There is a Light at the End of the Tunnel...

It was daunting task: Completing the work associated with the first of three Summers dedicated to our $500,000 exterior historic restoration of Hearthstone. But now that the calendar has turned to Fall, it’s time to reflect back on what we have accomplished.

We started at the top and rebuilt our four historic chimneys with the help of the masons at Quality Restoration. Dismantling and rebuilding 25 foot stacks of 137 year old brick (sixty feet in the air!) is no small feat. The new chimneys are not only great looking but now will weather well over the years as they have been properly rebuilt to Department of Interior standards.

On the heels of the chimney restoration we had our new roof installed. J.F. Lopez Roofing did a masterful job installing our brand new “old looking” roof that perfectly meets DOI requirements. Almost indistinguishable from our previous cedar shingle roof, visitors are surprised to learn that our new roof is made from steel (yes, you read that right!) and could last over 70 years. It will protect the house, and its priceless contents, for generations to come.

Landscaping was next. Our volunteers planted 2500 square feet of new grass - which is coming in nicely. They also installed our new historical marker. The new marker, from the Wisconsin State Historical Society, tells the technological, historical, and artistic significance of the Rogers family and their residence better than the previous incarnation. The new marker is now a focal point of the landscaping and serves as a perfect introduction to Hearthstone.

Finally, our volunteers pulled up our previous historic brick walkway, which ran to the front door, and re-laid the 6000 pavers so that the new walk matches the carriage way that originally ran around Hearthstone. The bricks, which are Purlingtons pavers made in 1890 (and mentioned before in this blog), are a gorgeous way to welcome guests to the home.

Of course none of this - absolutely none - could have been accomplished without the hard work of our irrepressible volunteers and the support of our wonderful donors and sponsors. I can’t thank them enough for their generosity, their understanding, their assistance, and their encouragement this year. More work is waiting for us next Summer (like rebuilding and repainting the exterior mill work) and the Summer after that (rebuilding our 126 historic windows) but with our volunteers, donors, and sponsors we now feel like we can do anything.

There is now a light at the end of the tunnel… and it no longer feels like it might be an on-coming train!

Just a note from the back porch.

- George, Executive Director at Hearthstone

Wait, It's Only Been A Year?

In some regards it’s hard to believe that I have only been (sporadically) writing this blog for just over a year. In that time, Hearthstone has accomplished so much that is it, quite literally, hard to believe. So as a recap, here is a quick list of the things we have accomplished (it’s a bit long but that is kind of the point) in just the past 12 months…

•       Drove creation of a Downtown Appleton Museum Council with five other institutions

•       Drove creation of a multi-museum pass call the “M.A.P.” (for Museums of Appleton Pass) that saves families 20% versus regular admissions.

•       Revamped our cooperative effort to school tours with the History Museum at the Castle

•       Begun establishing the same thing with the Grignon Mansion

•       Begun establishing the same thing with the Paper Discovery Center and The Fox River Locks Navigation Authority

•       Hired a Curation Director

•       Implemented UW-O practicum work that gave students interested in public history real world experience doing real curation and real world exhibit work

•       Started an internship for Lawrence University students

•       Received coverage on local television and radio (over twenty times)

•       Met with the Executive Directors of seven N. W. Wisconsin Museums

•       Worked with four other historical societies to curate our “The Beginnings of Baseball in Wisconsin: 1860-1930” exhibit

•       Curated an exceptional exhibit called “Caught in the Current” on the history of sport fishing

•       Entered an award winning float in the Appleton Flag Day parade

•       Launched a new website (the one you are reading now)

•       Designed and implemented a way to augment tours using “virtual” virtual reality (that’s not a typo)

•       Initiated volunteer curation projects so volunteers could get hands-on experience

•       Completed the interior restoration of the residence by restoring the last space in the house occupied by the Rogers family (our spectacular 1882 bathroom)

•       Renovated our lower level exhibit space

•       Begun a renovation of our curation space

•       Hosted six “Mysteries at the Mansion” fundraisers

•       Hosted five “Summers on Veranda” fundraisers

•       Hosted three musical events including “Tráthnóna Érie” (our St. Patrick’s Day Irish music celebration)

•       Hosted a “Victorian Tea” to unveil the Kloehn Albums

•       Drafted and submitted nominations to the Paper Hall of Fame for Henry Rogers and William and John Van Nortwick.

