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Portage’s Zona Gale fete to include reflections

August 17, 2018

With several local historical artifacts as a backdrop, Portage history aficionado Jeff Grothman welcomes visitors to the 25th annual Zona Gale Friendship Days celebration in 2016.

Portage’s annual celebration of its most famous citizen Saturday will offer an opportunity to look both backward and forward.

That’s what Jeff Grothman hopes, anyway, as he plans the 27th annual Zona Gale Celebrates Friendship Village observance.

Grothman, a local history buff and former Portage mayor, said the event will celebrate not only Pulitzer Prize-winning author Zona Gale (1874-1938) – whose fictional Friendship Village was based on the Portage she knew well – but also other people of note who have lived in and around Portage.

Those include, but are not limited to, historian Frederick Jackson Turner (1861-1932); Indian sub-agent John Kinzie and his wife, Juliette, who were the de facto U.S. ambassadors to the Ho-Chunk Nation in the 1830s; Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who as a U.S. Army lieutenant was stationed at Fort Winnebago from 1829 to 1831; and 19th-century fur trader John Baptiste DuBay.

Grothman said the program, which will start at 10 a.m. at the Museum at the Portage, will include not only a discussion of the history and well-known people of one of Wisconsin’s oldest communities – it also will be an occasion to reminisce about a time when Portage had extensive railroad traffic, a booming manufacturing and industrial presence, ships that traversed the Portage Canal and even a streetcar system.

“Then, we’ll sit for a while and ask ourselves what went right in Portage, and what went wrong,” Grothman said.

The presentation is just the beginning of Zona Gale-related activities.

The museum, which was the home Gale shared with her husband, William Breese, will be open with new exhibits.

And, from 2 to 4 p.m., the Women’s Civic League at 506 W. Edgewater St. – also a former Gale home – will be the site of the traditional pie and ice cream social on the lawn. Special music by Mike Powers and tours of the house also will be featured.

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