Historical Society, Inc.: Committee
Fred H. Keller and His Collection
Transcribed and Edited by Michael R. Reilly
who expects to be the volunteer curator of the museum, began collecting historic
memorabilia in 1946.
collection includes more than 300 books and about 20,000 photos, which are
stored at his residence. Source: Sussex Sun, December 03,
SLAHS came into being after Sussex Village Historian Fred Keller sent a February
2001 letter to the Village Board, stating that he wanted to donate his
collection of area-history items. Many of Keller's earliest pieces were
collected in 1946. He stipulated that a historical society had to be formed and said he hoped that
a local museum would be purchased sometime. July
Keller, who was instrumental in organizing the Historical Society, has donated
many artifacts to the society. "He has a veritable museum," Carlson explained, adding that it is
hoped those items will be eventually on display at the depot/museum. January
Village of Sussex - The first meeting of what volunteers hope
will become the Sussex-Lisbon Historical Society took place Wednesday at the
Pauline Haass Public Library.
Just five residents appeared to hear presentations by Village
Historian Fred Keller and Village Trustee Roger Johnson, who have volunteered to
co-chair a task force to explore the creation of the historical society. Though
the turnout was thinner than both hoped, it was enough to keep the drive for a
society alive, Johnson said. Keller, who has offered to donate his voluminous collection
to the society once it is formed, displayed highlights from his 55 years of
collecting Sussex-Lisbon history. Among the artifacts he had on hand was a
basketball uniform from the 1930s, maps of the Sussex-Lisbon area showing
original landowners, and several books. "I'm growing old, and I want to find a home for this
stuff," Keller said. May 30, 2001
Village of Sussex - As
a new season approaches, spring cleaning is on the minds of many
This is typically the time when people dig out their
basements, discarding items deemed old and useless.
But as Fred Keller has shown, the items found in a
basement are sometimes far from being garbage.
The Sussex village historian since 1976, Keller has
been collecting historical artifacts about the village of Sussex, the
town of Lisbon, the village of Lannon and the surrounding communities
for several decades. The items he has found have come from antiques shows,
estate sales, and people who just have no use for items that have a
larger historical significance.
The fruits of his labor can be seen in the carefully
archived wall of historical books and photo albums, and labeled
artifacts that adorn his walls. While a typical basement is a mess of
boxes filled with remnants of the past, Keller's is almost like a
museum, with hundreds of years of information and history available at
his fingertips. Even temperature and humidity are controlled to preserve
the delicate artifacts. His collection spans the timeline from before the
first settlers stepped foot in the area to the present day.
"Ever since I was a very young boy, I've had an
interest in history," Keller said. In 1946, Keller's father bought the Sussex Mills feed
mill and coal yard, and brought his family to the area. "I immediately knew that I would be associated
with Sussex for the rest of my life," Keller said. Driven by his childhood interest, he has collected
historical items for most of his life, but it was not until after his
military service from 1951 to 1954 that he began the collection he has
After working a 10-hour day, shoveling coal at his
father's mill, Keller was sent to buy some eggs from Burt Harris, a
local man. While he was there, Keller spotted a Civil War-era musket
propped near a bunch of old boards. Keller paid $5, his day's wage, and
took the rifle home. And so the Keller collection got its start.
The oldest pieces in Keller's collection are
trilobite fossils found in the area. Trilobites are hard-shelled
segmented creatures that scientists believe lived 300 million years ago,
predating the dinosaurs. Keller also has a number of pieces of bronze
brought to this area by glaciers during the Ice Age. The arrowheads in
his collection predate the European migration to the area.
The first pioneer family to come to this area is the
Weavers, who eventually settled what is now Sussex. Keller's collection documents the earliest days of
the village in detail. "Memories of Early Days," a book Keller
uncovered, collects the letters and writings of Melinda Weaver, the
first European woman to come to this area. The book is an account of the
earliest days in Sussex-Lisbon, recounting what life was like in the
area from 1837 to the 1850s, from a female's perspective. The book was
written in 1876 for the Waukesha Plain Dealer newspaper, and very few
still exist. An autograph book in Keller's collection contains the
Weavers' signatures. From a descendent of the family, Keller received a
collection of pictures of the Weavers and other early settlers in the
area. "After working on the family for so long, I feel
like I could walk down the street and meet them," Keller said.
Keller's collection of books reaches far beyond the
founding family, and covers the wide range of people and events that
have formed the Sussex-Lisbon area into what it is today. His knowledge
of the area has made him an invaluable resource for others who are
researching their own family or the history of the area. "I have people from all over the United States
who will come to me looking for information on their families,"
Keller said. "When I help them out, I tell them I want a copy of
their work to add to my collection." Keller's collection of books is complemented by an
even more expansive collection of photographs. Keller has literally
thousands of photos, ranging from portraits of family members to old
postcards of the area.
Besides books, the artifacts in Keller's collection
document the growth of the area. One of the most astounding items in his basement is a
piece of wood from the Weaver barn. Half of a Celtic cross is carved
into the wood, which dates back to 1842. Along with the other half,
which is now missing, the boards were hung in the barn, which was used
for church services before St. Alban's Episcopal Church was constructed.
