Mt. Morris Mill sign
152

Highway 152 shield

Wisconsin Highway 152 Route Map, statewide size“Seven Miles from the Christmas Tree Capital of the World to Mount Morris’ Nordic Mountain”

Quickie Summary: Wisconsin Highway 152 is a brief State Trunk Tour route – it’s quite hard to see almost on our state map here – that runs from Wautoma (which bills itself as the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World”) to the tiny town of Mount Morris, which hosts camps, forests, and the Nordic Mountain Ski Area. On this brief connector route off of Highways 21 and 73, you can enjoy some nice scenery, a 19th century dam and mill, and some nice topography amidst this glaciated area of central Wisconsin – plus a few cool things just beyond its finish.

Highway 152 eastbound near the start in Wautoma

It may only be seven miles, there’s a lot of zigging and zagging on this lil’ State Trunk Tour.

Highway 152 Road Trip

The Drive (West to East): We begin in Wautoma (pop. 2,218), the county seat of Waushara County. “Waushara” is a Native American name, believed to mean “good land” (but isn’t that what Alice Cooper said about Milwaukee in Wayne’s World??) Anyway, Wautoma bills itself as the “Christmas tree capital of the world” since The Kirk Company started growing and harvesting trees on over 10,000 acres in the area in 1953. The company, headquartered in Washington State, continues to grow trees for market and offers the opportunity to color trees in all sorts of shades – so maybe Wautoma is the “multi-colored Christmas tree capital” too?

Lovers of historic buildings can head downtown and check out the Waushara County Courthouse, Waushara County Sheriff’s Residence and Jail on Ste. Marie Street. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Waushara County Sheriff’s Residence and Jail is a brick Georgian Revival building built in 1908 which now serves as a museum of the Waushara County Historical Society. The Waushara County Courthouse (209 Ste. Marie Street) is a Classical Revival-style building built in 1928. They’re both one block south of Highway 21/73 (Main Street) along Ste. Marie in the downtown area. You’ll also find some cool antique shops and Graf’s Sweet Shop, in case you need a little sugar for your seven-mile journey on Highway 152. You need a throwback burger or shake, the Milty Wilty Drive-In will take good care of you in-season, just blocks to the east of Highway 152’s start via Main Street.

Highway 152 itself begins a little further to the east, at Townline Road, which it follows briefly before turning east onto Mt. Morris Avenue. Then we have some zigging and zagging through peaceful, pleasant Wisconsin countryside in the midst of Waushara County.

Highway 152 near Wautoma

One of the few longer straight stretches of Highway 152. Lovely farmland abounds, even though a “mountain” lies ahead.

Mt. Morris Holden Lutheran Church along Highway 152 in Wisconsin

The Mt. Morris Holden Lutheran Church is a great example of how a beautiful church in a rural area just adds to the sense of serenity as you drive.

Highway 152 approaches Mt. Morris, an unincorporated town, and prepares to finish its short journey – but not before several areas of interest!

Mount Morris Dam – and Coffee

Mount Morris Dam marker along Highway 152

As you enter Mt. Morris (we’re intertwining “Mount” and “Mt.” here as we see fit) you’ll find a historic dam just off the road. The Mount Morris Dam & Grist Mill was built in 1860 by two men (James Morse and Henry Seabolt) who helped found the town. Running through several ownerships through the years, the Dam and Mill started providing electric power to Mt. Morris in 1925. It was renovated in 1995 and you can enjoy how it is today by not only exploring it from the outside but by popping into the Mt. Morris Mill Coffee Shop (N3694 State Road 152, (920) 787-7830.) This charming coffee house, open seasonally, runs inside the mill and refers to itself as a “no rush zone” –  even though they tend to fill customers with caffeine. You can explore the interior of this historic space or walk around the lock and dam area outside; the directional sign (below) will tell you which way to go and describe their coffee at the same time.

Mt. Morris Mill Coffee

Mt. Morris Mill sign

Mt. Morris Dam

After just seven miles, several turns, beautiful farm and recreation land, camps, a lovely church, coffee, and a dam and mill, Highway 152 comes to an end. Not at another state, U.S., or Interstate highway, but two county roads, making it almost a “spur” on the state trunk highway system. County G takes you west and northwest; County W takes you northeast and north. Either way, there are several points of interest within a very short drive – practically within eyeshot – of the eastern end of Highway 152.

Highway 152's eastern terminus in Mt. Morris

Highway 152’s brief tour comes to an end at two county highways in Mt. Morris. But cool parks, ski areas, and even a covered bridge beckon just beyond via County Highways G & W…

From Highway 152, just one-half mile to the west via County G you’ll find Mt. Morris Hills County Park. Developed in the 1960s by locals hoping to create a state park, this fine county offers some nice facilities from electricity and running water to all kinds of sporting fields along with 4.3 miles of hiking trails, which double in the winter for cross-country skiing. It’s a good place to have a little cookout, to; Morris Lake can be accessed via the town park across County G.

On a drive briefly to the east on County W, you’ll access Nordic Mountain (920-787-3324), an 18-run ski, snowboard, and tubing complex with a 265-foot vertical drop from the top of the hill to the start of the beginner’s area. All skis and snowboards must have metal edges, by the way. They offer two chair lifts and two conveyor lifts (one 80′, one 200′) and for visitors they offer overnight accommodations, a bar and restaurant focused on locally-sourced food and beer. For night skiiers, boarders, and tubers, 16 of the 18 runs are lit, and the runs range from black diamond to beginner. There’s also a Tubing Park and an Alpine Adventure Challenge, so there’s plenty to do here in winter. During the warmer months, mountain biking trails criss-cross and cover much of the 104 acres of Nordic Mountain, so there’s plenty to check out in every season.

And that’s a good way to end Highway 152 on a high note!

Just Beyond Highway 152: Covered Bridge Bonus

Shout-out to State Trunk Tour reader Michael K. who alerted us to one more “beyond the terminus” ride from Highway 152: a covered bridge near Saxeville called the Springwater Volunteer Covered Bridge. It’s not one of the old originals; it was built in 1997 to replaced the earlier covered bridge. Local people, unsatisfied with replacement funding that would only call for a non-descript bridge, volunteered their time, skills, and money to build this. A garden park adorns the bridge – property of the adjacent landowner – to make it even more enjoyable. We found this video from Laurie Kutil, who has a YouTube channel called Adventures In Travel. So until we see it for ourselves, we’ll share hers! (Thanks Laurie!)

To get to this bridge from the end of Highway 152, Michael says the following: “Take W out of Mount Morris to Saxeville. Stop at the little park on the left as you come into town and you’ll find a bell that supposedly was taken from Union forces from Jefferson Davis’ plantation. I think the road to the left that the park is at the intersection with W is called Portage Rd. [It is, we checked — STT] Stop at the historic Ding Tavern for some bar food, then continue to the west and Covered Bridge Road will be on your right.” Thanks Michael! 

There’s always cool stuff just beyond on these State Trunk Tours.

Highway 152 CONNECTIONS:

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 21, Highway 73
Can connect nearby to: Highway 22, less than one mile west

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: County G, County W

By the way, road geeks will note this unusual western end of Highway 152, where the “ENDS” sign is below the shield; maybe the sign person was from Michigan? That’s how they do it there. Huh…

Highway 152 end sign at Highways 21/73 in Wautoma

Unusual sign for the western end of Highway 152 in Wautoma, from the font to the “END” sign below the 152. Yeah, we notice goofy things like that.

 

Back to StateTrunkTour.com




52

STH-052“Zigzagging from Wausau to Wabeno”

WisMap52Quickie Summary: Highway 52 connects central Wisconsin’s primary city with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and towns like Antigo and Lily before terminating just northwest of Wabeno. It’s not a straight shot by any means; Highway 52 does more zig-zagging than a politician at a hostile press conference. On the Wausau end, the tallest structure is the 241-foot, 11-story First Wausau Tower; on the Wabeno end, it’s the 22-foot high Larry the Logroller statue. The many trees along the route typically vary between those two heights!

52begin-rib-mountain-view

Rib Mountain towers above the landscape as you begin your drive on Highway 52.

The Drive (Southwest to Northeast): Highway 52 begins on the west side of Wausau (pop. 39,106), the dominant metro city in central Wisconsin, in the shadow of Rib Mountain and quite to close to the center of both the Northern and Western Hemispheres of the earth (we know how to pump stuff up.) Wausau is the center of a “primary statistical area” according to the U.S. Census that includes all of Marathon County and brings in nearby cities like Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, and Merrill. It’s the 141st largest metro area in the country with about 308,000 people (by comparison, Milwaukee takes in most of SE Wisconsin and is ranked 33rd with 2.07 million, while Madison is 69th with 844,000 people, taking in Janesville, Beloit, and Baraboo.)

Wausau has been known far and wide for insurance, as Employers Insurance of Wausau – which became Wausau Insurance Companies – ran national ads that many remember today, especially with the music and focus on the “Wausau” name on an old Milwaukee Road railroad depot. The company was taken over by Liberty Mutual in 1999; they retired the Wausau name ten years later. Grrrr.


Wausau. As in insurance.

