stoughton historical society


main floor museum entry

This building was the Universalist Church built in 1858.  Luke Stoughton donated the land and the church members hauled the cream brick used from Milwaukee by oxen team.  Universalists were a congregation who believed in equality of all people, women included.  They were careful not to wear fancy clothing or drive fancy carriages to church so as not to upstage fellow parishioners.  Over the years many other denominations have used the building.  It was also used as a school and for public meetings.  The building is now the home of the Stoughton Historical Society which was established in 1960.


          The model was donated to the museum and is a replica of a

          Viking boat.  The Vikings made some of the strongest and

          most seaworthy boats of their day.  They were powerful boats

          1,000 year ago.


  The crew's shields may have been arrayed along the gunwales, held in place by a shield rack outboard of the ship. This kept them out of the way, but also provided some slight additional protection against wind and waves.

b    immigrant ship:

        This is a model of a boat that brought many immigrants to

this area over 150 years ago.  The great majority of the Norwegian immigrants travelled as "steerage" passengers, traveling at the cheapest rate in the space between decks.  It took three months to travel from Norway to the United States and many people died on the way over.  The great mortality among the immigrants was the result of illnesses on board. Illness could most often be attributed to poor hygiene. The majority of those who succumbed were small children and elderly persons who had little resistance. The most common illnesses were cholera, typhoid fever, measles, chicken pox and dysentery.

c    Trunks:

The trunks in the lobby area were used by immigrants making the long journey across the ocean to the new world in place of the suitcases we use today.Trunks date back to pre-medieval times. They were made in many shapes and sizes and from various materials.  They served as a secure vessel for transporting valued family possessions.  These trunks were truly treasure chests since they held not only all the worldly possessions of the travelers but the food by which they lived during the voyage.  After settlement, the trunks functioned as a piece of furniture in the immigrants' new homes, and were often painted or decorated in traditional symbols that reminded the family of their native land. In the 1700s trunks became ornamented with handmade brass tacks, forged iron locks and handles and leather trim. In the late 1700s and early 1800s trunks with round tops became popular. They were often lined with a printed paper or often old newspapers. 

In the 1800s Norwegians decorated their trunks with rosemaling, colorful painted floral designs, owner's names, and dates.



 main floor:

              Altar - 6

                            8   stairs



                        5           4




11                           2




1.      Rosemaling room -

            Norwegian for "decorative painting" rosemaling is the name of a form of decorative folk art that originated in the rural valleys of Norway. Someart historians interpret "rose" as a reference to the rose flower, although the floral elements are often so stylized that no specific flower is identifiable and not used at all in some designs. Rosemåling is a style of decorative painting on wood that uses stylized flower ornamentation, scrollwork, lining and geometric elements, often in flowing patterns.  The revival of rosemaling in the United States is often credited to Per Lysne who was born in Norway and trained in rosemaling. He came to America in the early 20th Century and was employed as a wagon painter in Stoughton. When business slowed during the depression, he began rosemaling again. Most rosemaled pieces in the room were painted by Per Lysne.  His picture is on the fireplace mantel.


2.      The founding of Stoughton

          The first white man to establish himself in this area was probably Abel Rasdall who came to Wisconsin from Kentucky in 1828 and in 1831 moved to Lake Kegonsa and set up his headquarters for trade with the Indians.  In 1833 a government survey was made of the townships of Pleasant Springs, Rutland, and Dunn.  In 1834 land offices were opened in Wisconsin and the scene was set for the first settlers.  The two groups that came were Easterners unsatisfied with hard times, and a great wave of Scandinavian immigration comprised of those seeking the Land of Golden Opportunity.

          Knut Roe was one of those immigrants who in 1842 started searching for a place to make his home.  He found that place on a plot of land 5 miles northeast of Stoughton.  He brought his wife and baby and they built a log cabin.  He was soon followed by many other Norwegian's looking for good land to farm.  These early settlers did not settle on land that is the site of Stoughton.  Two easterners had bought that land from the government.

