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Tour meant to learn museum ropes
Times photo: Tere Dunlap Residents of Green County tour one of the memorabilia rooms in the Potosi Brewery Museum Wednesday.

Lessons on Creating a Museum

Lessons from The Potosi Brewery Foundation, presented by Potosi Village Pres. Frank Fiorenza and Ex. Dir. Patty Goninen

• Build on what you already have: history heritage and culture.

• Get support from surrounding communities.

• Partner with other organizations.

• Be prepared to wear many hats.

• Divide up the work: construction, marketing, capital campaign, development and promotion.

• Get some good grant writers.

• Get people involved with finance on the Finance Committee.

• Keep staff and volunteers motivated.

• Use local contractors or those with connections to the community.

• Be flexible.

• Keep the community informed.

• Check your egos at the door.

MONROE - Green County is on the road to getting a National Historic Cheesemakers Center.

About 50 Green County residents took an hour bus trip west Wednesday to Potosi to learn the fine points of creating a national museum and more.

Potosi, with a population of only 711, has become known as "the little town that could," capturing the approval of the Wisconsin State Historical Society and a partnership with the American Breweriana Association (ABA) for a $7 million National Brewery Museum.

Now, it has captured the attention of the National Historic Cheesemakers organization in Green County.

That name may sound new to Green County residents. In fact, it is the evolution of the more familiar Historic Cheesemakers and Historic Monroe.

"It was time for the organization to move forward and become national," said Donna Bahler, who works with the center.

The two organizations partnered to make an abandoned 1880 railroad depot into the Green County Welcome Center and Historic Cheesemakers Museum, which opened in 1994 in Monroe.

"They told us it couldn't be done," Bahler said.

The center receives 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a year from around the world. It also archives cheese and dairy industry artifacts.

The Potosi Brewery Foundation was first told by the state historical society to expect about 35,000 people a year to its museum. With its partnership with the ABA, that estimate rose to 40,000 to 50,000 visitors annually.

The museum had 13,000 visitors in the first six weeks since its grand opening in June, with 7,000 in the first three days.

Representatives from the National Historic Cheesemakers, Green County Development Corporation, Blackhawk Technical College, Monroe Main Street, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, the City of Monroe and area cheesemakers toured the Potosi museum.

Frank Fiorenza, Potosi's village president and board member of the Potosi Brewery Foundation, explained the rippling effect the museum has had on private ownership of business and on the village's economy.

"Other things are happening because of the Potosi Brewery Foundation project," Fiorenza told the tour group.

Besides 55 new full- and part-time positions at the museum, Potosi has seen new restaurants, gift shops and a grocery store starting to pop up around it.

"If you do decide to go ahead (with a national center), it can have great benefits for Monroe and southwestern Wisconsin," Fiorenza said.

Patty Goninen, executive director of the Museum, said something happened to the community.

"People got creative in their thinking," she said.

"The museum gave an economic boost to Potosi, which was a dying community," she said. "It brought something to this whole region."

"If there's ever going to be a National Historic Cheesemakers Museum, I'd love for it to be in Wisconsin, and if in Wisconsin, I'd love for it to be in Monroe," Fiorenza said.

He believed it would have a great connection with the beer museum.

"Beer and cheese make a great combo," he said.

But Fiorenza did not gloss over the amount of time, money and work the new museum took.

The cost of the project doubled its original expected $3.6 million, and took eight years to complete from the inception of the Potosi Brewery Foundation in August 1999. Potosi residents raised $2 million in donations, received $2 million in state and federal grants, and borrowed the rest from 6-7 banks, with loans secured up to 80 percent by Rural Economic Development.

But Fiorenza offered some better prospects for Green County to raise its money faster, and starting ahead of the game with a better building.

"If Potosi with a population of 711 can do this together, I believe Monroe can do whatever you are looking at doing. Hey, whatever building you're looking at, it can't be as bad as this one (was)," he said laughing.

the brewery museum

The National Brewery Museum in Potosi houses the memorabilia collections of the American Breweriana Association, a library, a restaurant, a board room for rent and a micro-brewery, which produces four beers with natural spring water from behind the brewery.

Artifacts saved from America's long love of beer, including bottles, labels, glasses, signs, cuff links and salt and pepper shakers, make up a significant part of the collections. But modern technology enables visitors to experience television's earliest commercials, for beers like Busch Bavarian. Framed beer art (including a four-panel of the Hamm's Bear); company calendars and promotion posters; photographs of breweries line the walls in hallways.

The restaurant serves two meals a day to 100 people during the week and 200 on the weekends. It too is decorated with brewery memorabilia, including a 1930 electrically lit glass Potosi lager beer sign, and an early ceramic neon sign beckoning beer drinkers to try Potosi Beer on draught.

The museum closes at 6 p.m., and the restaurant is open until 9 p.m.