The city is also known for American ginseng; while Wisconsin cultivates close to 95% of the ginseng grown in the U.S., much of it is grown in Marathon County. You can see the artificial shade covers over ginseng fields all over the area. But with forests nearby and a big river providing power for sawmills, it was the lumber industry – and then paper production – that really got Wausau going early on; it’s still a big chunk of the economy here. Wausau is the largest city along the Wisconsin River, which runs right through the center and downtown areas. In general, the older part of the city is to the east of the river and newer areas are to the west.

Along with the river, the primary topographic feature in Wausau is Rib Mountain (elevation peak: 1,924 feet), which towers above the local terrain by almost 800 feet. Rib Mountain hosts the Granite Peak Ski Area, which opened way back in 1937 and was thus one of the first ski areas in North America. With a vertical drop of 700 feet, it’s the third tallest ski area in the Midwest and the tallest in Wisconsin. Granite Peak features 74 runs and lots of night skiing; lights from the runs on Rib Mountain can be seen for miles on clear, cold winter nights – ad there are plenty of them in Wausau.

Highway 52 begins almost in the shadow of Rib Mountain on the sprawling west side of town at an interchange connection to Highway 29, an east-west expressway all the way from Green Bay west to Chippewa Falls – it bypasses most of Wausau via U.S. 51. Highway 52 forms a short connector amidst big-box stores and new developments with the U.S. 51 freeway, the major north-south artery in the state. Interchange reconstruction just finished only a few years ago and, well, it’s pretty huge for these parts. It’s also the last time you’ll see a high-speed divided highway along the entire path of Highway 52.

Historic Marker, First Teachers School in Wisconsin. Along Highway 52 in Wausau.As Stewart Street, Highway 52 heads deeper into the city, passing schools and homes before reaching the campus of UW-Marathon County, a two-year campus. You may notice the historic marker along the street, revealing this location as the site of the first teachers’ training school in Wisconsin. Classes began in 1899 and helped usher in better contacts and broader knowledge for people who were traditionally well “out of the loop” in an era where communications were slower and access to schooling was much more difficult in remote areas.

Wausau – Downtown & the River District

wausau_kayakstatue

Heading into downtown and over the Wisconsin River, Highway 52 becomes one-way eastbound and circles around Wausau Center, a downtown shopping mall that opened in 1983. Just south of the mall is the River District, a revitalized area using older buildings and newer ones designed like the older buildings for condos, apartments, shops, and entertainment. The adjacent 400 Block is a recently redeveloped location for summertime outdoor concerts.

wausau_400block01

An empty block in the center of Wausau blossomed into the 400 Block, now a vibrant focal point featuring concerts, Farmers’ markets, festivals, and more throughout the year – but of course more frequently in summer and fall.

wausau_woodchucks02

There are some big balls in front of Athletic Park in Wausau.

The Wisconsin Woodchucks, part of the Northwoods League (a league of top college baseball players, quite a few of whom end up in Major League Baseball) play at Athletic Park on Wausau’s north side. The Class “A” Wausau Timbers played here from 1975 to 1990 before they relocated to Kane County, Illinois; the Woodchucks came along in 1994. The ballpark, originally constructed in 1936, has a capacity of 3,850 and is surrounded by a cool stone wall that extends all the way round the facility. Athletic Park sits at Wausau Avenue & 5th Street, right where Highway 52 westbound turns from west to south to head into downtown. Eastbound 52 is one block east of the park; you can find the ballpark by turning left at Wausau Avenue. You can check out the park and loop back on the side streets back to 6th Street northbound, where you can re-join Highway 52 heading east.

*** Breweries Alert ***
Wausau is home to two commercial breweries – so far. Red Eye Brewing Company is located right along Highway 52/Business U.S. 51 on the east side of downtown Wausau, part of the road’s northbound “wraparound” of downtown as 6th Street. Red Eye brews a number of beers on-site and is at the forefront of using energy sources like solar power to run their brewery and restaurant. South of downtown just to the east of Business U.S. 51, you’ll find Bull Falls Brewery, which takes its name from a real falls along the Wisconsin River as it winds through town. Their popular beers, often canned, can be enjoyed in their tap room on Thomas Street. Tours are also available. The Great Dane, a Madison-based brewpub, also has a Wausau location near Highway 52’s western end close to the junctions of U.S. 51 and Highway 29.

wausau-oilbarn01Heading northeast out of Wausau on Highway 52, check out what may locals call the “Oil Barn,” an old farm filled with old-school signs from gas stations and oil companies – many of which recall places cars and trucks would stop to refuel, refresh, or just get a ton of bugs off their windshields.

Off into the wild blue yonder of rural Marathon County, Highway 52 zigs and zags through beautiful farmland and rolling hills. Just northeast of the city, shortly before tiny Nutterville, you cross the 45th parallel, marking the (theoretical) halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator.

Highway 52 at the Eau Claire River Dells access

Follow the sign to the Eau Claire River Dells for some scenic beauty and recreational fun.

Up for some rougher terrain, rugged rocks, and scenic waterfalls? Just past Hagerty, follow County Y south near Aniwa and check out the Dells of the Eau Claire River Park, which offers all of that and more. We’ve jumped off rocks towering over the water and landed in the cool waters of the Eau Claire River tens of feet below. It’s a worthy stop, especially for hiking and camping.

Approaching Aniwa you’ll see a short road to the Motorama Auto Museum, the largest auto museum in Wisconsin. Over 400 models – focusing on the unique, rare, and aesthetic – are on display across five acres in both indoor and outdoor settings. A walk through the “boneyard” on their boardwalk offers a look at rusting yet beautiful mid-20th century makes and models. Motorama is open May-October, Tuesday through Saturday 9am-5pm. You’ll probably notice the signs pointing the way.

About one mile past Motorama, Highway 52 enters Shawano County just briefly enough to meet up with U.S. 45. It joins this major north-south route for the ride north into Langlade County, a meetup with Highway 47 coming in from the Menomonee Reservation, and into the second largest town along Highway 52.

Antigo

That would be Antigo (pop. 8,234), seat of Langlade County. Wisconsin’s state soil since 1983 is the Antigo Silt Loam soil, named, of course after the city. Antigo bustled with sawmills 100 years ago and today still hosts a series of industries dealing with lumber, as well as farming, food production, shoes, fertilizer and steel and aluminum products. It’s a popular stop for tourists on their way to points north and east in the North Woods, so expect a full variety of restaurants and stores, including a Super Wal-Mart.

antigo_markersiltloam_800

To the right is the historical marker describing Wisconsin’s state soil, along Highway 64 outside of Antigo. (Photo courtesy of State Trunk Tourer Agnes Wiedemeier. Thanks, Agnes!)

Antigo is home to the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association. It’s also where John Bradley, one of the Navy corpsmen who took part in the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima in World War II, came from; his son, James Bradley, became a best-selling author of books like Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage and The Imperial Cruise. You know that older Menard’s guy that annoyed you in commercials for years? His name is Ray Szmanda and he retired to Antigo. His great-nephew Eric Szmanda portrays Greg Sanders on CSI, although he grew up in Milwaukee. But we digress…back to Antigo.

Highway 52 runs through Antigo with U.S. 45 and Highway 47; Highway 64 also joins on the north side of town, as it now runs on somewhat of a bypass. But Antigo’s main points of interest are right along the road we’re on, including the main downtown crossroads and the Langlade County Fairgrounds. The railroad was important to Antigo, especially because of its logging industry. Along with Highways 45/47/52 just south of downtown, you’ll find the Langlade County Historical Museum & Railroad Park, which includes historic artifacts inside a 1905-built Carnegie Library (pictured below), a classic 1800s cabin, and an original 1900 stream locomotive that is on full display. All are available for tours.

antigo-carnegielibrary

antigotrain_800

antigorefuge_800

Large deer are abundant in northern Wisconsin; only a few are plastic and have the patience to hang out atop restaurant signs, though. This is at the corner of U.S. 45 and Highways 47, 52, and 64.

Highway 52 heads east from Antigo with Highway 64 for about three miles before breaking northeasterly again for more zig-zagging through Langlade County. Lots of woods, curves, and farms with everything from dairy cows to buffalo line the roadway, making for a pleasant drive.

Buffalo along Highway 52 in Langlade County, Wisconsin

Buffalo roam portions of Langlade County. In warmer weather, their coat will do this…

You reach County roads B and S, which of course makes for a fun sign, and then head towards Lily, a small town along the Wolf River. There, Highway 52 intersects Highway 55.

 

Highway 52 in the midst of the Nicolet National Forest.

If you love forest with rolling hills, this section of Highway 52 is a pleasure.

