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In Travel & Visitors Guide

The Pioneer Village is a small cluster of wood-frame buildings behind the Milwaukee Public Museum.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

It looks like an anachronism in modern Downtown Milwaukee.

Downtown Milwaukee will watch the Pioneer Village fade into history


Unless you've got a great memory, you most certainly will not recognize the buildings in the first photo accompanying this story. Adding the skyline view in the second photo won't help many of you, either.

That's because the Milwaukee Public Museum long ago shuttered its outdoor Pioneer Village -- think of it as a much-downscaled Old World Wisconsin -- down upon which you can look these days from MacArthur Square. But not for long.

But there's no hint of the wood-frame buildings -- located outside, behind the museum -- from inside. And museum maps just show a blank space where the village is.

"I did a little digging and found the Pioneer Courtyard opened in 1985," says Carter Lupton, the museum's curator of ancient history. "It was primarily used for Education Department programs dealing with rural pioneer life, explaining and demonstrating various activities like cooking, candle-making, etc."

After the Milwaukee Public Museum building was constructed in 1963, one plan included building a planetarium in the space later occupied by the Pioneer Village, which, says Lupton, was a component of the museum's wizard wing.

In 1990, while the museum was hatching the idea for an IMAX theater, there was talk of building the new dome theater in the Pioneer Village space, but as we all know, that didn't happen. The Humphrey IMAX Dome Theater is located on the southeast corner of the museum site at 800 W. Wells St. The Daniel M. Soref Planetarium -- Wisconsin's largest planetarium -- shares the theater.

Lupton says he remembers some staff pancake breakfasts in the village, noting that some of the Pioneer Courtyard's public programs also included pancakes.

Soon, the buildings will be replaced with blank space, too. Lupton confirms that the structures in the Pioneer Village will be demolished this year, probably over the summer.

"I don't recall exactly when it closed but it's probably been close to a decade," says Lupton.

"At first it was leaking through the roof, and there was some thought of dealing with this, but then later it was declared structurally unsafe."

When I stumbled upon the buildings again for the first time in years recently, I was taken aback. I'd forgotten all about them. I have a vague memory of wandering around the Pioneer Village once or twice, but the mental pictures are very, very hazy and I can't even be sure I'm remembering correctly or that I was ever there.

I asked around and realized that I'm not alone. Calls to my 500-odd Twitter followers, co-workers and some friends not only yielded zero memories of the Pioneer Village, most people I asked responded with a bleary-eyed, "the pioneer what?"

When I asked some folks at the museum, none could answer definitively, either. One thought it was built in the mid-1980s, another thought it dated to the early '60s and still another had arrived too late to have any experience with the village.

Most suggested I contact Lupton, who tells me there although the soon-to-be-vacant land is on the museum's radar, there is currently no plan for the Pioneer Village footprint behind the museum.

"There are, to my knowledge, no immediate plans for anything to replace it," he says, "though the space is under consideration for the museum's strategic space renewal."


Talkbacks

Poeartemer | July 8, 2010 at 11:20 a.m. (report)

I remember and my grown children remember. What a wonderful place Milwaukee is! We have culture in just about every form in Milwaukee.

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brunocarlson | July 7, 2010 at 5:29 p.m. (report)

I remember this area from my days in grade school. Going to the museum once a year despite it never really changing was great until I got sick of it from 18-25 years old. When I went back to the museum, though 15+ years of yearly training, I walked through to the door expecting the village to still be there. Then again, I am also old enough to remember the grand opening of the T.Rex eating the Triceratops as well as being allowed to push the snake rattling button on the diorama of Aboriginals hunting Bison.

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RideNoEvo | July 6, 2010 at 5:06 p.m. (report)

I seem to remember watching ladies spin wool on spinning wheels and other crafts people making things there, that and it smelled smokey...but we spent a lot of time at the museum as kids. I also remember helping pound clay to make the molds for the T-rex eating the triceratops, and when the rain forest opened.... wow, now I feel old

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stephchin | July 6, 2010 at 12:15 p.m. (report)

this is just the thing the museum is for and with all the damage at Old World Wisconsin, why can't they bring this back? This is what every 2nd-4th grader in Wisconsin is studying. Ask the OWW historians to help while waiting for their museum to be restored.

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wiscoboy | July 6, 2010 at 10:24 a.m. (report)

You can see a pretty good birdseye view of the villiage if you seach bing.com for the milwaukee public museum, go to the maps and then use the birdseye view from above and circle around to the back of the museum. http://www.bing.com/maps/default.aspx?q=milwaukee+public+museum&mkt=en-US&FORM=BYFD

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