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Tour highlights Waupaca County’s historical sites

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Thern Farm is one of about a dozen stops on the Historic Hometown Tour organized by Waupaca County area historical societies. Photo courtesy of Thern Farm

Historians encourage locals to hit the road this summer

By Scott Bellile

Local historians encourage residents to take day trips to neighboring communities and explore the attractions they have never seen.

A new summertime program, the Historic Hometown Tour, kicked off Saturday, June 1.

Through Aug. 31, visitors to participating historical sites in Waupaca, New London, Clintonville, Iola, Scandinavia and Tigerton will receive a postcard that can be stamped at each location.

If a visitor gets five destinations stamped, they can enter the postcard into a prize drawing for history-related memorabilia and gift certificates to area businesses.

Megan Koehler, program director at the New London Heritage Historical Society’s Thern Farm, said she created the seasonal program in hopes of bringing out more families and tourists to museums and historical sites such as Thern Farm.

Even longtime Waupaca County residents may be unfamiliar with the attraction. New London’s historical society was just gifted the 1890s farmhouse in 2015.

The property educates visitors on various topics from milking to beekeeping to a city fair that the farm hosted over a century ago.

“There are so many historical treasures in our local communities and I want to raise awareness to those that may not know about them,” Koehler said.

Waupaca Historical Society Director Tracy Behrendt said sometimes local history is underappreciated given the busy lives people have today.

For historical societies, half their battle is letting people know places of interest exist in town, she said.

Waupaca’s Hutchinson House, a Victorian farmhouse, and King Cottage, an early living quarters from the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, are two popular draws because they are found in South Park, a hotspot for summer recreation, Behrendt said.

“I get the feeling too that once people know you’re there, and have at least even the smallest interest in where they live and their local history, that they’re certainly more interested in visiting those sites,” Behrendt said.

Another newer stop on the tour is Clintonville’s Four Wheel Drive Museum, which moved to a larger building a couple years ago.

The showcase of automobiles, military vehicles and memorabilia chronicles the story behind the four-wheel drive transmission system.

“What people need to realize is that FWD here in Clintonville is the birthplace of the first four-wheel drive concept that worked,” said Barbara Koster, FWD Museum coordinator. “There are many others that had patents for four-wheel drive, but they did not work successfully.”

FWD Auto Company built trucks that outperformed others in a 1,100-mile test the U.S. Army held in 1912. The federal government then awarded the company multi-million dollar contracts to manufacture military vehicles.

Military vehicles were decommissioned after wartime and retrofitted for everyday uses from delivery trucks to public transportation, Koster said.

“I just find the history so fascinating,” Koster said. “And I felt people really needed to hear our story, and I felt (the Hometown Historic Tour) was an excellent way to do that.”

Historic Hometown Tour participants

Waupaca: Holly History and Genealogy Center, 321 S. Main St.; Railroad Depot, 525 Oak St.; Hutchinson House and King Cottage (in South Park).

New London: Thern Farm, 425 E. Fairview Drive; Heritage Historical Village, 900 Montgomery St.

Clintonville: Four Wheel Drive Museum, 325 E. 15th St.; Pioneer Park, 32 11th St.; Museum on Main, 102 S. Main St.

Iola: Historic Village and Historical Society Museum, 210 Depot St.

Scandinavia: Historic Street (on Industrial Drive in Memorial Park).

Tigerton: Tigerton Area Historical Society (Swanke Street at Chestnut Street).

Hours vary by site. Check the Thern Farm website for times for all locations before making the drive.

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