Friday, Nov. 15 not only marked the birthday of Sun Prairie-born artist Georgia O’Keeffe, but also the grand opening of the Sun Prairie Historical Library and Museum.

The museum hosted a grand opening reception Friday night and family fun day on Saturday to celebrate its reopening following the downtown explosion in Sun Prairie last year that closed the museum for construction.

The museum, which contains more than 38,000 artifacts, is currently featuring exhibits about the Wisconsin Porcelain Company, the American Red Cross and surveying time maps and technology on loan from the Wisconsin Society of Land Surveyors and a homecoming about the museum in 1969. There is also an exhibit about O’Keeffe’s life, family and artwork.

The museum closed on July 10 of last year following the explosion in downtown Sun Prairie.

“At that point in the aftermath of the explosion, we were not really clear for a while just what was going to happen,” Mayor Paul Esser said.

There were initial concerns over the structural integrity of the building and more renovations were added to the project over time. Esser said that it became a greater project than originally anticipated.

“That explosion, while it was tragic and resulted in the death of one of our firefighters — something that we continue to mourn and we remember him — there were some good things to it and this building renovation is one of those,” he said.

Esser spoke of the community’s changing population. He explained that last year, about 1,000 people moved to Sun Prairie, many of whom are young and well-educated.

“They’re changing the character of this community,” the mayor said, “and it is going to change the character of this museum.”

The 100 block of East Main Street in downtown Sun Prairie was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May, joining other several other Sun Prairie properties, including the Dr. Charles Crosse House, the Adam and Mary Smith House, the Sun Prairie Water Tower, the Canning Company Factory and the Chase Grain Elevator.

“This downtown district is notable for its very fine collection of late 19th and early 20th century buildings and it represents the commercial and architectural development of the downtown and of Sun Prairie,” Wisconsin Historical Society state historical preservation officer Daina Penkiunas said.

“The museum is an educational center and a depository for our community,” museum board chairman Joe Chase said. “But history is all around us in our historic downtown, in the historical buildings that have been preserved and in you, the people.”

Owner and principal architect of Kontext Architects Kelly Thompson and his firm worked on the project, which included restoring the original maple wood floors from 1924.

“I share, and my staff as well share, a particular passion for our significant structures, so I feel so privileged and honored to work on something so close to where we reside as a small firm,” he said.

“This is the place you can come to where you can hear and see the history of Sun Prairie in the past,” Esser said, “and while today is not the past in a future time, today will be somebody else’s past and we will be preserving that history here.”

Learn more about the museum online at

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