•       Attended two Volunteer Fests

•       Record Setting Haunted Hearthstone in terms of both attendance and sales

•       Record Setting Victorian Christmas in term of both attendance and sales

•       Attendance is up 39.5% over 2017-2018 for the entire year

•       Number of volunteers increased 36%

•       Annual Appeal topped the $18,000 mark

•       “Shine Even Brighter” Capital Campaign Launched

•       New landscaping plan finalized (we can’t wait to get started)

•       New historical marker vetted and obtained from the Wisconsin Historical Society

•       Removed 20,000 bricks (by hand) that comprised our old driveway and installed a new parking lot

•       Launched “Every Soldier’s Square” project (with those 20,000 bricks) to raise money for veterans affairs, public art, and Hearthstone

•       Successfully ran our pilot program for STEMIE/Invent Wisconsin for 116 sixth graders at Kaleidoscope Academy (and we will hold our first “Invention Convention” in two weeks)

Whew! That is a long list. Wait, it’s only been a year?! Wow… not too bad. In many ways we have reset the paradigm for historic house museums and the impact that is possible when a relatively small institution looks beyond its walls (which is the subject of a future Note).

But, of course, none of this long list, absolutely none of it, could have been accomplished without a phenomenal volunteer base, a staff that puts in monstrously long hours, and a supportive Board of Directors. I can’t thank each and every one of them enough for the time and toil (remember that’s 20,000 bricks by hand!), the passion and perseverance that made it all possible.

Just a note from the back porch.

- George, Executive Director at Hearthstone

Thank You and Best Wishes for the Holidays and New Year

The holidays are upon us.  Where did 2018 go?  I guess time does fly when you are busy… and we have certainly been very busy at Hearthstone.  In fact, all of the great strides we have made over the past 12 months will be chronicled in an upcoming Note, but today’s topic is more important: It is simply to say thank you and to extend the very best in holiday and new year wishes to those that make this institution possible.

To our volunteers, some of the best people you can imagine working with, a deeply felt thank you. It has been said before, but it needs to be said again - nothing, literally nothing, could be accomplished at Hearthstone without you.

To our donors and sponsors, both individual and corporate, both large and small, we cannot say thank you often enough for your support and your leadership.

Your generosity, in terms of your time, your energy, your resources, and your love of this museum and all it stands for, is unmatched. Thank you.

Finally, if you and yours are about to celebrate Christmas or Kwanzaa or the New Year, or if you have celebrated Hanukkah or the winter solstice or any other end of year holiday, on behalf of everyone at Hearthstone, please permit me to wish you a joyous celebration this year and for many years to come.

Thank you for all that you do.

Just a note from the back porch.

- George, Executive Director at Hearthstone

What can 53 tons of bricks teach you about your town, your neighbors, and yourself?

Fifty three tons of paving bricks.  That’s about 166,600 pounds or about 13,000 pavers.  That’s a lot of bricks.  We pulled each up by hand.   Oh yeah… that’s a lot of bricks.

The pavers, which comprised the driveway at Hearthstone, were originally part of the Appleton trolley system - the first commercially successful electric trolley system in the U.S.  Service ran from 1890 to 1930 with the bricks lining the tracks and paving the streets on either side.  Most of the bricks were laid down before 1900 with the vast majority of them coming from the Purington Brick Company of East Galesburg, IL.  Purington was once the largest manufacturer of pavers in the world (its bricks still line parts of the Panama Canal).  But eventually Appleton’s trolleys, like so many others, couldn’t compete with buses.  The bricks couldn’t compete with cement.  Trolleys ceased running.  Purington closed.  The streets, along with the tracks and bricks throughout Appleton, were paved over. 

In the early 1960s, the city removed over a million of the bricks as part of a street construction project.  Many were simply dumped in the Fox River.   But the Mares family, owners of Hearthstone at the time, had their four sons reclaim the bricks that were dumped down the bluff behind the house.  The boys pulled up, cleaned off, and installed the pavers to create the driveway.  Four sons, over five summers, almost endless effort.