          Luke Stoughton came to Wisconsin from Vermont with his wife Eliza Page looking for fertile farmland.  After living in the Janesville area where he ran a mercantile business and bought and sold real estate, his attention was attracted to a bend in the Catfish River.  He saw the possibilities of water power to run a sawmill and gristmill.  On July 3, 1847,  he bought nearly 800 acres for about $2.60 per acre ($2,100) and set about creating a village named "Stoughton."   He first created a dam and built a sawmill so there would be lumber to build houses and stores.  He next built a general merchandise store and moved his family here from Janesville.  He soon saw others come and build stores and a gristmill.  Then a doctor came, and a schoolhouse was built and he offered the railroad a plot of land to direct their course through Stoughton.

2.      Luke Stoughton's family

          Luke Stoughton was born in Vermont in 1799.  As a youth he learned a mechanic's trade and traveled around the east working at his vocation.  In 1836 he married Eliza Page, a Vermont girl, and settled down in Vermont.  Tales of fertile farmlands in Wisconsin to be had for almost nothing came to Luke and he moved his family to Wisconsin in 1838 and bought a farm north of Janesville.  Luke was attracted to a plot of land in the bend of the Catfish River and was struck with its' possibilities.  In 1847 he purchased all the land around the Yahara River and started the town he named Stoughton.

          The portraits on the walls were all painted on pillow ticking by Luke Stoughton's sister Nancy.  The Stoughton's had four daughters. 

The oldest Luella is holding a book.  She was a very intelligent and studious girl.  She attended high school at Milton College and went to Oberlin College in Ohio.  Luella never married and lived with her parents until Luke's death in 1874.  She looked after her father's interest, he was considered to be worth $100,000 (very wealthy for the time) when he died.  

The second daughter Hulda Delette was very social and is painted with her visiting bonnet in hand.  She left Stoughton after she married and moved to Minneapolis with her family.

The third daughter Sarah Ellen had interests centered on domestic pursuits and music. She married a boy from Stoughton named O.M. Turner.  They lived in Stoughton and had four children. 

Eldora, the fourth daughter, died at a young age.

3.      Dresses and ladies case

          The dresses on display were worn by Luke Stoughton's daughter Sarah.  They are over 100 years old. The ladies case contains many items fashionable women would have owned.

4.      men's case

          In the Men's case are keepsakes from the successful men of the community.  They often belonged to clubs and lodges and participated in political organizations.  This case has some smoking items, an ivory toothpick, and a personal traveling drinking glass to use instead of public saloon glasses to ward off disease.

5.      norwegian case

          The things in the case were brought here by the early Norwegian immigrants.  There are numerous wooden spoons.  Every family member had their own spoon and each person licked off their spoon after each meal and the spoons were placed on a shelf until the next meal.  Wood has a natural antibiotic so this was an adequate sanitary cleaning method. There is a wedding spoon and a wooden chain carved out of one piece of wood which would have been worn around the wedding couple's necks during their first meal.

          Norwegian immigration

          The early Norse Immigration consisted almost entirely of farmers searching for land with rich soil on which they could make things grow.  Later, it became men looking for work.  T.G. Mandt began to manufacture wagons and sleighs in Stoughton in 1865 and the factory offered jobs to all.  Those who arrived first saved their money to pay for the passage for others to come and start a new life. Throughout the 1870s, 80s, and 90s immigrants continued to come until by the turn of the century, Stoughton was almost entirely a Norwegian community.  Norwegian services were held in most churches, children did not learn English until they started school, the clerks in stores spoke Norwegian, and the celebration on May 17 (Norwegian Independence Day) rivaled that of July 4th.

6.      altar

          Look at the picture of the church.  This building was originally a church.  Luke Stoughton and his family went to church here.  The altar has the original pulpit, organ, and chairs.  The small collection cups on handles indicate that a penny was worth a lot more in those days.  A white painted bench in front of the railing is from the original church. 

