Luck Had a Dream...
Today the village of Luck has a fine building that co-houses the Luck Public Library and the Luck Historical Museum on the corner of Main Street and Third Avenue. This rather rare combination of two uses cohabiting shared space made the building affordable, and has turned out to be a real advantage to both.
At the beginning of the 21st century it was obvious to everyone that the tiny, old Luck Library on Second Avenue needed replacement; but where to get the money? About the same time, Edwin Pedersen, a Luck native son who spent his early years at the south end of Main Street, saw this as an opportunity to build the historical museum he had championed for years. He suggested that combining a new public library and historical museum would solve two problems at once--and he would make the first sizable donation.
Library and Museum Site...
Interest in a new space grew among some of the well-known citizens of town. Nearly all agreed that a Main Street location was a must. The only central location available was a corner location of Reno Petersen’s old Texaco filling station. The station had been closed and declared a “brown site”. The new owners (Luck Farm Coop), had cleaned up the site and offered the location for sale. The state of Wisconsin agreed the site was suitable for a building without a basement or water well. Donations from Inez Hultner, Edwin and Donna Pedersen, Marilyn Hubenette, Edna Lawson, Alan Tomlinson, Don and Marianne Tomlinson, and Carol Weitz made the purchase a reality in 2004.
In 2006, a steering committee to raise funds and plan for the new library/museum was formed with local banker Tam Howie as chairman and about 50 volunteer members. The goals were to raise $1,000,000, design and build the structure and use no local tax money in the process. The building was to be owned by the village with the Library and Luck Historical Society paying for operating expenses and and utilities. The new building plans were on a roll.
In the Beginning...
For a small town suffering many of the same economic pains as others, raising a million dollars and building a large building seemed an almost impossible undertaking. Over the next months, a professional fund raiser, D.A. Petersen, Associates, Inc., was hired, and Cedar Corp was chosen as project manager along with Fred Sabongi asarchitect. Hundreds of volunteer hours were donated by committee members. Grants, large donations (some “in kind”) and hundreds of smaller contributions finally began making the project seem possible. Ground was broken in fall of 2007 by Luck contractor Don Clarke. Local workers and products were used wherever possible. The project was completed on time and slightly under budget with the grand opening on Saturday, September 13, 2008.
Looking back, it is interesting to note that a large part of the capital campaign came from Luck daughters and sons who haven’t lived in Luck for many years. Kind of reminds us of the power of community in a small town; it also tells us that we can do things together that aren’t possible as individuals. Combining the museum and library has worked out well, often cosponsoring speakers, movies, and use of equipment. We have shared our experiment with other similar towns throughout Wisconsin via the Wisconsin State historical Society. In retrospect, I think two separate buildings might seem a little --- well lonesome.
A Brief History of Luck, Wisconsin
Luck is a town of about 1,100 in Northwestern Wisconsin about 70 miles northeast of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The land surrounding Luck was glaciated during the last four ice ages that ended about 10,000 years ago, leaving many lakes, glacial land forms, and soils of varying quality. The first white settlers, many of them from Denmark, came shortly after the Civil War following land cession treaties with the Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indians who lived in the area.
First white men came for a variety of reasons. First came fur traders, then lumber men, farmers, and finally, tourists. Like so many early towns, Luck’s location depended largely on transportation. After the Civil War, transportation to the area was often by steamboat. Falls and rapids in the St. Croix River made the town of St. Croix Falls (and Taylor’s Falls across the river) the head of navigation. Those heading north were forced to leave the river and continue overland on foot, horseback, wagon and sometimes oxen. The destination was often the pineries towards Clam Falls and Spooner where jobs were available to anyone willing to work hard. Stories have it that travelers who reached the shores of Big Butternut Lake by the end of the first day were “in Luck”. A store owned by William Foster was built next to the lake, and Luck had begun as it was a convenient stopping place on the St. Croix-Clam Falls Trail. Shortly into the 20th Century, the Soo Line Railroad began pushing north toward Superior, Wisconsin. The path of the railroad was somewhat west of Butternut Lake and there was a rush 1/3 mile westward to take advantage of the new form of transportation. By 1920 nearly all of original Luck had moved to its present location along the railroad tracks (now the Gandy Dancer recreational trail). Some of the present buildings on the main street of Luck today began their lives 1/3 mile to the east.
Luck has always been a commercial center for farm products ... dairy traditionally being the most important. Many of the first settlers brought farming skills and methods from northern Europe to their new homes in Wisconsin. The nearby settlement of West Denmark was the site of Wisconsin’s first cooperative creamery. Wood products were and still are important to the economy of Luck. Perhaps Luck is best known for its status as the “Yo-Yo Capital of the World” between 1946 and 1965 when it was the home of Duncan Yo-Yo Company. During those years, nearly every family in Luck was involved in turning plentiful hard maple into yo-yos that were sold nationally and even around the world. Today farming and wood products are still important to Luck, but tourists drawn by forests, wildlife, lakes, and rivers play a significant role in the area’s economy. Luck is fortunate to still have a viable main street and has managed to retain much of its small-town atmosphere.