Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
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.COPPER CULTURE STATE PARK & MUSEUM.



Oconto County's Oldest Secret

Northeastern Wisconsin

This 48 acre park features an ancient burial ground from the Copper Culture People, artifacts from which were recently tested to approximately 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Dr. Thomas C. Pleger, anthropologist, archeologist at University of Wisconsin - Fox Valley, wrote in 2000 that string found attached to an ancient copper knife recovered at this site was preserved, in part, by the copper oxidation, enabling a radiocarbon date to be made. At present, this is the oldest cemetery site in Wisconsin, and one of the oldest metal use archaeological sites in North America.

No Wisconsin state permit sticker is required for admission to the Copper Culture State Park.

For more information:

Oconto Archaic Copper Museum
in the Werrebroeck House

Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day
Daily 11:30 am to 4:30 pm
or by appointment

The park also contains a museum, in the historic Belgian Werrebroeck House built in 1924 by Charles Werrebroeck, the only example of this style of old-world architecture in the Oconto area.  The museum is open Daily, 11:30 am - 4:30 pm, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and can also be accessed by special appointment: contact The Oconto County Historical Society at 920-834-6206.
Site Link:
Oconto County Historical Society

Oconto County Historical Society
PO Box 272
Oconto, WI  54153
 


While at the park, also enjoy the 15 acre short-grass prairie, have a picnic, hike along woodland paths or fish the Oconto River. A state vehicle admission sticker not required to use the park. Use of the park grounds is free.


Learn more about the Copper Culture and related ancient populations:

Wisconsin Archeology - Wisconsin Archeological Society

Old Copper CultureWeb page produced by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Anthropology and Museum Studies graduate student, Kevin M. Cullen in 2006

Suggested reading for updating of Copper Culture State Park burial information that puts the burials at a much earlier age:

The Old Copper Complex of the Western Great Lakes - co written by archaeologist Dr. Thomas Pleger

Pleger, Thomas C. PhD: Re examined the archaeological research and retested evidence and artifacts as well as taking an active role in preservation and upgrading of the scientific site beginning in 2000.

To read more of Professor Pleger's findings on line please click on the links below :

2001 New Dates for the Oconto Old Copper Culture Cemetery." Papers in Honor of Carol I. Mason." edited by Thomas C. Pleger, Robert A. Birmingham, and Carol I. Mason. The Wisconsin Archeologist, Volume 82, No. 1 & 2, pp. 87-100

2003 http://www.uwfox.uwc.edu/aboutfox/foxfacts/foxfacts072003.html

Dr. Thomas Pleger, as Associate Campus Dean and Assistant Professor of Anthropology / Archaeology, had several scholarly works published. He collaborated in the publishing of the Papers in Honor of Carol I. Mason, “New Dates for the Oconto Old Copper Culture Cemetery." He shared editing duties with Robert A. Birmingham and Carol I. Mason on this project. Their efforts appeared in The Wisconsin Archeologist, Volume 82, No. 1 & 2, pp. 87-100. He also published, “A Brief Introduction to the Old Copper Complex of the Western Great Lakes: 4000-1000 B.C.,” which appeared in the Proceedings of the Twenty-seventh Annual Meeting of the Forest History Association of Wisconsin, Inc., Oconto, Wisconsin, October 5, 2002, pp. 10-18. Pleger has also made several professional presentations. His listing of publications are found at:  http://www.citeulike.org/user/uwbrblibrary/author/Pleger:TC

Dr. Thomas Pleger: 
    2006 Dean and Campus Executive Officer, University of Wisconsin - Baraboo/Sauk County

     2014 President Lake Superior State University

Other related site links:

Charles Werrebroeck House Museum, 

Oconto County, WI, Belgian Roots 

The BELGIUM-ROOTS Project

The first known humans in what is now Oconto County were the Copper Culture People.  In June 1952 Don Baldwin, an Oconto youth, was playing in gravel excavation which was then at the rear of the Charles Werrebroeck farm.  To his amazement he found a bone.  He turned it over to the proper authorities, who determined the skull was from a member of the Copper Culture People and the property contained a burial ground of the Copper Culture. For a detailed report and original photographs of the 1952 archaeological dig at this site please click here ->Copper Culture Burial Site

After the verification the property became a national landmark and then a state park in honor of these oldest known inhabitants of the area. 