8.      Bunad Display: The Norwegian Costume

          Bunad is a term encompassing a range of both traditional rural clothes (mostly dating to the 19th and 18th centuries) as well modern 20th-centuryfolk costumes. In its narrow sense the wordbunadrefers only to clothes designed in the early 20th century that are loosely based on traditional costumes. The wordbunadin itself is a 20th-century invention.

          The designs are typically elaborate, with embroidery, scarves, shawls and hand-made silver orgold jewelry known assølje. There are bunads both for men and women.

In Norway, it is common to wear bunad at various celebrations such as: folk dances, weddings, and especially theMay 17 National Daycelebrations. The various bunads have been designed through different means. Some of them are based on old local customs; other models are constructions made in the 20th century, relying (often very loosely) on local and historical material. Bunads with such long traditions are to be found in theBergenarea on the west coast, inSetesdalin the south, in some districts of Telemark, Numedal,  Hallingdal,  and Gudbrandsdal, and atRørosin eastern Norway.The names of these traditional bunads are based on their geographic origin, and traditionally, people choose their bunad based on their own or their ancestors’ origin.

9.      Norwegian/music Room

          The hutch in this room was rosemaled by Ethel Kvalheim, a local artist.  The rosemaling on display was all done by local people. 

          Before the invention of radio, T.V. and computers, people would entertain themselves and their guests by making their own music.  Notice the piano.  This was the first piano brought to Stoughton.   The music on the piano was written by Frank Lloyd Wright's father.  The guitar belonged to Ellen Stoughton Turner and is inlayed with mother-of-pearl.  The Salmodikin is a Norwegian instrument played with a bow.  It is lain in the lap and the bow drawn over it.  The Zither consists of a shallow soundbox with metal strings stretched across it that are plucked.  The gramophone is not an instrument, but an old fashioned record player with a turntable to place recordings on.

10.    Military uniforms

          The military cases contain mementos of Stoughton men who fought in the Civil War, the Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  On display are uniforms from all wars that have taken place which involved the United States.  The Civil War uniform is our only reproduction as uniforms from that war are hard to find.  Take a minute to look in the showcases at the weapons and other artifacts.

11.    Native American Showcase

          Before the arrival of the white man, native Americans lived along the shore of the Yahara (Catfish) River and Lake Kegonsa.  The first group here were the mound-builders.  Then the Woodland tribes arrived, the Pottawatomi, Winnebago, Sacs and Foxes to the southwest and Menominee and Chippewa to the north.  Much of the land here was open prairie and groves of oak and hickory trees.  The Native American case contains artifacts found or brought to the area by community members.  There is a men's pouch with beautiful beading found in the attic by O.N. Falk's wife after his death.  There are also drawings of Indian mounds found around Lake Kegonsa and a paddle found submerged in the river.  


Museum lower level:





B                      C             D

                I                J             

A                                    E



stairs                  F


a.    sewing room

The sewing room exemplifies the type of room most people would have had in their home.  There are two yarn winders and a spinning wheel.  Women would spend quite a lot of time weaving fabric in order to make the clothes for their family.   Notice the sewing machine has to be powered by using your feet.  There is also a sponge painted blanket chest to keep linens off the floor and away from mice.  The top flips up for blankets and there also is a drawer. 

The stereopticons can be held and looked at as the 3D TVs of their time.  They held many hours of entertainment for all ages to those who could afford them.

b.    bedroom

The bedroom contains some cottage style Victorian furniture.  This furniture was machine made and less expensive machine manufacturing made this decorative furniture affordable for many ordinary people.  The quilts on the wall all have a different story.  Some have designs that tell a story and some have many stories which come from the fabric.  Old clothing was cut apart and the fabric was saved for making quilts.  All these quilts were made by hand.  It was the custom years ago that a young girl would have to have 12 quilts made before she would be married.  It was not unusual for all 12 quilts to be put on a bed at once to keep warm during the cold Wisconsin winters.  There is a complete chamber set including bowl and pitcher, slop bucket, toothbrush holder, soap holder, and cup.  These might have been emptied by simply throwing the waste through the nearest open window contributing to the cases of mysterious cholera in the summertime.  In the city it was unsafe to walk under two story windows for obvious reasons.

c.    round top rosemaled trunk

Look for the date on the front.  This is the year the trunk was made.  This traveler most likely was coming to the United States from Norway.  They had the trunk rosemaled.  Can you think why someone would want a round top to their trunk?

