Museums in Kenosha

Museums in Kenosha

The City of Kenosha,Wisconsin is located between Milwaukee and Chicago.  I love the fact that Kenosha has the charm of a smaller lake town.  Being along the shore of Lake Michigan gives this area a unique history. Visiting the museums in Kenosha while on a press trip sponsored by the Kenosha Area Visitors Bureau with my friend Annie Jansen gave us a chance to learn more about the area!

Things to do in Kenosha

There is a lot to do on the water from kayaking, to sailing to charter fishing. On our hosted trip, we focused on the land and shore activities. This included some of the fascinating lake history.  Kenosha boasts five amazing museums and we saw many of them.Mammoths were discovered in Kenosha County and that is a huge draw!

The Civil War Museum

We began our museums in Kenosha stops at the Civil War Museum

Museums in Kenosha
The Civil War story of the Upper Middle Midwest is shared at this museum.

This museum is famous for the movie Seeing the Elephant the 360 degree movie theater.  I learned that this term was used during the war by soldiers itching to fight in the battle. Sadly for Annie and I we were on a schedule to see a lot during our visit. We did see most of the museum, but missed this amazing phenomenon.

However, we did go through the exhibits which highlight the Civil War in the Upper Middle  Midwest. The Upper Middle Midwest covers activities of the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. 

For those of us that think we were far removed from the war in these upper midwest states I saw a sign that suggest otherwise.  The sign states, “Confederates raided into Ohio, Indiana and Iowa and the Dakota Indian “Uprising” started a second front in Minnesota and the Dakotas.  Many of those effects are still felt today.”

Kenosha Museums
So many died in this war!

The museum shares a bit about how towns and cities changed and the social history changed as well.  A scene of gravestones brings to light how many were lost in this brutal conflict.  Living near Springfield, Illinois and having so many Lincoln sites, perhaps Annie and I are more well tuned to this than many.

Old Abe was a mascot.
Old Abe example on display.

Old Abe, the trademark story

The museum was well done.  I especially enjoyed when photos were used in the background then they brought the photo to life with a scene.  Another cool aspect I don’t recall seeing anywhere else was having mannequins dressed as characters that would speak and tell their stories.  The artifacts were also quite interesting. 

As an antique tractor aficionado I loved the story of the Case eagle. The eagle Old Abe was used as a mascot of the 8th Wisconsin. Originally captured by an Ojibwa, the Eagle was given to the company of the 8th Wisconsin he became quite famous. Jerome Case the founder of J.I. Case adopted the figure of Old Abe as his company trademark. This story is told in the Kenosha museums.

Abraham Lincoln’s Wide Awakes brings history to life

Museums in Kenosha
Me posing with the Wide Awake character.

I have seen the information about the Wide Awakes before but thought the information here was quite thorough.

There is also a diorama of the Battle of Gettysburg that amazed me showing dramatically how close the soldiers were during battle.  I cant imagine as a mother this was terrifying along with being fascinating.

Another extra pleasure is the wonderful view of Lake Michigan from the 2nd story! This same pleasure is found at the Kenosha Public Museum. What neat aspects offered at the museums in Kenosha!

The amazing Kenosha Public Museum

The next day we stopped at the Kenosha Public Museum and we were blown away. We had not been expecting to be so captivated but we wished we had more time because there is much more we would have loved to delve into.

Mammoths were discovered in Kenosha County. This is a huge draw. This museum is famous for its Mammoth resident, the Heboir Mammoth.  This is the largest mammoth and the most complete mammoth ever excavated. The Mammoth was a full grown male around 40. He was butchered by Paleoindians. The Mammoth was discovered in 1994 after the previous discovery of the Schafer mammoth. Mr. Schafer was a farmer who was digging a drainage ditch in 1964 when he discovered bones.

Mammoth history
Mammoth history!

We enjoyed the early Native American history at the museum as well as the early pioneer history. Linda, a volunteer even was at a makeshift trading post and shared stories with us and others at the museum.

On the 2nd floor was an array of animals on exhibit that provides a great educational aspect. There was also a new science exhibit that we just ran out of time to enjoy.


I have found that museum gift shops sometimes have the best gifts or items. Annie and I both found jewelry for ourselves and history books for the hubbies! The museums in Kenosha had great gift shops!

Kenosha History Center

The Kenosha History Center was so wonderful. Meridith Jumisko of the Kenosha CVB had set up a tour for Annie and I of both the museum and the Southport Light Station Museum. Director Chris Allen took us on a whirlwind tour telling us history of the area and of the museum as well. This was perfect after touring the Public Museum earlier it picked up from the Native American time so we were right on track!

