Wade House unveils $12 million center

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The Wade House Historic Site will open its new museum and visitor center doors to the public this Saturday after undergoing a $12 million construction and expansion project that added a 38,000-square-foot facility to its 240 acres in Greenbush, Wisconsin.


The Wade House Historic Site, one of 12 historic sites and museums owned and operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society, comprises an 1840s settlement established by the Wade family, who set out to create a village starting with their homestead.

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The site’s brand new two-level structure, conceived about seven years ago and constructed over the past 20 months, houses the Wesley W. Jung Carriage Museum and a visitors center that acquaints guests with the historical significance of the homestead and transports them back to its origins.

The structure sits near Highway 23, a strategic position that enables passersby to quickly take note of the site.

“It gives us great visibility to traffic on the highway and easy access on and off,” said David Simmons, director of the Wade House Historic Site.

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Within the 18,000-square-foot visitors center, patrons will find interactive exhibits related to stagecoaches used for travel back in Greenbush’s heyday and other critical components of the mid-19th century site.

“We really felt the need to provide our visitors with some orientation to that time period and the different elements of what they’re going to see within the historic core of the site,” Simmons said.

Elements of the entire Wade House Historic Site include the restored Stagecoach Inn from 1850, a working blacksmith shop and a working water-powered sawmill.

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The 20,0000-square-foot carriage museum is home to a world-class collection of 70 carriages, all of which were manufactured or have a history of use in Wisconsin. The museum has the space and capacity to display carriages with more authentic backdrops to give visitors a clearer vision of Wisconsin life 150 years ago, just as the state was being settled.

“We wanted an up-to-date facility in which we could provide orientation to the living history experience, which is the core experience at Wade House,” Simmons said.

The project also added a number of green features to the Wade House Historic Site, such as high-efficiency LED lighting, extensive use of local building materials, and a geothermal heating plant.

Thanks to these environmentally-minded components, which support the Wisconsin Historical Society’s commitment to preservation, the structure is slated to receive LEED silver certification.

More modern amenities funded by the $12 million include a museum store, a café, a classroom for adult workshops and student fieldtrips, and an event space for weddings as well as corporate functions.
“We also really felt the imperative to maintain the standards for what visitors are seeking in a leisure experience,” Simmons said.

Additional funds, which boost the entire project to $13.8 million, will support ongoing operations of the structure as well as future site improvements and marketing.

Funding was made possible by a private-public partnership that included $7 million in donations and gifts, an $800,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration that was administered through the Department of Transportation, and supplementary dollars from the State Building Commission.

The Wade House Historical Site draws about 20,000 visitors each year. For more information about the site, visit www.wadehouse.org.

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