1.       It held more;

2.       It was hard to put another trunk on top of it so the owner could get into the trunk during the months long voyage across the ocean;

3.       The rain rolled off the top of it.

D.    parlor

        The parlor was the room where the most valuable household items were kept.  When company came to visit, the parlor was the place where they would be entertained.  Conversations might center around the valuable objects shown to the guests.  The center table holds amusements and reading materials for the family.  Note the lap desk for writing letters and the smoking stand with all its fine items.

E.    kitchen

        Lots of hard work went on here.  The dry sink would pump up rainwater that was stored in the basement in a room called a cistern.  Only a few things could fit in the icebox.  Ice was taken from the lakes and the Yahara River in the wintertime and stored in hay in an icehouse during the warmer months.  Blocks of ice which would fit in the icebox would be delivered to the house.  The stove was heated with wood and it took a long time to learn how to cook without burning the food.  Some interesting items in the kitchen are the cherry pitter, apple peeler, lefse rolling pin, pie basket, coffee and spice grinders, and butter churns.   There is an interesting vacuum cleaner with a large tubular handle.  When not using it as a vacuum cleaner, the suction could be reversed and the business end put in the stove so the tubular end could be used as a hair dryer.  It guess it's one invention that really didn't catch on.

f.    dolls and toys

        The toy cabinet contains many beautiful dolls that have were played with by the children of Stoughton.  They are made of china, wood, cloth, and wax.  Most children only had one or two store bought toys and the rest were handmade.  The dollhouse is from the Universalist Church and was played with by children in the church.  The furniture in the dollhouse is reproduction paper lithographed furniture.

G.    washing machine

        This was considered a pretty modern washing machine 100 years ago.  Everything is done by hand.  Women would spend an entire day boiling water, washing, drying, and ironing their family's clothes.  The case contains many Asbestos Sad Irons manufactured in Stoughton.  Although many of these irons were small, they were very heavy.  When sad irons were heated near an open fire or on the stove, their handles became red hot.  Women tried wrapping aprons or towels around the handles, but still burned their fingers.  Eventually, the sad iron was made with a removable wooden handle.

h.    history mystery

        This is a game you might want to play to find things in the museum.  Also, check out the articles and pictures of the 2005 Stoughton tornado.

i.     Changing display

j.     syttende mai plates

The plates on the wall were painted by Clarice Christensen beginning in 1978.



Carriage House                                           


   Door       K                  L                    M




k.    schoolroom

        Year ago there were schools in the country for the farm kids and schools in town the city kids could walk to.  There were no school buses.  This one-room schoolroom has a map of all the one-room schoolhouses located in the country around Stoughton.  The display includes student desks from many different schools and decades.  There is a German student's desk on which the students would sit facing the back of the chair and rest their elbows and book for more relaxed reading.

l.    printing room

        The printing press in this room had to be run all by hand.  All the type was set and the ink applied with a roller.  This press was used to print newspapers and flyers.  It still works.

m.   doctor's office

        The doctor's office has a collection of the different kinds of equipment doctors would have used over the years.  Years ago doctor's would come to your house when you were too sick to go the doctor's office which was often part of his home.

n.    general store

        The general store of the past was like today's Wal-Mart.  Many items sold would be just the materials and the buyer would have to make the item themselves.  For example, cloth was purchased to make clothes, and flour to make bread

o.    fire engine

        This fire engine was manufactured by the Stoughton Wagon Company, now called Stoughton Trailer. 





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