Featured Partner: Kenosha History Center

10/3/2019 - Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Staff

Arts & Culture, Downtown, Family-Friendly, Featured Partner, History, Lake Michigan
Kenosha History Center
Southport Light Station Museum
Southport Light Station Museum, inside the keeper's house, harbor, shipwreck
Kenosha Homecoming Car Show
Kenosha Homecoming Car Show
Kenosha History Center

The Kenosha County Historical Society was founded in 1878. In a nutshell, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation strives to preserve the past to teach the future. Its mission is to collect, exhibit and educate people about Kenosha County history. It does so through its two museums on Simmons Island beside Lake Michigan: the Kenosha History Center (220 51st Place) which houses three exhibit galleries, a gift shop, and the society’s archives, and the seasonal Southport Light Station Museum (5117 Fourth Ave.) next door. Two things traditionally happen at the museums in October: the Southport Light Station Museum wraps up its season and a chili cook-off is held at the Kenosha History Center. This year things will be a little different due to Mother Nature.

The Southport Light Station Museum will be open through October as usual. You can climb the 1866 Southport Lighthouse tower (must be 8 or older to climb). This is the third lighthouse tower to have existed at its current site. On a clear day, you can see the skyscrapers in Chicago from the top of the lighthouse and at other points along our Lake Michigan shore! In addition to the lighthouse, you can visit the 1867 Light Station keeper’s house, which is now a maritime museum featuring artifacts, maps, and information about Kenosha’s important 19th century harbor. You can learn about our lighthouse keepers, shipping and commercial fishing history, and local shipwrecks. Visit this month and you can see five sailing ship models that are on loan from a local collector. Of all types of modeling, wooden ship models require the most skill and care. The five models on display run the gamut from folk art to the most intricate and accurate. It’s free to tour the house; there is a fee to climb the lighthouse.

As for the chili cook-off – it will be held in a different location this year as the Kenosha History Center is recovering from flooding that occurred during the second week of September. Heavy rains and a high lake level have affected the museum. Luckily no artifacts were lost and the museum has re-opened, but the recovery effort is ongoing. Due to this, the 15th annual Chili Cook-Off will be held off-site from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, October 19, 2019. It will be held at Parkway Chateau – which is located at the north end of Brat Stop – Entrance “C” at 12304 75th St. (Hwy 50). There will be 14 restaurants and fire departments competing for the People’s Choice Traveling Trophy and the Judges’ Choice Trophy.

The historical society’s preservation and education efforts extend beyond its museums. Automobile manufacturing took place in Kenosha for more than 100 years and every three years the Kenosha History Center organizes the Kenosha Homecoming Car Show. The next show and related activities will take place July 21-26, 2020. Close to 1,000 cars were part of the show in 2017. It’s believed that there is no larger AMC show or combined AMC and Nash show in the world. Registration is now open for vendors and car owners.

The Kenosha History Center also presents a guided walking tour of the Library Park Historic District on the second Saturday of each month, May through October. The tour lasts approximately 90 minutes and participants explore the architecture and stories associated with the buildings. The cost is $10. The Library Park Historic District is one of four historic districts designated in the City of Kenosha. The district contains many individually outstanding examples of nineteenth century and early twentieth century architecture.

Also, for many years now the Kenosha History Center has partnered with Hawthorn Hollow Nature Sanctuary and Arboretum to present the one-room schoolhouse program to area students. Hawthorn Hollow, at 880 Green Bay Road, has two schools on its site. The First Pike River School was built in 1847, while the Second Pike River School was built in 1905-1906. Both schools moved to Hawthorn Hollow in 1967. The History Center’s living history program is held in the second school, which closed in 1962. Students and teachers experience a one-room schoolhouse for nearly five hours; school is taught as it was in 1906 and by retired area teachers who are familiar with the one-room schoolhouse curriculum. The reading and recitation lesson uses McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers; arithmetic problems are done using lap slates; an old-fashioned spelling bee takes place; turn-of-the-century maps are used; the penmanship exercise uses dip pens and ink; and recess features turn-of-the-century games. For a truly authentic experience, students and teachers are encouraged to dress in attire appropriate for 1906. The program has been well-received from its start.

Here are three more fun facts:

  1. The 1962 Rambler American that was seen in the 3rd Rock from the Sun television show is now owned by the Kenosha History Center. It’s currently on loan to another museum.
  2. Locals will remember the Miniature Statue of Liberty that used to be in Civic Center Park. That 1950 statue is now on display inside the Kenosha History Center.
  3. The Kenosha History Center was featured in the August 2019 issue of Muscle Car Review; the magazine’s reach is in the millions.

How can you help the Kenosha History Center? You can flood them with support! Your donations would be greatly appreciated to help offset the unplanned expenses due to the flooding. Other ways to show your support include attending the organization’s events, visiting both museums, spreading the word, signing on as a member, becoming a volunteer, or booking a school field trip or other group outing. You can also contact the Kenosha History Center to light the lighthouse for a special person, occasion, anniversary, birthday, or memoriam. Help preserve Kenosha’s history!

(262) 654-5770,

October 2019

Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Staff

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