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On track to history – Sussex -Lisbon Area Historical Society to open in old rail depot

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) – Sunday, December 15, 2002

Readability:11-12 grade level (Lexile: 1240L)
Author: JACQUELINE SEIBEL, jseibel@journalsentinel.com, Journal Sentinel

An 1893 charcoal drawing of the village’s pioneers, an 1872 map of Lisbon and an extensive Kewpie collection kept in the home of historian Fred Keller will soon have a permanent place here.

The recently formed Sussex -Lisbon Area Historical Society, with the help of a Mequon memorabilia collector, has purchased the 88-year-old former Chicago & North Western Railway depot for $74,000 from Sandy Mack.

Mack owns and operates Sussex Country Printing Inc. inside the former Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church, N63-W23811 Main St. The church is in front of the depot and across the street from the Pauline Haass Public Library and Mindy’s Antiques.

The depot is the only remaining of four that once operated in this historic railroad community, Keller said.

The 1,500-square-foot building, which needs some repairs, will provide enough space to display all of Keller ‘s collection and more, he said.

The basement, which was added when the depot was moved from Maple Ave. to its current location in 1978, will allow for storage.

The Bug Line Trail borders the back of the depot property, and parking will be available in the Sentry grocery store lot adjacent to the depot.

“Considering the history of the area, it’s very fitting to have the museum in the depot,” he said.

Keller , 70, has been collecting area memorabilia since he was 14 and he purchased a Civil War musket from a “local” for $5. Today, his collection has grown to 300 books, thousands of photos and memorabilia from area businesses and organizations.

His Kewpie collection has drawn interested parties to hear his presentations from around the United States. The doll was used as a logo for the former Mammouth Springs Canning Co., a longtime employer of area residents.

Old signs among treasures

Keller says he has one of two remaining lighted “Kewpie Pop” advertising signs, created when Mammouth canned soda water in 1954. It was discontinued soon afterward.

Keller also has a 100-year-old ice cutter, a 1930s wool basketball uniform from Hamilton Sussex High School and letters from the area’s first female settler.

In 1976, Keller was named the village’s official historian, and serves as the sites and markers chairman for the Waukesha County Historical Society. He also has been part of the effort to install numerous historical markers around the area.

But Keller said the items he has collected, purchased or received don’t belong to him.

“They have been placed in my care to look after and have fun with,” he said. “They belong to the community.”

More than a year ago, Keller told the community that he would hand over his collection if a historical society were formed and a building purchased to hold the collection.

Forty-six people from Sussex , Lisbon and Lannon met in August 2001 and voted to form the society.

Hank Carlson, former village trustee and a Waukesha County board supervisor, was elected chairman.

Purchase wasn’t smooth

It has taken more than a year to purchase the building, Carlson said, and it wasn’t a simple process.

The property, which doesn’t have street access, needed an easement acceptable to village officials and all of the depot’s neighbors, Carlson said.

The property description needed to conclude the sale had to be rewritten at least twice because of errors, delaying closing the deal for more than a month, he said.

During the delays, the society paid rent on the building so it wouldn’t be purchased by another party until the deal was complete Nov. 26.

Through it all, Carlson said, he became frustrated at times and, had it been his own purchase, he probably would have walked away.

“It would be terrible not to preserve this items,” he said.

“It’s really been a combined effort of a lot of people,” Carlson said of the purchase and the new society.

He was joined by village Trustee Roger Johnson, who handled the paperwork so the society could get tax-exempt status in February, and acted as a liaison between the village and the society.

Collector’s arrival `a miracle’

Betty Mindemann, the owner of Mindy’s Antiques and historical society vice chairman, also helped put the society on the track.

Mindemann, who has been in the antiques business for more than 42 years, has known James A. Taylor, 83, of Mequon, for 30 of those years.

About the same time the society was formed, Taylor approached Mindemann about finding a rural museum for his collection, she said.

“I told him that it’s a miracle that he came,” she said.

They began talking about the Sussex -Lisbon Area Historical Society and its desire to find a home.

Taylor, whose family owns Taylor Electric Co., agreed to donate $100,000 once the group obtained non-profit status.

“What I’ve done is because I think it’s good for the area,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s collections are not specific to the Sussex -Lisbon area, but are part of American history, which could be of interest to people visiting the museum, he said.

He has a collection of coverlets, quilt-like covers woven in the 1850s and used for warmth. He has been collecting the coverlets for about 50 years.

Taylor also has a several Buddy “L” toys that he played with as a child. These rugged steel toys include a truck, fire engine and cement mixer.

The Mequon man also will donate his collections of pewter, cut glass and models of clippers, schooners and other ships.

Taylor said his donation should not be the focus, but rather preserving history should be the goal.

“This is a wonderful thing for the Sussex -Lisbon area and for the future,” he said.

Mindemann, who will be the curator for Taylor’s collection, said the next step would be make the repairs so the museum can open in 2003.

“I think it’s going to be very interesting for the people to come in and not just see Sussex area memorabilia, but Americana,” Mindemann said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Keller will be the curator of his collection.

“Somewhere, sometime and somehow they have been entrusted to me to care for until I can give them back,” he said.