Southport Lighthouse, Kenosha

Southport Lighthouse Station Museum

The Southport Lighthouse, reflecting Kenosha’s original city name, was built in 1866. It stands 55 feet high and is the third lighthouse to stand in that location. In 2010, it opened as a maritime museum on Simmons Island at 50th Street and Lighthouse Drive/4th Avenue. Inside the original Keeper’s House you’ll find artifacts, maps, old pictures, and more information about Kenosha’s harbor, a long-important point for industrial shipping, commercial fishing, and recreation.

The first floor was restored to reflect the era around 1907, including a period kitchen and historic colors. Check out the chart desk, which offers nautical charts and historic harbor maps that go all way back to 1839, when Southport was the name of the town.

Lighthouse fans will love the authentic Fresnel lens on loan from the U.S. Coast Guard; it matches the size lens that once topped the Southport Lighthouse. On the second floor, you’ll find more exhibits about the restoration project, local shipwrecks, the U.S. Coast Guard, and a re-creation of a lighthouse keeper’s bedroom/office.

Parking and museun tours are free; there is a fee to climb the 72 steps to the top of the Southport Lighthouse, $10 for 13 and over and $5 for children 8-12 years old. Children under 8 are now allowed to climb the lighthouse.

Check out a “then and now” video of the Southport Lighthouse and Museum here, produced by the Kenosha Convention & Visitors Bureau:

Southport Light and water tower at Kenosha

The 1866 Southport Ligthouse from the end of Highway 158, overlooking Kenosha Harbor.

The Southport Lighthouse Station Museum and the Kenosha History Center are located on the same grounds on Simmons Island and are operated by the Kenosha County Historical Society.

You can reach Simmons Island just a few blocks east of Highway 32/Sheridan Road via 45th Street or 50th Street. Highway 158/52nd Street brings you within blocks, and Highway 50 comes in about a mile south.

Southport Lighthouse Station Museum Hours:

Open for the season through October 29, 2017. It should re-open for 2018 on or around May 3.
Thursday-Saturday 10am – 4pm
Sunday Noon – 4pm
Note that the operating schedule is weather dependent.

Southport Lighthouse Station Museum Address:

5117 4th Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53140
(262) 654-5770

Villa Louis mansion

Villa Louis National Historic Landmark

Villa Louis is a historic mansion on historic grounds along the Mississippi River in Prairie du Chien. The mansion was built by H. Louis Dousman in 1871, replacing an earlier one built by his father, fur trader and investor Hercules Dousman, in 1843. Located on St. Feriole Island, the mansion was also known as the “House on the Mound,” owing to its construction atop a former Native American mound. The mound has come in handy, as the flooding on the island can be legendary.

Villa Louis Historic Marker

The Villa Louis mansion is a Victorian Italianate style home, constructed of Cream City brick. It boasted modern indoor plumbing and central heating, quite a luxury for the early 1870s (Wi-fi wouldn’t come along for many years.) It was remodeled and restored in 1885 and again in the 1930s when family members used the mansion as a boarding house school.

Reconstructed Fort Crawford on the Villa Louis grounds

A reconstruction of Fort Crawford in its original location.

Prior to construction of the mansion, the Villa Louis grounds were the scene for the only battle in Wisconsin during the War of 1812, called the Siege of Prairie du Chien. The first Fort Crawford (a second was built on higher ground later) occupied part of the site from 1816-1843, replacing earlier forts named Shelby and McKay – which we learned during a War of 1812 reenactment was pronounced “Mc-Kai”, rhyming with “McHigh.”

Villa Louis was acquired by the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1952 and it became Wisconsin’s first State Historic Site. By 1960, it had become a National Historic Landmark along with two other structures on the grounds, the Astor Fur Warehouse and the Brisbois House.

Inside Villa Louis

A room inside Villa Louis. (Photo credit: Wisconsin Historical Society.)

You can get all the information and begin a tour at the Visitor Center, which is open daily from 9:30am-4:30pm. You’ll notice it’s on stilts; that’s because the area does still flood sometimes! There are restroom facilities and a cool Museum Store inside the Visitor Center, plus the opportunity to get informational materials on everything in the area. Tours of Villa Louis depart at the top of each hour, generally from 10am to 4pm; you can get specifics by season here.

Villa Louis side

Villa Louis Admission:

Adults (18-64) $12.50
Children (5-17) (children 4 and under are free) $6
Students/Seniors (65 & older) $10.50
Group Tour – Child (5-17) $5
Group Tour – Adult $10.50
Wisconsin Historical Society Members are admitted FREE

You can get to Villa Louis via Blackhawk Avenue west from downtown, which was the original U.S. 18 route before the road was relocated to the location of the current bridge over the Mississippi. Today’s U.S. 18 and Highways 27, 35, and 60 bring you within blocks.

