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Changing Currents


Canoe Country

Land of Strangers

People Are Flooding In

Making Americans


Waves of Change


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Chippewa Valley Museum
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Eau Claire, WI 54702-1204

1204 E. Half Moon Drive
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A Cabin in Vacationland

Visitors dress up as European immigrants aboard the River City Queen.

Explore 400 years of Chippewa Valley history!

Both Ojibwe hunters and French traders first arrived in the Chippewa Valley during the 1650s. People of several other nations already lived here. Changing Currents: Reinventing the Chippewa Valley begins with the ways of life that developed as these groups of people interacted with one another, and then follows this process of community formation all the way to the present day.

At different points on this journey through time, visitors get to trade with an animated fur trader, hop on deck of the steamship River City Queen, and fish off the dock of a northwoods cabin. They also experience some of the hardships Chippewa Valley residents have faced: a disastrous effort by the U.S. government to remove Wisconsin Ojibwe to Minnesota, the threats Catholics endured when the Ku Klux Klan flourished here, and the decline of businesses in downtown Eau Claire after London Square Mall opened.

Throughout the exhibit, visitors meet real people who lived—and made—this history. By the end, you'll be able to see how your own life and experiences fit into our region's history.

Exhibit sections and highlights

Canoe Country (1650s - 1820s)

Birchbark canoes brought many newcomers into the Chippewa Valley in the mid 1600s. Several American Indian groups from the East, including the Ojibwe, as well as French traders and missionaries, first arrived then. Visitors explore the mixing of people, goods, and ideas that took place here during the fur trade era, which lasted well into the 1800s. Step inside Baswewekwe's wigwam, then exchange goods at the trading post of Jean-Baptiste Perrault, a real historical figure.

Land of Strangers (1820s - 1860s)

The arrival of American government officials and white settlers changed the Chippewa Valley forever. Visitors see these changes from multiple perspectives as they explore the process of treaty-making and the difficult lives of early settlers. Meet Ojibwe Chief Kechewaishke (Great Buffalo), observe an annuity payment, and sleep under a buffalo blanket in the Stopping Place of early settler Jean Brunet. At the end of this period, many settlers and a few regional Indians joined the Union cause in the American Civil War. Our most famous fighter wasn't a person, though, but a bald eagle named Old Abe.

People Are Flooding In (1860s - 1900s)

The trickle of settlers before the Civil War became a flood after. The extensive pine forests of the Chippewa Valley drew thousands of people seeking profit and work, and towns sprang up around new sawmills. Visitors can dress up as European immigrants as they ride up the Chippewa River on a steamboat, peak into the shop windows of a bustling new downtown, and see (but don't touch!) a table saw from 1900. Before you move on, see what Chippewa Valley residents did when the lumber ran out!

Making Americans (1890s - 1920s)

Many things, from the continuing poverty of many American Indians to the first Great War against Germany, made Americans question what exactly it meant to be an American around the turn of the 20th century. In Making Americans, visitors confront both the good and the bad sides of attempts to create a more unified American culture. Listen to Ojibwe elders recall life in Indian Boarding Schools. Feel the patriotic spirit that spread throughout the country during World War I, but also meet local German-Americans who came under fire. And come face to face with the KKK right here in the Chippewa Valley.

A Cabin in Vacationland

Visitors relax outside Clear Water Lodge in Vacationland.


Vacationland (1920s - 1950s)

The spread of automobiles and the roads to carry them began to bring people into the woods of northwestern Wisconsin for rest and relaxation. Experience an earlier era of northwoods getaway in Vacationland. Check out our Ford Model A, stop by an Indian souvenir stand full of Ojibwe and Ho-Chunk crafts, and, after fishing off the dock at Clear Water Lodge, snap a picture with your "catch of the day." The new cabin culture wasn't all fun, however. Running a resort is hard work. Meet the Draganowski family--who ran the real Clear Water Lodge--in our 1950s resort cabin. In this period, too, the Chippewa River became a key source of hydroelectric power, helping to light cities like Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire. However, one hydro-dam flooded part of the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation despite Ojibwe objections.

Waves of Change (1960s - present)

History doesn't stop. In Waves of Change, visitors explore more recent changes in the Chippewa Valley and draw parallels to earlier sections. Meet new arrivals from around the world, who like the Ojibwe and European immigrants before them, build their lives here and contribute new aspects to our regional culture. Protests and movements for social change swept the country in the 1950s and '60s, and Americans are still proud to express their opinions on important issues. See which topics have generated the most controversy in our region. Finally, walk inside the locker room and lounge of the former Uniroyal tire plant to explore how the process of economic reinvention is happening right now. What kinds of businesses are leading the Chippewa Valley into the future?


Changing Currents: Reinventing the Chippewa Valley has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, grant number MA-04-12-0089.

Changing Currents exhibit

Canoes in "Canoe Country."

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