At a certain point in the day, the sun would pass over the cross and
Keller's artifacts also document the growth and
change in business since the village was established. In earlier times, the area was primarily
agricultural. One predominant crop was sugar beets. These crops grew
underground, and farmers needed a tool that would allow them to pull
them up and chop them. Thus, the beet knife was invented. This knife
looks like an elongated, thin cleaver with a thin, perpendicular point
on the end. The hook was used to pull the beet up from the ground. The
farmer could then chop it in one motion. One of these knifes is part of
Another unusual tool that was used in the area is a
device called a grain thief. This long, pointed pole has several
compartments that can be opened and closed. When a merchant went to a
mill to purchase grain, he would jab the grain thief into a pile, and
then open and close the compartments. When it was pulled out, the
merchant could see whether the grain in the middle of the pile was
rotten. One of these tools is also part of Keller's collection.
After the industrial revolution, more industries
began to spring up in the Sussex-Lisbon area. In 1920, Mammoth Spring Canning Co. opened its doors
in Sussex. Though it had an impact on the local economy until it closed
its doors in 1995, Mammoth Spring is more famous for an advertising
campaign that ran for about three decades - Kewpie. Kewpie is a troll-like figure; it has hair that comes
to a point on the top of its head, a round tummy and a cute face. From
1924 to the 1960s, Mammoth Spring put Kewpie on all of its products. The
Kewpie figure has since become a worldwide collecting phenomenon.
Keller's collection features signs, old cans and figurines. One light-up Kewpie soda sign in Keller's collection
advertises that the company has "pop in cans." This sign is
one of only three made. In 1954, Mammoth Spring was the first company to put
soda in cans. At the time, the public did not accept the idea, and the
company soon stopped canning soda. Keller has a Kewpie pop can from the
The process of collecting all of these artifacts and
historical documents has been an arduous one. Keller frequents antiques shows and estate sales, and
looks through items that are being thrown away by others. "I'm a great garbage diver," he quipped.
Probably his most resourceful way to gather
information has been to talk to the old-timers in the village. Keller
has made it his life's work to write down firsthand accounts of the
growth of the area by interviewing people from all walks of life.
This does not always come easily though. Keller
recalled his attempts to interview one resident who had been a prisoner
of war during World War II; however, the former officer did not want to
talk about his experience. "He never wanted to sit down and talk to me, but
every once in a while, I would catch something he said (about the
experience) and I would write it down," Keller said. "I
interviewed him for 20 years, a sentence at a time." For Keller, interviewing has proven to be the most
rewarding part of his history collection. "What I really have enjoyed has been the people
I've met," he said.
Now that Keller is growing older, as he put it, he
would like to pass his collection on. His first option would be to donate it to the village
of Sussex, he said. But before this happens, he added, some things need
to be done by Sussex.
The first is to establish either a Sussex or a
Sussex-Lisbon historical society. This is needed because people need to
have the training and know-how to maintain the collection and to keep it
from disintegrating. Second, the village would need to find a place to
store it, display it and make it available for research.
Though the village has not decided whether to take
the collection, it has shown interest. Keller and Village Trustee Roger
Johnson will attend a six-hour seminar presented by Wisconsin State
Historical Society about how local communities can form historical
societies. If the village decides not to take the collection,
Keller said he could either give it to his children, who no longer live
in the area or have the space to take it; sell it at auction; or donate
it to Waukesha County Historical Society. March
Village of Sussex - A
community's history, one could argue, belongs to its residents. It
exists in collective memory, in the silent walls of old buildings, in
stories passed from grandparent to grandchild.
Since 1946 Keller has collected Sussex. His home is
brimming with photographs, documents and artifacts from the village and
The other thing Keller has is vision, and at 69 he
can see himself slowing down. He suffered two strokes more than a decade
ago, and was hospitalized last week for surgery to remove a cancerous
The village is interested, officials say, but experts
say municipalities don't always have the expertise to properly preserve
Baker said she had not spoken to Keller regarding his
collection and that it was too early for her to say if the museum would
be interested in accepting it into its collections.
If the village does find a home for the materials,
however, help with preservation could be available. Baker said the
Wisconsin State Historical Society occasionally lends expertise.
Freelance archivists can also be hired, she said. Baker said the museum does not have sufficient staff
to send an individual to the village to help.
Village President Mike Knapp said if the village
takes the collection, they "would have to look at" getting
help from experts.
"It's a great gift," Knapp said. "It's
invaluable. We don't want to lose it." by
John Tindall, Staff Writer, Sussex
With the help of the Lisbon Fire Department and highway crew,
plus the hard work by Lisbon Town Hall members including Jeff Musche, the Lisbon
2000 Millennium Picnic was a big success.
The picnic was held Saturday afternoon at the Fire
Department/Highway Department quarters at Hillside and Good Hope roads. Parking
in the area was at a premium during the celebration.