Villa Louis Address:

521 Villa Louis Road
Prairie du Chien, WI 53821
(608) 326-2721


Wisconsin State Capitol from West Washington

Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin State Capitol at dusk

The Capitol at dusk.

Our Wisconsin State Capitol is without question one of the most beautiful in the country. Perched atop Madison’s beautiful isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona, it’s the third Capitol building on this site and was completed in 1917.

Four wings holding offices stretch out from a central Rotunda capped with the only granite dome in the United States. The statue atop the dome, officially named Wisconsin, reaches 284 feet, 5 inches high and faces direction of Washington, DC. It was intentionally designed to be a few inches shorter than the United States Capitol. Inside, Edwin Blashfield’s mural covers the Rotunda’s interior and depicts Wisconsin’s many resources.

Wisconsin State Capitol dome view from the Rotunda

Looking up into the dome from the Rotunda.

On a visit, you can explore the passageways, the Rotunda, and lay your fingers on 43 varieties of stone and a series of mosaics and fossils including coral, starfish, gastropods, and more. Weather permitting, you can head up to the fourth floor and go outside to the observation deck where you can gaze upon the city from the base of the dome and browse the fascinating artifacts and photos inside. This year, the center of the Rotunda features “A Century of Stories”, displays and exhibits taking you through the State Capitol’s 100-year history. They include previous Capitol buildings on this block (there were several), major events that happened in and around the Capitol, and people who have shaped the state’s past, present, and future.

For better or worse, they also make laws in this building; a Capitol Tour brings you to offices, chambers, and other areas where elected representatives do their work. Plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, and museums surround the Capitol on the Square too; you can occupy a whole day just exploring this block! Free guided Capitol tours are available seven days a week. Check out a virtual reality Capitol tour here.

Wisconsin State Capitol view of Lake Monona from the observation deck

From the Capitol observation deck, the flags fly with part of downtown and Lake Monona in the background.

Wisconsin State Capitol Address:

2 E Main Street
Madison, WI 53702
Information: 608-266-0382

Tours Monday-Saturday at 9am, 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm; Sundays at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, a 4pm tour is also available Monday-Friday.

Gobbler Theater sign, 2016

Gobbler Theater

Gobbler exterior, May 2016The Gobbler is an unusual building: a circular, Jetsons-esque design made to appear in the shape of a turkey from above – even the roof over the entrance was designed to represent a turkey’s neck. This place opened in 1967 as a restaurant, lounge, and hotel. Its location along I-94 at Highway 26 quickly helped make it a meeting spot for those coming from Milwaukee and Madison – and many legends surround some of those meet-ups. You can read a hilarious critique and review of the old Gobbler here. A bigger, extensive salute to the Gobbler can be found on this blog, featuring tons of links and pictures.

Gobbler exterior eyes

The hotel is long gone and the restaurant had closed for over a decade before the original space was transformed – with many of the better original elements preserved – into a new entertainment venue now called The Gobbler Theater. Opened in December 2015, it’s open for concerts and at various other times to see the building, have a drink, and discover the history. Call them at (920) 699-0003 or visit their website here for updates and details.

350 N. Watertown Street (just off I-94 at Highway 26)
Johnson Creek, WI 53038
(920) 699-0003

Johnson Wax Tower, just south of where Highway 38 begins

Johnson Wax Research Tower

Standing tall – 153 feet tall, to be exact – above the S.C. Johnson & Son World Headquarters campus in Racine is the Johnson Wax Research Tower. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was completed in 1950. The walls are a mix of glass and brick, and at night the glow from inside the tower provides a unique illumination; basically, the building is translucent.

Every other floor of the 15 floors total is a mezzanine, set back from exterior walls. The building essentially alternates between smaller circular floors and square floors with filleted edges, since the corners of the structure are curved. The windows are made of Pyrex tubes – 17.5 miles of them.

S.C. Johnson used the building as its research headquarters until 1982. A number of products you’ve probably used were developed and tested in this building, including everything from Glade air fresheners to Pledge furniture polish to Off! insect repellent. While most research is conducted in more recently constructed lab space today, the Johnson Wax Research Building continues to be used for office space on several of its floors.

The building is open for public tours, generally from March through December.

You’ll find the Johnson Wax Research Tower along Highway 32, between the junctions of Highways 11 and 20. Highway 38 begins about one mile to the north on the other side of downtown.

1525 Howe Street
Racine, WI 53403
(262) 260-2154