Trolls aren’t the only rea­son to visit Mount Horeb’s new — and free — Drift­less His­to­rium

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Tapbooks - BRIAN E. CLARK

At the en­trance to Mount Horeb’s new Drift­less His­to­rium, visitors are greeted by a pair of three-foot-tall wooden trolls. The Norse gnomes are posed with a pitch­fork to re­sem­ble the ru­ral Mid­west­ern farmer and his spouse from Grant Wood’s “Amer­i­can Gothic” paint­ing.

“It’s only fit­ting that we have trolls,” said Desti­nee Udel­hoven, the mu­seum and re­search cen­ter’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor. “Af­ter all this is Mount Horeb, Troll Capi­tol of the World. But we’re a lot more than that.

“We be­lieve that at the core of our his­tory here in the south­west cor­ner of Dane County is the in­ter­ac­tion and en­dur­ing con­nec­tion be­tween our Dri­flt­ess land­scape and all of its in­hab­i­tants, from pre-his­tory to mod­ern-day.”

Above the trolls in the His­to­rium’s tall atrium floats a hang­ing sculp­ture dubbed “Drift­less Sanc­tu­ary,” crafted by metal artist and black­smith John Pahlas, whose Cen­ter Ground Stu­dios is around the cor­ner from the His­to­rium. The sculp­ture has a metal red­tailed hawk at its cen­ter, sur­rounded by a circle of man­made tools and pieces of equip­ment that rep­re­sent a nest in­hab­ited by other birds.

“We did a lot of mu­seum tour­ing and found that a num­ber of them had bold art pieces in their en­trances, and we de­cided that we wanted to make a state­ment like that, too,” said Udel­hoven, a na­tive of South Dakota who is part Lakota Sioux and was the direc­tor of the In­dian Agency House mu­seum in Portage for six years.

Udel­hoven said the new, three-build­ing His­to­rium is the cul­mi­na­tion of a decade-long ef­fort to cre­ate a show­place for the Mount Horeb Area His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety’s ar­ti­facts, as well as a re­search cen­ter and a place for cul­tural pro­grams and classes.

The His­to­rium cov­ers three-quar­ters of a block in down­town Mount Horeb just off Main St. (also known as the Troll­way). The mu­seum is ac­tu­ally a col­lec­tion of three build­ings: the 125-year-old Gilbert­son Build­ing, which was home to the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety for two

decades; the Troll Inn, a for­mer bar and bowl­ing al­ley that was en­tirely re­placed; and a replica of the Mount Horeb House, which dated to 1882 and was a rail­road inn.

Udel­hoven said the new mu­seum cost $1.7 mil­lion, half of which came from the pros­per­ous Du­luth Trad­ing Com­pany, which has a ma­jor pres­ence in Mount Horeb, and the Sch­lecht Fam­ily Foun­da­tion.

Though the main ex­hibit area in the old Gilbert­son Build­ing is still un­der de­vel­op­ment, part of it in­cludes the Bobby Dent gen­eral store from Mon­trose Town­ship, south of Mount Horeb. It was in use from the 1890s to the 1980s, and Udel­hoven said it was “ev­ery­one’s fa­vorite from the old mu­seum, so we de­cided to keep it be­cause it fits well with the time­line theme.”

The Gilbert­son sec­tion of the mu­seum also in­cludes a gallery room for lec­tures, classes and chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties. It cur­rently has a dis­play that tells about the three build­ings that stood on the site of the His­to­rium, as as well as an ex­hibit on quack medicine de­vices pop­u­lar in the 1880s and early 1900s.

The spe­cial ex­hibit room, which is in the Mount Horeb House sec­tion of the mu­seum, has an ex­hibit about how the vil­lage came to be known as the "troll cap­i­tal of the world."

To get to it, you must pass the first troll carved for the town by Michael Feeney. It once had a chicken on its head, but the el­e­ments took their toll on the gnome and the bird fell off.

“This part of Dane County was set­tled by not only Nor­we­gians, but Ir­ish, Ger­mans, Swiss and oth­ers,” Udel­hoven said. “So we are Scan­di­na­vian, but just as much the other eth­nic groups, too.”

But the area’s Nor­we­gian her­itage was high­lighted by Lit­tle Nor­way, a pop­u­lar tourist and cul­tural at­trac­tion north of Mount Horeb that closed in 2012. It was founded by Scott Win­ner’s fam­ily in the 1930s and in­cluded a stave church that was built in Ork­dal, Nor­way, for the 1893 Columbian Ex­po­si­tion. The church was later taken apart by Nor­we­gian crafts­men, shipped home and re­assem­bled in Ork­dal.

Though Lit­tle Nor­way is closed, the His­to­rium has mu­rals, cab­i­nets, a chair carved from a whole log and other ar­ti­facts do­nated by the Win­ner fam­ily, which owned Lit­tle Nor­way. Visitors can take a three-di­men­sional tour of the struc­ture, led by Scott Win­ner, thanks to a scan done by the Wis­con­sin In­sti­tutes for Dis­cov­ery at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son. Udel­hoven said sev­eral other build­ings, in­clud­ing a “hang­ing barn” used by Swiss set­tlers and an­other church, will be­come part of the 3D project.

An­other key piece of the troll story is Ol­janna Cun­neen, who was well known in Mount Horeb for her rose­ma­l­ing paint­ings and the nu­mer­ous trolls she made

for lo­cal busi­nesses. Cun­neen died in 1969, but her trolls lived on.

The gnomes got a boost in the mid-1970s, when the own­ers of a Norse gift shop called Open House Im­ports be­gan plac­ing trolls on their lawn to lure visitors into their shop. They were an im­me­di­ate hit.

A decade later, the state Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment de­cided to build a by­pass around Mount Horeb. Busi­ness own­ers wor­ried about the loss of traf­fic, so the Cham­ber of Com­merce came up with the Troll­way theme as a way to at­tract visitors to its down­town. The plan was suc­cess­ful, though some res­i­dents con­sid­ered the gnome theme kitschy and still do.

Udel­hoven said she hopes peo­ple will use the His­to­rium and its thou­sands of doc­u­ments and ar­ti­facts for re­search and come to the fa­cil­ity for pro­grams. Up­com­ing classes this spring in­clude an Amer­i­can In­dian flute-mak­ing work­shop led by Bill Quack­en­bush, tribal his­to­rian of the Ho Chunk na­tion. An­other will deal with mak­ing thread with drop spin­dles.

“The His­to­rium is about more than trolls, although we cer­tainly cel­e­brate them, too.” she said.

More in­for­ma­tion: The Drift­less His­to­rium is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wed­nes­day through Sun­day. Ad­mis­sion is free.

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Get­ting there: The mu­seum is at 100 S. 2nd St., Mount Horeb, about 100 miles west of Milwaukee via I-94 and High­ways 18 and 151.


The first troll carved by Michael Feeney is on dis­play in the Drift­less His­to­rium.


A gen­eral store from the Mon­trose Town­ship, south of Mount Horeb, is on dis­play at the Drift­less His­to­rium.

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