Surgeons Quarters to observe bicentennial

July 13, 2018 GMT

One of the oldest historic buildings in Wisconsin will host a huge milestone birthday party July 21, and everybody is invited.

The tamarack log structure now known as the Fort Winnebago Surgeons Quarters, located on Highway 33 on Portage’s east side, is marking its 200th year of existence with an array of events — the largest single celebration among several that have been planned for the structure’s bicentennial year.

Nancy Finch Burns, Wisconsin Society Daughters of the American Revolution curator, said the event will start with a flag-raising by the Wisconsin Society Sons of the American Revolution.

Activities will include tours of the site, historical re-enactments of a military encampment, demonstrations of arts such as quilting and blacksmithing, and talks on the fur trade and practice of medicine on the Wisconsin frontier.

The C-shaped tamarack log structure now known as the Surgeons Quarters started out as the home and business place for a fur trader named Francois Le Roi.

According to a booklet put out by the Daughters of the American Revolution — who have owned the site since 1940 — Le Roi came to what is now Portage from Green Bay in 1810.

Dating the structure’s construction, Burns said, was a matter of piecing together information from various 19th-century histories of the Portage area.

Because the structure was thought to have been built in 1819, she said, 2018 is considered its 200th year.

It is one of the oldest historic buildings in Wisconsin that still stands on its original stone foundation.

By frontier standards, it was a large and luxurious structure, with about 3,000 square feet on the main floor and a roomy attic. It was built on a French courtyard floor pan.

By 1828, the fur trade had dwindled. That’s when Major David E. Twiggs showed up and made an offer, on behalf of the Army, to buy the structure. Le Roi reportedly received real gold coins as payment.

At first, the Army used the cabin as a sutler store. A sutler was a civilian merchant who sold goods to the military. Satterlee Clark Jr. was appointed in 1830 by President Andrew Jackson as the sutler for Fort Winnebago.

The first surgeon to occupy the house as the Surgeons Quarters was Dr. Lyman Foote. All told, seven surgeons would serve Fort Winnebago (which originally located the surgeon’s quarters inside the fort) between 1828 and 1845.

Victoria Ast, tour coordinator at the site, said she hopes large numbers of people will come to the site for the bicentennial events.

On most days in the site’s May-through-October season, Ast said, she gets a few passersby and the occasional U.S. history buff stopping by the site for a closer look.

“You really need to know your U.S. history,” she said, “or you may have no idea what this is.”