It's one of the most iconic buildings in Washington County (and happens to be right across the street from my office/studio). This week, Steve Stuckey of The Tower Heritage Center joins me to talk about the old courthouse building, the 1886 Jailhouse Museum, and the Washington County Historical Society. We also discuss what interested him in a career in history.
Mentioned in this episode:
- The Tower Heritage Center | Washington County Historical Society
- The Heritage Connection | Podcast on Spotify
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Thanks for listening!
Fuzz Martin 0:00
Oh hello, my fellow Washingtonians. Thank you for listening to Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz, a podcast about the positive things happening in and around Washington County, Wisconsin. On this show, we explore fun things that are happening, cool places to visit interesting people, important nonprofits and other stuff you might not know about, or just haven't thought about in a while. This week, I'm joined by Steve Stuckey. Steve is the executive director and architectural conservator for The Tower Heritage Center, which is home to the Washington County Historical Society. Steve talks to us about The Tower a bit of its history, how he got involved in the field of history and how you can experience The Tower Heritage Center for yourself. With that, here are 15 minutes on The Tower Heritage Center with Steve Stuckey on Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz.
Fuzz Martin 1:09
Steve, thanks for coming in today. So could you start by giving us an overview of the terror tower Heritage Center? And its mission and purpose?
Steve Stuckey 1:17
Yeah, sure. So The Tower Heritage Center is the home of the Washington County Historical Society, which is known to be housed in the largest building, second largest building in Washington County behind Holy Hill. Sure, yeah. Our mission is to forge meaningful connections across generations to Washington County's hard working legacy. And really our purpose is to continue the heritage and preserving it and telling the future as to what happened in the past.
Fuzz Martin 1:44
You talked about how it's located in the old Washington County Courthouse building. What's the history of that building? When When was that built? And how long has that been here?
Steve Stuckey 1:53
Yeah. So that yeah, the home of the Heritage Center is 1889 courthouse building. So it was built in 1889? It's version two. Okay. courthouses for Washington County. There was one that was there for about 20 years prior. Was it in the same spot? Same spot? Yeah. Okay. The old one, they picked up and moved to the back of the property to the far west. And then they built what's currently there right now.
Fuzz Martin 2:16
Oh, really? Okay. I never do that. And then there's also the the jail. Yeah, the
Steve Stuckey 2:20
1886. jail house. Yeah. That's also version 2.0. Okay. Yeah, there was a smaller jail, and even a little records building as well on the same site. Really? Okay. Yeah.
Fuzz Martin 2:29
So how long was that in use as the Washington County Courthouse
Steve Stuckey 2:33
till the 1960s. Okay. And then in the 60s, the county built their facilities off highway 33. And then they used this building as different administrative offices, department, social services, and things like that, up until the 1990s. And then in the 90s, the county moved all their operations to additional buildings. And, and it came to a point where they said, Well, what do we do with it? And so enters the Historical Society who was housed in the 1886 jail house,
Fuzz Martin 3:02
it was okay. Yeah. Okay. So how long is the Historical Society been around? Like, it's always interesting to me to know how long a municipality has to exist before the Historical Society forms?
Steve Stuckey 3:14
Well, it's in some version of the other. We've been around since 1875. Really? Okay. Really, if we go back to our older versions of ourselves, it was the Old Settlers club. Okay, Washington County. And then in the 1960s, we merged the Old Settlers club and large private collections in came and reformed and then incorporated formally as Washington County Historical Society.
Fuzz Martin 3:38
You went through a rebrand a few years ago, and there was also a transition right over from was a county owned it before and now it's owned by the Historical Society.
Steve Stuckey 3:47
Yeah. So yeah, a few years ago, it was decided that moving forward, the historical society will will take over ownership of the entire city block in the buildings and, and as of January, one of 23, we are proud owners of a very old, very, two very old buildings and a whole whole city block.
Fuzz Martin 4:07
Well, if it helps any. I also own partly own a very old building across the street from you. So yeah, okay. Yeah. So we don't I mean, ours is significantly younger than yours. Yeah. I think 1937 was when the first portion of this building was built. Yeah. But good to have an old neighbor. Yeah. Inside the historical, or inside The Tower Heritage Center, what kinds of artifacts and exhibits Can people see Are they are they always changing? Or do you have some that are there all the time?
