SMALL TOWNS: Wittenberg schoolhouse attracts visitors from far away

This one-room schoolhouse is well over a century old
Updated: May. 11, 2023 at 6:10 PM CDT
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WITTENBERG, Wis. (WBAY) - Well over a century old, a one-room schoolhouse in Shawano County has found new life. And in the process, its history is being enjoyed by visitors from around the country.

This week in Small Towns, we traveled to Wittenberg to see this priceless gem.

This same old bell summoned children to Wittenberg’s very first schoolhouse, built in 1882 -- a job it rang out for nearly 40 years.

“It was a schoolhouse then until 1920, and then it became the village hall after that,” explains Marie Williams, Nueske’s Schoolhouse Market historian.

From village hall to a community center, and other purposes in between, the old schoolhouse was a pillar in the community.

But in 1992, its days were numbered, until the late Bob Nueske, second-generation owner of Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats, sternly stepped in.

“It was set for demolition and it was going to be dismantled, and he happened to see it and stopped it,” says Marie.

“We brought it up here to save it. He loved historical things,” adds Tanya Nueske, Bob’s daughter and current president and CEO of Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats.

Saved from destruction, the schoolhouse found a new home next to the Nueske’s meat business.

And Bob had grand plans.

“And then he worked for eight years to get it to where it is today. The ceilings are original; he had those sent out to the East Coast, had them sandblasted with walnut shells. The beveled look of the windows he had done in Germany. He wanted it to look as authentic as it was when it was at the beginning, and he was very detailed on things,” says Marie.

In May 2000, the schoolhouse opened as a museum and antique store.

It had a good run for 20 years until the pandemic hit.

“We needed to shut this down. Antiques were not very popular with our customers anymore, so we shut it down for the better part of a year. We spent that year trying to come up with a way for kind of a dual purpose. Number one, how can we continue to honor the tradition and the history of this building as Bob Nueske had planned it from day one, while, at the same time, what are we going to do with this building?” says Gary Husnick, Nueske’s Company Store and Schoolhouse Market manager.

The vision for the Schoolhouse Market was born, to offer a wide array of products from mostly small Wisconsin businesses.

After just one year, there are more than 50 and counting.

“It’s got a little bit of everything. We’ve got pottery, we’ve got attire, we’ve got local-made jewelry. It’s just a lot of different things that make it a must-see for our customers,” explains Gary.

A map with pins illustrates just how much of a must-see the schoolhouse is, already attracting visitors from all 50 states and beyond.

“It’s a destination for vacationers. Whether they’re going up to their cabins up north, summer homes, going to Packers games, foodies, you name it, they come here, which is pretty cool,” says Tanya.

“People come and they love being able to walk in this, and you have older folks that, ‘I remember I went to a one-room schoolhouse.’ You hear that conversation, and then they share their stories, and some never got to ring the school bell and they have a school bell here they get to ring,” adds Marie.

And that bell rings proudly many times a day, signifying a history one man was determined to save.

“I think he’d be proud. I do. It’s really neat. To me it’s Door County meets Minocqua with some Nueske. It’s eclectic. It’s us. I think he’d be impressed,” says Tanya.