Fast forward to this summer…  Hearthstone needed safe, ample parking.  So to make way for a new lot, the brick driveway had to be removed.  We could have opted to have a salvage company pay us a modest sum and peel the bricks off with a front loader, possibly destroying a large portion of them in the process.  That would be easy and quick. But the bricks would be gone, sold off in Milwaukee or Madison as just another commodity, and their historical significance would be lost.

This was unacceptable to us.  So we found a better way.

We partnered with another non-profit that wanted to redesign and reinvigorate an area in Appleton called Soldier’s Square.  The area features a fourteen foot bronze statue of Union soldiers which was donated to the city by the second owner of Hearthstone, Albert Priest. Mr. Priest had the statue placed in memory of his brother who died during the Civil War.  We decided to to add another connection to Hearthstone and dedicate the vast majority our bricks to the reinvigoration project.  The bricks would be returned to a public use, near where they were originally laid down.

So far so good, but we want to do more.

Our next step is simple:  We are setting up an on-line system so that anyone can “buy” a brick to honor a veteran.  Each brick will be engraved with the veteran’s name, branch of service, and conflict.  The pavers will then be incorporated into the new design at Soldier’s Square so that everyone in our community will feel what Mr. Priest felt - that there is a memorial dedicated to the sacrifices of all our loved ones.   We’re calling the project simply… “Every Soldier’s Square.” 

To make it happen, we picked up, palletized, and ported off for safe keeping the fifty three tons of bricks.  Our volunteers helped.  Kids from the local county youth services program helped (and then helped again).  Even the local adult Special Olympics team helped.  Each nine pound brick was removed, one at a time, over the course of the hottest summer in recent memory.  All because it was a worthwhile thing to do and someone had to do it.

As I look out on our newly installed parking lot where the bricks once sat, the question has been answered:  What can fifty three tons of bricks teach you? 

That there is often history right beneath your feet. 

That your neighbors are always there to help. 

That, when you don’t take the easy route, worthwhile things happen. 

Oh, and something else…  lift with your legs.

Just a note from the back porch.

- George, Executive Director at Hearthstone

An Enriching Experience... Just Not The One We Expected

This past weekend Hearthstone hosted the 21st Annual Appleton Antique Show at a local venue. The show, our largest annual fundraiser, typically draws over 40 exhibitors - presenting beautiful pieces of almost every conceivable style and era - and well over a thousand attendees.  As the show is held about this time every April, our organizers usually worry that the weather will be too nice and that the first buds of Spring (and the chance to get outside after a long Wisconsin Winter) will be too much for potential attendees to pass up and they will skip the show.

Well...  This year didn't go quite as planned.

There was no warm Wisconsin sunshine.  Instead, Appleton was slammed by its worst winter storm in over 140 years.  Almost two feet of snow fell on top of a thick coating of freezing rain. Wind gusts topped 40 mile per hour.  Roads were impassable - assuming you could find your car under avalanche-size drifts.  Businesses were closed.  City services were non-existent.  The weather turned the simplest of tasks into hours of labor.

And yet through it all, our phenomenal volunteers found ways to cope with the blizzard, show up, and help out.  Our exhibitors, who have seen it all, shrugged, laughed, and spoke of better days to come.  Everyone was simply amazing in the face of adversity.

Our fundraiser didn't enrich the coffers at Hearthstone.  Far from it.  Yet we came away from this weekend rich beyond measure. The understanding and compassion of our volunteers and our exhibitors warmed us in a way no Spring sunshine could ever match.

Just a note from the back porch (hastily typed with freezing fingers)

- George, Executive Director at Hearthstone

I've been asked...

why should someone contribute to a museum when there are so many other problems in this world... hungry children, battered spouses, homelessness.  It's a good question.  I understand that there is a primacy of needs.  We all deserve and, in fact, should demand, that we are clothed, and fed, and secure in our relationships.  These things are non-negotiable. These things are basic to the human condition.

But when you walk into a place like Hearthstone you get something.  You get a sense of context: You become grounded in where we have come from and maybe where we are going.  You get a sense of texture: You can see how the fabric of our lives has changed and evolved.  You get a sense of enrichment: You simply feel better by being exposed to something new.

When you walk through Hearthstone you smile, and wonder, and learn... and those things are basic to the human condition too.

Just a note from the back porch.

- George, Executive Director at Hearthstone