The protagonist of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries is employed as a curator at Old World Wisconsin, an open-air museum near Eagle, WI. Although most of the books are set at other sites and museums, Old World’s 67 historic structures give me lots to play with when I do set a mystery there.
In the new book, A Memory of Muskets, I featured one of my favorite places at the museum, the Schulz Farm. Come with me on a virtual tour! (I hope that readers within driving distance will also visit in person.)
It was one of the first places I worked when I started as an interpreter way back in 1982.
The house was built in the Town of Herman, Dodge County, in 1856, and has been restored to its 1860 appearance. The half-timbered (fachwerk) architecture reflects what the family had known back in Pomerania, where natural resources were already in short supply. The spaces between the timbers were filled with a mud/straw mixture, preserving wood.
The concept of a front lawn seemed wasteful to new arrivals. The vegetable garden is in front of the house.
Probably the most famous feature is the black kitchen, or Schwartz-Küche—a huge walk-in chimney constructed in the center of the house.
Inside the black kitchen is the entrance to a brick bakeoven. Below, the wooden door to the oven is sitting in the fire pit.
On baking day a fire was built in the oven. When the bricks were hot enough, the woman would rake the coals into the cooking pit below, rather than wasting them.
At the same time, meat could be hung overhead to smoke. One fire, three jobs.
As you can imagine, it was a difficult place for women to work—unhealthy and dangerous. Although common in Pomerania, historians know of only four homes in Wisconsin built with black kitchens.
Women also had a separate cooking niche for smaller jobs.
In 1860 the Schulz family had only been in Wisconsin for four years. Their status is reflected in the furnishings.
The family could not set a space aside to use only as a formal parlor. This room was used for entertaining and sleeping.
The largest room in the house is shown as a workroom.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of the Schulz House at Old World Wisconsin. Next time—the rest of the farm.
Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs. See more of his work HERE.