September 2009 Newsletter

 September,2009                                                                                       Volume 7, No. 1


Wednesday, October 18

7:00 p.m.

Irvin Young Library (Note the change of venue)

Program: Ruth Engebretsen Dorr: Whitewater Historian

Speaker:  UWW Intern Jennifer Kalvaitis


Our intern from the summer and fall has prepared a presentation on Ruth Engebretsen Dorr, who during the 1950s and 1960s especially, was active as a local historian.  The depot curator has, in the past, come across a number of items that can be attributed to Ruth Dorr, but while she was inventorying the museum during the summer months, our intern, Jenny, found numerous manuscripts, photographs, and other materials that Ruth deposited in the historical society.  Since Jenny is interested in Women’s History, she undertook a study to discover more about Ruth’s background, family history, and how she contributed to advancing Whitewater History. 


Ruth was the daughter of Edward Engebretsen, local merchant and politician.  She was married to John Dorr, otherwise known as “Punky.”  He was a descendent of the owners of the long-time Dorr blacksmith shop and a businessman in his own right.  They lived for decades in the house that Ruth was brought up in, the Engebretsen-Dorr House, now the home of Rev. and Nancy Wendt, who operate a bed and breakfast. 


Some of our members may remember Ruth and it would be wonderful if they could come to the meeting and share their memories of her.  We are meeting in the library’s public meeting room so that Jenny will have access to a power point projector for her presentation.  It promises to be an informative evening.


By the way, Jenny has done a wonderful job of inventorying and packing up most of the depot’s collections.  Only the large items and some textiles are left to prepare for moving.  She has been a great student intern and without her work, we would be far from even starting this effort.


Depot Museum News

Of course, the attention of the society’s board of directors has been on the up-coming depot renovation.  Design work should begin shortly and the board has already been discussing the specifics of the renovation


One of the most important aspects of the renovated museum will be how the society’s collections will be better used in educating the public about Whitewater History.  It is also important to reach out to Whitewater’s school children to give them a good foundation in their community’s past.  To address both of these concerns, the board is working on a two-pronged approach.


First, the board is beginning special meetings to discuss how we will reinstall and use our collections in the best way.  The first of these meetings is December 4.  We are breaking down Whitewater’s history into sections, such as the pioneer era, the civil war era,  the commercial-agricultural era, etc.  We will discuss what is important about each era and what artifacts we have that will illustrate these eras.  We will also be discussing topics for additional rotating displays that will enhance certain elements of these general eras.  We are working on an approach that Prof. Nikki Mandell discussed at our last general meeting; that is:  How to Think Like a Historian?


The second approach to renovating the museum will be to address school children’s needs.  Ellen Penwell, Carol Cartwright, Nikki Mandell, and 4th-grade teacher Diane Dalzin are meeting to assist Ellen in the preparation of a grant request for a local history school curriculum guide for Whitewater’s elementary school students that will make use of the resources at the depot museum.  If we receive the grant, we will be working more closely with teachers and school children to help them understand their local history.


Stone Stable Sign

The interpretive sign for the stone stable has been designed and it will be located at the northwest corner from the building.  With the assistance of the city, the sign will sit in a landscaped area and be handicapped accessible.  Other landscaping will take place in the spring.   The sign will guide people in an understanding of the building, as it will not be open as frequently as the depot. 


If you have not done so . . . 



Our brick campaign is ongoing and orders for bricks have been coming in, but we still have many spaces to fill and if you have not purchased a brick, you are still able to do so.  If you have—tell your friends.  Remember, you don’t have to put your name on a brick—although you certainly can, as we appreciate all our donors.  But, if you would like, you can buy a brick for a historic figure or organization or even a business. 


You may pick up your BUY A BRICK! brochures at city hall, the library, the banks and from any board members.  A $100 donation will purchase a 4” x 8” brick.  A $250 donation will purchase an 8” x 8” brick.  Bricks will be laid at the close of the restoration project in 2010.  They will appear in the walkway leading from the fountain to the depot on Whitewater Street, the most prominent place on the grounds.  


While we are closed . . .


The depot museum is, of course, closed for moving and will remain closed until the renovation of the depot is completed.  However, the society is not going to disappear! 

  • This winter, photographic displays will be made to display in downtown businesses.  These displays will be about historic businesses, historic buildings, or both. 
  • The society hopes to have the depot building open during Freeze Fest (if restoration work allows) to give people an opportunity to see the building without our exhibits.  You will be able to see the beauty of the interior and get a glimpse of what it was like when the depot served railroad passengers. 
  • Carol Cartwright, museum curator, is sponsoring an artist to make a lamppost “cube” for the annual downtown summer art display.  The cube will feature photographs of the depot and other historic buildings—don’t miss it.
  • Look for the society’s quilt raffle.  The local quilter’s association has made us a beautiful quilt that we will be raffling off this winter.  Look for the quilt in different places and buy your tickets! 


Volunteer Opportunity

The museum has a large textile collection and Ellen Penwell has graciously offered to temporarily house it at Old World Wisconsin during the depot renovation.  However, before the collection is transferred from trunks into archival boxes, the items have to be gently vacuumed.  If you can spare some time to help with this task out at Ellen’s office at Old World, please let us know.  Call Ellen at 262-594-6358 or 262-203-6529. 


Also, anyone interested in volunteering to discuss the renovation of the museum exhibits, please call Ellen for details.  Here are the topics that we will be discussing:

Native Peoples and Landscape (Pre-1836)

The Pioneer Era (1836-1850)

The Maturing Village (1850-1870)

The Civil War Era (1860s)

The Industrial Era (1870-1900)

The Commercial-Agricultural Era (1900-1940)

The World War II era (1940s)

The University Era (1950-1975)

Contemporary Whitewater (1975—Present)


Let us know if you are interested in helping with this effort, it is crucial to our future success.



W7646 Hackett Rd.

Whitewater, WI  53190


RUTH ENGEBRETSEN DORR REMEMBERED:  This summer, intern Jenny Kalvaitis had to complete a project for her professor. Jenny is interested in women’s history, and in the museum’s paper artifacts and manuscripts, she found that there was a lot of information compiled by Ruth Engebretsen Dorr.  Dorr was a fine amateur historian, writing many reports about Whitewater’s history, including the city history in the 1962 publication for the 125th anniversary of the founding of Whitewater.  She was also a historic preservationist long before that term existed.

Jenny helped get the plaque for the Territorial Oak, a historic marker used by the early government surveyors.  She researched and compiled histories of Whitewater’s most significant houses.  And, she documented the houses torn down by the University for the library and other classroom buildings along Main and Prairie Streets.  Most of these houses have no other images on file.  Look for Jenny’s exhibit on this important Whitewater woman at the library this year.