In honor of International Museum Day (May 18), I share with you information about Kenosha’s five museums that are all within a one-mile radius in Downtown Kenosha, near the Lake Michigan shore.
May you take the time to visit one or all of them next time you’re in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Dinos, mammoths, AMC cars, shipwrecks, and – yes – even the Civil War are covered! You’ll be surprised by all that you learn!
The Civil War Museum, Dinosaur Discovery Museum, and Kenosha Public Museum are Smithsonian Institution Affiliates.
The Kenosha History Center preserves Kenosha’s automotive and industrial heritage.
It’s appropriate, since we are a Wisconsin Harbor Town, that we also have a seasonal maritime museum: the Southport Light Station Museum.
These five museums educate, entertain, and inspire visitors. Here are some insider tips to maximize your visit at each one:
The Civil War Museum
While much attention is given to the Seeing the Elephant 360-degree movie in The Fiery Trial exhibit – and rightly so – be sure to stop in the Veterans Memorial Gallery as well. The gallery honors all U.S. veterans and soldiers from the Revolutionary War to present day conflicts. Symbolizing the theme “Solidarity of Soldiers,” the gallery shows how all soldiers across time share a common sense of duty, patriotism, and honor. In the quiet moments between battles, they anxiously wait, miss their families, and find camaraderie. This solemn room is a place for reflection. It is free to visit the Veterans Memorial Gallery.
Bonus: The view of Lake Michigan from the museum’s upper floor is incredible!
Kenosha Public Museum
There’s just no way to avoid the “elephant in the room” at Kenosha’s free natural sciences and fine arts museum. Or more accurately – the mammoth in the room! In fact, the Kenosha Public Museum moved to a larger facility in 2001 to showcase the mammoths unearthed right here in Kenosha County.
Learn how the Hebior Mammoth is the largest and most complete mammoth ever excavated and how the Schaefer Mammoth helped prove that people were in North America 1,500 years earlier than previously thought – meaning 14,500 years ago.
If you haven’t visited this museum in a few years, you’ll want to check out the From Curiosity to Science exhibit on the second floor, which opened in 2019. And the kids in your travel group will love the Field Station, which was remodeled in 2021.
Bonus: You’ll find another great view of Lake Michigan – from the second floor’s enormous windows.
Dinosaur Discovery Museum
At this free museum you discover how modern birds are related to meat-eating dinosaurs. Not to miss is the permanent exhibit titled Little Clint: The Story of a Baby Dinosaur. Kids can don feathered vests and pretend to hatch in a nest, put goggles on to excavate fossils, wear lab coats and look through microscopes, and create their own museum display. You should also take a peek in the lower level, where the Carthage Institute of Paleontology’s lab is. You can see the dinosaur bones that Carthage College staff and students have unearthed during their Montana expeditions.
Bonus: Like the Civil War Museum and Kenosha Public Museum, this museum is on the Electric Streetcar line.
Kenosha History Center
This free museum preserves and celebrates Kenosha’s automotive and industrial heritage. The Rambler Legacy Gallery features the permanent exhibit Kenosha’s Lost Industries from 1850s thru 1970s. This gallery also displays automobiles and a Bain wagon. To give you an idea of the significance of the wagon: during the late 19th century, the Bain Wagon Company was one of the largest wagon companies in the world.
Bonus: See the Miniature Statue of Liberty that was first raised in Kenosha’s Civic Center Park in 1950.
Southport Light Station Museum
You get two attractions in one place at this seasonal location. It’s operated by the Kenosha County Historical Society, who also runs the nearby Kenosha History Center. It’s free to tour the 1867 Light Station keeper’s house, which details the historical importance of Kenosha’s harbor. Not to miss is the local shipwreck exhibit, which details more than 40 shipwrecks buried near Kenosha. On display is a model of the SS Wisconsin, which sank in Lake Michigan in 1929.
For a fabulous view of the lake, be sure to climb the 72 steps up the tower of the 1866 Southport Lighthouse (must be 8 or older to climb; there is a fee). You can see two states and at least three counties from the top.
Bonus: On a very clear day, you can see the Chicago skyline from the top of the lighthouse.
And that’s not all!
Uke's Harley-Davidson – which is located on the East Frontage Road of I-94/41 – features an on-site museum of the dealership’s history. Did I mention that Uke’s is Wisconsin’s oldest Harley-Davidson® dealership?! This is a locally owned, multigenerational family business. It got its start in 1930 during the Depression when Frank (Uke) Ulicki, at age 22, bought the dealership for $250. On his first day in business, April 1, 1930, he sold one bolt for 4 cents! Celebrate Harley-Davidson's 120th Anniversary Homecoming in July 2023 at Uke’s Harley Davidson! Learn More>
Whether it’s a warm, cold, sunny, or rainy day – every day is a great day to be entertained and educated at a museum!