If you’re going to explore a place in Port Washington, the Port Exploreum is definitely among the top choices. Run by the Port Washington Historical Society, the Port Exploreum dives into the city’s maritime history, which capitalized on its beautiful and bountiful harbor location on Lake Michigan. It also explores the lake itself, its ecology, and what it was like to ride the waters and waves throughout the years.
Be sure to check out the Lake Michigan table, an interactive display on the first floor. It tracks and reveals the sometimes-tricky weather on Lake Michigan, complete with temperature, wind, cloud cover, and wave heights at points all across the lake – even ice cover during winter! It also tracks the ships that are out on the lake, including the SS Badger and the Lake Express, ferry boats that shuttle people, cars, bikes, and more across the lake from Manitowoc, Wisconsin to Ludington, Michigan, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Muskegon, Michigan, respectively. It also shows various depths across the lake – the deepest point is 923 feet below the surface – plus shipwrecks and other interesting facts about this Great Lake.
Ocean-going vessels, Great Lakes cargo ships, local fishing boats, recreational watercraft, and more have all plied these waters and visited this city for over 150 years. The Port Exploreum offers hands-on exhibits on three levels in this beautiful cream city brick building, going beyond your average history museum. Along with the historic artifacts, art, and plaques you’d expect, the Port Exploreum stimulates the senses with interactive games, videos, electronic tables, boat models and more. The basement level immerses you onto the deck of a lake schooner, where you can stand at the helm and spin the ship’s wheel while taking in experiential videos and exhibits. It really make the experience come alive, and can grab kids’ (and adults’) attention for quite a while.
The building, by the way, is a beautiful cream city brick structure built in 1907. Called the Henry & Hill Building, it was originally constructed as a social club for businessmen, especially those who had business with the Port Washington State Bank – their original location was next door. The building featured a number of recreational activities, including bowling alleys – and you can see the original wood alley floors throughout as you explore. Amazingly, the building was slated for demolition in 2012 when a former Port Washington resident – now living on the east coast somewhere – anonymously stepped up and donated money to save the building. That set in motion the group that eventually founded the Port Exploreum. So while the identity of the individual(s) responsible remains anonymous, a big thanks to them… they saved a beautiful building and initiated something awesome.
Exploreum exhibits include From the Coal Dock to the Soo Locks: The Photography of Paul G. Wiening, which showcases beautiful photos of ships plying the Great Lakes from 1957 to 1987. On the upper level, you’ll find Port Washington’s Brewing History: A Long Tradition with classic kegs, bottles, labels, advertisements and more on display from the numerous breweries Port Washington has hosted over the years. Port Washington Brewing Company, Harbor City Brewery, Old Port Brewing Company were among them.
- Adults – $5
Children 5 – 17 – $2
Children Under 4 – Free
Credit/Debit cards preferred; Port Washington Historical Society Members receive free admission
You’ll find the Port Exploreum right along Highway 32, also known as Franklin Street, right along the main drag in downtown Port Washington. It’s right in the midst of the area that encompasses the marina, the harbor area, and downtown. Some great shops, restaurants, bars, even specialty shops await along this stretch of Main Street downtown. Definitely stop in as you check out Sherper’s, Duluth Trading Company, and a host of other great places in downtown Port Washington!
Port Exploreum Museum Address:
118 N. Franklin Street (Highway 32)
Port Washington, WI 53074