Monona Area Business Spotlight: Monona Historical Society

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Members of the Monona Historical Society board include (front, left to right) Carol Marting (curator), Donna Begalske, Elmer Marting; (back) Rick Bartels (vice president), Bob Moses (president), Jym Montgomery (treasurer), David Scott, Dan DeSotel and Lawrence Latza. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


The Monona Historical Museum houses dozens of unique exhibits: local military items, art created by Marian Beimfohr and Gertrude Lovig,  the Robert Drahn butterfly collection, an old theater booth, pieces of the city jail, school memorabilia, a telephone booth and switchboard, turn-of-the-century home furnishings and artifacts. 


Space is also dedicated to wood carvings by Gustav Pufahl and Elmer Marting, Sr., including the world’s largest known display of hand carved chains.


“I don’t think a lot of people know these things are here,” said Elmer Marting, a long-time board member of the Monona Historical Society, who only recently relinquished the  role of president.


His wife, Carol, was a charter member and serves as museum curator.


“I was always interested in the town history,” she recalled. 


The mission to keep local history alive dates back over five decades.


In 1967, Carol was one of several individuals who felt the need to have a community museum to preserve artifacts from the area. The Monona Historical Society received its first charter as a non-profit organization in 1968 and was incorporated in 1970.


“We were organized a few years before we got the building,” Carol said.


The Monona Historical Museum opened in 1971, on South Egbert Street, in a Victorian two-story, white frame home built around 1900 and purchased by H.H. Smith in 1909. 


Mrs. H.H. Smith gave her share of the property to the historical society, which was able to purchase the remaining shares to open the museum, according to Carol. Some of furnishings were also donated for display.


Several additions have been made to the museum since then, including enclosure of the back porch for office and storage space in 1980 and the wood carving room in 1992.


The Willa Helwig History Center opened in 2006, and today contains hundreds of resources to research people, places and events. 


It was named for long-time Monona Historical Society volunteer and benefactor Willa Helwig.


“With her estate, we were one of several recipients. That’s why this building is named after her,” explained Carol.


“It’s a nice space, and now, this is the main historical place,” said Elmer. “All the records and everything are down here, and it’s where visitors come in. It really amplifies what Monona is all about.”


The Martings touted the available resources, including Monona corporation assessors books, telephone books and yearbooks, local club materials and scrapbooks, Clayton County Genealogical Society books on country and town schools and original local newspapers.


All of the local newspapers dating back to 1892 have even been digitized, making them accessible online.


“For anybody working on family history, it’s just super,” Carol said.


Also aiding genealogical research are files with 1,500 area family surnames. Volunteers over the years have added wedding and funeral dates, largely collected from newspapers.


“For instance, here’s the name Cunningham. There was a wedding in January of 1939, so you can go to the Monona Leader in 1939 and get that. Or you can go to the website,” Elmer shared.


Learning about family history is what’s intriguing to some museum visitors. Elmer recalled one boy who came with a local daycare group.


“We opened up the file cabinet and got his parents and grandparents out. It was so interesting for him to read that, and he didn’t want to leave,” Elmer said.


“We have so many files. Some may never see the light of day,” Carol acknowledged. “But they are here for when the right person comes along.”


The wood carvings are also a continual draw, and the Marting Wood Carving Room is home to the active Monona Wood Carvers group that meets from 1 to 4 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. Elmer said the group boasts nearly 20 members, and eight to 10 regularly attend.


“The carvers keep us going. We have a lot of them as officers now,” including president Bob Moses and vice president Rick Bartels, said Carol. “It’s a different slant to it, but they are interested in the other history too.”


Carol is proud of how the museum collection has continued to grow, nearly doubling from the 4,000 items that were there when she took over as curator 15 to 20 years ago. 


She and Elmer are among the volunteers who keep the museum staffed from 1 to 4 p.m. each weekday throughout the year.


They encourage people to visit and learn more about Monona through the exhibits and resources. Admission is free. Connecting to the past can be especially valuable for residents, Elmer noted.


“What is the foundation of Monona? Why is Monona the way it is? If you live in Monona, you might like to have some history of what was originally here, how it got started,” he said.


Stop by the museum at 302-304 S. Egbert St. (across from the city park), call (563) 539-8083 or (563) 539-2640, email or visit


This business spotlight is supported by Monona Chamber and Economic Development, Inc.

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