Heritage Hill employee, Backhaus honored with award
By John McCracken
ALLOUEZ – For the past two decades, a day in the work-life of Nick Backhaus could include fixing HVAC systems, repairing a washing machine or comparing types of nails found in pieces of wood more than 180 years old.
Backhaus, director of operations and restoration manager at Heritage Hill State Park, works to restore, maintain and preserve more than 20 historic facilities on a daily basis.
He was honored with an Award of Excellence from the Wisconsin Association of Historic Preservation Commissions (WAHPC) last month.
“You have an individual who just did a yeoman’s job finding out what needed to be done, getting the resources to get it done, getting people to do the work and then leading the tours through this very special asset you have there in Green Bay,” Arlan Kay, Oregon, Wisconsin-based architect and WAHPC selection committee chair, said.
Individuals, non-profits and other groups who preserve historic structures across the state are selected by an awards committee after first being nominated.
Kay said Backhaus’s work stood out because of the critical restoration efforts underway at Heritage Hill.
“You have to be investing $20,000-$30,000 a year in the painting, the heating, fixing the roof, fixing the this, the that every year,” Kay said. “If you don’t, it’s going to fall apart. It’s going to rot. And then the only history that you have is hopefully somebody took pictures of it.”
To Backhaus, the challenges are a part of the job, one he is excited to tackle every day.
“It doesn’t seem like work sometimes, you know?” Backhaus said. “It’s hard work, no doubt, but it doesn’t seem like it,” Backhaus said.
Throughout his time managing Heritage Hill’s 56 acres and 26 historic buildings, he said he is not alone in receiving the award.
“It’s humbling because it’s more than just me of course,” Backhaus said. “I’ve got great volunteers and great staff.”
One project that stands out as a favorite to Backhaus during his time managing facilities at Heritage Hill is the Fort Howard Guard House.
The original structure was a part of Fort Howard proper and moved to Bond Street in the 1860s, and then moved to Heritage Hill in 2010.
“To the average eye, it was just a house on Bond Street, but the people in the community through the years knew it was a remnant Fort Howard structure and kind of always kept tabs on it,” Backhaus said.
He said he fondly remembers surgically extracting the original structure from modern additions that had occurred over the years.
“We were peeling off the renovation layers and getting back to the Fort Howard material,” Backhaus said. “And that was just really fascinating,”