Highway 52 comes to an end around a corner where it meets with Highway 32, just northwest of Wabeno (pop. 1,264). Interestingly, the town got its name from a tornado that blew through back in 1880; the Native Americans named the 1/2-mile to 1-mile wide strip of fallen timber “Waubeno”, meaning “the coming of the winds” or “the opening”. Waubeno grew up, like many towns up here, as a lumber town. By 1905, five sawmills cranked out 35 million board-feet of lumber annually, a trend that lasted several decades until mills shut down during the Great Depression. Much of the local economy moved to farming, with some tourism now mixed in. Wabeno also won the award for “Wisconsin’s best-tasting water” in 2003, and has been bottling and selling it ever since.

wabenobandshell_800

Larry the Logroller along Highway 32 in Wabeno

Larry the Logroller is probably Wabeno’s most recognized symbol. Standing 22 feet high, the bearded fiberglass town greeter grins over you like he’s just ready to kick your tail in a logrolling contest.

Wabeno’s most notable landmark is Larry the Logroller, a 22-foot high fiberglass symbol of the town’s logging history. Similar to a Paul Bunyan statue, Larry brandishes a logging tool as opposed to an ax. He stands guard over a city park along the north branch of the Oconto River, which also holds the Wabeno Logging Museum and a 1901 Phoenix Log Hauler, a steam engine locomotive that, while not active, still works if somehow needed.

wabenochurch_800

Coming into Wabeno, beams of sunlight cast down towards a church…fitting, I’d say.

wabeno_bottomsup

Along Highway 32 just south of the end of Highway 52, the “Bottoms Up” bar helps reinforce their name by creative use of their Old Style sign.

Another charmer is Waubeno’s Public Library, essentially a log cabin originally built by Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in 1897 for use as a land office. Under town ownership since 1923, it remains a library built of logs – one look, you KNOW you’re up North. It’s the only remaining log cabin library in Wisconsin.

Another indication you’re up here is the extensive network of snowmobile trails; the Lumberjack Memorial Snowmobile Trails consist of a network of over 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails organized by Lumberjack Memorial Trails, Inc., which formed out of five separate clubs that united in 1974. Their website tracks the condition of each trail and provides information on pit stops and more. Wabeno and Laona are at the heart of this trail network.

So really, at either end of Highway 52 there is plenty to see, do, and enjoy; it’s just different things. Tour State “Trunk” Highway 52 and enjoy!

Highway 52 CONNECTIONS:

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 29, U.S. 51
Can connect nearby to: I-39, about 3 miles south (concurrent with U.S. 51)

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 32
Can connect nearby to: U.S. 8, about 8 miles north

Back to StateTrunkTour.com



107

STH-107“From hilly farmland to hugging the Wisconsin River”

 

Highway 107 mapQuick Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 107 is a connector route that runs from Highway 153 just west of Mosinee to Merrill, where it then runs along the Wisconsin River from Highway 64 in Merrill to the old U.S. 51 stretch leading into Tomahawk. This a very popular motorcycle drive, especially during fall colors. Along the way you have a view of Rib Mountain, tributes to “river rats” in Merrill, historic sights, a lovely state park, and a twisting drive along the “hardest working river in the world.”

Wisconsin Highway 107 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Highway 107 begins fairly nondescript on its southern end, along Highway 153 between Mosinee and Holder in Marathon County. It runs primarily through open farmland and rolling hills in these parts, and is straight as an arrow for a while.

107nbbegin_off153web

From westbound 153, Highway 107 is shown partially as an important connection to Highway 29, the freeway running east-west across Central Wisconsin.

107nbbegin_800

The start on Highway 107 heading north. The rolling hills and sight lines make for a nice beeline drive.

The farmland here is fertile, and ginseng is particularly significant in this area; over 95% of the ginseng grown in the U.S. comes from Wisconsin, and most of that comes from Marathon County.

marathoncity_ribmtfrom107

Rib Mountain towers above the landscape in this view from Highway 107 near Marathon City; Wausau is on the other side.

To the east, Rib Mountain towers on the horizon. Peaking at 1,924 feet, Rib Mountain is the second-highest natural point in Wisconsin and leads in “prominence” – the difference from peak height to average surrounding terrain – at about 760 feet. Rib Mountain is the site of Granite Peak Ski Area, one of the first ski areas in the nation – it opened in 1937. The tower towering on top of Rib Mountain rises an additional 400-plus feet and broadcasts 95.5 WIFC, one of the longest continuously-running Top 40 stations in country… which is one reason that signal booms over 100 miles in every direction.

After nine miles from its start, Highway 107 descends into Marathon City (pop. 1,524) – literally. There’s a decent drop in elevation heading into town from the south, leading from the hills to the Rib River running through downtown. Named after the Battle of Marathon in Greece (as is the county), the village’s origins date back to 1856 when a group of German immigrants centered in Pittsburgh decided central Wisconsin offered better opportunity. The village incorporated in 1884, three years after their first brewery, the Marathon City Brewing Company, began operations; they lasted until 1966. Another longtime business, the Menzner Lumber & Supply Company, started in 1894 and still operates in town. Highway 107 is Main Street through town, lined by small shops and restaurants.

marathoncity_107dropintotown

Highway 107 literally “drops” into Marathon City coming from the south.

On the north end of Marathon City, you meet an interchange with the Highway 29 freeway, with connects Chippewa Falls to the west and Wausau to the east – only ten miles away, which is one reason Marathon City serves increasingly as a bedroom community for people who work in Wausau.

107_rollinghills01

Up and down rolling hills, Highway 107’s stretch through Marathon County is generally a peaceful and pleasant drive, including for motorcycles.

littlechicagosignContinuing north through Marathon County, it gets even hillier and you go through tiny settlements like Little Chicago, supposedly named after a bar that ignored the rules during Prohibition days. For much of the 15-mile stretch north of Marathon City, you get some great views of farmland and the landscape typical of the hilly area west of Wausau.  After a slight jog along County FF at the Marathon-Lincoln County line, Highway 107 heads north into Lincoln County towards the county seat.

107_countylinebar

We love old-school beer signs at taverns, including the County Line Pub along Highway 107 along the Marathon-Lincoln County Line.

Highway 64 comes in from points west and joins 107 for the ride. It’s worth nothing that while you crossed the 45th parallel about 4 miles north of Highway 29, the “true” halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole is at 45°8’45.7″ and you cross THAT during the combined 64/107 stretch heading north before turning due east. There’s no marker there, but there should be!

107_fallscenery01

Some fall color along Highway 107 north of Little Chicago. The big Chicago is, like, a long way away.

107_edsharonschicken

Just outside Ed & Sharon’s Restaurant & Banquet Hall along Highways 64/107 near Merrill, this guy is like the opposite of the Chick-Fil-A cows: encouraging you to try burgers instead of chicken.

After a big bend eastward, the Wisconsin River shows up to the north side of the road; both 64 & 107 head into the largest town along Highway 107: Merrill (pop. 9,661), which started as a logging town known as Jenny Bull Falls. This locale provided yet another opportunity along the “hardest-working river in the world” to build a dam, a sawmill, and soon enough, a tavern. Merrill certainly has had its share of sawmills on the river; in 1892 alone, they produced 150 million board feet of lumber and 86 million shingles. The Wisconsin and Prairie Rivers converge here; there are plenty of bridges. Highways 107 & 64 hugs the Wisconsin River’s bank before crossing it in two small sections approaching downtown.

Downtown Merrill is accessed via Highway 64 continuing east, which is worth checking out. A pair of one-way streets mark Highway 64’s run through the heart of town, which features two beautiful government buildings: the original Merrill City Hall and the Lincoln County Courthouse. Merrill City Hall sits where Highway 64 forks into one-way streets downtown; completed in 1889, this Queen Anne-style structure held city offices until 1977. Today, it’s one of the most beautiful apartment buildings in northern Wisconsin. The Lincoln County Courthouse, along Highway 64 and Business (a.k.a. the original route of) U.S. 51 by the river, features a prominent clock tower.

merill_cityhall01

Merrill City Hall opened in 1889; in 1977, they became apartments. We hope since they’ve been updated to not include 70s decor, such as shag rugs.

merrill_lincolncoch01

The Lincoln County Courthouse in downtown Merrill, right where Highway 64 and the original U.S. 51 route meet along the Wisconsin River. The tall clock tower keeps people on time throughout the center of town.

64-107splitsignThose are all east of the Highway 107 turnoff; right where Highways 64 & 107 split, you’ll find a beautiful triple arch bridge crossing, constructed in 1904, crossing the Prairie River right before it merges with the Wisconsin. Several sights are here as part of a city park. First is the bridge itself, whose striking design must be appreciated from the river level below.

merrill_stonearch01

Built in 1904, this stone arch bridge carries Highway 64 over the Prairie River in Merrill, right where Highway 107 has its “Y” intersection.

merrill_stonearchmarker

 

Next is the T.B. Scott Free Library, which originally opened in 1889 inside City Hall but moved to its current “Prairie style” building in 1911. It was one of the first “traveling libraries” in the state and the first to offer English classes for immigrants, which they started back in 1905. In between the bridge and the library, a quirky statue known as the “River Rat” pays tribute to the loggers who rode logs and helped ensure the wood cut down in forests upstream made it safely to the mills downstream… often by riding on the logs themselves.

merrill_tbscottlibrary01

The T.B. Scott Free Library moved into this Prairie-style structure in 1911, where it continues to serve Merrill and other north central Wisconsin residents.

merrill_riverrat

The “River Rat”, who spent all day riding logs down the river making sure as much lumber as possible made its way to the mills. Beavers were likely a natural enemy.

