ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Watertown Tour Center (constructed 1969)


Watertown History Center (dedicated 2019)


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        Excavation Work Starts This Morning


A building to be known as the Tourist Center is to be constructed on the grounds of the Octagon House.


It will be an assembling place for tour groups.  Last year nearly 14,000 persons every state in the union except Alaska and Hawaii visited the Octagon House.  In past years the number has been as high as 15,000.  Lack of a suitable place for tourists to assemble before being taken through the home is a real drawback.


In addition to a large area from for tourists to assemble, one portion of the building will be utilized as living quarters for the custodians, Mr. and Mrs. Don Mabie.


The building, containing 3,000 square feet of floor space, will have a first floor and basement.


The project will include a patio, made of Watertown brick, and a walk, also of Watertown brick, from the front of the Octagon House to the Tourist Center.  The building will be 58½ by 26 feet.


Excavation work began today.  The general contract has been awarded to Adam Renner, who filed the low bid.


Plans were drawn by the Watertown architectural firm of Durrant, Deininger, Dommer, Kramer, and Gordon.


The exterior will be of rough sawed cedar with board and batten pattern.


The project is in charge of the building committee which consists of Lee Block, chairman; Mrs. Harold Peterson, Robert O. Bauch, Richard Hoge, E. F. Hulbert, Gladys Mollart, Mrs. S. J. Luchsinger and Mrs. Donovan Mabie.


Design and specifications for a new Tour Center to be built were approved by the membership of the Watertown Historical Society at its annual meeting held on Dec. 9.


The Tour Center will include almost 3,000 square feet of space on its main and basement floors.  In addition to a large tour-gathering room, 32 by 26 feet, the center will include an apartment for the caretakers, a curator's office, a large exhibit storage area, public restrooms, and a fireproof storage room for historical records,


Building and floor plans were projected by Jerold Dommer, architect for the Tour Center.


Can See All of Home


Block pointed out that the new Tour Center will enable visitors to view all of the Octagon House, whereas almost one sixth of the 57 room structure is closed to the public now because of rooms taken up by the caretaker's apartment.


"Equally important to this improvement of our facilities will be the efficient control of tours, especially on the many summer days when have increasingly large numbers of visitors, bus loads of school children, or special adult groups," Block stated.


"The entry vestibule of the Octagon House was never large enough for ticket and souvenir sales, much less the gathering of more than four or five persons at a time. Now our guides will be able to take groups of ten to 25 visitors at a time in controlled periods."


Block cited other advantages  of the Tour Center, the addition of curator's office, fireproof storage of invaluable historical records of the community, and charming Watertown-brick patio which will include the fountain-statue of a young girl formerly situated in Memorial Park.


To Exhibit Fire Bell


Also to be added as an outdoor exhibit will be the old City Hall fire bell. This will be hung on 100-year-old timbers from Watertown's first Catholic School.  The timbers were donated to the society by William Bloedorn, local contractor [1] 


Excavation for the Tour Center will begin immediately. Completion of the project is planned for May, 1970. The Renner Corporation was the low bidder.


"Block told the members that the building committee will welcome financial contributions from Watertown organizations, businesses, factories, individuals in supporting this major undertaking in the society's 30 year history."


The building committee which has been planning the new Tour Center for more than a year includes Lee Block, chairman, Gladys Mollart, Mrs. Harold Peterson, Mrs. Donovan Mabie, Richard Hoge, Robert Bauch, Mrs. S. J. Luchsinger, and Edwin Hulbert.


Hulbert was elected to the board of directors by the society, replacing Albert Hertel.  Professor Gerhard Franzmann added to the Advisory Board.


All present officers of the society were re-elected.  They include, Lee Block, president, Richard Hoge, first vice president, Dr. E. C. Kiessling.  second vice-president, Mrs. Harold Peterson, secretary, Mrs. Harold Schumann, corresponding secretary, and Robert Bauch, treasurer.



