Home Community Check it out: Downtown museum brings Appleton history to life

Check it out: Downtown museum brings Appleton history to life


“Check it out,” an occasional Valley Review feature, highlights places to go and things to do in the Fox Valley. Today, we feature the Appleton Historical Society Museum and Research Center.

It looks small from the outside, though the Appleton Historical Society’s Durkee Street museum tells a big story. 

It’s more than you might expect.

It’s also a testament to the community’s thirst for knowledge of its past, said James Richter, secretary of the society’s board. The museum was a long-term goal.

“We never dreamed we’d get one this fast,” he said, “but the community’s love is there.”

The historical society opened the museum in 2017 at the former Gill and Gill Law Office on Durkee and Washington Street. The museum includes a map room, rotating exhibits and historic photos throughout.

Though small, the building is just the right size for what the society hoped to accomplish. They weren’t thinking bigger.

Visitors can make it through in just over an hour — spark memories, reminisce and learn things about the city they didn’t know before — and come back for fresh exhibits in another six months.

The museum did an exhibit on Appleton’s music history. They recently replaced it with a “then and now” exhibit showing side by sides of key sites in the past and at present.

The museum dedicated a room to the recreation of Jimos Hat Cleaners, a College Avenue institution for 60 years. 

The room includes its original neon, shoe shine chairs and till, It’s original to the jar of matchbooks on the counter. 

And the room goes to show that artifacts are more than stuff.

The room tells the Appleton story of Andy Jimos, but a bigger story of America. 

Jimos arrived as a teenage immigrant in 1916. He didn’t speak English, though with hard work and a knack for marketing, he built a living and became a pillar of the community known for his generous work with at-need kids.

“He fulfilled the American dream,” board member Jim Krueger said.

The map room tells Appleton history grid by grid and year by year as a community took root around Lawrence College and expanded.

“A lot of people who’ve lived here for a long time don’t know where we started,” Richter said.

The society is in the midst of a key fundraiser.

The historical society was offered a $100,000 challenge grant in May from Mary Beth Nienhaus and Claudine and Jim Happel. Each dollar they raise from May 1 through Dec. 15, 2020 will be matched up to $100,000.

It’s more than a museum. 

The society has a monthly speaker series on topics of Appleton history. They lead cemetery walks and present history fairs. 

It’s a research center and a place of preservation of artifacts that speak to the city’s past.

There are plenty of surprises.

Current museum exhibits include products once manufactured in Appleton — including a record player. 

And here’s a head scratcher … we were also once home to the nation’s second largest manufacturer of hair pins. 

The museum is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5.00. Children 12 and younger are free with a paid adult. Admission is free for members.

For more information, visit the Appleton Historical Society website at appletonhistory.org.