By Melinda Roberts
SUAMICO – Howard-Suamico Historical Society President Tim Rasmussen and the rest of the board recently took advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The small historical society was offered a property with 19th century buildings to restore, use and maintain.
“Robert and Elizabeth Vickery moved to Suamico in 1870. They built a house, a granary and a barn, and raised two sons,” Rasmussen said.
Elizabeth lived in the house until she died in 1910, at which time the house passed on to her sons.
Suamico bought the property and buildings about 15 years ago as part of the new village hall grounds.
“After the village hall was built, they offered the Vickery farm grounds and buildings to the historical society to take over and restore,” he said, “and just responsible for the cost of maintenance.”
Since then HSHS has transferred the Vickery property into Ancestry Acres.
“The barn was in the worst condition and the first to be restored”, said Reamussen. “It was appraised by an historian from the Wisconsin Historical Society who predicted the building would crumble completely within a couple of years.”
Today the barn is the property’s showpiece, with a shiny new roof and a fresh coat of barn-red paint.
The first thing noticed when crossing through the nearly 20-foot high, classical doors is the unmistakable, old-barn smell of more than 100-year-old untreated wood.
“There has been almost no change to the interior structure,” said Rasmussen.
There are original hand-hewn logs and pegs, split beams, stanchions (hand-hewn wooden frames used to hold the cow’s head in place for milking) and hay fork tracks in the ceiling.
“They also owned a bull and two horses, typical of a middle-class family farm,” said Rasmussen.
Restoration took two years with copious donations of time and materials from area vendors.
Rasmussen himself has volunteered hundreds of hours, more than 200 in the first six months of 2018.
HSHS has received three $500 awards through the Green Bay Packers Give Back grant, based on the number of volunteer hours used on the restoration.
The interior of the Vickery farmhouse is filled with period furniture, appliances, household items and decorations, including an 1870 pump organ that still works, a wood cook stove from the late 1800s, and a massive wooden couch and chair set with elaborate carvings that was showcased at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris.
“Everything’s been donated mostly from Howard and Suamico residents,” Rasmussen said.
An addition to the house includes meeting space and several glass cases filled with artifacts unearthed from the property grounds.
Descendants of Robert and Elizabeth still reside in Suamico. Pat Henry (a direct descendant) and husband Jerry own and operate Vickery Village.
The Village, not associated with the historical society, is a complex of businesses located in restored and renovated historical buildings like the Weed Brothers Mill Inn (built in 1862 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places), the Vickery General Store (cornerstone of Vickery Village and home to Chives Restaurant), the White Pine School (built in 1878 and today Chives Cooking Classes & Event Center), and the Suamico Old Town Hall (built circa 1885).
Vickery Village is located in a portion of Suamico’s early business district, once part of a busy railroad yard.
An active little historical society
With just 150 members, the Howard-Suamico Historical Society keeps busy.
Almost since its inception in 2005, the group has offered a semi-monthly speakers series, now held at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month at Life Bridge Church in Howard.
The series is free and open to the public, with the next meeting Dec. 6.
HSHS participates in the Village of Suamico Sidewalk Sale, held the first Thursday after the first Monday of August each year.
Used books are collected at Kimp’s Ace Hardware and Thornberry Cottage in Howard and at Suamico Village Hall.
This year the group sold 210 boxes of books.
Rasmussen is also friends with the owners of Whispering Pines Tree Farm in Oconto.
“They were looking for an organization to host a booyah fundraiser at an annual event on the first Saturday in December,” he said.
In 2017, Rasmussen’s 155 gallons of booyah cleared about $1,600 for the historical society.
He has his own recipe and kettles and is hired throughout the year by numerous non-profit organizations to serve his booyah at events.
Other HSHS fundraisers include a calendar with vintage photos of Howard and Suamico, interesting historical facts and dates marked with historical anniversaries and events of local and national interest and a museum bookstore full of books and pamphlets on Howard-Suamico history.
In addition to restoring and maintaining Ancestry Acres, funds raised help fund a $1,000 HSHS college scholarship given to a Bay Port High School senior.
Awarded each spring since 2007, the winner is chosen based on a researched essay on area history. The 2018 scholarship was awarded to Ta’Leah Van Sistine.
Plans for the future
The society’s primary focus these days is on establishing the Vickery barn as a unique, desirable, seasonal venue for weddings, gatherings and other events.
“We are right now in the process of putting that paperwork together with the village,” said Rasmussen. “We hope to have things ready by next year.”
They also plan to work with area schools to create educational programs.
“We would like for students to come for a visit and experience life on a middle-class, 19th century farm,” he said.
The historical society offices and museum are housed in the old Howard Water Department building at 605
Maywood Avenue, and is open from 9 a.m. to noon on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.
For more information, visit hshistoricalsociety.org.