Pioneer Park Historical Complex in RhinelanderNov 06, 2014 09:30AM ● By Julie Henning
As it turns out, Rhinelander—Home of the Hodag—has a hidden little gem at Pioneer Park. The Pioneer Park Historical Complex is a Logging Museum, Antique Saw Mill, CCC Barracks, School House, Fire Museum, Restored SOO LINE Depot, and Antique Outboard Motor & Boating Museum.
According to the entrance sign, the Historical Complex is closed until Memorial Day, but would make for a fun field trip, homeschool outing, or sneaky educational destination on your next road trip. Admission to the museum is free, but depends on donations for upkeep and maintenance. Highlights for our family included finding Paul Bunyan's jack knife (shown in the photo below) making a wish in the wishing well, and a walk through the Logging Museum.
Visitors are allowed to climb into some of the restored SOO LINE train cars and eventually end up in the Depot at the far end of the property. If you go to the Depot, make sure and visit the lower level to see a 1000 square foot model railroad display that features three railroads that travel on 1200 feet of track: SOO LINE, Chicago & Northern, and the Thunder Lake Logging Railroad. For a better vantage point, kids can watch from the elevated platform. To make the trains go, you will need 50 cents (trains run for about eight minutes and the museum attendant stationed upstairs can make change).
Here my kids are learning about different types of hard and soft wood in the Antique Saw Mill (Northern Wisconsin has a rich lumber history that is strongly linked to the CCC.) and engaging in some hands on activities in the one room rural School House.
The School House volunteer was a lovely lady who patiently taught the kids how to make copies using a hecktograph, the predeccesor of the ditto machine (Anyone else remember those?). We left with instructions on how to try this at home.
You can also hang out in a tee pee and pop into the Antique Outboard Motor & Boating Museum (this one is more for history buffs than kids). When you visit, make sure and pick up the green and white pamphlet that serves as a walking tour during your visit. On a nice day, a family could easily spend two hours taking everything in. I would not recommend this experience for toddlers; one poor mom was having a hard time keeping her two-year-old from climbing on the greasy parts of the trains.
For more information on the Pioneer Park Historical Complex, you might just want to call the number listed on the sign (the website is a bit thin). I also found a nice story published in the community newspaper.