(262) 335-4678

Old Courthouse
& Jail Museums

Wednesday – Friday: 11:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 9:00 – 3:00 p.m. 

St. Agnes Historic Site
By Appointment Only

Washington County Courthouse Museum

Upcoming Events

Oct
25
Wed
White House Christmas Ornaments (Temporary Exhibit) @ Old Courthouse Museum
Oct 25 2017 @ 7:17 pm – Jan 20 2018 @ 8:17 pm
White House Christmas Ornaments (Temporary Exhibit) @ Old Courthouse Museum | West Bend | Wisconsin | United States

View 25 ornaments created by the White House Historical Association and learn about the presidents and era each represents.  Free with museum admission.

Nov
8
Wed
A Swepet Christmas (Temporary Exhibit) @ Old Courthouse Museum
Nov 8 2017 @ 7:36 pm – Jan 6 2018 @ 8:36 pm

Visit with the Swepet family this holiday season.  Enjoy their 27 room dollhouse, all decorated for Christmas!  Includes a new mini exhibit titled “Souvenirs From the Swepet’s World Travels”, highlighting dollhouse artifacts from around the world!

Dec
23
Sat
CLOSED-Museums and Research Center @ Old Courthouse Museum
Dec 23 – Dec 26 all-day
CLOSED-Museums and Research Center @ Old Courthouse Museum | West Bend | Wisconsin | United States

The Museums and Research Center will be closed for the holidays from Saturday, Dec. 23rd through Tuesday, Dec. 26th.  Normal hours resume Wednesday Dec. 27th.

Jan
1
Mon
Offices CLOSED @ Old Courthouse Museum
Jan 1 – Jan 2 all-day

The Museum and Research Center offices will be CLOSED Monday, Jan. 1 and Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018.  We will be back on January 3rd!

Research Center CLOSED for Inventory @ Old Courthouse Museum
Jan 1 – Jan 16 all-day
Research Center CLOSED for Inventory @ Old Courthouse Museum | West Bend | Wisconsin | United States

The Research Center will be closed for inventory from Monday, January 1 through Tuesday, January 16, 2018.  Normal hours resume Wednesday, Jan. 17th.

The Museums are open during this time.

Jan
20
Sat
Collection of Collectors @ Old Courthouse Museum
Jan 20 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Collection of Collectors @ Old Courthouse Museum | West Bend | Wisconsin | United States

Discover what your neighbors collect during the 11th annual Collection of Collectors.

Collectors share their interesting & unique passion. You’ll learn something new during this fun, informal, & FREE program.

Includes FREE admission to the Old Courthouse Museum. Museum hours are 9:00am-3:00pm.

If you have 2 of something, it’s a collection! And it doesn’t have to be old!

Want to share your collection? Contact Tori at education@historyisfun.com or (262) 335-4678 to register your collection. It’s FREE to participate and all ages of collectors are welcome!

 

Jan
31
Wed
Great Lakes Small Streams: How Water Shapes Wisconsin Traveling Exhibit @ Old Courthouse Museum
Jan 31 – Feb 24 all-day
Great Lakes Small Streams: How Water Shapes Wisconsin Traveling Exhibit @ Old Courthouse Museum | West Bend | Wisconsin | United States

Did you know the Great Lakes hold 20% of the Earth’s fresh water?   Join us for a special showing of Great Lakes Small Streams: How Water Shapes Wisconsin, a traveling exhibit presented by the Wisconsin Historical Society.  This 16 panel exhibit explores our state’s long relationship with water and the impact we have had on our vast waterways.

More About The Old Courthouse Museum

Washington County, which originally extended to Lake Michigan, was laid out by Territorial Legislature in 1836 and named for George Washington. After a long and bitter argument over the location of the county seat, the county was divided in two, Washington and Ozaukee, in 1853. Washington County chose West Bend as its county seat.

In 1853, 4 families donated land to the county in perpetuity for county buildings. The site is best known as “the Square.” The Square rises above the surrounding area and is the perfect location for prominent buildings.

The first buildings were a wood frame courthouse, a wood frame jailhouse, and a stone and brick county records building.

By 1888, the original frame courthouse, built in 1854, had become too small and its wood frame raised concerns about safety. The county approved funds in November 1888 for a new courthouse. After only 10 months’ construction, the new courthouse was finished and held its first court session in March 1890.

Between 1890 and 1962, the building served as the Washington County Courthouse. Circuit court was held twice a year in spring and fall sessions. Those awaiting trial were held in the jail next door. County offices prepared wills, estates, marriage licenses, birth and death certificates, military papers, and other county business.

