleman turns to me, he says “Is this house haunted? I’m a paranormal expert from Chicago, and I felt some forces along the way.” So, I would say that that was probably one of the strangest things that happened to me. We shared some history about the lighthouse, and he said he’d come back later and explore, and see what he could find.

Q: Can you tell us how the History Center operates with the Board of Directors?

A: Our Board of Directors are our guiding body of people at the History Center. I answer to our Board of Directors, and then I hire and work with our staff here and work with our volunteers. Our Board of Directors really gives me a lot of guidance and direction and deals with the strategic plan and that sort of thing. And just guides the way, guides the ship, and figure out what the museum should be doing and where we should be going.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge running the Kenosha History Center? Obviously, it’s probably this last summer.

A: Yeah, 2020 was just a curve ball. When we first shut down here, it was because of the state order to close businesses, and museums were part of that. Like a lot of other people, we thought we’d be closed for a couple of weeks and then we’d be right back to it. So, I guess one of the biggest challenges was the unknown of 2020. How do we keep working towards our mission with our staff, and trying to figure out how we come back from being closed with the public.

So, for a while there, we didn’t have some of our exhibits up. As it was getting closer to reopening, we had to kind of figure out what we were going to do with that.

And then also there was a big influx of research requests and a big influx of donations, artifact donations. So, that was a challenge trying to figure out how we staff and do it safely and take care of these collections the proper way we need to, but also keep people safe.

Q: Can you describe the emotion that you experience when you unpack or set up a new item or an exhibit?

A: I’d say it depends on the exhibit that we’re setting up. Every one is a little bit different, and the emotions range from happiness and just kind of thrilled that, look, this looks so great, and I’m glad that we have these one of a kind of items that we’re dealing with. To sometimes sadness, depending on the subject matter. So, wide range of emotions. I think there’s a lot of pride in what we do here as well.

We’re the caretakers of Kenosha’s history. So, to be able to work with the objects that people before us thought enough to preserve, it’s a lot of fun, but we also take a lot of pride in what we do here.

Q: Where did you get that awesome display of old toys?

A: That entire collection belongs to one man, a friend of the museum. He’s been collecting for the majority of his life. He’s still collecting, and that’s only a very small part of his collection.

So, it’s another example of working with the public and talking to people. And he was generous enough to put that on display here. He comes back quite often, and he comes back on occasion to switch some of the toys out and put different things on display. But he really does a phenomenal job with that. He knows what he’s looking for when he’s buying these toys. And yeah, it’s really neat. We get a lot of compliments about that. And it’s one of those things that shows how we operate here at times. And that is not our collection. It’s someone in the area’s collection that is generous enough to display it within our building, so that other people can enjoy it and kind of learn from it as well.

Q: Can you tell us about a typical day for you and your staff at the history center?

A: It’s hard to answer that question because every day is a little bit different. A typical day for us is working with our great team of volunteers.

Greeting people, talking to people, hearing people’s stories, planning for future exhibits, making sure that our collections are cared for, and really just engaging the public, trying to figure out how do we tell these neat Kenosha stories and these important Kenosha stories.

In a typical year we have 2,500 school children coming in. So, there could be a tour or two involved with that typical day and sharing that history with others. So, it’s a lot of fun. Our typical day is a lot of fun. But it’s a challenge at the same time because of the staff sites.

And because of the enormity of the work that we have, we need to do. But it’s hard because what is a typical day? Every day is a little bit different. Yeah.

Q: How big is the staff at the Kenosha History Center?

A: We have seven staff members, including myself, and six of them are part-time.

So, we have a relatively small staff for running two museums, because we run the History Center as well as the Southport Light Station Museum, although that’s seasonal.

Q: What makes the Kenosha History Center stand out from all the other great museums in the area?

A: I think it’s the stories that we tell – we are local history. When people walk in there, walk into our museum, and they’re from Kenosha, they ask us what we do. We say we’re preserving your history. And we’ve been doing that, like I said, since 1878, from settlement in 1835 up until present day, it’s our job to collect and preserve that history. So, I think it’s just different from some of the other museums in the area.

We get to engage the community a lot because the community is our subject matter. So, there’s constant engagement with our community. There’s constant conversation about what other stories we should be telling and what we can tell. So that’s a really fun part about our job.

Q: How can somebody donate to the Kenosha History Center?

A: We accept both monetary and physical artifacts and collections as well. We have a whole artifact archive that we store objects in and then, you know, a non-profit—we need money! And we don’t like to talk about that a whole lot, but that’s what keeps our operations going here as well. So, people become members here. They donate money to us.

We’re also offered artifacts that can help us tell Kenosha’s story. We’re offered artifacts probably on a weekly basis. And we’re always building our collections library as well. Photographs, books, you name it, people offer it to us. We have a collections committee that reviews those offerings, figure out what some future uses would be for that. And if meets our collection scope. Does it talk about Kenosha? Does it help us tell a story about Kenosha, and would this be accessed by someone down the road for research, or could we use it for an exhibit?

Q: Can you tell us about the Southport Lighthouse tours?