Please click on each photo for a larger view
Copper Culture Burial Ground
Werrebroeck Museum House

Photo contributed by Glen and Mary Beth
[Noonan] Jensen, 2002
   The site lies within the western limits of the city of Oconto, with the burial area about 150 yards north of the Oconto River.
   Commercial gravel operations during the 1920s disturbed a large area, most likely destroying a considerable portion of the burial site

Photo contributed by Glen and Mary Beth
[Noonan] Jensen, 2002
   In June of 1952 a thirteen year old boy named Donald Baldwin discovered human bones while digging in an abandoned gravel quarry on the Werrebroeck farm at the western outskirts of Oconto.

Photo contributed by Robert Neustifter, 2002

The historic marker reflects outdated information on the Copper Culture Burial Grounds. The term "Mounds" in the name and on the sign is wrong, no evidence of mounds has been found at the site.
   Nearly all the burials occurred in pits, both burial pits and cremation pits, were found.  At least forty-five individuals were excavated in the area worked.  The site yielded a total of twenty-six copper artifacts including awls, clasps, spear-points, fishhooks, & a bracelet.  In addition, a whistle made from the leg bone of a swan was found, two well-preserved antler tips, a series of snail beads, a fresh-water clam shell (the nearest source being the Mississippi River), and a shoulder of a large lightning shell, a type of whelk whose present distribution is the Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina to Florida.  The importance of the last two items indicate trade or contact with a region over a thousand miles away.  No pottery was found.



Photos contributed by Copper Culture Museum Staff


   The Belgian House Museum and Copper Culture Historical Association was established in 1982 to preserve and display the ancient burial grounds and pioneer home. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1962.
  

The park is open during the summer with a picnic area, public restrooms, and trails. The Charles Werebroeck Museum adjoins the park and is open every Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, 12:00 PM to 4 PM. No admission fee, donation gratefully accepted.


Photo contributed by Robert Neustifter, 2002

   The mowed picnic area is adjoined by a 15-acre short-grass prairie, and forest that boarders the scenic Oconto River. Hiking trails are maintained for visitors. The trails lead to the ancient cemetery which was considered to be the oldest known in North America as of the year 2001. The Wisconsin Archaeologist, Volume 82, No. 1 & 2, pp. 87-100

  

Charles & Emma [Ryckart] Werrebroeck who build the museum house building and pioneered the homestead land it stands on.  The Werrebroecks were Belgium emigrants who arrived in Nord' America in 1911.

 


Photo contributed by Robert Neustifter, 2002

   Woodland trail leading to the ancient Copper Culture Burial Mound. The human bone discovery was investigated in 1952 by Reuben LaFave and George Hall of the Oconto County Historical Society. 

   Their test excavations revealed burials accompanied by copper artifacts.  The find was reported to the Milwaukee Public Museum and arrangements were made to excavate the site in July as a project conducted by the Wisconsin Archaeological Survey.  The work was done by Robert Ritzenthaler and Arthur Niehoff representing the Milwaukee Public Museum, and Warren Wittry representing the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
 


Photos contributed by Glen and Mary Beth
[Noonan] Jensen, 2002, posted with her  permission.

   Ann (Werrebroeck) Herman  helped to build the original pioneer farm house. This is young Anne Werrebroeck at age 14. Ann gave tours at the museum until she was age 96 years.
 

Photo contributed by Robert Neustifter, 2002

   The inscribed memorial stone is at the Copper Culture Burial Site. It was set before the recently completed reexamination of artifacts, which gives the site a date of 6,000 years old .



Photo contributed by Copper Culture Museum Staff

   The museum house displays, in detailed photographs and videos, some maps and replicas of items from the 6,000 year old artifact collection, the original 1952 archaeological dig at the burial ground.

Photo contributed by Robert Neustifter, 2002
   Woodland Path up Suzie's Hill. Ann Werrebroeck Herman's childhood family was friends with Susie Mechaquette and knew her well.  Susie used to visit their home since  "Susie's Hill was at the edge of the next 40"  that bordered Charles & Emma [Ryckart] Werrebroech's home. For more information of Oconto County resident, 108 year old Suzie Mechaquette
please click here -> MECHAQUETTE

Photo contributed by Robert Neustifter, 2002

   Original water trough of the Werrebroeck pioneer farm on which the state park is located. Remnants of these distinctive troughs may still be found on other Belgian immigrant homesteads.



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