Now Online: Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society (new and improved!)

Frame with photographs of Ellen Sweet Donald Jones and her brother George Clark Sweet, Madison or Town of Springdale, Dane County. Photographs date to 1871 and 1867, respectively; frame may be early twentieth century.

The Mount Horeb Area Historical Society was one of the first sites I worked with when I began this project over two and a half years ago. Over the course of many months, I made several visits to the Society’s museum and archives in downtown Mt. Horeb. With a great deal of help from their dedicated staff and volunteers–board president Brian Bigler, museum director Laurie Boyden, textiles curator Marietta Gribb, and volunteer Donna Reid–I documented dozens of fascinating artifacts. At the time, I was still figuring out the ropes of object photography, and they were very patient and helpful as I made minute adjustments in lighting and moved large pieces of furniture in order to get the best possible views.

This winter, I’ve taken the time to research these objects and the families they came from in greater detail, and I’ve written improved and expanded histories for each of the 73 catalog entries now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. One of the highlights of the Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society’s collection is a large group of artifacts from the estate of Delma Donald Woodburn, who carefully documented and preserved the material heritage of several generations of her family in the rural Mount Horeb area. Her ancestors, Reverend James Donald and Margaret Strong Donald and William Sweet and Sally Clark Sweet, were “Yankees” from New York State who were some of the earliest settlers in the region. The artifacts Woodburn preserved and passed on to the Society tell a rich story stretching from the early days of Wisconsin farm life to Madison’s Progressive-era politics.

Other intriguing groups of objects from the Mt. Horeb collections include:
–Several examples of furniture made by Aslak Olsen Lie, a well-documented Norwegian immigrant craftsman
China painting by artist Hazel Miller Hanneman and her students
–Ornate calligraphy by E.E.N. Lee
Coverlets and blankets woven by Mollie Nace Nees from wool raised and processed by the Sweet family

Finally, an unusual artifact from the Society’s collection is highlighted this week in the Wisconsin Historical Society’s “Odd Wisconsin” feature: a leather and steel cane made by Charles Agrelius, a notorious Wisconsin horse thief who was arrested five times between 1877 and 1904–the last when he was over 70 years old.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.


2 responses to “Now Online: Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society (new and improved!)

  1. James Donald Woodburn Sr

    Brian Bigler forwarded this to me today. I have been not only “chasing” my acestors but also following in John Sweet Donalds footsteps. Brian is helping me research my Great Grandfather Rev. James Donald and the way he impacted his church families and community of Springdale. The immigrants from Scotland have been the “salt of the earth” not only here but Canada. Is there any thing I can do to help in your research projects?
    James Donald Woodburn Sr

  2. Thanks James for your comment! The Sweet-Donald collection now at the Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society is really quite amazing. It’s interesting to see how the family furnished their homes with items made by local craftspeople (cabinetmakers, weavers, etc.) as well as things they made themselves. I’m glad you’re researching your ancestors. I am always on the lookout for more objects made by Wisconsin craftspeople so if you know of any other artifacts that were passed down in the family I would enjoy hearing about them (and I’m sure MHAHS would too).


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