Old World Wisconsin: Begins construction on brewing experience building

Eagle, Wis. — The Wisconsin Historical Society is excited to announce that it has begun construction on an exciting Brewing Experience building at Old World Wisconsin, its 600-acre history attraction in Waukesha County.

With construction scheduled through the 2021 season, the Brewing Experience building will be the first new structure completed as part of a $5.5 million project that represents the first two phases of a larger, multi-year master plan that will transform the site’s entry area with a reimagined Welcome Experience. “It’s an opportunity for us to position ourselves as one of the most dynamic history destinations in the Midwest,” said Dan Freas, Old World Wisconsin site director.

This long-envisioned “grain to glass” experience will build on what has become one of Old World Wisconsin’s more popular features: its historic brewing program created in partnership with the Museum of Beer and Brewing. Upon completion of the first two phases of the overall project, visitors will make lasting memories as they explore Wisconsin’s brewing heritage through demonstrations, workshops, tastings and other activities in the new Brewing Experience building; immerse themselves in an authentic 1930s rural Wisconsin tavern that will be relocated to the site; and enjoy a festive, outdoor beer garden. In addition, the Brewing Experience building will also be available to rent for weddings, reunions and other private events, providing a unique venue for these events and an important source of revenue to help sustain Old World Wisconsin’s operations far into the future.

“This is a very critical project for Old World Wisconsin, one that positions us well for our future,” added Freas. “This Brewing Experience, and the larger plan to reimagine our entire entry area, will transform how we’re able to serve guests for decades to come. We’re excited to see this dream become a reality and grateful to all who donate to make it happen.”

Thanks to $2 million in early leadership gifts to the Wisconsin Historical Foundation’s New Arrivals Campaign, in addition, to support from the State of Wisconsin, Old World Wisconsin was able to officially break ground on the first phase of the project the first week of December. The Society has contracted with Aro Eberle Architects of Madison for its master plan of the new Welcome Experience and hired J.H. Hassinger Construction Services of Menomonee Falls as the general contractor.

Phase One of the project includes the construction of the Brewing Experience building and a foundation for historic Wittnebel’s Tavern, which will be relocated from its original home in Old Ashippun, near Oconomowoc, where it was founded in 1906 and operated by two generations of the Wittnebel family until 1987. The Wisconsin Historical Foundation, the non-profit fundraising arm of the Wisconsin Historical Society, is working to raise the additional funds needed to complete Phase Two of the project, which will include the restoration of the tavern to its post-Prohibition appearance and construction of the outdoor beer garden. Work on additional phases from the master plan will follow as funds are secured. Those plans include a new Guest Entry Complex and a combination of other new structures and the renovation or restoration of existing buildings.

Old World Wisconsin is one of 12 historical sites and museums across the state-administered by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Since its opening in 1976, it has become one of the more beloved and popular historical attractions in the state and Midwest. It attracts more than 50,000 people each year, including thousands of students on much-anticipated annual field trips. The guest entry area has remained mostly unchanged over five decades and had been identified as a critical need for the long-term success of the site. A 2010 tornado that leveled acres of trees on the site led to the planning for this Welcome Experience and the Wisconsin Historical Foundation’s New Arrivals Campaign to raise the private funds needed to make it happen.

“We’re excited to celebrate such a milestone for this project,” said Wisconsin Historical Foundation Executive Director Julie Lussier. “Old World Wisconsin means so much to people across the region. It’s a historic site for all seasons and all ages, and truly a Wisconsin treasure. This moment is possible thanks to the generosity of the individuals and organizations that have stepped forward to make initial gifts to the New Arrivals Campaign. We look forward to sharing the exciting plans for the rest of the Welcome Experience and continuing to move this project forward.”