By Katie Egan-Bruhy and Don Weir
Commonwealth Heritage Group, Inc. (formerly known as Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group) has seen some big changes since its beginnings in Jackson, Michigan. In 1999 President Don Weir introduced the idea of expanding the company by opening a Wisconsin office, and by November the office had officially launched. Dr. Katie Egan-Bruhy (who recently retired in 2018) played a critical role in paving the way for the office’s success to this day. Starting on a half-time basis, her initial contracts were for paleoethnobotanical analyses and Department of Transportation (DOT) projects for engineering firms. However, by 2000, soon after hosting the company’s first client meeting, Dr. Egan-Bruhy and her golden retriever moved the office to a storefront. With two full-time archaeologists and two part-time support staff, Dr. Egan-Bruhy led the office to conduct archaeological and architectural history projects with the assistance of staff from our Michigan office.
The Wisconsin office continued to assist engineering firms with DOT projects and was awarded the first of several master contracts with the Wisconsin DOT in the early 2000s. By 2005 the office was conducting transportation, land management, and energy-related projects, including a 200+ mile-long pipeline project extending from northwestern Wisconsin to northeastern Illinois. At that point staff moved to a larger office space and hired additional full-time archaeologists and a part-time GIS staff member.
During the next couple of years, the Wisconsin office continued to expand its private client base while also securing multi-year master contracts with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the USDA Lakes States forests, Wisconsin DOT, and Minnesota DOT (MnDOT). The office played a primary role in the determination of No Adverse Effect to the Sny Levee, which is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The office also worked on the REX East pipeline that stretches across Illinois, which resulted in the identification of 485 archaeological sites and 40 architectural/historic resources, the NRHP evaluation of 68 archaeological sites and all 40 architectural/historic properties, and a data recovery. Staff also conducted a multi-tiered study that resulted in the development of a protocol for MnDOT to help identify deeply buried archaeological sites.
In order to keep pace with the increasing demand for cultural resources services, in 2010 the Wisconsin office moved to its current home in Milwaukee and continued to grow by adding an additional archaeologist/project manager and an in-house architectural historian. Continuing growth provided opportunities to work with the USDA Forest Service and collaboratively with John Milner Associates for the Corps of Engineers on a number of American Recovery and Reinvention Act (ARRA) projects. The office’s portfolio of service expanded to include numerous Section 106-related transportation (roads and railroads), land management (USDA, NRCS, COE), communications, energy (oil, gas, solar, and wind), and mining projects, all while helping developers and private landowners comply with state preservation and burial site statutes.
Now 20 years since its inception, the Wisconsin office has six full-time archaeologists and two full-time architectural historians, along with numerous part-time support staff. The office has conducted more than 1,000 projects in Wisconsin and eight adjoining states, serving a diverse client base that includes federal, tribal, state, and county and local governments, environmental and engineering firms, private developers, and private landowners, including some who Commonwealth has had the pleasure to work with since its founding.
To date, the office has completed projects that range from preparing NRHP multi-property nominations for logging resources in northern Wisconsin to consulting clients to ensure that any loss of historic properties results in the recovery and distribution of valuable information regarding the resources to the public. Staff have drafted historic markers and interpretive panels, conducted public presentations, assisted in updating and archiving historic documentation, and recovered significant archaeological data. The office and its staff (both past and present) have been an industry beacon by displaying its dedication to historic preservation and public benefit time and time again through these projects and much more.