The History of Pepin County

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.

Courthouse History

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

Board Members

Jean Kannel

Jane Jafferi

Bob Zika

John Andrews

Amy Baier

Pepin County Historical Society - Board of Directors

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, President

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.

Resources Related to the Founding of Pepin County

The Making of Pepin County (PowerPoint)

The Making of Pepin County (full text, endnotes, bibliography)

History of Pepin County Jail 1858-1985

History of the Old Pepin County Courthouse & Washington Square

History of the Chippewa Valley, 1891

History of Buffalo and Pepin Counties, 1919

History of Dunn County, 1925

News & Blog

Why a Heritage Center?

Our mission here at the Pepin County Heritage Center is to connect you with our heritage by collecting, sharing, and saving the stories and historical resources of Pepin County.

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Educational Use

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.

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New Name & Brand

We are happy to announce that we have completed a major rebranding of our historic courthouse building.  The rebranding was prompted by wanting to use the courthouse in Downtown Durand as more than a museum and confusion over different name variations.

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