More Than A Wisconsin Historical Museum
Connecting The Past With Your Future
The Tower Heritage Center is an entire campus of historical museums filled with the sights, sounds and experiences of life in earlier times. Visit our historical buildings to learn for yourself how the past creates interesting insights into our community and personal lives today. Celebrate the past, present and future with us!
The Tower Heritage Center is home to the Washington County Historical Society, a 501c(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to forge meaningful connections across generations to Washington County’s hard-working legacy.
Our vision is to become the regional leader in generating lasting connections and delivering heritage-based programs centered on Washington County’s entrepreneurial and industrious spirit.
Historical Society History
The Washington County Historical Society was established in 1962 with the merger of the Old Settlers’ Club and the West Bend High School Museum. The Old Settlers’ Club was founded in 1873 and had collected a small number of early pioneer artifacts. The West Bend High School Museum was founded by history teacher Edith Heidner, who worked to increase her students’ awareness of local history and the workings of a museum. With help from her students and the community, she was able to collect and exhibit artifacts at the high school starting in 1937. Ms. Heidner was one of the instrumental players in establishing the collections of the Historical Society.
Washington County eventually moved its jail facilities to a new location, and the Historical Society made the 1886 Sheriff’s Residence and Jail its home in 1962. At that time, Ms. Heidner merged her museum with the smaller Historical Society collection.
The Tower Heritage Center Opens
In the early 1990s, Washington County completed an expansion of the new courthouse and moved all of its offices to the new space. The fate of the 1889 Courthouse was in limbo. Visionaries such as Reuben Schmahl and philanthropists like Doug Ziegler saved the building and arranged for its use by the Historical Society. In 1994 the Society moved its headquarters to the 1889 Courthouse, gaining 29,500 square feet of space for exhibits, the research center and administrative offices. Restoration work was completed that year. In 2002 restoration work on the 1886 Jailhouse Museum was completed.
In June 2020 The Tower Heritage Center opened as an educational and history center that showcases more than 30,000 artifacts, documents, and narratives of achievement from the history of Washington County, Wisconsin. The rebranding of the campus coincided with the organization’s expansion to include more active work in landmark recognition and historic building preservation. The Achievement Hall of Fame, an interactive exhibit that recognizes significant achievements of individuals who shaped Washington County, was also launched. These additions join the robust collections of artifacts and enriching educational programs.
The Tower Heritage Center campus consists of the 1889 Courthouse Museum and 1886 Jailhouse Museum and houses the Washington County Research Center and Archives. The Society also owns and operates the St. Agnes Historic Site. All of our sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and help tell the story of Washington County and the region.