The Vilas County Historical Museum was founded in 1959 by Mable DeWitt, daughter of the pioneer founder of the town. The remarkable achievement is located on Highway 155, in the heart of Sayner. It is open from Memorial Day through the last weekend in September (Colorama Weekend) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Growth of the museum continues as more items of interest are acquired by donation or loan, creating a need for still more space for display. Faithful and generous friends of the museum anwered the appeal for funds, and in 1987 the fourth addition was added, providing 30' by 100' to house items of transportation. In the Northwoods this means snowmobiles and outboard motors and boats. The new building spans the back ends of the existing U-shaped building, forming a closed loop, which makes a complete tour possible without backtracking. The first snowmobile, invented by Carl Eliason in 1924 here in Sayner, is the centerpiece among old-style and unique machines upward to the present. A feature each year will be the newest model on the market as a state of the art display for comparison. A corner has been earmarked for a display saluting the rowing guides hereabouts.
Evolution of the outboard motor can be appreciated when viewing the display of more that one hundred motors through the years, featuring the extensive Schopke collection. And a few unusual boats are shown. Tucked into one end of the new building are found old-time conveyances such as a open carriage, a cutter, a trapper's sled, and old fashioned snow shoes and ice skates, all of them used in getting around in the north country. Much credit goes to Joe Zellner for turning dream into reality in seeing this addition of completion. His is dedicated, unstinting, unstoppable!
Always fascinating and ever-embellished is the wildlife room with animal and bird mounts native to this area. Of note is a hand-carved eagle in stoop position crafted by lifetime resident Robert "Bud" Stern. Space is given to display wild African animals collected by Jim Froelich of Sayner on three safaris, and is indeed magnificent. New to this room is a blue-black timber wolf sitting in a howling, or "singing" pose. And next to the wolf a small mountain has appeared for the purpose of presenting a grouping of four types of wild sheep to be found on the North American continent. Included are the Dall and Stone thinhorns and Rocky Mountain and Desert bighorns, all in full-body mounts. Also to be seen are huge muskies and other fish of surrounding lakes, and a display of lures used locally to catch them. Rounding out the natural history room are several lighted cases of stones, gems and rock from near and far.
The Indian collection has many beautiful pieces, including an Ojibway birch bark canoe, purchased from local Indians in 1900 for $10, and used on Plum Lake until 1952. Now there are five dioramas, skillfully carved and handcrafted by Salem G. Browman. They depict The Rug Weaver, The Sand Painters, The Pottery Makers, The Basket Makers and a Sioux Village scene. These were donated to the museum by Myrtle Browman as a memorial to her husband who passed away in 1967. Mr. Browman was adopted by the Chippewa Tribe about 1952 for his interest in and work with the tribe.
The musical area has an Edison gramophone in playing condition, three working victrolas and two pianos. The player piano is always the focus of a sing-a-long. The concert grand piano was built before 1900, and used for many years at Camp Warwick Woods on Plum Lake.
The old Camp Highlands motor launch rests on the front lawn of the museum. This boat has been completely restored by Sayner resident, Joe Zellner. It required over 300 hours of work to restore the launch, originally built by Jarvis Jenson, an old Norwegian sea captain. Jenson operated the launch on Lake Winnebago until 1904, when he sold it to Harry Gillet, owner of Camp Highlands. It was used as a service launch on Plum Lake to transport boys from the railroad station on the opposite side of the lake.
Since its origin, the museum has been operated and funded by membership, friends of the museum, the towns of Plum Lake and St. Germain, and the Vilas County Board. There has never been an admission charge, although freewill offerings are suggested and gratefully accepted. Helpful personnel are always on hand to explain and describe various aspects of the displays. The museum is a popular place and annually hosts 17,000 to 20,000 visitors. Come for an hour--and you will probably stay for two or three!
In 1991 a large wild bird display was acquired from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Constant addition to the Guides Corner, by Roy and Mary Liddicoat, St. Germain and Madison, WI. Astounding doll collection donated by Joyce Kurth Lee, Duluth, MN.
[In reading, remember the date is 1995, and some facts about the museum are no longer current.]