MADISON, S.D. (KELO) – A museum is often filled with different collections or exhibits for people to learn about the past. One KELOLAND museum is working to give visitors a more hands-on experience for people of all ages.
Everything inside Lake County Museum helps tell the stories from the county.
“That’s our mission, to tell the history of Lake County,” director of Lake County Museum, Julie Breu said. “It’s through the community, they bring things in that they feel are important and that’s how we’ve built our collection.”
Julie Breu has been the museum director for over two years.
She says the museum got its start over a half century ago.
“The historical society was established in 1952 and they were able to build a building in 1961, so as you can tell from the architecture it’s mid-century modern,” Breu said.
From a covered wagon, to a classic car, the space showcases Lake County through the decades.
But one of Breu’s favorites is the Chautaqua exhibit. It’s an event that happened for a couple weeks each summer many years ago.
“We had the Lake County Chautaqua which ran from 1891 to 1932, that was on the northwest shores of Lake Madison,” Breu said. “We were called what was a permanent Chautaqua, where we had a pavilion, we had a swimming area, but there were temporary Chautaquas throughout the state.”
One of the newest additions is this claim shanty, letting people get a glimpse of pioneer life.
“Feel what it was like for someone moving from the east coast to South Dakota, and experiencing a winter here in something like a shanty, that wind was blowing, animals and snakes coming it, and rain was coming, just to understand how difficult it was for early pioneers to come to this area,” programming coordinator, Christina Blessinger said.
Christina Blessinger is the program coordinator.
In her role, she helps plan events and showcase different areas of the museum.
She says having interactive exhibits and changing what’s on display are important in bringing in visitors.
“Our exhibits change a lot, very often, and so it helps people if they were here 6 months ago, it gives them a reason to come back in and see what’s changed, to see what’s new,” Blessinger said.
In fact, Breu says the amount of time people spend here has increased since she started.
“I track everybody that comes in the door, plus our capture rate when we go out to the different events so it shows our progress, it shows what program is popular or what isn’t, maybe we can tweak something to improve it,” Breu said.
She says keeping track of those numbers help with getting funding for grants.
The museum also relies on support from the community.
“We get a little bit of support from our local governments but it’s not enough to maintain us, so that really comes from our memberships and general donations,” Breu said.
Recent donations helped get a conservation project of an 1870s covered wagon started.
Once work on that is finished, the 150-year-old artifact will be part of a hands-on exhibit.
“The wagon will kind of be a backdrop and then we will have a little camp scene that people can experience and have pots and pans, hands-on, but they will be able to peer into the wagon and see the types of provisions they brought with them,” Breu said.
Jack Weck volunteers a few hours a week at the museum. He’s a retired teacher and historian who says it’s important to keep this history alive.
“History gives us a sense of place, so the more we understand about our past and choices the people in the past made, we can understand more and more how it affects us and how the choices we make are going to make affect future generations,” volunteer, Jack Weck said.
Allowing visitors to take a step back in time in Lake County.
“We’ve evolved extremely quickly and we are going to continue expanding our programming and then we will also continue with our interpretive exhibits to make it more cohesive, make the museum a much more cohesive unit so you can walk through and get a better understanding of the people who came here,” Breu said.
It’s located in Madison and admission to the museum is free. To learn more about upcoming events, we’ve provided a link here.