There were numerous activities during the picnic.
Lisbon Fire Department Auxiliary presented a check for $9,000
to Chief Doug Brahm for the purchase of a thermal-imaging camera.
A historical marker from Waukesha County Historical Society (WCHS)
was also unveiled. It was placed on the front west lawn of the Fire Department.
Town Chairman Jerry Schmitz and WCHS President Joan Finley had the honor of
A time capsule is also being prepared for burial below the
newly installed historical marker. The capsule is a small vault donated by
Schmidt & Bartlet Funeral Home.
The Millennium Committee asked students at Merton, Richmond
and Woodside schools to write letters to themselves. Leaders of these schools
came forward and read a selection of the letters that will be buried.
There will also be some copies of the Lisbon history book, a
series of official Lisbon brochures, an annual report, the September issues of
the Sussex Sun and a host of other items going into this time capsule. Anyone
who has additional materials such as letters that seem appropriate for the time
capsule can take them to Lisbon Town Hall soon.
This capsule will be dug up May 15, 2036, when the 200th
anniversary of the first Lisbon settler claim, Thomas S. Redford (1818-1903), is
commemorated by another Lisbon picnic.
Another event in the picnic was distribution of the Lisbon
history books, written by Fred Keller. Lisbon families who attended the event
were able to get one book per family free of charge. Families could also buy
extra copies for $2 each, and friends of Lisbon residents could also purchase a
book for $2.
Lisbon history book can be purchased at Lisbon Town Hall
during workdays for $2 each, or send $5 to Lisbon Town Hall, History Book
Request, W234 N8676 Woodside Road, Sussex, Wis. 53089. The cost includes
shipping and handling.
The town of Lisbon is donating copies to Waukesha County
Historical Society, Wisconsin State Historical Society, all local school
libraries and Pauline Haass Public Library. The major donors to the event will
also receive a copy.
Keller thanked Lisbon Town Hall office staff for their
assistance in publishing the book. Deb Carlson had done the typesetting, and
Sandy Gettelman did the final spell-check.
There were displays of fire and rescue equipment as well as
the newest plows and trucks belonging to the Highway Department.
Town Supervisor Pete Chycinski introduced all the visiting
politicians from neighboring communities.
As the final act of the picnic, the Lisbon Town Board honored
Keller by having the Good Hope Road Town Garage Park athletic field named after
him. Bob Scheillack, Lisbon parks superintendent, made and will erect the park
The Lisbon 2000 Millennium Committee consisted of Len Anhalt,
Kerry Thomas, Donna Zimmerman, Henry Ray, Fred Keller, Jeff Musche, Town
Chairman Gerald Schmitz and Supervisor Pete Chycinski.
The Millennium Party wouldn't have been possible without
donations. A total of $3,236 was raised through donations.
A list of donors includes: Schmidt and Bartelt Funeral Home,
Paula and Pete Chycinski, Delores and Henry Ray, Pro Tech Auto, Adam's Nursery,
L. K. Stadler Co., Genesee Aggregate Corp., June and Fred Keller, Halquist Stone
Co., Northwest Standard, Visu-Sewer Clean and Seal, Payne and Dolan, Lannon
Stone Products, Carousel LTD, Max Tremmel Trucking, Lafarge Corp., Merbeth Sheet
Metal, Central Ready-Mix, Mary and Melvin Bartelt, John and Elizabeth Riemer,
Kanavas Landscape Management, Sussex Sled Bugs, Ausblick, Michele and Jerry
Schmitz, Brzezinski Racing, Bill's Truck Repair, Debbie and Dan Meissner,
Community Youth Hall, and Songbird Hills Golf Course.
Nonmonetary donations came from: Pick 'n Save, Hardee's,
Hamilton School District, St. James Church and the 121st Field Artillery of
Wisconsin National Guard. September
Strolling Down Memory Lane - Sussex historian and
Sussex Sun personality Fred Keller received a plaque from Village Trustee
Michael Knapp, commemorating Fred Keller Memorial Lane, which begins in Village
Par near the fire station. Fred suggested the path be called memory lane in
reference to the trees planted there in memory of various people. Sussex
Keller gets state award -
Local historian Fred Keller of Sussex was honored by the state Oct. 24 for his
work installing and maintaining local historical markers.
The State Historical Society of Wisconsin awarded Keller a Local History Award
of Merit for chairing the historical marker program in Waukesha County.
"Fred's leadership of the committee has recognized the breath and diversity
of county history and resulted in the placement of markers about a corresponding
diverse group of historical topics.", the award plaque said.
The award was presented at an awards ceremony Oct. 24 in Madison during the
Wisconsin council for Local History Convention at the State Historical Society Headquarters
Keller is in charge of the upkeep of 47 historical markers throughout Waukesha
County. In his work, he has developed a brochure which lists each site.
"Using tools ranging from the telephone to the pen, to the shovel, hundreds
of hours of unseen work have guaranteed that the history of Waukesha County will
be in plain view thanks to the efforts of Fred H. Keller", the award read. October,