Steve Stuckey 4:40
Yeah. So we have we have some evolving exhibits in you know, we really take a thematic approach with a mere timeline of history, but we have everything from unique objects like a meteorite that landed in the town of Trenton to cookware that was built into West Bend, you know, the West Bend company or the or regal were out of Kewaskum. So we really try to highlight all the various cultural aspects of our county and we also try to hit on and highlight the the building itself as a as a unique object. So,
Fuzz Martin 5:18
yeah, it's, I mean, obviously, it's called The Tower there's a very tall I don't know what you call it a spire, what would you call it? Yeah.
Steve Stuckey 5:24
It's actually called the tower.
Fuzz Martin 5:25
I'd say it is. But it's it's obviously an iconic building. It's the West Bend logo right in front of what the city of Westman? Yeah, and I guess only probably second to holy hill in terms of being iconic in our area. Can I ask going back to you for a moment. So how long have you been the executive director? Yeah,
Steve Stuckey 5:45
so I started June 1 of 2020.
Fuzz Martin 5:47
Okay. Oh, good time to start anything, right. Oh, yeah. Were you in in a role with the Historical Society or something before this?
Steve Stuckey 5:55
Yeah. So prior to me starting I was the architectural conservator, which is a very fancy way of saying I'm a huge historic buildings nerd. Okay. But I specialized in material science and historic building technologies. And my role was the staff conservator for George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate. Okay, so I oversaw the direct preservation of the 18th century, 19th century buildings on Washington's home site. Oh, wow. That's amazing. Yeah. So in the middle of all of the chaos of 2020, pick the whole family up and enjoy halfway across the country.
Fuzz Martin 6:28
So did you grow up in that area? Are you from originally?
Steve Stuckey 6:31
Yeah, so my wife actually hails from Delafield. Okay, have roots in Wisconsin. So we always come back to see her folks and family. But I myself grew up out of St. Louis, Missouri. Okay, so we're both Midwesterners by heart.
Fuzz Martin 6:44
Sure. I grew up kind of off of Highway 83. Also, so we're probably somewhat of a neighbor. The Mukwonago area. Yeah, sure. How did you get interested in this field? What was what drove you into wanting to preserve old buildings and take on this history kind of career?
Steve Stuckey 7:03
Yeah, that's a very, that's a very long time. Honestly, if anybody's ever seen the show, Boy Meets World, way back in the day, I idolized Mr. Feeny. Okay. Right. So my, my original trajectory was to be a history teacher. And so I went in and focused on on academic history, and I got several degrees in it, came a certified teacher in it 2008 We hit a recession, nobody was hiring. So then I got into the world of nonprofits. Okay. And then from there, I went back to school to focus on buildings because I was living in Chicago at the time newlywed horse, my wife said to me, you gotta figure something out that you really want to do. You know, being a an administrator in a cubicle was not necessarily where I wanted to be. Right. So I looked around Chicago, and I said to myself, cheese, you know, keeps track of these buildings, to fabulous downtown. And so then now I just started looking into it. And I got into it, I ultimately led me going back to school, and then, you know, I say, built out my portfolio, and there was an opportunity and, and, no, I'm burning cane calling. And then I went and accepted a job and moved my family to Virginia. Six years later came came here.
Fuzz Martin 8:14
Well, we're glad to have you. So going back and taking care of The Tower. So so obviously, there's, there's the exhibits and those kinds of design and taking care of the buildings and such. But in terms of engaging the community, how does The Tower engage with the the local Washington County community?
Steve Stuckey 8:34
Yeah, so we have been heading down that path since I've been here. And one of several ways that we do that is we've been building out programming for teens, we have a teen Leadership Academy, which we offer in the summer, and we're looking to launch another another version of that as well. And we've been helping small business owners like one out of Germantown, BIM TM, which we have a program on the 16th of this month, and I also help other companies like the beat goes on. Oh, sure, I had answered and company realtors. So we try to get involved with the different smaller businesses and in some of the larger ones as well in the county, and we try to help property owners, you know, also who own historic buildings because it's their unique beasts. So we're trying to reach those different audiences. And, of course, we still have our kids programming and our homeschool classes, which are very vibrant and well attended. So we're trying to be very multifaceted cultural enterprise.
Fuzz Martin 9:29
Great, that's a great step forward and a great way to kind of bring history to the people of our community. Yeah. Are there any special exhibits that are happening right now The Tower or happening this fall that you'd like to highlight?