At the Stone Arch Bridge, Highway 107 makes a major turn to the northwest, heading through “uptown” Merrill. On the edge of town, be sure to check out Council Grounds State Park. This 508-acre park abuts the Wisconsin River on grounds that once held Native American encampments. The dense forests, hiking trails, fishing and hunting opportunities, and campgrounds offer a peaceful and fun place to hang out, along with some beautiful views of the Wisconsin River. In season, you can rent canoes to ply the river and Lake Alexander or launch your boat (just watch out for canoes.)

107_councilsp01

Cirrus clouds reflect nicely in the gentle waters of the Wisconsin River at Council Grounds State Park, just north of Merrill along Highway 107.

107_councilsp02

Hectic day? Try this instead.

The stretch of Highway 107 from Merrill to Tomahawk consists of nearly 25 miles of curvy roads and rural beauty, much of it along the meandering shores of the Wisconsin River. There are no sizable towns, just winding road and the relaxing beauty of the trees, the river, and relative serenity (this stretch is popular with motorcycles, so occasionally that serenity turns into the “potato-potato-potato” sound.)  A few unique bars dot the roadside here, such as Rock Island Resort, which hosts bands, offers views of the water, provides a boat launch, serves up beverages, and dangles skulls from boats in the parking lot.

merrill_therock03

Yes, this is a silhouette on a rooftop. The Rock along Highway 107 north of Merrill.

merrill_therock05

Maybe these were just hanging here because it was October when we went through, but who knows… you’ll find these at The Rock just north of Merrill along Highway 107.

107_bevtoms

Once you admire the stonework outside, you can take a break from the drive inside.

Another stop is Bev & Tom’s a few miles further north, built with plenty of small stones to help support the building and the fun inside. This area is heavy with forest, especially down along the river, which is where Highway 107 usually runs. The river here can run fairly shallow; some of the drive-off points you can see the rocks that help create the frequent rapids that characterize this river section.

On one of the high points, you’ll see a marker commemorating Father (Pére) René Menard, an early French missionary and explorer. Born in Paris in 1605, he came to Quebec in 1640 and worked his way to Wisconsin, learning several Native American languages and doing both trade and missionary work with the many tribes in the region. He was lost during the summer of 1661, when he was on his way to assist a group of Hurons. He’s considered the “first missionary in Wisconsin” and while his body was never found, the marker atop Ninemile Hill commemorates the area where he was last seen. His stone roadside marker dates back to 1923, with nice views from the hilltop.

107_menardmarker107_hillviewatmenard

This section of the Wisconsin River is one of the more remote along its 400-mile stretch; despite it being fairly narrow, there’s only one crossing between Merrill and Tomahawk. This crossing is at County E, which connects to some great hunting and fishing grounds to the west, as well as a section of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

107_alongriver

How closely does Highway 107 follow the Wisconsin River? Oftentimes, this close.

107_countyEbridge02

This stretch of the Wisconsin River looks especially great when fall colors start showing up.

107_countyEbridge01

The only crossing over the Wisconsin River between Merrill and Tomahawk is at County E off Highway 107. It’s not very busy, either.

107_countyEacrossbridge

107_riverview

107_littlepinecreek

Highway 107 crossing Little Pine Creek.

Past Grandmother Dam, Highway 107 zigzags a bit away from the river briefly to head east and then north across Little Pine Creek, which has plenty of pines nearby and drains a large marshy – a great place for fishing or canoeing. And testing out the effectiveness of insect repellent.

Nearby, horse farms are framed by the background highlands as we approach Tomahawk. At this point, the U.S. 51 freeway parallels just a few miles to the east.

107_horsefarm01

The pickup in residential homes and businesses becomes noticeable as you approach what is technically the end of Highway 107, at County S. Why does a state highway end at a county highway? Because County S was once the mighty U.S. 51, the main backbone highway running up the length of Wisconsin. It runs on the nearby freeway now, but this stretch of S is still designed as “Business” U.S. 51, giving you a sense of its former bigger status. The wide clearance of the highway and larger, shuttered-but-still-cool-looking-in-an-old-school-way gas stations and other structures also indicate this was once a heavily-traveled route.

107nbend01107nbend02

Just Beyond: Tomahawk

While never “officially” designated into the city, go with the spirit of Highway 107 and continue north via S/former U.S. into Tomahawk (pop. 3,346). Long a big logging town, Tomahawk is nestled into an elbow-shaped bend of the Wisconsin River, with the Spirit and Tomahawk Rivers joining; a dam gave rise to Lake Mohawksin. You probably guessed that Tomahawk is a great fishing town; they have an ongoing status report for fishing and water conditions; but the abundant water also means the town is a center boating – and water skiing. The Kwahamot Water Ski Club has been putting on shows in Tomahawk since 1960 and are one big reason national water ski tournaments occasionally come here. Of course, the water isn’t liquid around here all year, and for cold-weather recreation Tomahawks offers regular updated snowmobile conditions for the multitude of trails leading to and from town. Since autumn is a nice and colorful compromise, mid-September brings the annual Tomahawk Fall Ride, a motorcycle tour of the area that helps raise money for MDA.

You enter the center of town after turning east on Highway 86, which also connects west towards Timms Hill – Wisconsin’s highest point. Running as a boulevard into downtown, Highway 86 is Tomahawk Street and offers plenty of boutiques, antique stores, restaurants, the Tomahawk Cinema, and more. You can connect to the U.S. 51 freeway on the east side of town and get on a fast track to plenty of other locales once you’re done with Tomahawk – and Highway 107 – on this State Trunk Tour!

CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 153
Can connect nearby to: I-39/U.S. 51, about 9 miles east; Highway 29, about 10 miles north; Highway 97, about 10 miles west

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Business U.S. 51
Can connect nearby to: Highway 86, about two miles north; U.S. 51, about two miles east

 

 

 

 

 

 

82

STH-082“Vernon, Viroqua and Valleys”

 

Western terminus: Crawford County, on the Mississippi River bridge connection to Lansing, Iowa

Eastern terminus: Marquette County, at the junction with Highway 23 at the I-39/U.S. 51 interchange

Mileage: about 116 miles

Counties along the way: Crawford, Vernon, Juneau, Adams, Marquette

Sample towns along the way: DeSoto, Viroqua, Hillsboro, Elroy, Mauston, Oxford

Bypass alternates at: none

WisMap82Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 82 connects the lakes of Marquette County and central Wisconsin with the more rugged terrain and scenic valleys of the southwest. The drive between Highway 80 at Hillsboro and the extended Mississippi River bridge connection with Iowa via the Black Hawk Bridge is especially eye-pleasing.

Wisconsin Highway 82 Road Trip

The Drive (East to West): Highway 82 picks up where Highway 23 leaves off in Marquette County, at an interchange with I-39/U.S. 51. While Highway 23 ducks south on its way to the Dells, Highway 82 heads west into Oxford (pop. 536), into Adams County and past a series of small lakes, including lovely views from Parker Lake. It’s worth noting that there aren’t too many lakes along this route, since much of its length is in the “Driftless Area” of Wisconsin, where few natural lakes exist.

82wbbeginat39-51

82parkerlake_800Several lakes dot the area between Oxford and the Wisconsin River. Parker Lake, viewed at left, is a pleasant spot for a wayside stop, fishing, or a little swimming.

After crossing Highway 13, Highway 82 heads across the Wisconsin River itself, where in the summertime people lazily tubing down the river from Castle Rock Lake to the Dells are often floating under the bridge in droves. Castle Rock Lake, the fourth largest in the state and essentially a dammed-up widening of the river (it was constructed between 1947 and 1951), offers a host of recreational opportunities – including, of course, tubing. Camping areas, boat launch sites and various recreational rentals are available in areas near the lake, which has sixty miles of shoreline. Castle Rock County Park alone has over 200 camping sites and can be accessed off Highway 82 via County Z just east of the bridge over the river.

82wisriver_800

The Wisconsin River between Castle Rock Lake and the Dells is popular for boating and tubing. And fishing. And hunting.

A series of horse farms and riding stables dot the area between the Wisconsin River and the junction with I-90/94, so if you have a desire to hop on a saddle, this is a good area for you. A series of hotels, gas stations, and cheese shops you suddenly see can only mean one thing: the Interstate is coming. I-90/94 crosses Highway 82 here on its journey between the Twin Cities and Madison, and a slew of places to stay or stock up on items for the road can be found here.

Mauston

mauston_truckup

This vertically-mounted truck running up the high Kwik Trip sign where Highway 82 meets I-90/94 has been a notable landmark for decades as people whizz past.

mauston_welcomesign

82inmauston_800

Juneau County’s capital, Mauston, is a prime stop for stock-up items and a gateway to the rail-to-trails and scenery of the Driftless Area. Here, Highway 82 meets up with U.S. 12 & Highway 16 for a brief ride through downtown.

