At the Sauk County Historical Museum: "Through a Child’s Eyes" Growing Up in Sauk County, 1870-1920," is a super-condensed look at a pivotal half-century of local history. It attempts to impart to the visitor (in an interesting, logical, and concise manner) fifty years of history as experienced by the county’s youngest residents.
Like any historical topic, this theme has unlimited research potential and infinite educational merit, in combination with decidedly limited and definite restrictions on available physical space and production time.
So, how does one decide what voices should be heard? Which personal stories should be shared? What basic historical information should be included? As curator of collections and exhibits, these are all issues that I must take into consideration when planning a new display.
A first logical step in exhibit planning at a museum is to take an assessment of what related material and objects your collection holds; what stories can you sufficiently tell with what you have on hand? Public survey after public survey reiterates that genuine artifacts remain our most powerful and tangible connection to the past. Words are not enough; people want to see the STUFF.
A brief survey of the Society’s collections revealed that although we are definitely slim in child-related artifacts (especially those dating from the nineteenth century and earlier), those we do have are fairly broad in scope. From detailed doll buggies, to a variety of exquisitely made christening gowns, to a country-school desk, I was excited by the potential our collections held.
From here, I had to then decide what themes to cover. Visitors to the "Through a Child’s Eyes Exhibit" will encounter my interpretation of a "typical" childhood in Sauk County. Three major components, representing the most important aspects of childhood, are covered: school, work, and play. The exhibit showcases rare and irreplaceable artifacts underpinned by a framework of historical research—all of this further augmented by the addition of fascinating personal vignettes and historic photographs of Sauk County residents.
Because of Sauk County’s rural beginnings, a focus is given to the one-room country school experience. Museum guests here have the opportunity to view a reconstruction of such a classroom, complete with a well-worn wooden desk, dinner pail, slate, and even the ever-present George Washington portrait. Another portion of the exhibit highlights the ways in which work and play overlap. Both the young and the young at heart will enjoy the toys and other artifacts here displayed, including a set of lead soldiers, an early nineteenth century sampler, and building blocks used by a young Louis Claude.
Good Old Golden Rule Days
The Edwardian Era in Sauk County
An Edwardian Celebration
In 2015, the Van Orden mansion celebrated its 110th birthday. The stylish and beautiful home of Jacob and Martha Van Orden was completed in 1905, just after the end of the Victorian era and the midway through the rein of King Edward VII in the United Kingdom. Edward, the son of Queen Victoria, began his rein after the death of his mother in 1901. The Edwardian era lasted until 1910 at the death of Edward, and frequently was extended up until WWI.
The Edwardian period, which also opened the 20th century, saw numerous technical and social advances in all fields of endeavor. Female servants still worked for families who could afford their services. Domestic staff were provided with food, clothing, housing, and a small wage. However, fewer young ladies entered the domestic trade during this period, as they were finding better paying employment elsewhere.
According to Arthur Marwick, the most striking change of all the developments that occurred during the Great War was the modification in women's dress, "for, however far politicians were to put the clocks back in other steeples in the years after the war, no one ever put the lost inches back on the hems of women's skirts."
Edison’s phonograph was a popular form of entertainment, and electricity began to supplant the smoky flickering gas lights of the previous era. The Van Orden mansion was imbued with both gas and electrical supplies, one of the few residences to boast such modern conveniences at the time. Indoor plumbing was installed in the mansion when many still made that long trip to the outhouse. The telephone became a necessity in many homes, and the automobile was seen on streets in both large and small communities.
The Van Orden mansion was on the cutting edge of technology when it was built. It boasted speaking tubes between various rooms, and an electric call system that signaled when the maid was wanted by the master or mistress.
The Van Orden mansion has been the headquarters of the Sauk County Historical Society since 1938, when it was purchased by the Society.
An Edwardian exhibit is currently on display at the mansion. It may be seen on Fridays and Saturdays, between May and October.