About Us... Our History
Out of a committee of four, the Junior Womans Club gathered resources, published a booklet and sponsored a TOUR OF HISTORIC SITES in Germantown, in 1970. Members visited the schools with a basket of artifacts for children to examine, and with a growing group of interested citizens, the Germantown Historical Society was incorporated with the State of Wisconsin in April 1974.
At the first official meeting of charter members in November, the first donation was a volume of Sila Bast's Genealogy of Related Families and an offer from the Church Council of Our Savior's UCC to lease the venerable Christ Church for a museum. The first board of directors voted were Gilbert Arnold, Village president, Irene Blau, Ray Dausman, Eileen Densow, Robert Kuhn, Howard Rheingruber and Joseph Schmitz, County Chairman.
Volunteers from high school students to senior citizens cleaned, polished and painted the limestone church, covered the stained glass windows with polycarbonate protectors, mounted an art show and celebrated the Nation's Bi-Centennial with a Grand Opening Concert on June 1, 1976.
Today, thirty years later, the society's Christ Church Museum of Local History stands at the heart of a cultural complex called Dheinsville Settlement and a growing awareness of a pre-Civil War way of life on the frontier of Wisconsin's wilderness. Now three museums are open to visitors each week for seven summer months for tours, research, work, festivals, programs, artifact archives and visitors from around the world.
Over the decades, interests and requests by members developed a genealogy committee with family, church, township, county and federal records. An index file developed by Carol Barkow now contains over 65,000 cards with a continuing use in the Jeffris Research Library in the Valentine Wolf Haus, the restored half-timbered home and shoemaker shop built in 1854.
The weekly ringing of the three antique bells each summer was established by Elmore Kraemer with a donation of a bank certificate of deposit and continues each year beginning in May. Old Settlers Day in October closed the season, now replaced with the annual Oktoberfest and an annual hand-made quilt raised funds at the Christmas Koncert. Local exhibits of Dairying, the Churches, Banking and Insurance History and the hamlets of South Germantown, Goldendale, Meeker, Rockfield and Dheinsville were developed.
1990 brought the opportunity to purchase the 9 1/2 acre Schuster property across Maple Road from the Christ Church. With the help of George Meyer of Milwaukee, a land contract held the property for one year while the society began fund-raising to acquire the park for expansion and preservation of the historic buildings. By 1995, over half of the cost was raised and the society turned the park over to the village who covered the balance of $55,000 with acquisition and room tax funds. A lease agreement with the village allowed the society use of the house and barn.
The discovery of the half-timber construction of the Wolf house brought a challenge grant from the Jeffris Foundation for $83,000. for one year and again, the society went to work raising the needed match. Restoration was completed in 1998 with a shoemaker's shop, kitchen, parlor and Research Library. The library contains the genealogy index, picture files, Germantown Mutual Insurance Policy Records, Tax Records, State Records, school records and periodical and historic book archives. Work continues on digitizing news clippings and records.
The estate of Ernelle Hunziker, including the Sila Lydia Bast Bell collection came to our attention in the late 1998 and began the greatest challenge to the membership. The restoration of the Wolf/Schuster barn took funds from the estate, in-kind work, three-year pledges, an M&I Bank loan and five years of admissions, sales and many donations to complete the project.
The Bast Bell Museum has gained attention for the complex and lifted the activities of the society to a new level. Tour buses bring visitors from the Midwest and with them, greater appreciation of the history of Germantown and the local area.