RIPON, Wis. — Steve Arbaugh greeted a pair of visitors as they walked into The Little White Schoolhouse in Ripon.
He asked where they were from. Fort Wayne, Indiana, was the response.
The schoolhouse tells the story of how the Republican Party was formed inside the building in 1854. It’s a stopping point for people from around the nation and world.
“The people who are here have multiple interests,” said Arbaugh, the museum’s director. “A lot of them are interested in history. A lot of them are interested in politics. A lot of them have learned about this from great American history books over time.”
He said he expects the non-partisan schoolhouse museum and Ripon will see additional traffic when the Republican National Convention is in Milwaukee next summer.
“There are times we’ve probably had 2,000 to 3,000 people come a year and there are times we’ve totaled it up and we’ve had over 10,000 people a year,” Arbaugh said. “We’ve recently spoken with Lamers (Bus Lines) and we’re talking about the possibility of five groups coming through. Tourism will probably be at an all-time high.”
Dita Amiti has a collection of currency from around the world under glass at the cash register of Kristina’s Family Cafe.
It’s a reminder of the wide spectrum of visitors the downtown Ripon business serves from around the state and world.
“We get a lot of people in from outside the United States from different countries that are linked up with Alliance Laundry Systems, which makes Speed Queen washers and dryers, so we get a lot of business people in from that,” she said. “We also get in a lot of business from different states when it’s EAA week at the end of July in Oshkosh. It’s a big airshow and brings in a big crowd of people that I always feel like we get to meet new people every single year.”
Amiti said she would like to see some of the RNC attendees visit Ripon, a community of about 8,000 people, where she and her parents live and run their business.
“I can see it for them coming to Ripon, especially with the Little White Schoolhouse,” she said. “Hopefully they do, because I feel like it would really benefit Ripon a lot.”
Earlier this year, the schoolhouse moved to a new location on West Fond du Lac Street for increased visibility and accessibility. It’s the 7th time the building has been moved.
“The reason for the move is we were on a very small lot downtown where we actually only owned seven feet outside of the building,” Arbaugh said. “We didn’t own any parking, and we didn’t have any modern facilities. We’re going to have a new Legacy Center next door which will be available for speaking engagements, learning opportunities. People will be able to see a video, a little orientation about the Little White School House and the founding of the party and then actually come into the schoolhouse and make their tour.”