Tracking Your Past

Slowly but surely in-person local history opportunities are reopening across the Driftless Region. Wisconsin Historic Sites including Circus World Museum, H.H. Bennett Studio, Stonefield and Villa Louis offer limited tours, and the Lafayette County Historical Society has reopened its archives and museum.

Doris Green

Located in a former Carnegie Library, 525 Main St., Darlington, the society offers impressive archives, museum exhibits and a gift shop. It also operates the Depot Museum on South Washington Street.

The archives contains numerous published family histories, church histories, thousands of photos, extensive (indexed) clipping files, early plat maps and school and cheese factory histories. Queries usually focus on a family name or individual, according to Marion Howard, curator of archives and secretary of the Lafayette County Historical Society. “We need to know as much as they know” about a family, its branches and neighbors. Sometimes a clue may be found in an apparently unrelated file.

A caller from New Hampshire had questions about Sylvan Muldoon on the day this writer visited. Artifacts from Sylvan and Joyce Muldoon’s former Darlington beauty salon are on display in the museum, though Sylvan’s claim to fame came from his highly rated books on astral traveling — reportedly a primary source for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Another well-known Lafayette County resident was Lavern Kammerude (1915-89), a farmer-turned-artist who painted extremely detailed farm scenes from the 1920s to 1940s. Nationally recognized, Kammerude received a Governor’s Heritage Award and the Wisconsin Folk Museum published a book about his paintings. The museum holds 14 Kammerude paintings and sells large and small prints in its gift shop and online.

The museum also displays paintings by Florence Bennett and the work of other artists, as well as exhibits on the Parson Brothers Circus, Civil War and military history. Downstairs, a meeting room features paintings of rural area schools and churches. 

The Lafayette County Historical Society is open 1-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. (Wear a mask to be considerate.) Website: www.lafayettehistorical.com. Also of note to family historians, the Lafayette County Genealogy Society has put local cemeteries and obituaries online: https://lafayettecountygenealogy.wordpress.com/cemetery-listing/

Before visiting Wisconsin Historic Sites, see guidelines at https://historicalmuseum.wisconsinhistory.org. While the Wisconsin Historical Society Library remains closed, people who have who have a UW-Madison ID or a Wisconsin Historical Society library card may request items from the library’s catalog (library.wisc.edu) and pick them up at the UW-Madison Memorial Library.

Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Cave, Mines, and Tunnels.” Now available: “Minnesota Underground: A Guide to Caves & Karst, Mines & Tunnels” is co-authored Greg Brick. Contact http://henschelhausbooks.com, Amazon or your bookstore.