The junction means you’re heading into Mauston (pop. 4,411), which in some materials refers to itself as the “un-Dells”, referencing its close proximity to, but much more relaxed and homey approach than, nearby Wisconsin Dells. County seat of Juneau County and home to the area’s largest medical center, Mauston (rhymes with “Boston”) hosts five companies who are Fortune 500 members and is wedged between Decorah Lake to its north and One Mile Bluff to its south. U.S. 12 and Highway 16 provide non-Interstate access to the corridor between Tomah and the Dells (highly recommended over I-90/94 for the full State Trunk Tour experience) and Highway 58 joins in from the north.

maustonstpat_lg

Mauston’s St. Patrick Catholic Church at the end of Pine Street, one block off Highway 82, but visible around much of the town.

Through Mauston, Highway 82 goes past a slew of growing neighborhoods and several large schools, which serve communities for miles around. The larger, more rugged hills of the “Driftless Area” of Wisconsin beckon; before long, you start twisting around through valleys and past increasingly frequent rock cuts and bluffs. This is a main route for bicyclists and ATV’ers looking to take advantage of the rail-to-trail systems in southwestern Wisconsin.

minihorse_800

A miniature horse along the roadside. Isn’t it cute?

intoelroycop_350

Less cute is a cop pulling you over for speeding. Make sure to heed the 25 mph limit into Elroy. This poor guy coming the other way didn’t.

At the heart of all of this is Elroy (pop. 1,578), where Highway 80 meets up with 82 for the ride into town. Elroy is the hometown of Tommy Thompson, former Wisconsin governor and Secretary of Health & Human Services and is named after the son in “The Jetsons”. Okay, I’m kidding on that one. Buffs of the 1980s who played the wildly popular game Trivial Pursuit may be interested to know that 30 million Trivial Pursuit games were produced in Elroy from 1983 to 1985 – which is practically a trivia question in itself. It’s also where three major rail-to-trail routes meet: the Omaha Trail, which goes to Camp Douglas, the “400”, which goes to Reedsburg, and the “granddaddy” of them all, the Elroy-Sparta Trail, first of its kind, which opened in 1967. Along with a downtown strip featuring a great hobby shop, several bars and a number of craft store, Elroy Commons lies along the trail – a former railroad station – to provide provisions.

elroycommons

Elroy Commons, once a train station and now a hub for bicyclists using the “400” and Elroy-Sparta Trails.

Built in 1991, the Commons is where the Omaha, “400” and Elroy-Sparta Trails meet and features an information center, gift shop, restrooms, showers and bike rentals. Rentals are $3 per hour or $12 per day. Schultz Park, a city facility, provides camping and RV facilities as well as a pool, tennis courts, volleyball, a children’s playground and more. If you plan on riding the trail(s) and making a day or two of it, Schultz Park is a good place to set up camp. If you prefer a motel, a number of them in Elroy and along the route cater to bicyclists.

elroy_downtownfromcommons

Downtown Elroy along Main Street is right along The Commons.

doghousebar_500

Custom, creative bar signs are always a State Trunk Tour favorite. This is in Elroy.

Highways 80 & 82 run together for the three miles south to Union Center, paralleling the “400” Trail along the way. There, Highway 33 joins in for about five more miles, into Vernon County and Hillsboro (pop. 1,417). Known as the Czech Capital of Wisconsin, Hillsboro is a pleasant town that hosts the Cesky Den Festival every summer.

amishpkg_800

The Amish population is significant around Hillsboro along this stretch of Highway 80. Just like guys driving Corvettes like to park at the remote area of the lot, the Amish horse & buggy riders often do, too. Both vehicles can leave stains on the pavement, just very different kinds.

hillsboromouse_150hihillsboromouse2_150hi

Above: Announcing the Country Market along Highway 80 (coupled with 33 and 82 here) is a large mouse holding groceries, which is better than a large mouse in your groceries, I suppose. Just a short distance later, another huge fiberglass mouse tells you about more available cheese. There should be no calcium deficiencies in this area.

Highway 82 at 33 in downtown Hillsboro, at Hillsboro Brewing

Hillsboro Brewing’s Pub is right at the main intersection in downtown Hillsboro, where Highways 82 and 33 wind through town.

*** Brewery Alert ***

A glass at Hillsboro Brewing Pub in Hillsboro, Wisconsin

A nice craft brew stop along Highway 82 in the heart of Hillsboro: the Hillsboro Brewing Company.

Hillsboro is home to Hillsboro Brewing Company, (608-489-7486), which launched in 2012. Home to notable craft brews like Joe’s Beer and the Leaping Lemur Cream Ale, Hillsboro offers cans and taps at their downtown pub location right at the main corner downtown. It’s a great old building that served as a shoe store and a slew of other businesses dating back to the 19th century, the last time Hillsboro had their own (legal) brewery. Due to growing demand, Hillsboro Brewing built a new facility called the 2E Brewery on the outskirts of town in fall 2018. Their newer brewery adds capacity and event space while keeping up with their growth.

In Hillsboro, Highways 80 breaks south; three miles later Highway 33 splits off to the west. Highway 82 heads southwest, generally following valleys nestled in between ridges like Maple Ridge and Newburn Ridge, with the high hillsides all around. Occasionally you leap over a large hill and duck into the next valley. On a sunny day, the light will play with the trees, especially early or late in the day when the angles often result in dark areas with brilliant light reflecting off a group of trees in the distance. The turns can be sharp, so if a sign tells you to slow to a certain speed, it’s not a bad idea to heed the warning in these here parts.

The Round Barns and Integrated History of Vernon County… Diversity before diversity was cool
In the mid-1800s, a sizeable group of African American settlers came to eastern Vernon County and established Wisconsin’s first integrated schools, churches and sports teams. Interestingly, a racially diverse and by all accounts harmonius community was more easily achieved in rural Wisconsin in the 19th century than some areas are able to have today. Although much of the old community is gone, landmarks remain… including many of the area’s famous “round barns”, many of which were designed and built by Algie Shivers, one of the African-American settlers. About half the barns he supervised and participated in the construction of still stand, and some are seen along Highway 82. There is an official driving tour of valleys and areas featuring the round barns that use parts of Highway 82 and nearby 33, a map of which can be download here in .PDF format.

82wbshot_800

82twist_800

Highway 82 between Hillsboro and La Farge features lots of twists, turns and meandering stretches within a variety of valleys. Be aware of Amish wagons, as well as people trying out their sports cars or souped-up motorcycles on the curves.

Through the valleys you enter LaFarge (pop. 775), where it intersects with that Kickapoo River-followin’ Trunk Highway 131. LaFarge is one of about ten places that bills itself as the “Heart of the Kickapoo Valley” – and in a sense, they’re all correct; it’s certainly accurate when you’re driving along Highway 82. Nestled in the beautiful valley the Kickapoo winds through, LaFarge marks the southern edge of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, a tract of land 8,500+ acres large with sandstone outcroppings and unique local plants and animals. The Reserve came from a flood control project authorized in 1962, begun in 1971 and abandoned by 1975. What remains of the area is the Reserve, which former Senator Gaylord Nelson campaigned to be turned into a national park and said it deserved such status. Visit it for yourself and see if you agree…especially if you rent a canoe!

82131thrulafarge_800

Highway 82 combines with 131 through the laid-back streets of downtown La Farge.

ontario_kickapoocanoe2_800

The Kickapoo River (“the crookedest river in the world”) offers a nice, lazy canoeing ride around La Farge, although that can’t be said all the way up and down the river. Rentals are available in La Farge, and a launch ramp is available right off Highway 82.

82outsidelafarge_800

This bluff is just west of LaFarge along Highway 82. As we said, the landscape just keep getting more gorgeous.

After hooking up briefly with Highway 56, Highway 82 heads into the largest city along its length, Viroqua (pop. 4,335). The name can also apply to a genus of jumping spiders, but this Viroqua is a pleasant town where numerous artists have made home. Butch Vig, member of the rock band Garbage and producer to albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, was born in Viroqua, as was President Bush’s (the Dubya one) personal physician. While Highway 56 heads west from the downtown crossroads, 82 turns south through downtown, joining Highway 27 and U.S. 14 & 61.

viroqua_fortney

The Fortney Building (above) includes a residence hotel and is a prime example of the early architecture along Viroqua’s Main Street, of which Highway 27 is one of four State Trunk Tour routes. The Temple Theatre is a 1922 Classic Revival style vaudeville and movie theatre that underwent a $1.3 million restoration; today it stands as a prime example of why Viroqua’s downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places.

viroqua_templetheater_800

Viroqua was called “the town that beat Wal-Mart” by Smithsonian Magazine in 1992, not because it prevented a Wal-Mart from opening, but because so many local businesses are successfully co-existing with it. Viroqua’s natural beauty has drawn artists for decades, but the arts and culture scene has been growing more significantly as of late. The presence of the renovated Temple Theatre and numerous coffee shops and galleries are just a hint of the growing arts community. Highway 27 goes through the middle of it all; architecture buffs can enjoy the theatre, the Fortney Building (pictured above), and the Sherry-Butt House, an 1870 structure constructed in the Southern style… all of which are on Main Street.

