As OWW hits 40, director offers thoughts

By: TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

June 23, 2016


EAGLE - A history buff from his early years growing up in western Pennsylvania, Daniel J. Freas, 56, worked at museums and historic sites in five states before coming to Wisconsin.

His interest in history never slowed down over the years, as he joined Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor ethic museum, as its director in 2012.

The museum, located at W372 S9727 Highway 67 in Eagle, didn't slowed down once Freas took the reigns and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend. Freas, who resides north of Elkhorn, answered a few questions from TimeOut via email.

As OWW prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary this weekend, Freas, who resides north of Elkhorn, answered a few questions from TimeOut via email.

Q: What are some things that make Old World Wisconsin special or unique?

A: I think people who live in southeastern Wisconsin would be surprised to learn that Old World Wisconsin was ranked among the top 10 living history designations in the United States by two national publications last year.

We offer experiences that are truly unique, interactive and fun for all ages. Our guests help with farm chores, ride replica 1880s bicycles and shop in the general store. It's these immersive experiences that make you feel that you have traveled back in time and help make the Old World Wisconsin experience truly special and unique.

Q: Why should people consider the museum a must-see?

A: Given the increased emphasis on interactivity, I would say Old World Wisconsin is a must-do! Our goal is to tell (19th and early 20th century immigrants’ stories so as to) engage our guests of all ages in entertaining ways.

We realize our guests have many options for how they spend their time and money for leisure activities. So, we are crafting a day-long visit filled with a variety of experiences that are fun, authentic, memorable and unplugged. We are increasingly seen as a fun escape from daily routines and modern technology.

Q: With it being the 40th anniversary, is there anything new at Old World Wisconsin?

A: Last year, we launched an opportunity for guests to purchase historic coins with their admission ticket and spend them on select merchandise in our 1880s village general store. This was so popular that we have expanded this year to include using the coins to buy an authentic soda water in the taproom of the Village Inn. The soda waters are mixed by hand and served in a souvenir acrylic.

Continuing on the beverage theme, we have partnered with the Museum of Beer and Brewing in Milwaukee to start a historic beer-brewing program this season in our German area. The goal of the exhibit is to recreate the processes used by Wisconsin brewers in the mid-19th century. We are currently growing heirloom varieties of hops and barley to use in the brewing process. Brewing dates include Saturday, July 4, August 13, September 17 and October 8. A traditional Oktoberfest will be held as a special evening event on September 17.

Old World’s historic gardens are also a very popular part of our overall guest experience. Due to this interest, as well as the popularity of gardening in general, we are hosting an Heirloom Garden Weekend August 20-21. The weekend will include speakers, mini-workshops and garden walks where guests can learn about gardening practices of early immigrant settlers and get tips for growing heirloom plants at home.

Q: Are there any changes in store for the future of Old World Wisconsin?

A: We are in the process of designing new experiences that create opportunities for hands-on engagement, as well as new performance-based programming that will engage our guests on an emotional level. There will continue to be an increased emphasis on learning through hands-on exploration, including future interactive exhibits that focus on historic technology and how buildings were constructed. People can learn more about initiatives, as details are ready to be released, by following us on Facebook.

Old World Wisconsin promises “a weekend of special programming” Saturday and Sunday. “Folk music, dancing, hands-on activities and a big cake,” are all planned, according to the museum's website. Visitors will be able to take farm and garden tours, as well as nature hikes. For more information, go to