Kewaunee County Historical Society
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About Kewaunee County Historical Society
What's to see and learn about at the KCHS History Center?

We have many historical pictures and items about Kewaunee County on display.
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Mission Statement:  

The mission of the Kewaunee County Historical Society is to collect and preserve the history of Kewaunee County.
The Sheriff's Residence and Jail (now the Kewaunee County Jail Museum, since 1970) was the Justice Center for Kewaunee County from 1877 until 1969.  The Sheriff and his family lived in the residence and the Sheriff managed the Jail/Justice Center.  The sheriff's wife was required to cook and prepare the meals for the prisoners.

Kewaunee County Historical Society
  Centennial Year 1921 – 2021
  Museum Golden Jubilee Year
  1970 - 2020
  Sheriff’s Residence and 
Jail Museum 
  A Self-Guided Tour
Jail Museum Building History:  
This building was constructed in 1876 at a cost of $5595.00. The Sheriff’s residence was completed in 1877. The contract for building the jail was given on low bid to John Janda of Kewaunee, for a bid of $5,595.00. He sublet the mason work to Russe of Manitowoc and Iron work to Hornbach and Wagner of Milwaukee. It was used until 1969, when the new Justice Center was opened. The “Old Jail” consisted of the County Jail, Sheriff’s Office and living quarters for the sheriff and his family. At that time there was no running water or electric lights. Heating was provided from several small coal or wood stoves. Each room had its own Chimney. The county board originally voted 12 to 7 to tear down the old jail building in 1969. This building was saved by a non-binding referendum vote to be used as a County Museum, which opened in 1970. The vote was 2,773 yes vs. 955 no. The dungeon type 5 x 6 cells designed in 1876 are the key feature of this structure, which is now on the National Historic Register of Historic Buildings. There are original artifacts found in the living room and bedroom. The Museum opened in 1970 for its very first season and continues to the present as the county’s harbinger of its history.

Thirty-nine sheriffs lived and served in the office of sheriff during the jail’s history from 1877 to 1969. Framed photos of many of these law enforcement people are on display in the Sherriff’s Office, which now serves as the welcoming center.

Additional information about the Museum was researched in the Kewaunee Enterprise Newspapers and is chronicled as follows:
    1.July 28, 1874 – Petition for new jail and sheriff’s residence
    2.December 29, 1874 – Report given on old jail “unfit for humans or dogs.”
    3.November 13, 1875 – County Board authorizes bids for brick jail and sheriff’s residence - $50 being offered for sketch of new jail.
    4.March 4, 1876 – Sketches submitted by the following for new jail– Stripplemen & Ender of Chicago, Randall & Millard of Chicago, C.W. Kellogg & D.M. Barteau both of Green Bay, F. Weinbagen & H. Messmer of Milwaukee, Langguthe & Colinski of Milwaukee, William Walers of Oshkosh – six other firms responded-Sketch of  William Waters accepted.
     5.May 27, 1876 – John Janda of Kewaunee submits low bid at $5,595. Mason work goes to Mr. Russo of Manitowoc Iron work to Hornbach & Wagner of Milwaukee for $2,300.
    6.September 13, 1876 – County Board authorizes cistern to be built for jail – Water for jail to come from courthouse.

Prison Escapes: Besides the prisoner who used the leg of the bath tub to disable the jailor, there were other attempts to escape from this jail center. A brass key, made from a water faucet, was found in one of the portholes, very likely to be used as an escape tool.
A twenty year old Nebraska man, serving 90 days for theft charges, used a toothbrush to open the main door of the bull pen. The man’s liberty was short. He was picked up in Green Bay for stealing Green Bay Packer Player, Max McGee’s car.​

Original Jail:  The first Kewaunee County Jail in 1862 was set on fire by Joseph Bushey, and inmate who perished in the flames and is still buried on these grounds. He was arrested for stealing clothes off of people’s clotheslines in Kewaunee. 

County Board Report: August 1876 – “Work is progressing satisfactorily. When complete it will cost the County $5,595.00, $4,000.00 for the jail part, the single item of iron construction costing $2,300.00 The plan adopted was selected by the County Board from among many, as the best adopted to their judgment, to meet the requirements for a generation to come. When completed the building will be neat, durable, safe, well ventilated and arranged, ample for the purpose for which it is being constructed for very many years to come, and cheap at the contract price. Such a building, besides is much needed in this County.”

This photo of Thomas Schuller, appeared in the St. Vincent Calendar of 2018. He was a cancer survivor. The photo was donated to the Historical Society by the Schuller Family.

Thomas Schuller, a native of Kewaunee, always known as Tom to friends and colleagues, was our friend and mentor during his tenure on the Kewaunee County Historical Society Board of Directors. Tom’s connections to the Society began in August of 1989, when he became a member of the board. For thirty-five years, he was an active force in keeping the organization moving forward. Tom had the distinction of being its president from 2001until he stepped down from that role in June of 2023 due to his failing health. 

History In Person
By Richard L. Dorner

Thomas Schuller
1950 – 2023
Between the years of 1989 and 2001, he spent many hours researching stories about Kewaunee and county history on a private microfilm reader. Being the time before digital availability of local papers like the Kewaunee Enterprise and the Algoma Record Herald on-line through the county libraries, he remarked more than once, that he ended up with new eye glass prescriptions because of his efforts.
Because of his untiring work, he became very informed about Kewaunee County’s development and contributions of major figures, who played a role in its growth and advancement. There are numerous binders with collected data found on the shelves at the History Center. Tom’s contributions will be a lasting tribute to his legacy. 
One of Tom’s favorite memories and personal stories he shared with the Board of Directors on various occasions was his interactions with the paranormal groups that came to determine the possibility of the presence of spirits in the Sheriff’s Residence and Jail Museum and the Karsten Hotel in Kewaunee. The paranormal groups were convinced there were unusual activities. Tom used to say that you had to be of the right mind set to be able to appreciate such possibilities.  
Tom was very proud of two very important achievements during his presidency. In 2001, he along with the Board of Directors and many volunteers were instrumental in creating the History Center for the Historical Society, which has become a place where people can do research and learn about various aspects of local history.
With the able assistance of George Miller of Algoma, a rental space was acquired in the former Kohlbeck clothing store at 219 Steele Street in Algoma. From 2001 to March of 2013, when it was moved to the former Evans store at the current address of 217 Ellis Street in Kewaunee. During the years from 2001 to 2018, the Society was renting these facilities. 
In 2017, through the generous donation from a major benefactor, the Society was able to purchase the Evans building from Kathy and Charlie Butchart on December 31, 2018. The acquiring of this structure became the fulfillment of Tom’s second and greatest wish, that the Society would have a permanent home. 
This achievement was made possible by the many volunteers and donors of materials and financial support through many years of dedicated volunteerism. With extensive support from individuals in the communities and all parts of the county, the Society has been able to develop its collections as well as museum style displays centered around local history. 
No one person can lay claim to the Society’s growth and achievement but Tom Schuller was an important force through his leadership and determination. Tom Schuller’s legacy and contributions will be hard to surpass. Our best way of showing our appreciation and honoring Thomas Schuller as History in Person will be to make every effort to keep the Society moving forward and continue to expand and grow its primary mission of preserving the local history of Kewaunee County for many generations to come. Thank you to Thomas Schuller for all your efforts and support for maintaining our local history.

This photo of Thomas Schuller as a young boy was taken by his parents Leo and Mildred Schuller. The photo was given to the Historical Society by the Schuller Family.
This tribute to Thomas Schuller appears in the January 2024 issue of Reflections In Time, a quarterly publication of the Kewaunee County Historical Society.