14276182sign_225hiHighway 27 is just one of the routes on Viroqua’s Main Street. Highway 82 and U.S. 14 & 61 also travel through the heart of town. Highway 56 intersects downtown, too. Bypass plans were in place for many years that would carry some or all of the routes around town, but that got cancelled in 2014. And we’re pretty glad to see that – this is a town to explore!

South of Viroqua, the four highways stay combined for a few miles before Highways 27 and 82 break away to the southwest. You run a series of ridges, from which the views get quite expansive. You pass through the small village of Liberty Pole, which is noted for nearby Monument Rock, a huge natural rock formation (we’ll have to get a picture on the next trip through). From Liberty Pole west to Red Mound, you’ll see a series of old stone wayside markers. These markers note historical facts about areas in Vernon County, especially as they applied to settlement and clashes with Native Americans. Many of these markers were carved in stone in the 1930s; most have been moved to their current location. They’re worth stopping and checking out, especially if you’re a history buff. These markers are noted in points all along the route in Vernon County.

viroqua_27-82_cabooselawn

Above: Just southwest of Viroqua, this caboose (presumably in someone’s yard) lies on real railroad tracks. Several other sculptures adorn the property. Below: Liberty Pole, Wisconsin. Not a bustling metropolis, but a serene place to stop, step outside and enjoy the views and quiet sounds of southwestern Wisconsin.

libertypolesign_800

Liberty Pole is also the name of an annual scenic motorcycle parade covering areas across this part of the state. Check out their home page here for more information.

vernoncomarker_lgvernoncomark_mcculloch_lg

As shown above (click for larger images you can read), county historical markers dot the sides of Highway 27 from Liberty Pole west for quite a ways. A map of marker locations is provided at most waysides, with specific details carved into stone tablets. John McCulloch is considered the county’s first European settler, building a cabin here in 1844 before “California Dreamin'” took him out west. Most of the tablets were made around 1930.

This area of Highway 82, basically between Viroqua and DeSoto, is big on scenic views and short on facilities, so make sure your gas gauge isn’t reading close to empty. Keep your camera ready, though!

Highway 27 splits off at Fargo (not relation to the movie or North Dakota) and heads toward Prairie du Chien. Highway 82, meanwhile, heads west for about a dozen miles before hitting Red Mound.

vernoncomarkers2_800

More stone tablet historical markers (reminding me of the Mel Brooks film “History of the World, Part I” just a bit) adorn the way along Highway 82 as you traverse a series of ridges and valleys. Towns and services, like gas stations, are few and far between around here.

82cows_800

Cows, however, are not. And they will stare at you to see what you’re up to as you look at the historical markers or drive by slowly. Remember, it is forbidden on the State Trunk Tour to yell “Moooo!” at them; they’ve heard it all before.

At Red Mound, Highway 82 has a split with County Highway UU, providing two ways to access the Mississippi. We’ll be taking Highway 82, of course, but the drive on UU is also breathtaking as you approach the river towards Victory, Wisconsin. Red Mound and the area surrounding it features a macabre history in the Black Hawk War, which looms large in Wisconsin history. Red Mound is about where General Atkinson (the one the city of Fort Atkinson is named after) caught up with Chief Black Hawk’s Band and were subsequently killed, although the Sauk tribe members were trying to surrender at the time. Markers about 1 1/2 miles west on UU describe this in more detail, and I found a web page here that will tell you more if you’d like.

82-uusplit_800

Highway 82 splits to the southwest toward the Mississippi River and DeSoto at Red Mound. County Highway UU splits northwest and is an alternate route to Highway 35 and the river, with a beautiful view and historical markers along the way.

82sb2desoto1_lg

From Red Mound, Highway 82 descends down along a series of cliffs and bluffs into DeSoto. Exposed rock formations, the valleys below and ridges overhead make for a gorgeous drive as you corkscrew down… and pay attention to the “25 mph” signs… they’re not kidding this time!

Highway 82 descends into the Mississippi River town of DeSoto (pop. 366), where the road is in a long valley that leads you into the downtown area. DeSoto was originally called Winneshiek Landing, but it was renamed after Hernando DeSoto, the Mississippi River explorer, in 1854. Like downriver Cassville, DeSoto is a great place for bird watching, including eagles. Historically, it’s also where Chief Black Hawk and his Sauk and Fox followers were defeated and subsequently slaughtered even though they were trying to surrender peacefully. The battle site is along Highway 35 between DeSoto and Victory, two miles north and where the aforementioned County UU that forked away from Highway 82 earlier reaches the river. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has established a park at the battle site.

desotostory_600

The “swashbuckling” story of DeSoto’s namesake adorns the wall along Highway 82 across from a school. Exploration of the Mississippi gives one immortality if you’re one of the first, after all.

82tomissview_500DeSoto is perched above the Mississippi River. After all the descending of hills and curves you navigate to get here, the river suddenly appears… right there. Highway 35 runs along the Ole Miss, with Iowa and their bluffs in the background. It’s not over for 82, though; the road does eventually get to Iowa.

Down the hill approaching Highway 35, you literally cross the northwestern corner of Crawford County… the last few hundred feet, clearly visible with the signs. At the intersection, look back at the line of buildings facing the river; it’s the quintessential view of a small Mississippi River town. Once joined with Highway 35, Highway 82 follows along the river’s edge as part of the Great River Road for about six miles before heading southwest in a last bid to reach Iowa.

3582bluffs_800

Along the section of Highway 82 that joins with Highway 35, tall bluffs line the eastern edge and exposed rock shows up amidst seas of trees.

Highway 82 joins The Great River Road & Highway 35 for about 2 1/2 miles. At that point, Highway 82 breaks southwest, directly onto a bridge across the Winneshiek Slough. A few miles through the Mississippi River Wildlife & Fish Refuge, characterized by marshlands, sloughs and swampy forest will eventually lead you to the Black Hawk Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi’s main channel into Iowa.

82tolansing1_600

82off35_300The Mississippi River along this stretch can grow up to 5 miles wide, with a series of islands, sloughs and marshlands in the middle. The state line follows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ maintained shipping line, which was right next to you in DeSoto and but darts southwest by the time Highway 82 prepares to cross the river.

The Black Hawk Bridge (often referred to locally as the “Lansing Bridge”) is where Highway 82 comes to an end, at the Iowa state line halfway across the bridge’s steel deck.

blackhawkbr01_800blackhawkbr02_800

blackhawkbr03_600blackhawkbr04_800

The Black Hawk Bridge has an interesting history. It opened in 1931 as a toll bridge and operated for 14 years until a March ice jam in 1945 forced it to close. The Wisconsin approach to the bridge was washed out and it stayed that way for ten years. Finally in 1955, the Iowa State Highway Commission rehabbed the bridge and by 1957, both states purchased the bridge and reopened it as a free facility. It could be due for another rehabilitation or even replacement sometime soon; the structure is narrow and has a speed limit of 25 mph that we highly, highly recommend you follow. The western end of the bridge drops right onto the riverbank. where Iowa Highway 9 is an immediate crossroad. The sound of tires grinding over the steel deck surface can be heard for quite a distance along the riverfront.

blackhawkbr06_200hi

The Black Hawk Bridge has an unusual look that makes some travelers uneasy about crossing it. The bridge is a riveted cantilever through truss bridge that totals 1,653 feet in length, clears 68 feet over the Mississippi River, but is only 21 foot-long subs wide. The picture at left is the view from under the bridge; for a really cool look at the whole area from above, click on the aerial shot below. You get a good sense of how long the causeway is to approach the Wisconsin side of the Black Hawk Bridge! This shows the last few miles of Highway 82.

Lansing_IA_April_14_2001

blackhawkbr05_800Along the Iowa side of the river, the Black Hawk Bridge dominates the view and the sound of cars crossing the steel grid above echo up and down the valley. Lansing, Iowa is a pleasant little river town that was named after Lansing, Michigan. The Black Hawk Bridge is the only Mississippi River crossing between Prairie du Chien and La Crosse, a distance of 63 miles.

At the western end of Highway 82 at the Wisconsin-Iowa line over the Mississippi River, you can view the Black Hawk Bridge via webcam during daylight hours.

And if you turn around to head back to Wisconsin, this is the approach from the Iowa side. Use it!

82ebbegin01_800

CONNECTIONS
East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 23, I-39, U.S. 51
Can connect nearby to: Highway 22, about 6 miles east in Montello (via Highway 23)

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 35, Iowa Highway 9
Can connect nearby to: Highway 56, about 11 miles north; Highway 171, about 9 miles south

80

STH-080“Hub City to the Point of Beginning”

WisMap80Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 80 starts (or ends, depending on how you look at it) at the “Point of Beginning”. Cosmic at that sounds, it’s really just the “zero point” from which the state of Wisconsin’s and is surveyed – although that’s pretty significant in itself. Its other terminus is just south of Marshfield, where it heads south just past the state’s geographic center in Pittsville – which it also runs through. Highway 80 cuts through numerous small towns, negotiates the Driftless Area, hits Platteville as it cruises by the World’s Largest “M”, and heads down to the aforementioned Point of Beginning along the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. We’ll follow it southward here from Marshfield to Illinois.

