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Through volunteers, a rich history is preserved

--- Webster House opens doors for ice cream social

Herb Moering /Contributor

(Published July 18, 2007, 3:50 p.m.)


While the Sunday afternoon ice cream social on the lawn at the Webster House Museum in Elkhorn July 15 offered free tours of the facilities and to enjoy a cool treat, the occasion also included a bit of recognition for the Walworth County Historical Society volunteers who help there.

Philip Strong, Historical Society president from Delavan, welcomed visitors to the historic Webster House, including several political representatives. Strong noted the importance of recognizing approximate 35 volunteers from all over the county during the short program.

Past President and local historian Doris Reinke, of Elkhorn, took a few moments to point out some of the 15 volunteers on the grounds for the event following a 15-minute history lesson on the Webster House. The volunteers had their pictures taken as part of the historic record still being written.
The house built in downtown Elkhorn in 1836 for real estate operator Grant Rockwell was among the first few residences in the city and initially served as the first courthouse, land grant and post office.

Court was held in the dining room, Reinke explained to those on one of the tours. Land grants were sold for $1.25 an acre in the beginning and the post office was a series of desk pigeonholes.

The house was moved to its present location at Rockwell and Washington streets prior to its purchase in 1857 by Joseph P. Webster, who brought music prominence to the city.

With his whole life wrapped up in music, Webster became widely known after composing the Civil War camp song Lorena, a romantic name he made up, according to Reinke. He also composed the popular hymn, The Sweet By and By, which is still sung in churches today.

Tours included a stop at the 1850 hand-hewn oak beam carriage barn behind the house along Washington Street. It contains the beautifully restored black carriage of General John W. Boyd, once a state senator and sometimes called Wisconsin's Abraham Lincoln. The carriage barn has artifacts from the Boyd family.
The museum grounds also include the Doris M. Reinke Resource Center with its Paul and Katharine Schmidt Library. The center contains Walworth County family genealogies, rare Civil War records, maps, journals, books and scrapbooks.
The center sometimes seems like the "clubhouse of Elkhorn," Reinke said as people drop in to look for clues about families from the county, check on old tax records when selling a piece of property to find out how much was paid for it many years ago or to tell stories of earlier days they remembered or heard from parents and grandparents. Reinke said there is a need to record and preserve those stories for future generations.

One preservation program undertaken by the historical society involves a registry of barns in Walworth County with a written history and pictures of the structures. The idea is to record the history of barns in the county before too many of them disappear from the scene.

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