Explore

Explore History In A New Way

Discover lake life and explore the diverse cultures and communities that made Madeline Island home.

Home / Explore

About Us

Throughout history, Madeline Island has been home to many cultures. The largest of the Apostle Islands, the Ojibwe (Chippewa), and other tribes made their home here for hundreds of years before European contact. The island was also one of the earliest areas of European exploration and settlement in the interior of North America, serving as a post for the fur trade, commercial fishing, and missionary activities. French, British, and American outposts were established on the island, each bringing unique cultural influences.

The Madeline Island Museum celebrates all of these cultures. Bella and Leo Capser opened the Madeline Island Museum in 1958, and their original collection of artifacts documenting the island’s history can still be seen today. Modern expansions were added in 1991 and 1996, adding additional exhibit and gallery space.





Things To Explore

PAST EXHIBIT

CAPSER CENTER

Special Exhibits are hosted in the Capser Center Gallery, a modern exhibit hall added to the museum complex in 1991. It offers visitors the opportunity to view films about island history, attend lectures, or participate in workshops. The welcome area and auditorium house galleries where changing exhibits feature objects from the museum’s collection and outside sources.

In 2022, the gallery will house the temporary exhibit showcasing the artwork of Rabbett Before Horses Strickland, an internationally recognized Red Cliff Ojibwe artist. The gallery will also feature Oshki-Anishinaabeg: Telling Our Stories with Manidoominensag, a beadwork exhibit by Ojibwe youth artists. The two exhibits together tell a story of Ojibwe culture and persistence. More information coming soon!


Permanent Exhibits

AMERICAN FUR COMPANY BUILDING

The American Fur Company Building, built in 1835, is the oldest structure on the island. Collections represent Indigenous life and the fur trade.

OLD JAIL

The Old Jail dates to the late 19th century. Collections in the jail illustrate trades from that time, such as logging, boat building, and fishing.

PIONEER BARN

The Pioneer Barn was built around 1900 by Gus Dahlin, an island farmer and Swedish immigrant. Artifacts here explore early missionary activity and the lives of early residents.

OLD SAILOR’S HOME

The Old Sailor’s Home, also built around 1900, was constructed by Olaf Anderson, a Norwegian immigrant and farmer. Objects here focus on 19th-century immigrant life.

THE GROUNDS

See and touch the museum’s larger artifacts including equipment from the Basswood Island brownstone quarry, a boat winch, net-drying rack, and a maple-sugaring kettle. The stockade area is reminiscent of fortified structures built by the French in the 17th and 18th centuries.


Learn with the Wisconsin Historical Society

Virtual and In-person Programs

Get ready to give your young learners the best field trip memory of the year. WHS is excited to bring back our popular sensory-rich, wonder-filled, on-site Field Trips at our historic sites and museums. We are also continuing our live, interactive online programs to bring creativity, critical thinking, and empowered storytelling into your classroom!

Wisconsin Historical Society Sites

Madeline Island Museum is one of the 12 historic sites and museums owned and operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Explore all of these sites below.