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,
Sussex man hopes to pass on
past - Proposed historical society would preserve
Journal Sentinel (WI) - Friday, September 7,
9-12 grade level (Lexile: 1110L)
SEIBEL, Journal Sentinel staff
A Civil War musket, hundreds of postcards, photos and a
Kewpie doll collection all representing the area's rich
history soon could come under the care of a group that wants
to form a historical society.
"I'm getting old, and where will this stuff go?" asked
, the official
native, 69, has been collecting
area artifacts and memorabilia since he was 14.
decided this year to donate the collection
to the village, on the condition that a historical society
Forty-six people from Sussex
, Lisbon and
Lannon met in August and voted to form such a society.
Forming a historical society can take six months, said
Thomas McKay, local history coordinator for the Wisconsin
-area group needs to adopt
bylaws, incorporate as a non-profit organization and apply
for tax-exempt status, he said.
There are 320 county, local and specialized historical
societies in Wisconsin, including 13 in Waukesha County,
He said it's important for local historical societies to
collect, preserve and display the state's historical
"Having groups like Sussex
historical artifacts and programs in their community only
strengthens the state's collection," he said.
Size does not determine the success of a historical society,
McKay said. Many groups succeed with 20 members; others have
"The best (historical) societies are the ones that have all
kinds of people from the community," McKay said. "If you
have people and the enthusiasm, then the accomplishments
At the meeting last month, Hank Carlson was elected to head
the steering committee that will work the next several
months to form the society.
"We need to preserve the history of the area," Carlson said
about why he accepted the position as chairman.
Once the society is formed, members will need to find a home
's collection, Carlson said.
has amassed his collection through
auctions, rummage sales and estate sales.
There is typically a story behind each item. He purchased
the Civil War musket for $5 from a "local" when he was 14.
That began his collection.
He was digging through items another resident intended to
throw away when he found a pencil with the Halquist Stone
Co. name on it and its two-digit phone number from the
He started collecting the Kewpie dolls because the cherub
was used as a logo for the Friday Canning Co., a longtime
employer for area residents.
The books he has compiled on local history will become part
of the collection at the Pauline Haass Public Library. The
historical items will be displayed in a museum once the
society finds a home.
"I could sell it on the market, but it really belongs to the
said of his vast
never gets old for Sussex man
Journal Sentinel (WI) -
Sunday, April 7, 2002
Readability: 11-12 grade
level (Lexile: 1220L)
LAUREL WALKER, Journal
Every community needs at least one
Someone with a keen interest in local
history and a deep love of his own
Above all, someone who has an unceasing
willingness to work on the tangibles
compiling books, framing pictures,
talking to old-timers, hunting auctions
or garage sales for collectibles, even
diving into garbage bins for any
historic treasure that somebody else
Finally, someone with an understanding
spouse June, in his case who over the
years has watched their house fill with
the history of Sussex ,
Lisbon and Lannon, a good share of which
some day will fill a museum.
The Kellers' nicely groomed house on
Sussex 's Elmwood Ave.
is immediately recognizable for its
super-sized Sussex logo
painted on the overhead garage door. A
signal of his previous role as
supervisor of parks and recreation in
the village, for one, but also of his
gung-ho regard for his community. Inside
you'll find a tidy arrangement of what
seems to be something about anything and
everything Sussex .
Some of Keller 's more
striking possessions? An 1893 charcoal
drawing of the village's original
pioneers. An 1874 hand-drawn map of the
Sussex -Lisbon area. An
1886 lithograph listing 28th regiment
Civil War infantrymen from the county,
nearly a dozen from the Sussex
area. An 1879 handwritten note and
silver serving spoon from the first
Sussex settler woman.
He's got an extensive and valuable
Kewpie collection started because the
village's Mammouth Springs Canning Co.
used the doll drawing in its canned
goods logo from 1924 until 1965.
Keller said he holds one of
only two remaining lighted "Kewpie Pop"
advertising signs, created when Mammouth
canned carbonated water in 1954 only to
discontinue it soon after.
There isn't an old-time business or
community building that Keller
can't put his fingers on somewhere,
somehow in his collection of butter
crocks, seltzer bottles, horse feed
gunny sacks and Lord knows what else.
If he doesn't have an artifact, then he
has a book old ones salvaged from
somewhere, or bound compilations of
materials he's acquired. Hundreds of
books and an estimated 20,000
photographs, he said.
If he doesn't have a book, he'll write
one, having reached 15 original works so
far. The latest was on the history of
He is the expert just about everyone
reporters included calls when in need of
an answer. In many cases, he's the first
one called when someone local has a
building about to be abandoned or a
piece of history they no longer want.
They're betting Fred
Keller would, and he
"You've got to do it when the time
presents itself or it's lost," he said.
"I'm a great garbage diver."
On one occasion, Keller
said, his wife was stopped by a police
officer in a squad car, lights flashing,
only to find out the officer wondered if
Fred was interested in
a Kewpie coaster wagon he had.
A local gold mine
Village officials figured out in about
1976 that Keller 's
knowledge and collection was an untapped
gold mine. They made him the official
historian. About the same time, he
started writing historic features for
what then was a free local newspaper,
the Sussex Sun, and
hasn't quit since. About 1,250 articles
later, "I just never run out of
material," he said.
In 1981, Keller added a
humor column called "Bald Facts" a title
that tells you as much about his
hairstyle as it does about his wry
A year ago, he offered his collection to
the community provided it form a local
historical society and consider creating
a museum. The first is already
accomplished. The second is well on its
way, with an anonymous donor willing to
give $100,000 for housing the
collection, probably in the Northwestern
railroad depot on Main Street.
His interest in history stretches well
beyond Sussex . He has
long been active in the Waukesha County
Historical Society as a member and
former board member and currently works
on replacing or establishing historical
markers. He volunteers as much as 20
hours a week, clipping news articles for
the society's archives.
Keller , 70, who was
born in Waterford and spent his
childhood in Elm Grove, became
acquainted with Sussex
when his father bought the
Sussex Mills in 1946, although
he didn't move there until 1959. With
one of his early paychecks for shoveling
coal, he bought his first artifact a
Civil War musket for $4. That and an
erudite aunt who encouraged his
inquisitiveness helped him cull a love
If history is his first love after June,
four children and 10 grandchildren, of
course then basketball is a close
"I really know my basketball," he said,
all 6-feet-five-inches of him.
He was a star player at Marquette High
School on a team that went to the state
finals twice, lost twice and sadly, he
adds, was therefore forgettable. He said
he was drafted in 1952 and assigned to a
military police unit in the Army in
Germany largely because of the
basketball skills he could bring to a
Three of his four children two boys and
two girls were all-conference players at
Hamilton High School. Four grandchildren
currently play varsity high school
basketball, and on any given Thursday or
Friday night he'll be at an Oostberg or
Waukesha West boys' or girls' game.
They're beneficiaries, no doubt, of the
full-court, lighted basketball court
Keller built in his
backyard for regular workouts. Between
his own offspring, their friends and
neighbors, "I have six kids who made
all-state off my backyard,"
Besides keeping track of history, he's
helped make it, too.
AT A GLANCE
Keller 's more striking
-- An 1893 charcoal drawing of the
village's original pioneers.
-- An 1874 hand-drawn map of the
Sussex -Lisbon area.
-- An 1886 lithograph listing 28th
regiment Civil War infantrymen from the
county, nearly a dozen from the