Steve Stuckey 9:43
Yeah, so we every year for the last three years, we have a community driven exhibits called the achievement Hall of Fame, and and people from the public. You know, the general public can submit folks in history that they believe would be worthy of being in Hall of Fame. And then we have a separate community committee, everyone comes and goes through the nominations and ultimately chooses a class. And each year we unveil class. So this November, we're unveiling the next class of achievers from Washington County.
Excellent. That's really cool idea. And then so with that next class is that all the different exhibits are kind of dedicated to them, or is it one big exhibit with all of them? How does that
yeah, we have one massive exhibit that rotates every year with a different class. Okay. That's it's at the heart of the exhibit space in the first floor,
right? Is The Tower open to the public each week? What's the best way if somebody wants to come visit? How, when how and when can they come?
Yeah, our general operating hours are Thursday through Saturday, okay. 11 o'clock until about 4:30 or 5. But every Saturday during the farmers market, while the fort Westland farmers markets round, were open, free to the public for both the jailhouse and the museum. Oh, really?
Okay. Yeah, that's great. Yeah, we've we've had new neighbors here, here in the neighborhood during the the downtown Main Street reconstruction. So it's, how has that been for you guys with with traffic and such, now that you've got, you know, the farmers market here? Have you seen a lot of people come through and take advantage of that?
Yeah, absolutely. It's been fabulous to see all the activity, it's great to see it a life around the whole Courthouse Square.
And if, you know, a teacher or another school, listening would like to bring students to come check them out. They just get in touch with you, though.
Yeah, just reach out, just jump on our website. And you can easily schedule with our programs coordinator and a time to come and tour the tour the facilities.
Great. What is your vision for The Tower? What would you like to see happen with The Tower in the next five to 10? years?
Yeah, you know, I think we I'd like us to continue to build our out our outward connections, you know, that's a big part of what we're doing for so long, the, you know, historical societies in general, have been kind of deemed as inward focused. And for us, we want to be outward focused. So we want to help property owners and small business owners, and really bring history alive. And not just the sense of a this day in history, which is very fascinating, very important. Sure, but more about the relevancy that, you know, hey, small business owner, there was one like you that happened 150 years ago. Here's what they did and what they had to face. So it's drawing these connections in parallels that I think, you know, they provide a lot of relevancy for current and future. folks in the community.
Yeah, help tell that story. And it's definitely fascinating, though, when you hear some of the old stories of how West Bend was built, and how each of the like, some of the historical buildings were came to be. And some of the businesses that came in went,
Yeah, yeah. And it's been great to see, you know, student involvement and teen the teen Leadership Academy I mentioned earlier, you know, a big part of our future is continuing to build and train creating those connections.
For those who want to get involved with The Tower, what volunteer or support opportunities are available?
Yeah. So you can always reach out and in direct ask us, Hey, do you guys need help with something? But you know, in the near future, we're going to be looking at undergoing a large archival digitization project. Okay, we're, you know, we're we have lots of paper files, which is synonymous with a historical society, that, you know, we're gonna be looking to digitize because there's a level of accessibility that that that we would like, as records to have moreso than just come in and seeing the paper. Yeah, in person.
Sure. Sure. People want to learn more about The Tower Heritage Center, or if they want to visit and get involved, what's the best way to find it?
Yeah, so we have multiple Hospital, a lot of it is directly for our website, the tower heritage center.org. But we also offer a variety of other outlets, such as the heritage connection, which is our recent leader launched podcast, okay, I'd love to share with you, our show notes, we'll do and we also have our own blog, the Chronicle which we you know, twice a month, we publish a some great content about the community. But we also have our weekly news, which is happenings at the Heritage Center. So if you're a member, you can get connected that way. And you know, just our quarterly newsletter, who's with the view? Great many, many ways to get connected. Yeah, lots
of great content being developed. That's excellent. Steve, thanks for coming on. I really appreciate it. Glad to be able to talk to you and in here, let's just even some of those stories of of how the courthouse came to be in the in the jail. That's awesome. So thank you very much.
Thank you. Appreciate it.
Thanks again to Steve Stuckey of The Tower Heritage Center for joining me to talk about their wonderful building and programming. I will link to The Tower's podcast in the show notes. It's a fun listen, I suggest you check it out. If you ever have an idea GA4 a guest on this show, visit fuzz.cc/guest That is fuzz.cc/guest or email email@example.com. That is fifteen spelled out with fuzz @ gmail.com new episodes launch every Tuesday at midnight. Hit the Follow button on your favorite podcast player app and you'll get notified when the new episodes come up. And I will TYTT... talk to you Tuesday, right here on Fifteen Minutes with Fuzz