CHIPPEWA FALLS — A local organization aimed at preserving the area’s past is celebrating its own history this month.
The Chippewa County Historical Society is a volunteer-run organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of Chippewa Falls and Chippewa County. This month the group, which launched in 1969, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Dave Gordon, Historical Society president, said the organization is essential to the community as it ensures new generations of Chippewa County residents understand the deep historical and cultural significance of the area.
“Our mission is to preserve and share the rich history of Chippewa County,” Gordon said. “We can always learn from history, but I think it’s more important to learn the history of where you live. In the case of Chippewa Falls, this history of what this small Midwestern town has done is very important and something we need to preserve.”
The organization goes about preserving and sharing the history of Chippewa Falls through the collection and display of historical documents, photographs, newspaper articles, videos and other small and large artifacts of historical significance to the area. Throughout the Area History Center and Museum nestled next to the Heyde Center for the Arts overlooking Chippewa Falls, you can see examples of these artifacts donated by the Historical Society, including an article detailing the formation of the group, many photographs dating back decades and items used in logging and fur trading during the early history of the city.
Museum volunteer Wendy Sullivan said it is paramount to preserve and share the things the organization has collected, as the number of people who remember what the city was and looked like is dwindling each day.
“It’s important for people to know their background and how things started and how they’ve evolved to be where they are now,” Sullivan said. “Things change so quickly that you can’t remember it within a generation. There aren’t many people around here who can remember what Chippewa Falls looked like even 50 years ago because it’s changed so much. We’re just trying to document and preserve our history so it’s not forgotten.”
In addition to collecting and preserving documents and artifacts from the area, another way in which the organization shares the history of the area is through the annual event “The Past Passed Here.” The event entails area youth and community members being led through the 150+ year history of the area, including era accurate dress, demonstrations on logging and other treasured time accurate practices and other activities to educate, inform and entertain area residents on the impact Chippewa Falls made on early America.
Mary Erickson, Historical Society board member, said the history of the city has always been a challenge to pass down, even around the late 1960s and early ‘70s when she was raised in the area. Her father, Fred Dinkel, was one of the founding members of the organization and its first president, and even she grew up not knowing much about the area.
“As a child growing up in Chippewa Falls many years ago, I don’t recall ever hearing much about the history of Chippewa, so I didn’t really know how important the history of logging was to the whole country,” Erickson said. “It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized it is really important that our children and all people realize how important of an asset we’ve been and still are to the country. I’d hate to see the history go away and we then have no knowledge of our area.”
While the organization is working hard to continue preserving and telling Chippewa County’s story, it continues to work on a new building.
In 2016, the organization launched a capital campaign to build a new location for the Historical Society. The group has agreed to purchase property near the south entrance of Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls but needs to raise $3.5 million to make the location a reality. The group has raised $2.5 million so far, with hopes of starting construction in the spring of 2020.
Erickson said the new building will help greatly, with benefits such as upgrading from 10,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet, as well as helping all members of the community be able to access the information they’ve gathered.
“We’re really excited about our new building,” Erickson said. “It’ll be more accessible to all people. Right now it’s a little limiting due to all the stairs and not being handicap accessible. So, it’ll be a great resource to help us share all of this information and learn about so many people and things and what we’ve done and how we got there. The new building will do us well on our mission to inform people on the past.”
For more information visit chippewacountywihistoricalsociety.org.