The Middleton Historical Society was established in 1972, with the hope of providing a real and lasting contribution to the Middleton community, the following objectives were created:
1. To collect and preserve artifacts reflective of the daily lives of our pioneers in the home, on the farm and in places of business.
2. To record the story of the lives and struggles of the unsung members of our early days, who changed a wilderness into a forward-looking, energetic, productive and beautiful community that we enjoy today.
3. To honor the foresight, sacrifices, and the services of the many who have gone before, while still serving the living of today and tomorrow.
4. To bring about the realization of the dream of having a local historical museum building of our own.
The City of Middleton provided a storage room in the basement of City Hall, and the society purchased the materials necessary to display the artifacts which were being donated in a crowded, but functional museum. An open house was held on April 21, 1974, in conjunction with the City Hall open house and the dedication of the library. This was an opportunity for the community to see the materials already collected by the society and to inspect the storage area which was made available until such time as the society would have a home of its own.
Money would be needed for realizing this dream of a museum. The year 1974 marked the beginning year of our annual fund raiser, an old fashioned ice cream social complete with band music held at Fireman’s Park.
By the spring of 1975 the society’s collection was sizable enough that a Middleton service club was given a tour through the museum. The storage area was arranged to attempt a reflection of an 1890 bedroom, an 1890 living room and an 1890 general store as well as a general display area. That year the Board had dreams of the Depot becoming its home, but that was not to be.
Interest in the society was maintained with well planned programs. There were genealogy programs regarding: Christian Dahmen, John Green, William Hoffman, Pastor Ernst Sherbel, , as well as the Rowley, wolf, Brabender, Lemcke, Meinholz, Hilgers, and DuFrenne families. There were programs having to do with Native American lore and pioneer artifacts including kitchen implements, antique lighting, hoe laundry equipment, blacksmithing, quilts, antique linens, toys, and dolls. Among interesting collections shown there were buttons, badges, watch fobs, antique poultry equipment, and glass candy containers. Informational historical presentations included the history of the Middleton Fire Department, the origin and history of the Middleton Post Office, the activities of our local American Field Service chapter, Old Military road, Wisconsin State old Cemetery Society, and the Broadway Gardens. Walking tours and bus tours have, at various times, been offered by the Society. And there were opportunities to participate in Heritage tents at the Good Neighbor Fest.
The collecting continued—mostly donations, and a few careful purchases. But space became more and more of a problem.
Before Elm Lawn School was razed, there had been some hopes of obtaining space there. Members of the Board visited other local history museums – one group went to Mazomanie and another group went to Mt. Horeb. The entire membership saw a very good slide presentation of what other communities had been able to do with establishment of a local history museum.
In 1986 the name of the society was changed to include the work “area” and officially became the “Middleton Area Historical Society.”
But the main focus of the Board on that first Wednesday each month became “What does the Space Needs Committee have to report?” Farm equipment, a car, and other large items were stored at various homes. In 1988 the City provided more storage, this time in the City Garage. MAHS hired a carpenter to wall off our space. Finally, the society had a place to house Middleton’s first jail as well as many other large items.
We were like the growing family trying to get from its first apartment into a home of its own. More and more possessions, some money saved – but when would it ever be enough for a down payment –and if we did have the down payment, how would we ever meet the monthly mortgage payments?
For years, as the Board of Directors would emerge from their monthly meeting at City hall, someone would invariably say “Wouldn’t that house be ideal for us?” The Rowley House, a Middleton landmark next to City hall, became available for sale in 1989.
Long-time Middleton area resident, Mr. Gilsie Techam, attended Elm Lawn School and recently saw that torn down. The old brick Middleton High School that he graduated from in 1925 has also been torn down. When the Rowley House was put up for sale, he did not want to see that also get torn down. He saw it as an ideal location and a good home for the Middleton Area Historical Society Museum. His donation of the funds to make this purchase have started the realization of his dream of a museum that can be enjoyed by everyone – young and old alike – now, and for future generations.
On June 15, 1989, the Middleton Area historical Society closed on the purchase of the Rowley house at 7410 Hubbard Avenue, next door to City Hall.