[1]   SPECULATION <> Am wondering if the noted timbers were from the August Bloedorn home (a portion of which was built from the first St. Henry’s church)


We had previously found a city assessor record showing what is believed to be a portion of this former church after having been moved to 1008 N. Second and becoming the home of AUGUST BLEODORN, it being demolished in 1969.  The home of WILLIAM BLOEDORN is also pictured on this lot.


<> The 1969 demolition to the assumed former church (the known August Bloedorn home) on N. Second coincides with the known donation of timbers by William Bloedorn in the same year.





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Dedicated to Miss Gladys Mollart.  


Lee Block, president of the Watertown Historical Society, and chairman of its building committee, presided at a brief outdoor dedication ceremony of the tour center Sunday afternoon, and placed a plaque on the building, hereafter to be known as the “Gladys Mollart Tour Center”.


Block made the dedication with these words: 


“It is my pleasure, on behalf of the Watertown Historical Society and its board of directors, to dedicate this building and to name it in honor of the single person who has been most responsible for the successful operation of this society, the Octagon House, the restored first kindergarten and the pioneer barn for over 31 years.  By proclamation of the board of directors, this building will hereafter be known and we hereby place this plaque in commemoration of this fact, as the Gladys Mollart Tour Center.”


Presentation of the plaque, which was donated by Ed Hulbert, society board member and a member of the building committee, had been kept a surprise for Miss Mollart.  Block introduced special guests who attended the dedication ceremony, Dr. James Morton Smith, director of Wisconsin State Historical Society, Ray Sivesind, state director of sites and markers, Jerold Dommer, architect for the new building, Mayor Kenneth Wilkes, city aldermen, Clarence Hartman, Chamber of Commerce and two descendants of the Richards family, Mrs. Rodman Moesta, great-great-granddaughter of John Richards and Mrs. Georgia Richards Reynolds, great-granddaughter.  Mrs. Moesta, with her husband and two daughters, Maureen and Elizabeth, had flown in from Detroit for the ceremony.  Mrs. Reynolds lives in Watertown.


Dr. Smith and Sivesind responded briefly to their introduction.  Smith told the assembled persons that his goal at the Wisconsin Historical Society was to “strengthen the ties between the state society and the local societies.  This is a tribute to what can be done at the grass roots level by a dedicated person and a dedicated historical society,” he said.


Sivesind, a longtime friend of the Watertown Historical Society, expressed pleasure and congratulations in this new achievement.  Miss Mollart, in her response to the surprise dedication of the building in her name, said “we have always been grateful to the Richards family and are pleased to have two members of the family with us today.”  She read a letter from Mrs. Harvey Richards from Florida.  Mrs. Richards, widow of the late Harvey Richards, who was very instrumental in presentation of the property to the Historical Society, had sent red roses for the Octagon House on this special occasion.


The dedication on Sunday followed through, by a little over a year, comments made by John Clifford, editor and publisher of the Watertown Daily Times, in an editorial of tribute to Gladys Mollart in July, 1969, when he wrote “her interest in the Octagon House continues with even accelerated enthusiasm.  Now she and other members of the Watertown Historical Society have in mind an administration building on the grounds. . . the support this endeavor is receiving also is heartwarming to Miss Mollart.  Rest assured, there will be an administration building.  She’ll see to that.”


Block paid tribute to many who had helped the Historical Society achieve its plans, reiterated the many advantages of the new building, and named his building committee, Richard Hoge, Miss Mollart, Mrs. S. J. Luchsinger, Mrs. Harold Peterson, E. F. Hulbert, Robert Bauch and Mrs. Donovan Mabie.


Following the dedication ceremony there was an open house for visitors.  Mr. and Mrs. Mabie, custodians who live on the Octagon House premises, were given special commendation for their part in the moving this summer into the new tour building, and also had their new apartment in the tour center open for guests.




Tour Center Gift Shop        clink to enlarge


Watertown History Center (dedicated 2019)


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The Watertown Historical Society is in the process of creating something brand new to showcase what is old, and wonderful, about Watertown. Starting in early October, the circa 1970 Gladys Mollart Tour Center on the grounds of the Octagon House Museum will be demolished, and a new multifunctional visitor center will be constructed in its place. This project is made possible through a generous gift provided by Watertown historian Ken Riedl, who is a long-time member of the society’s Board of Directors.


