Pepin County is located in the densely-forested hills of Western Wisconsin that rise above the Chippewa River, with the Mississippi River serving as its border to the southwest. The Dakota and Ojibwe peoples were among the early inhabitants in the area, and just like the later European arrivals, they relied upon the Chippewa and Mississippi for trade and movement.
The first European settler, John McCain, arrived in 1846, and over the subsequent decades, more settlers arrived from Austria, Germany, Ireland, and Sweden. During the late 19th century, logging and agriculture dominated the local and regional economies, helped by the arrival of the railroad. After the logging boom ended, dairy farming became the engine of commerce in the county, which continues until this day.
Though the smallest Wisconsin county in square miles, Pepin County features numerous public parks and trails, lakes, and historic landmarks, along with several rustic towns alongside the two rivers that flow through its picturesque valleys.
The old Pepin County Courthouse, built in 1873-74 for $7,000, served as the county courthouse until 1985. It is now a museum listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The building is over 140 years old and initially lacked electricity and plumbing, but these were later added. While some modern renovations were made, certain areas remain close to the original design. The courthouse is a prominent two-story Greek Revival wood-frame structure with notable exterior decorations. It is the only remaining wood-framed courthouse in Wisconsin and one of two Greek Revival style courthouses in the state. The interior has undergone extensive remodeling and alterations, diminishing its original character. The courtroom on the second floor, however, retains its original features. The adjacent jail, connected to the former residence of the county sheriff, features rare iron lattice-work cells.
The courthouse played a significant role as the center of county government, a cultural and educational center, and a focal point in the development of the City of Durand. The building’s history is marked by a controversial county seat location dispute and a notable lynching incident in 1881. The first white settler arrived in the area in 1834, and the county experienced growth with the arrival of the railroad in the 1860s. Agriculture, particularly dairy farming, has been central to Pepin County’s economy, along with apple, grape, and berry production. The county boasts scenic parks and lakes, including Lake Pepin. Today, Pepin County thrives with a population of around 7,000.
Matt Sam – President
Dick Schlosser – Vice President
Sarah Schutta – Secretary
Christina Bauer – Treasurer
The Pepin County Historical Society is an organization with a board of directors to operate and manage historical collections and properties. The Pepin County Heritage Center is maintained and operated by the Pepin County Historical Society.
Matt Sam has served as President of the Pepin County Historical Society since 2021. Matt’s interest in history originated when working with family members to document his family’s history and stories. Since becoming involved with the Pepin County Heritage Center he has led the effort to modernize the exhibits and collections.
Matt graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a degree in history. He lives in Arkansaw, WI and works on his family’s fruit and vegetable farm.
There are many educational opportunities at the Pepin County Heritage Center for school groups of all ages. Three educational events we hosted in 2023 for area schools was Law Day for 5th grade students, Civil War Day for 7th and 8th grade students, and a Mock Trial for 12th Grade students.