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The New Richmond Heritage Center has an enormous display of local historical artifacts displayed in several buildings.

Stay and Play: If these sites could talk; historical areas shed light on past

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New Richmond, 54017
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

For those people who think history is just some dry reading in textbooks, think again.

This area of St. Croix County was platted approximately 150 years ago, and with many communities recently celebrating their sesquicentennials, the opportunities to delve into the local history are abundant.

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New Richmond

One of the most significant things that has happened in New Richmond's history is the 1899 cyclone that destroyed approximately 300 buildings, caused $600,000 in property damage and killed 117 people - injuring 150 more.

The devastation is documented in photos and exhibits at the Heritage Center, 1100 Heritage Drive. It has been ranked as the country's eighth deadliest tornado, according to the Storm Prediction Center's "25 Deadliest U.S. Tornadoes."

The Heritage Center also has eight historical buildings available for touring, such as a 1902 one-room schoolhouse and 1884 Victorian house. Each building is outfitted with period furnishings that help visitors get the full experience.

The museum is open all year Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., with additional hours May-October on Saturday 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and Sunday noon-4 p.m. They also host special events throughout the year such as the free Hillside Concert Series during the summer and the Heritage Festival in late September.

For more information, check out their website or call 715-246-3276.

Another option for learning more about New Richmond's history is to take the self-guided walking tour of prominent buildings in the downtown section. Free guidebooks are available at the Heritage Center, Chamber of Commerce and the City Hall. The walking loop takes about 30 minutes and allows the visitor to see the outside of occupied homes that have historical significance to the community. Guests are asked to respect the privacy of the homeowners and stay on the sidewalk.

Somerset

For years it has been known for its tubing and concerts during the summer months. However, the community of Somerset goes back much further than that.

General Sam Harriman and his brother Bud arrived at the Apple River in 1856 and decided to build a dam near where the bridge is located today. They built a mill and general store, and named the burgeoning community Somerset, after their father's birthplace in Somerset County, England.

Traces of his legacy can be found in displays at the current General Sam's, a bar and grill at 128 Main St.

Somerset Township was incorporated in 1856, and the seat of government was located at 331 Main St. Harriman's nephew Edward Mason built the Historic Town Hall that still stands today. The one-room building was the gathering place for both the village and town boards for many years. Now it is used to house historical exhibits during special occasions like the annual Pea Soup Days in the summer and the Haunted Hall event during Halloween.

Outside the Old Town Hall, prominent Somerset family names are immortalized in the pavers throughout the garden. Archival information about the families are located in the Somerset Library.

One such example of a long-time Somerset family is at Martell's Landing Educational Center, 384 208th Ave. It is the site of the 1855 log cabin homesteaded by Ambrose Martell, an immigrant from Canada.

The original two-story log cabin still stands as part of the learning center, with just a few updates. A visible link to the 150-year history is displayed via an enclosed window that shows a cross-section of the cabin wall. The original timbers and several layers of peeling wallpaper document the changes that the cabin has undergone.

As an education center, Martell's Landing holds various historical and nature events throughout the year, such as building bluebird houses, hosting holistic retreats and school field trips.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit their website or call 715-247-6070.

Hammond

The original seat of Hammond's government was in the current Hammond Community Library at 850 Davis St. The building, which was built in 1923, had been an important part of the Hammond community over the years.

According to Michelle Johnson, librarian, the building itself has hosted a movie house, dance hall, basketball games and lunchroom, in addition to serving as the village offices for several years.

Currently, this is no space for a historical display, but Johnson said that they have an inventory of Hammond News newspapers dating back to the early 1900s. Interested parties can ask to view the papers at the front desk.

Nearby is the Hammond Hotel, 820 Davis St. The building started out as a hotel 130 years ago, but was converted to a restaurant and pub in the 1960s.

Although they have a few old-time photographs on the walls of the building's history, the current staff is comfortable talking about the building's past occupants that are still, apparently, present.

According to owner Don Fowell, a ghost known as John and a "lady of the evening" from the hotel's early days still haunt the premises. Several staff members have corroborated the tales with their own spooky experiences.

Roberts

Roberts was named after J.B.G. Roberts, the chief engineer of the West Wisconsin Railroad. The railroad was an important part of Roberts until trucking took over as the primary mode of transportation after World War II. The depot was torn down in the 1960s, although the railroad continues to run through the center of town.

At 107 W. Main St., the circa 1930s building has served many purposes - most recently as the Hazel Mackin Community Library. It originally served as a pub and blacksmith shop before being sold to the Village of Roberts for office space, where one shelf of books constituted the Village Library.

The Hazel Mackin Library had a section devoted to local history in its West Main Street location. The new location on West Warren Street will open sometime in September.

NEXT WEEK: Labor Day ideas for the family.

If anyone has any suggestions for future Stay and Play articles, please contact Julia Ybarra-Young at jyoung@rivertowns.net or call 715-243-6881, ext. 245.

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