In 1962, a new courthouse was built on Washington Street (Highway 33). The 1889 courthouse became the Old Courthouse Annex and housed the Department of Social Services and County Extension offices until 1992. To lessen the echo in the courtroom, acoustical tiles were glued to the ceilings and walls, and a drop ceiling was installed, lowering the 24-foot ceilings to 12-feet. When the ceiling was lowered, the tops of the windows were blocked off, inside and out. As a result, the colored art glass remained unseen and nearly forgotten for 30 years until the building was restored.

The county maintained the building well and many of the original architectural details remain. Renovations on the second and third floors were minimal, preserving the integrity and beauty of the building’s interior.

Social Services stayed in the old courthouse until 1992 when it moved into a new building. The now vacant courthouse was considered for both sale and demolition. The discovery of a clause in county records ensuring that the Square would be owned and used by the county spared the sale. In time, the Historical

Society was allowed to use the old courthouse in addition to the old jailhouse as a local history museum.  However, before the society could use it, the building needed renovation.

Between 1992 and 1997, volunteers alongside professionals stripped paint, removed walls, and cleaned rooms. Original woodwork, terra cotta tiles, and art glass were seen again and, because they had been concealed for 30 years, were in great condition.

Finally, in 1997, the Society moved its operations and collections from the jailhouse to the courthouse.

Architecturally, the 1889 Washington County Courthouse is an 8-story masterpiece in the style of Romanesque Revival, characterized by repeating rounded arches, monochromatic brick and stone, towers, spires, and multiple dormers.

More About THE OLD JAILHOUSE MUSEUM

Like the Old Courthouse, the 1886 County Jail replaced the original 1850s wood frame building.

The brick structure, designed by E.V. Koch of Milwaukee, was home to the county sheriff and his family, and county prisoners in eight cells on the west side of the building from 1887 to 1962.

John Thielges, a Prussian-born miller and blacksmith, was the first sheriff to move with his wife, Rosina, in 1887, the first of 26 families to live in the home. During that time, little changed inside the home, other than the addition of electricity in the late 1910s.

In 1962, the current courthouse and jail were built on Washington Street (Highway 33). It was then that the Washington County Historical Society moved exhibits created by Ms. Edith Heidner and her students from West Bend High School to the jailhouse, creating the history museum.

When the Society moved operations to the courthouse in 1997, the old jailhouse was used for storage. The old jailhouse was restored to its original appearance and furnished in mid-20th century style in 2002.

 

More About ST. AGNES CONVENT & SCHOOL SITE

The St. Agnes site is an excellent representation of fieldstone construction and 1850’s pioneer living. Consisting of the convent, rectory, and barn, the site represents the challenges and hardships experienced by early Wisconsin settlers.

The property was originally owned by Barton Salisbury, the founder of Barton.  His wooden house, no longer standing, was located here. In 1858 the property was purchased by Father Casper Rerhl.

Father Casper Rehrl was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1809. After his ordination, Rehrl traveled to the United States, landing in New Orleans.  Wanting a rural mission, he traveled up the Mississippi, to Chicago and finally Milwaukee where he was assigned the norther region of the dioceses.  At that time, priests traveled a circuit, spending a few days in each community before moving on.  Father Rehrl traveled as far north as Green Bay and founded over 30 churches during his career.

As part of his mission, Father Rehrl understood how important schools were to the health of the Catholic Church, so he aimed to build schools wherever a church was built.  These schools were open to all faiths.  The biggest obstacle was not the structure itself, but finding teachers qualified to teach.  In 1855, while on a pilgrimage to Rome, Father Rehrl had a vision at the tomb of St. Agnes and vowed to create a sisterhood to assist him with his missionary work and the Sisters of St. Agnes were born.  The convent was built in 1858, followed by the rectory in 1860 and the barn in 1877.

Young women, most between the ages of 11 and 13 joined the Sisters.  The young age and inexperience of the sisters, coupled with the rural and backbreaking frontier life, led to unhappy conditions. By early 1861, only two remained.  Searching for new Sisters, Father Rehrl came across dynamic and determined fifteen-year-old Anne Marie Hazotte in 1863.  Less than two years later, Anne Marie, now Sister Mary Agnes, was elected mother superior by her fellow sisters, a position she held until her death in 1905.

After a series of hardships and much contemplation Mother Agnes decided the brightest future for the Sisters was to move to Fond du Lac.  Father Rehrl remained in Barton with six sisters to tend to the mission churches until the Barton society was officially dissolved in 1879. Two sisters remained to care for the aging Father Rehrl who died on September 3, 1881 in the field-stone rectory.

In 1997 the rectory and barn were donated to Washington County Historical Society, Inc.  In 2002 the convent was added to the donation. With the help of the community and volunteers, the History Center restored the Rectory and grounds.  The convent is currently a private home lived in by the site caretaker.

In 2010, St. Agnes Historic Convent & School was named to the National Register of Historic Places  The exhibit “From Mound Builders to Church Builders” highlights the challenges and hardships experienced by early Wisconsin settlers, is located in the Rectory and open by appointment.