History Room does another blast from the past for the holidays
For the past four years, Local History Room Director Jarod Roll has been wowing visitors with unique holiday exhibits. He and his volunteers have created a 1970s living room, a vintage Star Wars display, a North Pole Christmas village and, last year, a 1950s living room.
While all four of those exhibits were popular and brought in crowds in what is usually a slow time for the History Room, Roll may have outdone himself this year.
His new holiday exhibit, which will become a long-term display, is an HO scale model railroad layout that depicts Sparta, Tomah, Ft. McCoy and Tunnel City in the late 1950s.
The display is actually the handiwork of John McHugh of rural Sparta, a model railroader who Roll contacted to see if he could borrow one of his train layouts as a holiday exhibit.
To Roll's delight, McHugh said he'd do him one better. He offered to make the display if the History Room bought the materials.
That was an offer Roll couldn't refuse and he went on the History Room's Facebook page and asked for suggestions of what buildings in Sparta, Tomah and Tunnel City should be in the display.
Roll chose those three communities along with Ft. McCoy because both the Milwaukee Road and Chicago Northwestern lines ran through them in 1958.
He received plenty of suggestions, which he forwarded to McHugh along with photos of the buildings
McHugh, who began the project in his basement last January, chose the ones he was able to do and the result is nothing less than remarkable. Each side of the display, which is separated by a box in the middle, depicts one of the communities with some of the buildings that existed there in 1958, many of which are still around today.
Roll said the buildings were chosen because they either had an interesting story or were iconic structures in Monroe County.
In the Sparta section of the display, visitors will recognize models of the Dodge & Davis building, the Bank of Sparta, Western Auto, Taylor Drugs, O'Hearn's IGA, Schultz Bros., and many more. There are even the charred ruins of Brigham Motors which burned down in 1958.
The Tomah section includes the Cash Store, Endres Hardware, the bakery, Burnstad's, the Crow Bar, the Sherman Hotel and the depot to name a few.
Besides the four tunnels, Tunnel City has the old church, creamery and school. People from Monroe County who grew up in that era should recognize something from each community.
"What will make this interesting for people is not only recognizing many of the buildings, but also being able to look at historic pictures connected to those buildings," said Roll. "Hopefully, it will generate some memories, conversations and interest in learning more about something. Plus it's just a lot of fun."
The official unveiling of the display will be this Thursday, Nov. 15, with a reception from 6:30-8 p.m.
The History Room also will extend its hours to 8 p.m. on Nov. 23, 24 and 30, and Dec. 1, 7 and 8, to coincide with the hours of Kriskindlmarkt in downtown Sparta.