Visit the Peshtigo Fire Museum to learn about America’s most disastrous forest fire. The museum opened in 1963 as a memorial to the Peshtigo Fire, its victims, and its survivors. The fire that occurred on Oct. 8, 1871 burned over one million acres and took about 800 lives in the community of Peshtigo and several hundred more in the surrounding acres burned. It had been an extremely dry year and people regularly used outdoor fires. Many of those fires were left to continually smolder and the scene was set. Sunday evening the 8th brought a weather change with strong winds that fanned some of those smoldering fires into raging fires. Over Peshtigo and several nearby areas known collectively as the Sugar Bushes, this fire is believed to have developed into what now is known by firefighters as a firestorm. At the time of the fire Peshtigo was a thriving lumber town. Peshtigo was the home of the Peshtigo Company that owned; a large sawmill, the world’s largest woodenware factory (producing such things as pails, tubs, tool handles and shingles), and a sash, blind, and door factory. Much of its product was shipped to Chicago as the major owner of the Peshtigo Company was William Ogden who had been Chicago’s first Mayor.
At the museum you can learn more about this fire and its effects on the people and the entire area affected by this fire. Within this former church building you will find artifacts such as the tabernacle from the Catholic Church, charred items, bibles, and other items that survived the fire. Many other exhibits show what life was like at the time of the fire and the years following. You will also find photos and stories which help to tell the story of the fire. You will also be able to purchase books such as Father Pernin’s; The Great Peshtigo Fire, an Eye Witness Account, and several others.
During your visit you will be able to tour the Fire Cemetery that is adjacent to the museum. There you will find a mass grave that contains approximately 300 unidentified bodies plus many other graves of fire victims. The cemetery also contains Wisconsin’s first historical marker with its first words – On the night of October 8, 1871, Peshtigo, a booming town of 1700 people was wiped out of existence in the greatest fire disaster in American history.
The museum is open daily from Memorial Day weekend until the 8th of October. Daily hours, seven days a week, including holidays are 10AM to 4PM. No admission fee – donations appreciated to cover the museum’s continuing operation. The museum is located at 400 Oconto Avenue. The phone number during open hours is 715-582-3244. The mailing address is Peshtigo Fire Museum, PO Box 26, Peshtigo WI 54157. For more information email.