Founded in 1934, the museum is open by appointment only. It is an all volunteer, nonprofit organization and is affiliated with the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The museum, located at 13 South First Street in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, was the gallery belonging to one of the earlier photographers, Charles Van Schaick. You can see a sample of the photographs here. The photographs from the widely known book, Wisconsin Death Trip, by Michael Lesy, published in 1973, are from the Van Schaick collection. In 1994, the opera theater of St. Louis, Missouri, put on a performance, “Black River”, which was inspired by this book.
In addition to the photo collection, there are displays of many artifacts and manuscripts depicting the early history. The museum also has a variety of books that have been compiled about various areas and events in the county. Jackson County was formed from Crawford County in 1853. Black River Falls is the county seat. By 1874, there were 10 townships and at present time, there are 21. The Winnebago Tribe was the earliest inhabitants of this area. A group of Mormons, followers of Joseph Smith, were also here in the early days and the temple they constructed at Nauvoo, Illinois, was built with lumber from the “Falls”. Many of the later followers of James Strang, known as “Strangite Mormons”, came here to settle.The great wealth of white pine brought the first white settlers here to begin with, but when the lumber camps were gone, it was the farmland that kept them here. The first farmer was a Scotsman, Robert Douglas, who farmed in the Melrose and North Bend area in 1839. Cranberries, sphagnum moss, strawberries, iron ore, etc., were other industries throughout the county. As the population grew, many nationalities were represented and the variety of the traditions they brought with them to this new county helped create an interesting history. Black River FallsThe largest city in Jackson County, Black River Falls has enjoyed a long and varied history. Located on the Black River in Adams and Albion townships, Black River Falls was originally settled by Jacob Spaulding in 1839. Destroyed by fire in 1860, the town was rebuilt in 1861 and has since survived several floods and other calamaties with a strong will and a desire to move forward.