Photo and story by Anne Morrissy
On May 25th, the Geneva Lake Museum honored its 40-year anniversary with a public celebration for visitors and community members. The museum, located at 255 Mill St. in the former Wisconsin Power & Light Company building, is organized around the motto, “Preserving the Past for the Future.” Its 20,000-square-foot space contains exhibits on everything local, from military history to historic Geneva Lake mansions, as well as an impressive replica Main Street Lake Geneva, inspired by the popular “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum. It also contains an extensive research library. According to Executive Director Janet Ewing, more than 15,000 visitors come through the museum each year.
Longtime museum curator Helen Brandt has been with the Geneva Lake Museum since its founding in 1983 in a now-demolished historic home at 818 Geneva St. in Lake Geneva. “When the museum first started, we didn’t have any money,” she explains. “So for eight months, we worked with the city [of Lake Geneva] and the state historical society of Wisconsin to get the museum funded and running.” She says the museum originally consisted primarily of exhibits of furnished rooms in the historic home, depicting what life might have been like in Lake Geneva in an earlier era.
In 2003, the museum moved to its current space after an extensive remodeling and renovation project conceived by architect Ken Etten of McCormack + Etten. The work was completed by hundreds of volunteers from the Lakeland Builders Association of Walworth County. “The museum is a great tribute to those who contributed and donated their time and effort,” Brandt says. From the museum’s earliest days, community members had been donating artifacts and items of interest to the museum, Brandt says. The large new space has allowed the museum to curate an impressive rotating slate of exhibits, and to host larger audiences at its popular series of historic lectures.
“From the start, people really seemed to appreciate what we were doing here,” Brandt says. “They know that it’s always important to get back to your roots. We have such a great staff and wonderful docents, and everybody has such a love for the space. I feel very, very privileged to be a part of that museum for 40 years. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege.”