Franklin St. Redevelopment Project

Project Overview

In 2007, the Wisconsin Maritime Museum (WMM) acquired a 90,000 sq.ft. property four blocks from the museum on Franklin Street in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. This property acquisition by WMM was necessitated by the need to increase the museum’s storage capacity and collections care.

As the State’s official maritime museum, the Wisconsin Maritime Museum cares for a collection of nearly 20,000 objects. The collection includes over 10,000+  Great Lakes shipwreck artifacts curated on behalf of the State of Wisconsin, 60 boats, approximately 300 regionally-built outboard motors, and over 250 ship models. Shipbuilding tools, marine navigational equipment, naval uniforms, and maritime archaeological artifacts also make up significant and growing portions of the collections. It is one of the largest maritime collections on the Great Lakes and reflects the museum’s mission of documenting the role of Wisconsin in maritime history. As the museum has grown over the past half-century, the needs of caring for our expanding collections have increased.

The museum houses over 12,000 objects in the Franklin Street facility. These items are at serious risk: sixty percent of the building lacks adequate climate control and the conditions within have deteriorated significantly over time. Through the years this facility has become overcrowded, making a more efficient storage system necessary.

Shipwreck artifact - Large double wood wheels in storage.

Efforts to improve the Franklin St facility have been underway since 2017 when Phase 1 of the multi-phase project started. 

Phase 1 was a Collections Assessment for Preservation (CAP), funded in 2017, through a grant from IMLS, identifying areas of greatest need for the WWM collections. The Franklin St. facility was specifically called out for improvements in areas of climate control and an efficient storage plan. 

Phase 2 was a planning process. WMM was awarded an IMLS Museums for America Collections Stewardship Program grant in 2018. Staff and volunteers inventoried the materials stored at Franklin St. This information was used to create a plan for updating the facility with new storage furniture, new HVAC, etc. 

The project is currently in phase 3. Following these previous grants, in 2022 the WMM board and staff developed the Wisconsin Maritime Museum Strategic Plan 2022-2025. The new strategic plan identified collections management and storage as a top priority. 

In December 2022, WMM was awarded a $150,000 grant from the West Foundation for storage and expansion needs improvements, along with a $25,000 grant for the creation of Maritime Plaza and Heritage Park on the grounds of the Franklin St property. 

These grants, along with a $50,000 Facade grant from the City of Manitowoc have allowed the museum to proceed with Phase 3 part 1 improvements to the property. 

In late 2023 A.C.E. Building Service will begin making improvements to the site, including work on the outside facade and urgent HVAC needs.

The Impact

When the Franklin St project is finished it will have a profound impact on the local community bringing together our partners, Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and the City of Manitowoc.

WMM worked with WHS to acquire the Klopp Collection and develop protocols for managing other orphaned shipwreck collections. WMM and WHS are presently developing a three-year state-funded Maritime Collections Specialist position to be housed at WMM to manage shipwreck collections stored at Franklin St. Upgrading the storage facility is a vital component of managing the Klopp Collection and other shipwreck artifacts on behalf of the State of Wisconsin. 

The designation of NOAA’s Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary reflects the profound significance of Great Lakes ships, shipbuilding and shipwrecks to the Nation. As the premier educational and stewardship institution devoted to maritime heritage, WMM is uniquely positioned to house and care for federal-owned artifacts and documents. The integrity of the Franklin St. facility is critical to this partnership and the fulfillment of NOAA’s mission here.

The City of Manitowoc has long recognized the value of WMM as a center of excellence in maritime historic preservation and education, a source of community identity and a magnet for tourism. 

Not only will the Franklin St benefit our community partner but it will also be a great resource to WMM museum visitors (40,000-plus annually) who will benefit from the expanded collection and exhibits afforded by the stability and accessibility of collections at the Franklin St. facility. With the growth of the collection, more “new” stories will reach wider and “newer,” more diverse audiences.

Cultural resource managers around the region who will use WMM as a clearinghouse and research institute for shipwreck artifacts. This includes archaeologists, avocational shipwreck researchers and divers, and the next generation of explorers. We foresee university programs and student engagement opportunities through field schools, internships, and hands-on collections care experience.  Franklin St. would be a freshwater-specific conservation lab, providing organizations around the Great Lakes with the capacity to stabilize salvaged archaeological materials here at WMM.

Ultimately, the Franklin St. facility will supplement the Museum and its exhibits as an alternate site for dynamic hands-on education and be a highly visible example of a working conservation lab designed to permit visitors to observe and learn about the conservation process. Local schools and industries will be able to use the facility to develop craftsmanship training programs and apprenticeships to prepare local residents to work both in the heritage conservation field, marine trades and other regional industries that need skilled workers.

Your support is needed to take this project across the finish line!

The total cost of the Franklin St project renovations are expected to cost over $2 million dollars. With over $200,000 in hand to start the initial work on the facility and nearly $1.5 million in grants applied for, we need your help to reach our fundraising goal for this project. 

Your donation is critical to helping us care for the thousands of priceless artifacts in our collection, while also making these artifacts accessible to researchers and students. 

Donate today to help us preserve and care for the precious artifacts of our maritime history!

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