When visitors walk into Kelch Aviation Museum in Brodhead, Wisconsin, they’re often taken aback by its unique collection of 20th-century airplanes. “Everyone who walks through the door goes, ‘Wow, I had no idea this stuff was around,’” says Patrick Weeden, executive director of the Kelch Aviation Museum. “Even if you’re not into airplanes or antiques, it’s just neat stuff to look at.”
The museum’s specialized focus is what it calls “the golden age of aviation,” the period between World War I and World War II. “That’s roughly 1920 to 1940,” Weeden says, “when the private sector and the military led many aviation engineering developments.
“Everything here is airworthy,” he adds. “Most of the aircraft fly regularly.” Old cars, a firetruck, and many artifacts related to airmail service, barnstorming, crop-dusting, and things of that nature are also on display.
Alfred Kelch and his wife Lois, businesspeople from the Milwaukee area, owned what Weeden describes as an impressive collection of about 15 aircraft. The couple left funding to set up the museum after their passing. A nonprofit, formed in 2012, raised $1.5 million to construct the museum, which opened in 2021.
Alfred Kelch, a pioneer in preserving vintage and pioneering aircraft, established the vintage division of the Experimental Aircraft Association and developed preservation standards for old airplanes.
Stories accompany each artifact, Weeden says. “We’ve been able to unearth some pretty interesting stories about where these things have been, the people who flew them, and the adventures they had,” he adds.
The museum can accommodate groups of just about any size, Weeden says. Admission and self-guided tours are free. Guided tours require a $5 per person donation. “We do survive 100% on donations,” Weeden says.
The time to allot for a visit varies. Weeden says some groups will want to spend three hours at the museum, while others will not need that much time. Free motorcoach parking is available, but the museum requests advance notice. Groups can arrange to have a catered lunch or dinner at the museum as part of a visit.
For more information on Kelch Aviation Museum call 608-897-1175 or go to kelchmuseum.org.
Main Image and Credit: Kelch Aviation Museum
Article by Kathie Sutin