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Meanwhile in Oz: Museum keeps storied past alive
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The Green County Historical Society Museum in downtown Monroe is not only filled with historical information, the building itself has a storied past.

Matt Figi, a life member of the society, said the building, which is located one block north of Monroe's Square, was built in 1861 and was formerly the Universal Church. During the Civil War the building was used to store wheat for the Union Army. In 1877, Frederick Douglass spoke in the building. In 1890, the building became home to Monroe's first kindergarten.

The historical society museum currently is a bit of a mess as it's being arranged properly for its upcoming season of open hours and tours. The building has had $250,000-plus in remodeling and updates, including new windows.

Figi said the society is interested in spreading the word that it will be open from June to October, from 1 to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday. The museum, located at 1617 9th St., also opens by appointment and has a tradition of providing tours for local school children.

The history in the building is related to all of Green County.

Figi said local history is enjoyed by virtually all of our area's residents and especially those who are readers of The Monroe Times. The society's contributions to the newspaper, which appear often on Fridays, are welcome.

"People in Monroe just love Monroe history," Figi said. "We're always looking for more volunteers to help us provide more to the community. It takes a lot of time, but it's something that is enjoyable to do."

Figi is a Green County native who traveled to suburban Chicago for some of his adult years, before coming back "home" in the 2000s. He's particularly interested in the one-room school houses in Green County.

Few people may know this, but there were 120 one-room schools in Green County in the 1920s. Figi has relatives who attended the Enterprise School, which has since been remodeled into a home.

Last year, the society had 613 visitors with about 200 coming during the Cheese Days celebration.

History is recorded in many ways. Local early history, prior to newspapers, has been gathered in books, specifically "The Illustrated History of Green County, Wis.," published by the Union Publishing Company in 1884; and another, smaller, book, "The History of Green County," written by Helen M. Bingham and published in 1877.

Both books are online through the Wisconsin Historical Society.

According to the book by Bingham, which focuses more directly on Green County and is a less comprehensive study than the Union Publishing Company volume, two traders named McNut and Boner were the first permanent non-Native American settlers of Green County.

Another man named Eastman is identified as one of the earliest settlers in the northeast portion of the county in the book written by Butterfield.

McNut and Boner created residences near Exeter and were soon joined by an interpreter named Van Sickles.

Prior to 1829, John B. Skinner and Thomas Neal began to work at the Skinner diggings in what is now the town of Monroe. In 1830, Andrew Clarno built the first house in the town of Clarno. Two years later, William Wallace and Joseph Paine, who had been miners, settled near Clarno.

Miners were among the earliest settlers but trying to find a family that can trace its roots back to the original settlers of Green County can be difficult. This is because many of the early settlers fled this area due to the Black Hawk War in 1832.

Local residents, who enjoy history and have some extra time to volunteer, may wish to become involved in the Green County Historical Society Museum. The society has a website and a Facebook page.

For more information, you can call the museum at 608-325-6503.

Someone looking to plan a day-trip to Monroe could put the museum on their list for June through October. Local schools could plan an elementary or middle-school stop in September or October.

Hats off to those at the Green County Historical Society Museum for keeping local history alive and ensuring it is available for future generations.

- Matt Johnson is publisher of the Monroe Times. His column is published Wednesdays.