In 2014, Riedl pledged to donate $220,000 to the historical society to “improve the manner in which its archives are housed and to provide a platform in which to display and promote artifacts of Watertown history.” The board spent three years brainstorming the most effective way to utilize Riedl’s extraordinary gift and ultimately decided to pursue the reconstruction of the outdated museum visitor center.


The existing visitor center lacks handicap-accessible restrooms and one-half of the main level is occupied by a caretaker apartment which is no longer in use. The society’s archives and collections that are housed in the lower level of the visitor center also require reconfigured space to be property stored and maintained.


In 2017, the board hired Kontext Architecture of Sun Prairie, WI, to facilitate the reimagining of the visitor center into a new center for local history where the society could hold special events, make its archives accessible for public research, and develop new and ever-changing historical artifact and photo displays. In addition, the society also plans to create a touch and play area within the new visitor center where children can handle replicas of toys originally used during the early days of the kindergarten movement. The first kindergarten class in America was held in Watertown in 1856. The structure that housed those early classes was relocated to the museum grounds in 1956 and is open for viewing.


After much discussion and quite a few revisions, the board voted in May to approve design renderings of the proposed new structure, and in July hired RJ Construction of Watertown to serve as general contractor for the project. The reconstruction will consist of the demolition of the first floor of the existing visitor center, starting the second week in October. A new “panelized” structure is being built in a climate-controlled environment by Windsor Building Systems of Madison, WI and will be assembled onsite in early November. The new structure will be built on the existing building foundation.


In addition to the building reconstruction project, the board is exploring options for archival storage and attractive display stands and cabinetry to enhance the museum visitor experience. The board also wishes to raise $50,000 in conjunction with this project to create a designated fund for future museum improvements and operating expenses. The endowment campaign has been kick-started with a generous $15,000 grant from the Joseph and Sharon Darcey Foundation.


“Ken’s generosity to the museum, both through this wonderful gift and the countless hours he spends sharing and promoting local history on Facebook and the society’s website, is just extraordinary,” said Melissa Lampe, board president. “We are very excited about the plans we’ve developed for the new visitor center and we believe that this transformation will enable to museum to remain relevant and viable for many decades to come. We are also very grateful to Joseph and Sharon Darcey for their continued financial support of the museum.”


Lampe said the main floor of the new visitor center will feature a ticket sales and gift shop area with adjacent restrooms. A new entrance for this space will be created on the west side of the building. She said the society would like to develop a short video for guests to watch about the Octagon House before starting their tour, which could be viewed in this area. She said the portion of the main floor currently occupied by the apartment would become space to hold rotating exhibits and special events – such as wedding and baby showers - with a seating capacity of 40 people.


The lower-level, Lampe said, will be redesigned to make better use of the existing space for collections management and the housing of the society’s precious photo and paper archives.


Riedl shared that throughout his many years of involvement with the historical society, he identified two areas that he most desired to seem improved. “The first was the need to have a new ground level exhibit area for rotating displays of society holdings within a multi-purpose space that would also include a visitor welcoming area and ADA facilities,” he said. “The second was the need for an enhanced archival storage and reference resource area in the lower level.”


“After thoughtful consideration of the matter over several years I am as pleased as can be in that our board has approved plans to accomplish both needs by means of a new facility built upon the foundation of the current building,” Riedl said. “The new facility will allow the society to expand upon its worthy mission by building upon the foundation created over time by our founding members, previous board members, and all those who favored the society by means of volunteering and/or financial support.”


Jim Braughler, board vice-president, said Riedl’s gift is a “once in a generation” opportunity for the historical society. “Once in a generation does an organization receive such a grand and gracious gift like the Watertown Historical Society received in the wonderful donation from our long term member Ken Riedl,” he said. “We will long remember his generous bequeath to all of Watertown, and we are excited to see it put to use in our new visitor center. Future generations will continue to benefit from our dear friend.”     .    WDTimes article  



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Watertown Daily Times article




Cross References:

09 21 1970 WDTimes article included picture














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History of Watertown, Wisconsin