Local relics document every chapter of Madeline Island’s long and storied history
Picturesque and historic Madeline Island first cast its spell on Leo Capser in 1903. In 1958, the love he felt for the island manifested itself into the Madeline Island Museum.
The Madeline Island Museum comprises the original museum and a modern expansion. The original museum is four historic log structures that have been relocated and connected together. It includes the only remaining building of the American Fur Company complex built at La Pointe in 1835, making it the oldest structure on Madeline Island. That building is adjoined to an old barn, the former La Pointe town jail, and the Old Sailor’s Home, which had been built as a memorial to a drowned sailor. In 1991 the museum expanded by adding the Capser Center and, in 1995, the connecting Walkway Gallery.
On the front lawn a pair of fog horns and a bell from nearby Long Island greet your arrival. Anchors from the schooner-barge Pretoria and a propeller from the tug Ashland pay tribute to the area’s maritime history. These large and impressive artifacts have been a favorite for island visitors — and a great setting for memorable family photographs.
Come explore the storied past of Madeline Island and one of the richest collections of Wisconsin history.
- American Fur Company Building
- Old Jail
- Pioneer Barn
- Old Sailors' Home
- Walkway Gallery
- Capser Center
- Stockade and Grounds
- Learn How the Cultures of Madeline Island Co-Existed: American Indians, Explorers and Fur Traders
For centuries the Ojibwe people have lived near Lake Superior and Madeline Island is still the heart of their heritage and spirituality. The American Fur Company room tells their story through extraordinary beaded objects, clothing and tools used in daily life.
Also, explorer and fur trade artifacts illustrate the growth of these important enterprises on the island. They reflect the mixing of the French, British, American and Indian cultures and reveal how profoundly they influenced each other to create one unique island culture. These influences are still felt today.
The American Fur Company room is the only remaining building of the American Fur Company complex built at La Pointe in 1835, making it the oldest structure on Madeline Island.
- Intriguing hand tools and equipment of the 19th-century trades
Plain, unadorned hand tools were essential to daily living for the craftspeople and workers on the island. If a tool did not exist, these enterprising people got by with the resources available on the island.
Behind the iron-barred windows of the Old Jail room, you’ll see up close the vast collection of tools and equipment used in logging and lumbering, boat building, commercial fishing, carpentry and barrel-making.
See rare artifacts from the United States Lighthouse Establishment, including an 1862 French-made Fresnel lens that once beamed a guiding light from the Raspberry Island lighthouse tower.
- The Pioneer Barn room tells the story of island residents
The Pioneer Barn, built in the 1890s, was routinely used by a family of Swedish immigrants. The Dahlins stabled their horses in this log structure when the family came to town from their homestead further out on the island.
Intriguing objects and photographs inside the barn depict the daily life of the 19th and early 20th century settlers. Catholic and Protestant missionary history is represented with a unique collection of artifacts and religious books translated into Ojibwe.
You’ll also see objects describing the lifestyles of the well-to-do who spent long, lazy summers at cottages on the island. Turn-of-the-century ferry boats carried excited passengers to see the Apostle Islands, a rare and wondrous experience at the time. These early tourists gave birth to modern tourism in northern Wisconsin.
The Old Sailors’ Home room features objects of daily domestic life
Built as a shelter and haven for stranded sailors, the Old Sailors’ Home was built by homesteader Olaf Anderson in memory of his brother who perished at sea.
The log structure is richly filled with hand-made furniture, kitchen tools and equipment, and textiles and items representing late 19th and early 20th century immigrant life on Madeline Island.
- The Walkway Gallery connects the old and the new
This glass-walled corridor and rest area connecting the original museum and the Capser Center was added in 2005. It provides visitors with a panoramic view of the museum grounds and a view of the La Pointe harbor and town dock.
- Attend a lecture, view a film or shop the museum store
The Capser Center, a modern exhibit hall added to the museum complex in 1991, offers visitors the opportunity to view regularly-scheduled films about island history, attend lectures or participate in workshops.
The welcome area and auditorium house galleries where changing exhibits feature objects from the museum’s collection.
The museum store offers an extensive selection of books, Ojibwe-made crafts, and other items relating to the island’s rich history.
- The Stockade and Grounds open-air collections
See and touch the museum’s larger artifacts including equipment from the Basswood Island brownstone quarry, a boat winch, net-drying rack and a maple-sugaring kettle. The stockade area is reminiscent of fortified structures built by the French in the 17th and 18th centuries.