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Tornado Hammers Old World Wisconsin

The visitors center green at Old World Wisconsin, the area between the two red barns on the left, and the parking lot on the right covered in downed trees (photo by Chris Wawro of Aero-Fotografik)

A tornado tore through the visitors center area at Old World Wisconsin Monday night, June 21, part of a swarm of storms that hammered the Eagle area, downing hundreds of trees and forcing the outdoor museum to close until work crews can clear the debris and ensure that the site is again ready to accommodate visitors. The twister flattened hundreds of trees that lined the parking lot at the entrance to the site, as well as the trees lining the visitors center green, an area bookended by two historic barns that sustained some roof damage but were left largely intact.

Damage Could Have Been Much Worse

Downed trees and a broken window at the Ramsey Barn

As much damage as the storm did to the landscape at Old World Wisconsin, the damage to the site's many historic buildings could have been much worse. The Ramsey Barn (shown at right), which houses the site's gift shop, lost most of the shingles on its roof while the octagonal Clausing Barn, which houses a restaurant, lost the top of its cupola and sustained some additional roof damage. The storm flattened two non-historic, open-air sheds, one used for a farm market and another used for visitors to interact with young farm animals, but no animals sustained any injuries. Because the storm destroyed their shelter, however, Old World Wisconsin staff had to spend some time Monday night and Tuesday morning rounding up the calves, lambs and piglets. Other than some broken windows in other buildings on the site, there was no additional structural damage.

A Tremendous Response to the Emergency

The Department of Natural Resources had a team of workers with chain saws and a pair of clamshell loaders on the site the morning after the storm, working to clear the parking lot and the visitor entrance road. Meantime, Old World Wisconsin's own staff had begun to clear the access to Ramsey Barn and continued to work throughout the day. The state's Division of Risk Management arranged immediately for the services of Paul Davis Restoration, a disaster restoration and recovery firm, which placed electricians and others on the job, brought in a generator to power the freezers holding food for the restaurant, and began a general assessment of emergency repairs.

Ellsworth Brown, The Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, was on the scene by 7 a.m. Tuesday morning and saw the cooperative effort of the emergency response teams unfold firsthand throughout the day. "I was especially impressed by the rapid and incredibly effective response of our staff, of the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Administration and their divisions of Risk Management and State Facilities, and private firms engaged as a result of DOA's actions," said Brown. "We owe many a debt of thanks for their work and support!"

Tornado Relief Effort

The Old World Wisconsin Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to supporting and increasing awareness of Old World Wisconsin, has stepped in, too, establishing a Tornado Relief Fund. Donations to this fund, however large or small, will be used only for expenses related to this tornado damage.

News Coverage and Video of the June 21 Tornadoes

  • View a three-minute, 24-second video about the tornado damage on YouTube.
  • View a comprehensive story on the tornadoes that struck Old World Wisconsin and other locations in and around Eagle in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • View a three-minute video of the storm damage at Old World Wisconsin shot by WTMJ-TV's news helicopter.

:: Posted June 23, 2010

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