Wisconsin Maritime Museum Expands with New Maritime Heritage Center



The Wisconsin Maritime Museum (WMM) in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, is embarking on an ambitious project to enhance its capacity for preserving and showcasing the state’s rich maritime history. In 2007, the museum acquired a 90,000 sq.ft. property on Franklin Street, four blocks from its main location, consolidating its collections storage into one facility and laying the groundwork for future growth.

An Expansive Collection

WMM cares for nearly 20,000 objects and an extensive archive related to Wisconsin’s maritime history, Manitowoc shipbuilding, and the USS Cobia. The collection includes over 60 boats, approximately 300 regionally-built outboard motors, over 250 ship models, shipbuilding tools, marine navigational equipment, naval uniforms, and maritime archaeological artifacts. Additionally, the museum curates over 10,000 Great Lakes shipwreck artifacts on behalf of the State of Wisconsin, adhering to federal legislation that prohibits the removal of items from historic shipwrecks.

Challenges and Vision

As WMM’s collection has expanded, so have the challenges of preserving these artifacts. The Franklin Street facility, while housing over 12,000 objects, lacks adequate climate control, leading to the potential for damage and deterioration. Since 2017, efforts to improve this facility have been ongoing. The vision is to transform it into the Wisconsin Maritime Heritage Center, a multidisciplinary research and education hub that will efficiently house the collections, engage visitors, and foster community involvement.

Grant-Funded Initiatives

Initial improvements were funded through grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). In 2017, a Collections Assessment for Preservation (CAP) grant identified critical needs, specifically improvements in climate control and storage efficiency. This assessment led to a 2018 IMLS Museums for America: Collections Stewardship Program grant, which laid out a plan for these improvements. The current construction phase is supported by a generous grant from the Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation, a facade restoration grant from the City of Manitowoc, and contributions from museum donors.

Upcoming Developments

Construction is underway to secure the building’s integrity and prepare for the transformative work ahead. In 2024, the project will begin developing the Maritime Heritage Plaza and Gardens. This public park will highlight maritime artifacts, archaeological investigations, and demonstrate green infrastructure projects that preserve both history and the natural resources of the Great Lakes.

The Wisconsin Maritime Museum’s expansion into the Wisconsin Maritime Heritage Center marks a significant step in preserving and promoting the maritime legacy of Wisconsin. Stay tuned for more updates as this exciting project progresses, promising engaging spaces and enhanced preservation capabilities for future generations to enjoy.

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