Kenosha History and Industry

Museums in Kenosha
Wonderful artifacts are fund in the History Center

“Kenosha was settled by ‘Yankee Settlers in 1835’ and the Kenosha county Historical Society was founded in 1878,” Chris Allen said. “Settlers came around 1835 before that the Native Americans were here.”

The area was settled around Pike Creek where they built a tannery. The tannery process though polluted the area so much though that Chris said by the 1960’s they moved it all below ground! So you will not see Pike Creek in the downtown Kenosha of today.

There were many industries in Kenosha and we learned about many of them that put the town on the map. Bain Wagon Works and Simmons Mattress were a few. American Motors was a huge impact on Kenosha.


There is a lot of cool things like an ox cart wagon from 1837 and more. “This was a huge farming community, and it is still here. Farming was why settlers first came along with the lake front,” Chris Allen said.

There is a blacksmith shop and a lot to see in the history center.

The Automobiles The Rambler Legacy Gallery

Rambler Gallery
The Rambler gallery!

The automobile history is key and along with the lost Industries exhibit you can see a wonderful exhibit of rare Ramblers built by AMC. This is an auto lovers dream.

The Southport Light Station Museum

Museums in Kenosha
What a wonderful museum!

My favorite museum of all, was the Southport Light Station Museum. This museum is part of the Kenosha History Center and is free to tour. Chris Allen took us on tour of this wonderful 1867 lighthouse that is actually the 3rd built. The first two were built on sand and tilted. This last one lasted because they built it on a stone foundation.

“The lighthouse was built from Milwaukee cream city brick. (From clay from the river). The later 1908 expansion was built with red brick because all of the cream city brick was run out,” Chris explained.

The light house was expanded when a 2nd lighthouse keeper was added. The tour describes the importance of the lighthouse and shares information about shipwrecks like the SS Wisconsin which sank in 1929.

The most fascinating aspect for me was the cook who they found had five wives! There are wonderful artifacts on display and this was an amazing tour!

Dinosaur Discovery Museum another of the museums in Kenosha

We literally ran out of time to go through the Dinosaur Discover Museum although we did take a photo outside. I loved the sculptures and thought this would be an amazing museum especially for those with children!

Loving the Museums in Kenosha

Kenosha has several stories to tell and I just touched on a few of them. The museums in Kenosha are plentiful and Annie was most taken with the Kenosha Public Museum and loved the art on display. She and her husband have a business Jansen Brothers Garage Inc. They fix cars and old tractors so she also had an affinity for the cars at the Kenosha History Center as well.

Really, there is something for everyone, you just have to find what fits you. There is so much to choose from that is easy to do!

If you travel to Kenosha you might want to stay at a cool new historic hotel The Stella Hotel & Ballroom!

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  1. Krystee

    Thanks for the great post. I never knew so much of the Civil War was fought in this area. I will definitely have to check it out when I am in the area.

  2. Rhonda Albom

    I would have never realized there were so many museums in Kenosha if not for your post I love small museums as they always seem to have a personal touch to them. I didn’t realize that mammoths and early humans co-existed.

    1. Cindy

      Me either until I visited the Public museum!

  3. Tami

    Too bad you had so many places to see and couldn’t spend more time at each. But I get it! And history is so interesting. Of course you had to try out all of them. I had no idea there was so much civil war history in that area!

    1. Cindy

      Always more to see than there is time, but I am so glad I could see what I did!

  4. Katy F.

    How fun! I can’t wait to visit Kenosha next month! The Civil War Museum and the Southport Lighthouse Museum are at the top of my lists too!

  5. Stephanie

    I love these awesome small town museums! My daughter would for sure love the Dinosaur Discovery Museum!

  6. Cheryl Eugenio @ O the Places We Go

    We absolutely LOVE Kenosha! So much for the family to do and affordable!

    1. Cindy

      Yes, all but the Civil War Museum were free, what a bargain for the family!

    2. Cindy

      It is a great place and you are right very affordable!

  7. Teresa | Happymomhacks

    I didn’t realize there were this many cool museums in Kenosha. We will have to check them out! Thanks

    1. Cindy

      Yes, the museums are great!

  8. Kim

    You fit a lot into your visit! Kenosha looks very family-friendly.

    1. Cindy

      Yes it was great fun and very family friendly!

  9. Erin

    Lighthouse lover here! When I visit Kenosha, I’d like to visit the Southport Light Station Museum. It’s nice to see it is free to visit too!

    1. Cindy

      Its a great place to visit!