The Sheboygan County Historical Research Center was started in 1983 by a group of ambitious researchers with a dream, a dream of having vital research documents in one public place, rather than scattered throughout the county in homes and businesses.
The organization’s first home was one room in the old German bank building in Sheboygan Falls (now the Chamber-Main building at the corner of Broadway and Monroe Streets). Rent free, the space was donated by Bob and Margaret Johansen, publishers of the Plymouth Review. Volunteers numbered six. There was no budget and no paid staff. The collection filled two file drawers and part of one bookshelf.
But, the collection and volunteer staff grew quickly, so quickly that the Historical Research Center needed a new home within two years.
In 1985, the Mill House was purchased by a company that intended to raze the old house for a parking lot. Just days before demolition it was discovered it was actually the oldest documented building left standing in Sheboygan County. Local preservationists were able to work with the owners- Sheboygan Falls Mutual Insurance Company- to deed the property to Sheboygan County Landmarks, Ltd. for restoration and rehabilitation.
An adaptive restoration was performed and a beautiful new facility was created. It was a project which involved the entire community and launched the transformation of the Cole Historic District.
The Mill House is a two-story, wood frame Greek Revival building with a side-gabled roof and returned eaves, that rests on a limestone foundation. Built in 1837 by the Rochester Lumber Company for boarding their workers, it also served as the first home for early settlers in the county, accommodating their families until they could build their own homes. Charles Cole purchased the structure in 1860 for two of his sons. A wall was built through the middle of the house, dividing it exactly in half. Called the double or "mirror" house by local residents, the house remained a two-family home until the late 1960, when it was remodeled into a four family apartment house.
Today it is located in the Cole Historic District, a group of five Greek Revival buildings on the National Historic Register. The Mill House is the oldest building in Sheboygan County. It has housed the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center since 1986.