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La Crosse County Historical Society moving out of Riverside Museum

La Crosse County Historical Society moving out of Riverside Museum

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Riverside Museum

The La Crosse County Historical Society is moving out of the Riverside Museum at the north end of Riverside Park at the end of the year. To support the historical society and for more information, visit www.lchshistory.org.

The Riverside Museum will need a new home next year, the La Crosse County Historical Society announced Friday on its Facebook page.

The historical society and the city of La Crosse will part ways after years of the museum being housed in the former fish hatchery building in Riverside Park, with that particular museum closing at the end of December.

The city of La Crosse Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department is looking for a new opportunity for the aging building that will bring in revenue to help maintain it, according to director Jay Odegaard. The museum space wasn’t ideal for either the city or the museum, he said.

Jay Odegaard

Jay Odegaard, Director of La Crosse Parks, Forestry and Recreation

“One of the things that I feel strongly about is getting some type of revenue stream in there. I think that it’s undeniable that while it worked for the time being for the museum, that space did not fit what their ultimate goal is,” Odegaard said.

The city has let the historical society use the space rent-free for nearly 30 years. While the partnership has gone well, Odegaard said the city is looking for revenue to contribute to the maintenance of the historic building and the park in which it sits. As parks director, Odegaard has focused on finding ways for users of city facilities to contribute more for maintenance, reducing the need to use property tax dollars for the maintenance.

Peggy Derrick

Derrick

Historical society Executive Director Peggy Derrick said while she was initially disappointed in the new direction, she came to see it as an exciting chance to build up the organization while the city of La Crosse committee works to determine the feasibility of a new regional museum.

“I realized that this is an enormous opportunity and it’s one we can’t ignore. This is like an intermediary step. This will help us grow into a bigger organization with more experience and hopefully more staff,” Derrick said.

A La Crosse committee has been considering options for a museum to celebrate La Crosse’s rich history and create more displays to feature the historical society’s artifacts.

“My goal is for this to help prepare us to be that organization that will take on that bigger museum,” Derrick said.

She expects it will be several years before that process is finished.

Derrick said for everyone who wants to say goodbye to the museum, it will be open throughout December. Tickets cost $4.

“It’s not big and shiny, but the actual artifacts are pretty darn cool,” she said.

There are artifacts from the War Eagle steamboat, historical Ho-Chunk items, and a surveyor’s compass and journals that go back to the original platting of the town.

“It’s part of how La Crosse was created,” Derrick said.

Although they won’t be on display at the Riverside Park building anymore after this year, Derrick said the La Crosse County Historical Society is on the lookout for a location to display the items between now and when the proposed regional museum is ready for patrons.

From Tribune files: Things That Matter in La Crosse County history

Each week, the La Crosse Historical Society tell us about an important item in local history. Here's a look back at the Things That Matter so far this year.

She hopes to reopen the museum by June 1, 2020.

“We don’t want to just pack up our toys and go home. We need to be fulfilling our mission,” Derrick said.

With some of the displays remaining unchanged for 30 years, Derrick sees it as an opportunity to better tell the story of the artifacts.

“It’s time to refresh them, have some fresh interpretations, add some things that we’ve wanted to do and didn’t have room for,” Derrick said. “It will be a new experience when we reopen.”

The La Crosse County Convention and Visitors Bureau will remain on the second floor.

“I just really feel that a public-private partnership down there is really a win-win. It offers the ability for an entrepreneur to get something going and be in a really good location,” Odegaard said.

Ideally, it would be some type of bistro or restaurant that would offer a service to park-goers and tourists coming in on the river boats, he said.