History of Madeline Island Museum

Leo Capser at piano.

Leo Capser playing piano on the Old Mission Dock at Madeline Island, Image ID WHI 47549.

Picturesque and historic Madeline Island first cast its spell on Leo Capser in 1903. In the mid-1950s, the love he felt for the island manifested itself in the Madeline Island Museum.

Leo and Bella Capser Embark on Preserving the Island's History

Enchanted by Madeline Island's rich mix of history and natural beauty, Leo and Bella Capser made preservation of the island's story their personal mission. With help from Apostle Islands historian Hamilton Nelson Ross and amateur archeologist Al Galazen, the Capsers assembled a large collection of relics documenting every chapter of the island's long and storied history.

The museum was created by adjoining four historic log structures end to end — a small 1835 warehouse from the historic American Fur Company complex, the former La Pointe town jail, a Scandinavian-style barn, and the Old Sailors' Home, originally built as a memorial to a drowned sailor. Construction of the museum was overseen by Al Galazen, Ham Ross provided the storyline, and Bella designed the exhibits. On June 15, 1958, the Madeline Island Historical Museum opened its doors to the public.

The Museum Becomes a Wisconsin Historic Site

In the late 1960s the Capsers donated the museum to the Wisconsin Historical Society. In 1991 the endowment established by the Capsers provided the means to add the new Capser Center. This modern facility houses changing exhibits on island and regional history, an auditorium, a museum store, space for collections storage and exhibit fabrication, and staff offices.

Fifty years after opening, the original Madeline Island Museum looks very much like it did back in 1958, chock-full of fascinating objects and artifacts from one of the richest historical collections in Wisconsin.