A: The Southport Lighthouse is very similar to the Kenosha History Center in the sense that it’s a free museum. And we do a lot of self-guided tours there. We have a great historian that we call our Lighthouse Keeper, and he shares stories with people. But then one of the neat parts of the Southport Lighthouse is that our visitors can actually climb to the top for a charge.

It’s $10 for adults, $5 for children. And those are Thursday through Sunday. And on a clear day, you can see the Chicago skyline. It’s a beautiful view of the surrounding area. And 72 steps up to the top. The tower was built in 1866. The house was built one year later. It really is a step back in time and to see what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper.

Q: The History Center puts on a great AMC car show. Unfortunately, it got postponed last year and this year. But your plans are to bring it back next year. What is your favorite part about organizing those?

A: I think my favorite part about organizing the Kenosha Homecoming Car Show—and that includes all Kenosha-made automobiles. So, starting with Jeffrey, Nash, AMC. We have a few Jeeps in there as well. If there’s ever a Winther truck out there, we’d love to have you at the show.

But again, the favorite part of organizing the show is when it all comes together, and it’s the week of the event. People are coming in from all over the country and all over the world. We get people from parts of Europe, parts of Asia. A big contingency comes up from Australia and down from Canada. It’s all these people coming together and starting to share stories. And it’s the car collectors.

On Saturday with the big show, we have a lot of people that worked at the factory. They come back to see the cars. And walking down the aisles of the show, you hear these interactions between the classic car owners and the former factory workers. And the people that say, ‘Hey, look, I put that nut and bolt on the car. And I stapled that upholstery in.’ And then you hear some funny stories, too.

So, I think that’s the best part of the show, is seeing the people interact with each other. Seeing just the huge amount of cars and people that come back for it.

I mean, in 2017, we had just shy of a thousand cars at Kennedy Park. One of our best turnouts ever. I’d expect next year to be bigger than ever.

Q: Can you tell us about your Library Park Historic Walking Tours?

A: Every second Saturday, they start at 11 o’clock. We have a couple of volunteer historians that are born and raised in Kenosha and they’re big fans of architecture as well. We take a 90-minute leisurely walk around Library Park. We talk about some of the architecture that’s there, the buildings that are there, but also some of the neat stories that are behind the buildings and the people that used to live in of there, and possibly work there.

So, it’s a lot of fun. We’ve had a really good response with the tours. We’re actually looking at maybe expanding and doing some other historic districts as well in the near future. But 90-minute, leisurely walking tour of Library Park, learning about history and some of the architecture that’s in the area.

Photo by Katie McAuliffe

Q: What advice would you give some younger students aiming to get into your line of work?

A: I would encourage them to get involved and intern and volunteer at a museum or a non-profit that interests them. And then while they’re there and working as a volunteer or an intern, ask a lot of questions to the people that work there and really learn the inner workings of how these museums and non-profits operate.

I think that’s my best advice: to get involved. At a place like ours where we’re a small, medium size, history nonprofit museum, there’s always a lot of work to be done. So, if you’re passionate about it and you’d like to help, there’s room for interns and volunteers to work there. And then you get to work with the collection, and meet people, and really kind of find out what the inner workings of the job are.

Q: Can you tell us what prep work you and your team did to reopen recently?

A: One of the first things that we did was making sure that we have enough cleaning and supplies, like the hand sanitizer, that sort of thing. We did put up some plexiglass around the front desk to keep some of our volunteers safe.

And then we took a look at what we were doing with exhibits and made sure everything looked fresh. We didn’t have a car display during 2020, because we were closed. So, it was contacting some owners that we thought would be interested in displaying their cars here and making into what became the AMC Editions exhibit.

So, just kind of tying together some loose ends. Making sure the place looked good and getting ready for people to come back in and share some of those stories with them.

Q: What can people expect when they return to the Kenosha History Center?

A: They can expect to see what they’ve always seen when they’ve come here. If they’ve never come here before, they can expect to learn about Kenosha’s history starting in 1835 up until present day.

We have a whole gallery that deals with that early settlement and pioneer history.

In the Rambler Gallery, we take a deep delve into the industrial and automotive history. And obviously we have a great auto display right now.

Then in our Lyman Gallery, we’re able to display some artifacts from a recently acquired women’s collection. So, taking a look at women’s lives from about 1850 to 1950, and telling some of those stories.

Visitors can expect to have fun. They can expect to learn something new. And we’re here to answer any other questions that they might have when they’re here.

We’re excited to be back open, and we love what we do here. We’re very passionate. We have a great group of staff and volunteers that work hard to preserve Kenosha history, and that’s the city of Kenosha and Kenosha County.

And we’re proud caretakers of this history. We like to change our exhibits quite frequently so that we can tell more stories and as many stories as we can. We enjoy what we do. We love working with people, and we’re glad that we’re back.

Learn more on Chris Allen the Executive Dirctor of the Kenosha History, as  he will be a guest on the Happenings  Q&A radio show on AM 1050 WLIP Friday, June 11th at 12:30pm

The Kenosha History Center is located
at 220 51st Place in Downtown Kenosha on Simmons Island
Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 4:30pm
Saturday, 10am – 4pm
Sunday, Noon – 4pm
Masks required. Capacity set at 25%.
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Learn more about Katie McAuliffe’s photography by liking her Facebook page  KTLynnPhotograhy