Entrance to Norskedalen off County PI in La Crosse County

Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center


Norskedalen means “Norwegian Valley,” and it serves as a nature and heritage center dedicated to preserving, interpreting and sharing the area’s natural environment and cultural heritage. Opened in 1977, Norsedalen features a secluded blend of hills and valleys traversed by trails, historic structures, and artifacts from all over the area. The focus is on Coon Valley in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area and Norwegian settlers who came to La Crosse and Vernon Counties.

Norksedalen Thrune Visitor Center mural

Norwegians loved their home country, but many considered opportunity in America irresistible. Wisconsin’s Driftless Area gave them a reminder of the beauty of home with better farmland and opportunity.

The Thrune Visitor Center is an excellent place to start. You’ll find several rooms which offer a look at how Norwegian settlers fared in Norway, made their way to America and Wisconsin, and adapted over time. One room traces the process of the early immigrants in a timeline fashion. It begins with displays of the actual trunks they packed their lives in for the ocean voyage, complete with labels and more. It then progresses to tools they brought for making clothing, tilling the land, and building their homes, and moves on to items they used around the house and in the community as they established themselves in Wisconsin. This immerses you in their experience.

Norskedalen Thrune Visitor Center Museum tools from early settlers

Norksedalen's Benrud Little White ChapelPlenty of historic buildings dot the grounds of Norskedalen. Numerous structures from the original Bekkum Homestead, including the main house, sit in close proximity along a creek. The Benrud Little White Chapel is a reconstructed church that originally stood in Sparta before being moved to Norskedalen in 2009. Today the chapel hosts weddings and other events and houses plenty of artifacts from its church days. Check out the still-playable organ that dates back to 1915!

Between its ability to grow in Wisconsin soil and fetch higher prices, tobacco farming became quite popular with early Norwegian settlers. Along the Ophus Trail, a good 1.1-mile walking path, you’ll find an original tobacco barn from the Coon Valley area.

Tobacco barn at Norskedalen

Early original tobacco barn at Norskedalen.

The Bekkum Homestead at Norskedalen.

Part of the Bekkum Homestead at Norskedalen.

Start of the Ophus Trail at NorksedalenYou can also get a little exercise traversing trails that run through the grounds. Some offer steep climbs up the high hills surrounding the valley. Others stay low and let you explore the vegetation, flowers, streams and ponds, and other features that make this place serene and beautiful.  Trail lengths range from just under a mile to over four miles.

The Paulsen Cabin (no relation to State Trunk Tour founder Eric Paulsen, as far as we know) on the Norskedalen grounds offers overnight accommodations. It’s a 130 year-old log cabin on the outside and a mix of history and today’s comforts on the inside. It sleeps six with an authentic log interior and loft; but it also features a full kitchen with modern amenities.

Norskedalen offers events throughout the year, including nature walks and family-friendly options. Midsummer Fest welcomes the warmth after Syttende Mai.  Ghoulees in the Coulees is popular during Halloween. You can take a Candlelight Snowshow Hike in winter. Other events immerse you in nature and history.  Get more events here.

Reaching Norskedalen means a beautiful drive through the Driftless Area. Norskedalen is located along County PI between Highway 162 and U.S. 14/61 just north of Coon Valley. County PI itself is a narrow, twisty road that features hairpin turns as it navigates Poplar Coulee, winds past farms, and hugs hillsides on its way to the grounds. This is very much a pay-close-attention stretch of road! But it is gorgeous and very much a hint of the beauty to come when you arrive.

County PI on the way to Norskedalen

County PI on the way to Norskedalen.

Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center Address:

N455 O Ophus Road
Coon Valley, WI 54623
(608) 452-3424
Website





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
Website




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
Website

 




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.

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

Thrasher Opera House


A vintage 1910 theater built by Charlie Thrasher to showcase vaudeville acts and (very) early movies, the Thrasher Opera House was a community hub for decades after it first opened. After being shuttered for decades, it was refurbished and once again hosts musical acts, plays, theatre and comedy performances, events, and more – though we didn’t see any actual opera on the schedule.

The charm of the original building’s inside remains, and it’s once again a hub of community activity in downtown Green Lake on Mill Street. Check their schedule of events and maybe you can catch something fun when you come through! Highways 23 and 49 bring you to Green Lake.

