The Merrill Historical Society has announced plans to break ground and begin construction of the first phase of the Merrill History & Culture Center after receiving a $200,000 bequest from the estate of Laura Ebert.
The Historical Society launched the It’s About Time Capital Campaign in June 2010 to develop new museum facilities on North 3rd Street at the Prairie River in Merrill. Through January of 2012 the campaign had received pledges and donations from individuals and organizations amounting to $340,000.
Laura Ebert died in April 2011 and the estate presented the Historical Society with a check in December. At its January meeting, the Board of Directors established a project budget of $650,000 to finalize building plans and request bids for construction. Construction is expected to begin this spring.
A portion of the Ebert gift will be set aside in an endowment fund for the operation and maintenance of the new museum and existing Heritage Center facilities.
Bea Lebal, Historical Society President, noted the Ebert family had historic ties to the Merrill community. Albert and Anna Ebert were married in Merrill in 1904. Albert was a bricklayer and contractor. He built a brick house which still stands at 1805 River Street where the family lived until the mid-1920’s. Paul, who later married Laura, was born in Merrill in 1921, the youngest of seven children. Lebal believes Laura and Paul’s fond memories of Merrill influenced their decision to support the Historical Society.
After his career with the Kohler Company, Laura and Paul moved to Presque Isle. They were avid antiquers and amassed an extensive and varied collection which they housed in their own personal museum. Because of Laura’s Native American heritage, their acquisitions included significant artifacts from many different tribes.
Upon Paul’s death in 2008, Sarah Sykes contacted the Merrill Historical Society about its interest in acquiring her parents’ Native American artifacts for its collections. The Ebert’s purpose was to gift the artifacts to a smaller museum where the objects wouldn’t lose their significance and would be used to inform and educate people of all ages about Native American history. They also donated many logging antiques.
Sykes expanded the donation by including Native American objects from her collection.
Lebal said Laura Ebert and Sarah Sykes graciously accepted the fact that it may be several years before the Historical Society could provide a facility in which to exhibit their collections. “Now, Laura’s bequest will be used to help provide a welcoming home for the Ebert family’s treasured artifacts. Tragically, neither Laura nor Sarah is still alive to see the results of their generosity,” Lebal said.
“As exciting as this advancement is, we have a ways to go before we reach our final goal. The Ebert bequest enables us to proceed with Phase I of our building project, but there are still two more phases to go,” Lebal noted.
Phase I Project
The Phase I plan for the new museum building includes the lobby, reception office, research library, exhibit area and environmental controls. Site work will include landscaping, parking lot and sidewalks to the new building. The existing temporary office – the parsonage for the former Bethlehem Lutheran Church – will be razed.
Phase I construction is designed to anticipate additional fund raising. Future phased development includes the addition of The Pinery exhibit hall, a work room to prepare exhibits and an accessible foyer connection to the Heritage Center with elevator and stairs.
The Heritage Center currently houses the General Store and logging exhibits on the lower level and provides space for local history talks and community arts and culture events on the main level.
The It’s About Time Capital Campaign
Lebal said the It’s About Time Capital Campaign was launched to address the lack of museum facilities to display and interpret local history and provide access to the Historical Society’s extensive collection of photographs, documents and rare or fragile artifacts for research.