HUSTISFORD — Most of us, busy with the task of day-to-day existence, have little time to take note of our surroundings or wonder at our own connection to them.
Fifty years ago some Hustisford residents acted on their curiosity about the past by investigating the events that have built the Hustisford community. Together 52 history-loving people formed the Greater Sinissippi Historical Society, known today as the Hustisford Historical Society.
Several of the active original members managed to locate hundreds of items of local significance for display in the John Hustis House, a local museum paying tribute to the Irish lawyer whose residence and continued devotion to his claim made Hustisford the oldest settlement in Dodge County.
One of the first tasks of the now 50-year-old organization was to relocate and restore the house that John Hustis built in about 1851. The home was originally located at the southwest corner of Memorial Park. It was moved to the country in about 1916 and the lot where the house had been located was then donated to the village for use as a park by his daughters Josephine Hustis and Florence Anthony in memory of their parents.
In 1974 the historical society purchased the house and returned it to the present location in Memorial Park. On display in the house are many artifacts representative of the early years of Hustisford. Among these are a variety of the original belongings of John Hustis and his family.
Members of the organization have researched and maintained historical records of the community and its people. Hustis, a New York attorney, ended up in Wisconsin after he joined the wave of real estate speculators and developers who came seeking their fortune in the newly created Territory of Wisconsin.
In 1936 his friend Orlando Griffith, one of the original surveyors, had laid claim to the Hustisford area, which was at that time still inhabited by Winnebago and Menominee Native Americans who called the area “Waush-a-ri-ka (Land of Foxes) after the Fox Tribe which had occupied the land before them. Griffith transferred his claim to Hustis on April 15, 1937. In August that year, Hustis returned to the “Rapids” of the Rock River, staked his claim, and stayed to build the first log shanty of his town.
Hustis was actively involved in the village the rest of his life. As settlers arrived he erected a log dam and sawmill, a grist mill and started the town’s first school.
As the Historical Society members came upon historical items depicting the community’s past they placed them on display in the John Hustis Museum.
In more recent years the organization moved two small buildings, former downtown businesses, to memorial Park. One is a former spinning wheel shop and one is the shoe shop.
In 1987 when the town celebrated its sesquicentennial the historical society gathered information and put together a book with photos and stories about the town’s early beginnings and events in the 150 years that followed.
That book, in its second printing, is available for purchase and is available in libraries throughout the county.
This year master gardener JoAnn Leair, landscaped the yard around the museum, restoring some of the old original plants such as the roses that bloomed there when the Hustis family occupied the home and re-establishing native plants. The organization is also selling engraved bricks that will be installed on the brick sidewalk that was recently laid in place at the Hustis House Museum.
Each year the historical society gets involved in some fund-raising events including serving refreshments at Memorial Park during the summer Music in the Park performances. Each September the organization hosts a community event known as Founder John Sidewalk Days that includes a flea market, local entertainment, museum tours and other community activities.
The group also hosts grade school students at the museum. During these tours members teach the children many old-time games, crafts and skills.
At Christmas time the historical society hosts a Christmas cookie walk and museum tour. They also invite Santa to visit with children in one of the small buildings. On Dec. 4 the historical society will be serving hot chocolate while the school children decorate the community tree in Memorial Park.
New Years Day the historical society will serve brats downtown as part of the community’s Toilet Bowl festivities.
Bob Scharnell is the current president of the organization. He said he has been in the historical society as long as he can remember. He said, “I got involved because of my love of history and for antiques.”
The organization is always seeking new members. Meetings are the second Tuesday of each month at the Hustisford Masonic Lodge, corner of East Anthony and South Ann streets.
Anyone with questions can contact Scharnell at 920-349-3302.