About Us

History of Madeline Island Museum

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

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

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.

  • Become a Friend of Madeline Island Museum!

    As a Friend, you are entitled to a 10 percent discount on all purchases from our museum store and special invitations to summer events.

    To Join

    Join the Friends of Madeline Island Museum by making a contribution to the Friends of Madeline Island Museum Fund for Research, Interpretation and Education. Contributions in excess of $75 are fully tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

    Your tax-deductible contribution to the Friends of Madeline Island Museum allows us to conduct research on our collections and the history of Madeline Island, the Apostle Islands and Lake Superior. Using our research findings, we are able to plan and present a wide variety of public programming celebrating the island’s rich history.

    • Make a Contribution

    Download a printable contribution form (PDF, 151 KB) and send in your contribution today! For more information or questions about contributing to Friends of Madeline Island Museum, contact site director Keldi Merton at 715-747-2415.

    • Donate an Item or Artifact

    To donate an artifact to the Madeline Island Museum, contact us at 715-747-2415. The Madeline Island Museum is always looking for objects, photographs, works of art, and documents illustrating the fur trade (1690-1850), Ojibwe heritage, the Lake Superior regional trades (logging, boat building, coopering, lighthouses, carpentry), 19th century regional immigrant history and history of island tourism (1890-1950).

    Contribution Levels:

    • $100 to $299 – Milieux (the middle paddler, keeps the canoe moving)
    • $300 to $499 – Gouvernail (steers the canoe, keeps it on course)
    • $500 to $749 – Avant de Canot (the big paddle, up front)
    • $750 to $999 – Voyageur (the seasonal trader, the canoe manager)
    • $1,000 to $1,999 – Hivernant (the year ‘round trader, minds the post)
    • $2,000 or more – Bourgeois (the proprietor, makes everything happen)