Downtown Kenosha is home to five museums. Count them: Kenosha Public Museum, Civil War Museum, Dinosaur Discovery Museum, Kenosha History Center and Southport Light Station Museum. Five. That is a pretty incredible number of museums for a community our size to have, let alone to house them all within about a mile of each other. Chances are, if you are a local resident, you have been to at least one of these great attractions… but there are some things you may not have known. So, here are some of my most favorite little known facts about each museum….
The Kenosha Public Museum was formerly located where the current Dinosaur Discovery Museum is (and the building used to be the post office, see a previous blog about this subject here). When the new Kenosha Public Museum was constructed, its actual architecture was designed to be part of the main exhibit. The Wisconsin Story is the main display at the KPM – it shows the transition of the geographic region that is now Wisconsin over hundreds of thousands of years. So, the building is designed to look like the rock/earth with a giant ice burg cutting through the terrain – reminiscent of the ice age climate changes forming our region. Pretty cool.
You may have heard about the 360-degree movie experience in the main exhibit at the Civil War Museum, “Seeing the Elephant.” This term was used to describe the first experience with combat during the Civil War. As the story unfolds, you may hear a familiar voice narrating the back-story between character accounts of war. That voice is none other than Mr. Bill Kurtis. Mr. Kurtis is an American journalist, producer, narrator, and news anchor. Speaking of news anchors… you may know him as the narrator voice in the Will Ferrell movie Anchorman. He is a proud supporter of Kenosha’s Civil War Museum – how awesome is that?!
The Dinosaur Discovery Museum is the only museum to focus on the link between meat-eating dinosaurs and modern day birds – but that’s not a little-known fact. In association with the Carthage College Institute of Paleontology and the Institute’s on-site laboratory at the DDM, this museum presents current, ongoing research in the study of dinosaurs! The museum and Carthage collaborate in research, fieldwork, and educational programs – including the collection and preservation of dinosaur specimens. Carthage students and museum staff have helped to excavate some of the dinosaur remains that are now on display at the museum. These folks really DIG dinos!
The Kenosha History Center does just what you think it would… it details Kenosha’s past. From auto manufacturing legends to lost industries such as Simmons Mattress Company. One item in the museum that has a pretty cool story is the miniature Statue of Liberty. Originally, this statue was on display in Civic Center Park after being erected in 1950. It was a gift to the city by local Boy Scout troops as part of their “Strengthen the Arm of Liberty” campaign and to mark Kenosha’s 100th Anniversary as an incorporated city. Approximately 200 communities across the U.S. had one of these statues, but many have been lost or destroyed over the years. Being one of the communities to still have this statue ties us to other communities around the country, making this an important piece of Kenosha history as well as U.S. history!
Today, many people recognize the Pierhead Lighthouse as an icon in the Kenosha Area – the tall, red beacon that welcomes boaters to the Kenosha Harbor. However, it is the Southport Lighthouse that is an important piece of Kenosha’s history. The Southport Lighthouse is one of three lighthouses that has been on the current site at Simmons Island. The original lighthouse at this location was actually an oak stump cut ten feet off the ground with a wooden platform, lined with rock, built on the top. On the rock-lined platform, a fire was lit each night during shipping season. That was back in 1837. Fast-forward about 30 years and the beautiful cream city brick structure that can be seen today was erected in its place – 72 steps take you 55 feet above the lighthouse grounds and offer a stunning view of Downtown Kenosha and Lake Michigan.
So, there you have it. Just a few of my favorite fun facts about our amazing museums in Downtown Kenosha. Every time I visit one of these gems, I learn a little more about our wonderful city and how we became the town we are today. Explore a little and see what kinds of fun you can dig up!
Kenosha Public Museum, 5500 First Avenue, 262-653-4140
Civil War Museum, 5400 First Avenue, 262-653-4141
Dinosaur Discovery Museum, 5608 Tenth Avenue, 262-653-4450
Kenosha History Center, 220 51st Place, 262-654-5770
Southport Light Station, 5117 Fourth Avenue, 262-654-5770