Wisconsin Highway 80 Road Trip

The Drive (North to South): Highway 80 begins near Marshfield, which we’ll add more details on shortly.

 

Highway 80 south begins

Highway 80 begins in this roundabout just south of Marshfield where U.S. 10 branches off toward Neillsville.

Highway 80 technically starts at a roundabout junction with U.S. 10, which connects west to Neillsville and the Twin Cities and east to Stevens Point and Appleton; we head south on what was Highway 13 for many years to a junction with Highway 73 and turn east, rolling through the farm fields and moraines of Wood County along the way.

After an easterly run combined with Highway 73, Highway 80 turns south into the heart of Pittsville (pop. 874), which bills itself as the “exact center of Wisconsin.” Proclaimed as such by Governor Kohler in 1952, surveyors have pinpointed the exact location – which sits on an island in the Yellow River that’s pretty tricky to access. A marker sits along County E just a few blocks west of Highway 80 in town that notes the exact center of the state lying 250 feet north of that point.

Pittsville, the center of Wisconsin along Highway 80

Pittsville’s claim to fame: you’re deeper into Wisconsin than any other place.

DSC07649

You gotta find it just west of Highway 80, but this plaque makes it official that you’re right in the center of Wisconsin.

From Pittsville, continue south past Dexterville and cross Highway 54 to head into Juneau County, where the massive Necedah National Wildlife Refuge takes over to the west. Established in 1939, the Necedah N.W.R. is 43,696 acres located in the largest wetland bog in Wisconsin. Numerous rare or endangered species may be found in the Refuge, which played a key role in the reintroduction of the whooping crane and the gray wolf. Over 110 species of migratory birds and 44 species of butterflies (did you even know there were 44 species of butterflies??) along with a variety of reptiles, amphibians, and several threatened species like the Blanding’s turtle all get to hang out here. Hiking, fishing and berry-picking are just some of the activities one can participate in at Necedah.

Necedah Visitor Center sign

The Necedah National Wildlife Refuge can be accessed off Highway 21, just west of Highway 80.

Necedah NWR guide signs

Necedah is known as the “Land of the Yellow Water” due to the Yellow River flowing through (and no, it’s not a book by I.P. Daily.)

On the southeast end of the National Wildlife Refuge is the village of Necedah (pop. 916). Founded as an early lumber town on the banks of the Yellow River near Petenwell Rock, a popular climbing bluff, Necedah hosts a number of visitors from the National Wildlife Refuge as well as water lovers wishing to recreate on nearby Petenwell Lake. Petenwell Lake is a wide area of the Wisconsin River formed by a dam in 1948; it’s now the second largest lake in Wisconsin. The dam itself is just east of town along Highway 21, which intersects Highway 80 in downtown Necedah. Despite Necedah being home to NASCAR drivers Jim, Jay, Johnny, Tim and Travis Sauter, remember to obey the local speed limits. For something slower and more reflective, the Necedah Shrine (W5703 Shrine Road, 608-565-2617) is a Marian shrine officially called the “Queen of the Holy Rosary Mediatrix Between God and Man Shrine.” They welcome visitors with free admission and an Information Center that is open from 10am-4pm daily.

A fork in the road follows a few miles south, where Highway 58 continues south to Mauston, the Juneau County seat. Follow the right fork to stay on Highway 80, cross I-90/94, and enter New Lisbon (pop. 2,554), which calls itself “The Friendly City.” U.S. 12 and Highway 16 (the I-90/94 equivalent before the freeway was built) intersects right downtown. The Burr Oak Winery just outside of town lets you stop and sample 18 wines (not necessarily all of them, but you have a lot to choose from) if you follow US 12/Highway 16 just south of town. Burr Oak is open 11am-5pm seven days a week.

New Lisbon is the birthplace of actor Kurtwood Smith, who played the nefarious Clarence Boddicker in Robocop and, more recently, the cantankerous Red Forman in “That 70’s Show.”Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and creator of Mosaic, the world’s first popular web browser, grew up here. Today, he serves as chairman of Opsware out in California.

Actor Kurtwood Smith was born in New Lisbon, Wisconsin.

Actor Kurtwood Smith was born in New Lisbon, Wisconsin. Here on “That 70’s Show,” he’s probably about to use the word “dumbass.”

Above: New Lisbon-born Kurtwood Smith, playing the prototypical 1970s Wisconsin father on “That 70’s Show”

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Kurtwood Smith (Red Forman in That 70’s Show, Clarence Boddicker in Robocop, and more) is the only actor on that Wisconsin-based show who is actually from Wisconsin.

From New Lisbon, Highway 80 heads south-southwest and ventures into Wisconsin’s unglaciated territory, a.k.a. the “Driftless Area”. Larger hills, bluffs, exposed rock and scenic vistas begin to dominate as you twist and turn to the town of Elroy (pop. 1,578). Elroy is the hometown of former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson and is named after the son in “The Jetsons” (okay, I’m kidding on that second one.) It is, however, also where three major rail-to-trail routes meet: the Omaha Trail, which goes to Camp Douglas, the “400”, which goes to Reedsburg, and the “granddaddy” of them all, the Elroy-Sparta Trail, first of its kind, opened in 1967. Buffs of the 1980s who played the wildly popular game Trivial Pursuit may be interested to know that 30 million Trivial Pursuit games were produced in Elroy from 1983 to 1985 – which is practically a trivia question in itself. Along with a downtown strip featuring a great hobby shop, several bars and a number of craft store, there is also the Elroy Commons.

71sbegin1

Highways 80 & 82 go through downtown Elroy, while Highway 71 begins just north of it.

elroycommons

Elroy Commons, once a train station and now a hub for bicyclists using the “400” and Elroy-Sparta Trails.

Built in 1991, the Commons is where the Omaha, “400” and Elroy-Sparta Trails meet and features an information center, gift shop, restrooms, showers and bike rentals. Rentals are $3 per hour or $12 per day. Schultz Park, a city facility, provides camping and RV facilities as well as a pool, tennis courts, volleyball, a children’s playground and more. If you plan on riding the trail(s) and making a day or two of it, Schultz Park is a good place to set up camp. If you prefer a motel, a number of them in Elroy and along the route cater to bicyclists.

elroy_downtownfromcommons

Downtown Elroy along Main Street is right along The Commons.

doghousebar_500

Custom, creative bar signs are always a State Trunk Tour favorite. This is in Elroy.

Highway 82 joins 80 for the three miles south, paralleling the “400” Trail, to Union Center. There, Highway 33 joins in for about five more miles, into Vernon County and Hillsboro (pop. 1,417). Known as the Czech Capital of Wisconsin, Hillsboro is a pleasant town that hosts the Cesky Den Festival every summer.

Hillsboro Brewing sign

*** Brewery Alert ***

A glass at Hillsboro Brewing Pub in Hillsboro, Wisconsin

A nice craft brew stop along Highway 82 in the heart of Hillsboro: the Hillsboro Brewing Company.

Hillsboro is home to Hillsboro Brewing Company, (608-489-7486), which launched in 2012. Home to notable craft brews like Joe’s Beer and the Leaping Lemur Cream Ale, Hillsboro offers cans and taps at their downtown pub location right at the main corner downtown. It’s a great old building that served as a shoe store and a slew of other businesses dating back to the 19th century, the last time Hillsboro had their own (legal) brewery. Due to growing demand, Hillsboro Brewing built a new facility called the 2E Brewery on the outskirts of town in fall 2018. Their newer brewery adds capacity and event space while keeping up with their growth.

HIllsboro Brewing at the corner of Highways 33, 80, and 82

The heart of downtown Hillsboro features the Hillsboro Brewing Company on its main corner, right along Highway 33.

amishpkg_800

The Amish population is significant around Hillsboro along this stretch of Highway 80. Just like guys driving Corvettes like to park at the remote area of the lot, the Amish horse & buggy riders often do, too. Both vehicles can leave stains on the pavement, just very different kinds.

hillsboromouse_150hihillsboromouse2_150hi

Above: Announcing the Country Market along Highway 80 (coupled with 33 and 82 here) is a large mouse holding groceries, which is better than a large mouse in your groceries, I suppose. Just a short distance later, another huge fiberglass mouse tells you about more available cheese. There should be no calcium deficiencies in this area.

In Hillsboro, Highways 82 and 33 split off to the west, while Highway 80 turns south again into Richland County.

The next twenty-five miles take you through some of Wisconsin’s most beautiful territory, along ridges and valleys, Beaver Creek and the Pine River. At Rockbridge, the Pier Natural Bridge Park features the Pine River running under a rock wall (hence, the “natural bridge” park part) and makes for a pleasant stop.

Next up is Richland Center (pop 5,114), which spans the Pine River. The pedestrian footbridge over the Pine, started in 1912 and rebuilt in 1951, is worth a walk to stretch your legs.  As Wisconsin’s designed Purple Heart City, Richland Center features a nice variety of historic buildings and Flag Park, which is just like it sounds. Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center in 1867; one of his designs resides in the town, the A.D. German Warehouse at 300 S. Church Street, two blocks east of Highway 80. Constructed in 1921, the first two floors are open for visitors to explore on Sundays from 10am-2pm, May through October.

