The Belgian Farm

Every Chloe Ellefson Mystery is set at a real historic site or museum. This lets me celebrate special places, and allows readers to visit the scene of the crime.

When I planned the 9th book in the series, The Lacemaker’s Secret, I honed in on the Belgian Farm restored at Heritage Hill State Historical Park in Green Bay, WI.

The house, constructed in 1872, was originally located in Rosiere, Kewaunee County, WI. The farm belonged to John Baptist and Theresa Massart.  (To see photographs of the buildings before they were moved, visit the Belgian-American Research Collection at the UW-Green Bay Archives.)

Members of the Massart Family standing in front of their home. (Photo displayed at Heritage Hill)

The buildings were moved to Heritage Hill in 1984, and restored to show a farm typical for Belgian-American farmers in northeast Wisconsin. The timing was almost perfect; The Lacemaker’s Secret is set in late 1983, so I only needed to make a slight adjustment.

The house was built of logs and covered with a brick veneer—a practice common after the Great Fire of 1871. The low building  to the right is the limestone summer kitchen.

The Massart Farmhouse, restored at Heritage Hill State Historical Park.

When restoring any home, curators choose artifacts that help tell stories about the people who once owned, made, or used them. In the mystery, Chloe accepts a consultant job tasking her to create a furnishings plan for the farm.

The furnished kitchen—what Chloe imagined as she toured the empty farmhouse.

Some of the artifacts currently on display in the farmhouse made their way into my story.

The next lady brought two round crocheted pieces with beads added along the fringe. “Do you know what these are?”

“Doilies?” Chloe hazarded. “Maybe to put under a candlestick or vase?”

“No!” The old woman was clearly tickled to stump the curator. “My mother made these to keep insects out of beer mugs and water glasses.”

“Ah!” Chloe imagined the pieces draped in place, stymieing inquisitive hornets. “Beautiful and practical.”

Glass protectors.

Religious artifacts reflect the strong faith that saw many Belgian immigrants through difficult times.

The skirt and shoes below became Seraphine’s in the book, special attire brought from Belgian and worn to celebrate the first Kermiss.

Seraphine felt festive in her full brown skirt with green and purple stripes near the hem and the Sunday sabots Jean-Paul had carved with flowers for her.

The large log barn at the Belgian Farm, also featured in the book, came from the Lampereur family in Brussels.

Animal stalls were built into each side bay. The center bay of was used as a drive-through when unloading hay. 

 

Inside the center bay.  Note the ladder leading to the loft, and the hay fork hanging from the ceiling.

 

After the Great Fire, a few trees were damaged but standing. Farmers harvested them quickly, before disease could render them unusable for building. One log here shows a large knot left in place, and charred scars.

Incongruously, another structure mentioned in the book is visible from the Belgian Farm:  the Green Bay Correctional Institution. A plotline that involved police business at the prison let me bring cop Roelke McKenna to Green Bay for the final chapters.

One scene in The Lacemaker’s Secret is set at another historic building at Heritage Hill, the Cotton House, which dates to the 1840s.

Mr. Ernst and I had a great time exploring Heritage Hill. I hope you can plan a visit too!

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11 Responses to “The Belgian Farm”

  1. Lois Scorgie Says:

    I appreciate learning new information about Wisconsin from you in delightful, informative way. I don’t know much about the Green Bay area. I look forward to your research, photos and traditions of all of Wisconsin’s nationalities. Thank you.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Lois, thanks so much! I love having the chance to share some of Wisconsin’s special stories and places, and occasionally those of neighboring states too. I’m learning a lot along the way.

  2. Pat Says:

    I have been to Heritage Hill but many years ago, so don’t really remember a lot of details. Nice to see the setting for Lacemaker’s Secret, and some of the artifacts that helped make the story come to life!

  3. Susan Slinde Says:

    I particularly enjoyed the lace–and see the similarity to Norwegian Hardanger.

  4. Ruth Says:

    I am glad we went to Heritage Hill this summer. It is much easier to picture what is happening in the book. As always, it was hard to put the book down, can’t wait for the next one! Ruth

  5. Liz V. Says:

    Wish I could travel there but pass along to my Wisconsin niece.

  6. Liz V. Says:

    It did indeed. Try to read all of your posts. Enjoyment without snow!

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