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Highway 69 heads south of Verona and immediately takes you through beautiful farmland nestled amidst the rolling hills that are characteristic of Dane and Green Counties. For the first several miles you crisscross the Sugar River through the little settlements of Paoli (more on Paoli coming soon!) and Basco.
Highway 69 doesn't want to leave Dane County right away; just outside Belleville, the road parallels the county line about a half mile north for a while before Highway 92 breaks away for Mount Horeb and you dive south through a nice rock cut into Green County. Like many counties in this part of the state, there isn't a lot of open water; the county is 585 square miles total but only one square mile of that is water. It's pretty much little rivers that wind their way through the landscape, and with all these hills, they have to wind a lot. This one cheesy county; co-ops and factories that produce and sell cheese dot the area and they're not shy about letting you know they're there. You'll have plenty of chances to check one or all of them out along Highway 69.
Not too far into Green County, you reach New Glarus (pop. 2,111), a city that celebrates its Swiss heritage with gusto. Named after the Swiss canton of Glarus, and calling itself "America's Little Switzerland", this newer Glarus retains Old World charm. The Swiss Historical Village right off Highway 69 - where State Highway 39 meets up - is definitely worth a stop. You'll feel like you're in Switzerland, with not only buildings characteristic of the Alps, but Swiss flags flying along with American flags. Folk art, museums, plenty of craft and gift shops, restaurants and some lodging are all to be had in an area spanning several square blocks. It seems so authentic at times, you'd swear you'll hear yodeling any minute - and you just might.
Growth has been the rule for New Glarus Brewery over the past decade. The original brewery, still in use, is a relatively small building on the north side of town, right along Highway 69. The new facility is on the south side of town, perched atop a hill and accessible via gravel road. Once you round the curves, the new facility is quite a sight.
The rolling hill topography continues as you move south past New Glarus Woods State Park, which features 431 acres of camping, hiking, picnicking and, in the winter, snowshoeing. Areas of restored prairie dot the park, and in late April during the spring turkey season, hunters (including disabled hunters) can hunt wild turkeys. However, drinking Wild Turkey in the park is strongly discouraged. If you're from Switzerland, this area will look like home to you, which is probably why Swiss settlers decided Green County was the place to be. I've been to Switzerland; minus the Alps part, it sure looks like this part of Wisconsin. A series of farms, mostly dairy, dot the landscape as you reach Monticello (pop. 1,146). You'll know the village because it announces itself with a tall limestone sign and little Lake Montesian, which separates Highway 69 from the heart of town with both water and the Montesian Gardens, a nice community garden with a variety of blooming plants.
Monticello also holds the Green County Vietnam War Memorial. In the middle of Monticello, just down one of the streets, you'll find access to the Sugar River Trail, the Monticello Area Historical Society Museum (204 N. Main, 608-938-4216), several B&B's and two cheese factories: Silver-Lewis Cheese (W3075 County EE, 608-938-4813) and Swiss Heritage Cheese (114 E. Coates, 608-938-4455).
Just south of Monticello, we ran across these handsome guys. Chewing away on grass, we definitely caught their attention. At right, one of them looks prepared to charge while the other two seem to be egging him on.
Monroe (pop. 10,843) is the hub of Green County and the "Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA." Monroe High School's team nickname is the Cheesemakers, after all. The Swiss influence is everywhere, from the flags dotting the surrounding landscape to the architecture downtown to the fact that The Swiss Colony is headquartered here. Downtown Monroe offers a charming and rather bustling downtown square. Surrounding the impressive, Romanesque Green County Courthouse, are shops offering everything from boutique clothing to electronics. A stop in Baumgartner's on the square (1023 16th Ave., 608-325-6157) lets you sample more cheese and beer products made in the area, including a Limburger with mustard and onion served on rye bread. In the name of humanity, the dish is served with a mint on the side.
The Green County Courthouse in Monroe, surrounded by a bustling town square. Highway 69 used to come straight through town; it now angles around on the freeway bypass and skims the west side. But you should definitely check out downtown. Check out a winter view of the courthouse here.
Another good stop is the Minhas Craft Brewery, (1208 14th Ave., 608-325-3191), located just south and west of the town center. For a long time known as the Huber Brewery, it's the second oldest continuously operating brewery in the U.S, brewing beer in one form or another since 1845 - three years before Wisconsin entered statehood. They were purchased by Mountain Crest Brewing Company, a Canadian outfit planning that expanded the Monroe facility (read about it in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story here). As it stands now, the brewery continues to brew Huber's traditional beers: Premium (which won the Bronze in the 2002 World Beer Championships) Bock and Light, as well as a great old non-Huber-but-totally-Wisconsin throwback: Rhinelander Beer. Although Rhinelander's original brewery shut down in 1967, Minhas has continued its recipe and now brews the beer in Monroe. The popular Canadian beer Mountain Creek is now brewed here - a result of the Mountain Crest investment - as are a few malt liquors. Tours are available at 11am, 1pm and 3pm Thursday through Saturday. The State Trunk Tour has yet to tour the new facility since their new tap room, the Lazy Mutt Lounge (formerly the Founder's Tap Room) opened. There will, however, be descriptions and pictures soon! However, there is a gift shop and they've kept histroical pictures to browse, along with other memorabilia highlighting the area's brewing history.
Out of downtown and re-joining the current Highway 69, which doubles at 7th Avenue, you skim the western end of Monroe. Definitely worth checking out is the Monroe Depot Welcome Center, part of Monroe's original train depot. Outside, you'll find the charm of a train station, a fiberglass cow and some large copper kettles. Inside, you'll find visitor information, the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which has plenty of old tools cheesemakers used dating back to the 19th century, and original train depot materials, including old schedules, an original bench, photos and more.
Upper Left and Right: The outside of the Depot on the south side on Monroe. Lower Left: Here's an original typewriter and schedule from the days way back when the trains roared through here. Lower Right: Some of the cheesemaking equipment in the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which is part of the Depot. Plenty of vats, weights, wringers, presses and old packaging that held cheeses made back in the 1800s.
Past Monroe, it's open (and continued pretty) countryside as Highway 69 makes a beeline south to Illinois, where it connects to IL Highway 26 on its way to Freeport, Illinois.