Address:
506 Mill Street
Green Lake, WI 54941
(920) 294-4279

Historic Washington House Museum


Built as an immigrant hotel and saloon in the 1850s, the Historic Washington House lays claim to inventing the ice cream sundae. Around 1881, they dished up ice cream and chocolate sauce, but only in sodas. One customer started asking for a dish of ice cream topped with the sauce and they began selling it that way, but only on Sundays. Shortly thereafter, a 10-year-old girl requested a dish of ice cream with “that stuff on top” on a different day of the week, suggesting they could “pretend” it was Sunday. Between that and the long canoe-shaped dishes in which the ice cream was served being known as “sundae dishes,” the ice cream sundae was born.

Today, the Washington House serves up sundaes but also history, with seven rooms and an old ballroom to explore, filled with items of interest from military to 19th century doctors’ and dentists’ offices to historic knick-knacks. The building itself is well-preserved and even has its original decorative tin ceiling.

The ice cream parlor is a must of course, so order one up and dig in! There are 18 different sundae flavors to choose from. The Washington House is open seven days a week from 9am until 5pm (summer hours ’til 9pm). You’ll find it one block east of Highway 42 in downtown Two Rivers, right near the ends of Highways 147 and 310.

Address:
1622 Jefferson Street
Two Rivers, WI 54241
(920) 793-2490
Website

Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village Lighthouse

Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village


Anchoring Two Rivers’ historic district, Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village showcases the long and colorful history of Two Rivers’ commercial fishing industry – the longest such history of any city on the Great Lakes. Calling commercial fishing “America’s most dangerous profession,” this complex offers an incredible look at the 175+ years of history, techniques, boats, and even shipwrecks (hence the “dangerous”) while offering the chance to climb the North Pier Lighthouse, built in 1886.

Statue at Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village

Rogers Street Fishing Village features a museum, the original 1936 tugboat Buddy O that you can climb on and explore, a French-Canadian-style fisherman’s home, original 19th century engines, boardwalks and plenty of artifacts.

Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village Boardwalk

Speaking of shipwrecks, the waters in Lake Michigan just off Two Rivers have had their share and you can see actual remnants of ships like the Vernon (which sank in 1887) and the Rouse Simmons (which sank in 1912) that were recovered and are now on display… right down to gauges from the ship and photos of the deceased – it gets real. Native American murals and artifacts also explore the era prior to European arrival in the area.

Rogers Street Fishing Village, recovered Windlass off the Francis Hinton ship

The Francis Hinton sank in 1909; you can see the windlass recovered from the steamer, among other amazing pieces from sunken ships, inside the Rogers Street Fishing Village Museum.

You’ll find Rogers Street Fishing Village just off Highway 42 in Two Rivers, near the endpoints of Highways 147 and 310, bordering the East Twin River. The museum is open from mid-May through mid-October.

Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village Address:

2102 Jackson Street
Two Rivers, WI 54241
(920) 793-5905
Website




National Historic Cheesemaking Center


Housed in a former railroad depot and part of the Green County Welcome Center, this charming little museum is located on the west side of Monroe along Highway 69.  Outside, you’ll find the charm of a train station, a fiberglass cow and some large copper kettles, all part of a “Memory Walk.” Inside, you’ll find a remarkable display of cheesemaking tools workers used dating back to the 19th century to make so much of the cheeses that made Wisconsin famous. Vats, weights, wringers, presses, old packaging, advertisements, and more fill this museum. Pieces of the former, 100+ year-old Imobersteg Cheese Factory were moved to the museum in 2010, and the 2nd Saturday in June every year Master Cheesemakers come in and produce a 90 pound wheel of Swiss cheese using the old equipment.

The Depot is itself also features original train station materials, including old schedules, an original bench, photos and more.

Cows and kettles dot the landscape in front of the National Historic Cheesemaking Center.

monroedepot2_500

The Depot Welcome Center offers travel information on Monroe, Green County, and area trails as well as the National Historic Cheesemaking Center.

monroedepot3_500

An original typewriter and schedule from the days way back when the trains roared through here are just a few of the classic items you’ll find in the Depot.

monroedepot4_500

Some of the cheesemaking equipment in the National Historic Cheesemaking Center includes plenty of vats, weights, wringers, presses and old packaging that held cheeses made back in the 1800s.

 

 

 

 

You’ll find the Depot and National Historic Cheesemaking Center on the southwest side of Monroe along Highway 69, just south of Highways 11 and 81 and southwest of the end of Highway 59. The Illinois state line is about six miles to the south.

Address:
2108 6th Avenue
Monroe, WI 53566
(608) 325-4636
Website