Despite relocating its headquarters to Bay City this year, the Pierce County Historical Association is on the hunt for a long-term home.
The 77-year-old association has been searching for a new central Pierce County location, but faced with an aging, sinking and overloaded Ellsworth-based headquarters, the group moved to its River Bluff chapter building. The sort-of new Bay City home - at W6321 E. Main St. - will offer more space for the group's operations, and for exhibit displays.
"We're trying to get our act together so we can actually have a museum," said Pat Mory, who handles the group's archives. "We're one of the few counties in Wisconsin without one."
The association sold the aging building to Quinn Motors of Ellsworth - the historical group's next-door neighbors. Quinn plans to use the property for vehicle storage and display and to mark her family's 100th anniversary in the auto-sales business, said Meghan Quinn Kummer, co-owner of the business.
A search for a long-term home
The Pierce County Historical Association's Ellsworth building was donated to them in 2011, but it was aging and the group sold it to Quinn Motors in August.
Quinn plans to tear down the former historical association building within the next two weeks, and complete its project by 2019, Quinn Kummer said. The revamped area will feature better lighting, and increased green space.
"This is really a two-fold project," Quinn Kummer said. "It's going to be beautiful."
And while Quinn Motors will tear it down, John Norquist, president of the historical association, said the building had outlived its usefulness for the group. Built before current building codes, it had no foundation and was sinking into the ground, Mory said.
The group had an architect's assessment done and it had put refurbishing costs for the Ellsworth building at $300,00 to $500,000.
"Contractors said it wasn't worth anything," he said. "It wouldn't have been adequate for our long-term needs."
For a new, long-term home, the historical association ideally wants to purchase a 3- to 5-acre site to house a museum, office and storage, Norquist said.
For inspiration, the historical association has explored other area museums like in Menomonie and Eau Claire and commissioned a preliminary architectural rendering of a new location.
He said they're searching for locations of varying sizes, and if they go small it would need to be expandable.
Mory said funding can be difficult for the group, as it typically relies on donations; any research work the group does is only charged $15 an hour.
While the county gives them a stipend to operate, it is a small amount compared to what some counties offer their historical associations and Pierce's is reviewed on a year-to-year basis, she said.
They will need to combine a mix of fundraising, grant writing and internal funds to finance a new home, Norquist said.
Like its former location in Ellsworth, the group is hoping to find a new location in that area for its accessibility throughout the county and would like to secure a site within the next two to three years.
"We want to be in Ellsworth, we want to be connected," Norquist said.
Bay City opportunities
PCHA started moving to its River Bluffs chapter in Bay City in June and partially opened to the public early in October. Mory said the group hopes that it can be fully opened by Thursday, Oct. 25 with exhibits full of historical pictures on display and the archives open for research.
The move has been fully facilitated by volunteers, like Mory, Norquist said.
However, the move has had an unintentional, but positive side effect, Mory said.
"In moving, we've found a lot of things we didn't know we had," she said, and mentioned numerous photos.
The Bay City location had already been popular with tourists during events, with its location near State Highway 35, also known as the Great River Road.
Formerly a church, it has served as a home base for the group's annual Pioneer Day event that could often draw up to 300 people, Norquist said. Typically, the group gets 10 to 15 visitors weekly.
"Ellsworth has a lot of traffic, but they're truckers, not tourists," he said. "At the Bay City facility we do get a lot of people who are interested. It's not a flood of people, but it does open up to tourists."
To learn more or to donate, visit www.piercecountyhistorical.org or call their new number, 715-594-3118.