Oh, and ever heard of GTE? You know, the massive telecommunications company? It traces its beginning to Richland Center. It started as the Richland Center Telephone Company back in 1918, became Commonwealth Telephone in 1920 and – after an ambitious acquisition program – General Telephone Company in 1935, as it grew from just a few thousand subscribers over half a million. By 1969, it had become General Telephone & Electronics Corporation (GTE), acquired Sylvania Electric, and was the largest independent telephone company in the U.S., though it had long moved its headquarters. In 2000, it became part of Verizon where its remains remain to this day. There’s a marker about this; you’ll find it along U.S. 14 on the west side of Richland Center near W. 6th Street.

More of Richland Center can be discovered at the Richland County Visitor Center, located in a former 1909 train depot along U.S. 14, just a few blocks west of Highway 80. It includes information on the suffrage history of Richland Center – a legacy that includes a visit from Susan B. Anthony in 1886 and activity from local suffragist Ada James, who also has an historic marker in her name along U.S. 14 on the west side, not far from the Visitor Center. Meanwhile, Highway 80 crosses U.S. Highway 14 in Richland Center and from there it twists and turns toward Highway 60 before crossing the Wisconsin River.

Over the river (and kinda through the woods – no sign of grandmother’s house), you enter Muscoda (pop. 1,408), the “Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin.” In fact, Muscoda hosts the Annual Morel Mushroom Festival in May, complete with a mushroom contest (biggest, smallest, most unique, most in cluster, things like that.) The town’s name is pronounced “MUS-co-day” and its meaning is derived from an Ojibwa term for “prairie” or “prairie flowers” – but it’s the morels that give Muscoda the most distinction.

muscoda_morelscloseup

They look like sponges from the sea, but these morels are tasty mushrooms that many top chefs consider a prime delicacy.

muscoda_watertower

Hard to pass up a place that instructs you to “EAT.” Vicki’s sits right along Highway 80 in downtown Muscoda under the towering water tower.

The Wisconsin River Canoe Race also takes place in July, where canoers race from as far away as Spring Green, about 21 miles upstream. Once known as English Prairie, Muscoda is bisected by Highway 80 before the road joins Highway 133 and heads east into Iowa County.

After paralleling the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway for several miles, Highway 133 continues east while Highway 80 turns south once again and follows ridges and valleys south to Cobb (pop. 442), where you turn west once again along U.S. Highway 18 to Montfort (pop. 663). In between, you’ll see about 30 massive wind turbines, part of the state’s effort to move toward renewable energy. About 52,000 megawatt-hours are generated annually just from the – as Dylan might put it – “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

From Montfort on south, Highway 80 straddles the Iowa-Grant County line for a while before swinging fully into Grant County. Looking to the east, eventually you may spot a massive “M” on a hillside known as Platte Mound. Visible for miles and miles, the World’s Largest “M” is essentially a historic monument completed by UW-Platteville engineering students in 1937. It is constructed of rocks arranged 241 feet high and 214 feet wide and looks at the land from a 45-degree angle on Platte Mound. It’s an easy sign that you’re approaching the largest city along Highway 80.

Platteville (pop. 9,989) is the largest city in Grant County and the primary college town in Southwestern Wisconsin. Originally home to a teaching college and the Wisconsin Mining School, the two merged in 1959 and became part of the University of Wisconsin system in 1971. Today, UW-Platteville (UW-P for short) teaches over 6,000 students and features an engineering department respected around the world. UW-P launched some good basketball coaching careers too, including that of Rob Jeter (now at UW-Milwaukee) and of course Bo Ryan, who went to UW-Milwaukee and then UW-Madison, where he coached the Badgers to multiple Final Fours and even the National Championship game in 2015 (Duke… grumble grumble…).

Highway 80 is just off Second Street, the main street downtown for students to relax, some (um, over 21s only) with various beverages in hand. The music scene is surprisingly robust in Platteville; taverns actually help fund some musical acts and one, known then as Envy, won MTV’s Best Bands on Campus Contest.

Platteville offers an arboretum and two museums, the Mining Museum and the Rollo Jamison Museum. The Mining Museum traces the history of – you guessed it – mining throughout the Upper Mississippi valley. Models, artifacts, dioramas, pictures, and a guided tour complete with a walk into a real lead mine and a ride on a train (weather permitting) are offered. The Rollo Jamison Museum started with little Rollo Jamison collecting old arrowheads on his family farm in 1899. Over 20,000 items are now part of the museum’s collection, chronicling history of all kinds. Both museums are located just east of Highway 80 along Main Street.

For a time, Platteville hosted the Chicago Bears’ summer camp on its UW-Platteville campus and enjoyed the economic benefits that went with it, but they decided to move back to Illinois (friggin’ Bears, you were helping the economy over here! Why would you want to spend more time in Illinois??)

The straight streets and grid systems often found in American cities and towns aren’t quite reflected in Platteville. A vast network of mines exist underneath the city, and streets were built in locations to avoid being directly on top of them – a good idea no doubt cooked up by engineering students. In the city, Highway 80 meets up with Highway 81 for the ride south out of town. U.S. Highway 151 is now a 4-lane expressway around Platteville’s south side, providing faster access than ever to Dubuque and Madison.

Highway 81 leaves and heads east after a few miles while Highway 80 continues south into the “City of Presidents”, Cuba City (pop. 2,074). Why is it called as such? Well, Cuba City erected a series of presidential shields for the 1976 Bicentennial and things just kind of took off from there. Watch for banners honoring each American President as you go through town.

cubacitygas

Old-style pumps adorn this Texaco station just outside Hazel Green along Highway 80.

hazelgreenind_500

We’ll have to go back and see if some more industry has developed in this industrial park.

South of Hazel Green, Highway 11 comes in from the east and joins 80 into Hazel Green (pop. 1,183), which calls itself the “Point of Beginning.” Hazel Green hosts a number of bed & breakfasts and antique stores and served, in the 1800s, as lodging for land surveyors.

wipob_lg

This survey marker indicates the exact location of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line, effectively allowing Packers and Bears fans to know which side of the line to stay on.

The Point of Beginning in question is located along the Fourth Principal Meridian (also the Grant-Lafayette County boundary) at the Wisconsin-Illinois state line, one-half mile east of the southern terminus of Highway 80 as it barrels into Illinois. What’s so significant about it? Well, all property in Wisconsin – from Superior to Kenosha and East Dubuque to Marinette – is surveyed from this point. Surveyors began public land surveys here in 1832 and today every public boundary in the state, from counties to cities to farms and lots and the positions of roads, lakes and streams are all mapped from this point.

Fittingly, it’s also the point of ending for this State Trunk Tour tour of Highway 80. Now, it’s normally not State Trunk Tour policy to endorse out-of-state locations, but Galena, Illinois is pretty darn nice and it’s only a few miles down the road on Illinois Highway 84. Enjoy, and then get back to Wisconsin!

80nb_begin

CONNECTIONS
North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 10
Can connect nearby to: Highway 13, about 3 miles north or 4 miles north and east; Highway 97, about 3 miles north; Highway 73, about 10 miles south

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Illinois Highway 84
Can connect nearby to: Highway 11, about 2 miles north

73

STH-073“Okay… this thing just goes all over the place”

 

WisMap73Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 73 meanders across a huge chunk of the state with little or no discernable explanation why it got the routing it got. Which, of course, makes for an interesting road trip. You check out a lot of beautiful scenery, unique towns, the World’s Largest Talking Cow and more on this big slice of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Highway 73 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): COMING SOON!

64

STH-064“Twin Cities to Twin Cities”

 

WisMap64Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 64 is another “coast to coast” highway, connecting the twin cities of Marinette and Menomonee, MI, with the fast-growing northeast suburbs of the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Forests, Main Street USAs, state forests, a variety of terrain, and wide-open rural driving all await you in between.

Wisconsin Highway 64 Road Trip

The Drive (East to West):

64wbstart

Highway 64 begins as an offshoot from U.S. 41 in Marinette, about 1/2 mile in from the Michigan state line.

Marinette

Highway 64 begins in Marinette (pop. 11,749) at U.S. 41, just short of the Michigan state line and Marinette’s over-the-river twin city, Menomonee. Marinette’s location, where the hard-working Menomonee River flows into Green Bay, cemented its destiny to be a logging town in the 1800’s. Named after an early Native American fur trader’s common-law wife, Marinette is the county seat of Marinette County, Wisconsin’s largest by land area… yet Miller Park at capacity for a Brewers game holds more people than Marinette County has residents. Marinette – the city – has a nice downtown within a few blocks of the river along U.S. 41 just east of where Highway 64 begins and serves up numerous options for boating and fishing. Its “twin city” sister, Menomonee, Michigan, lies right across the Menomonee River. The two cities boomed in the late 1800’s when lumber came from forests upstream and were loaded onto ships at the docks of Green Bay. The two city’s main high schools share one of the oldest interstate rivalries in the U.S. It’s also where the 2005 film The Godfather of Green Bay was shot. The main bridge between the two cities carries U.S. 41 and was reconstructed in 2007. Stephenson Island is in the middle of the river; a nice pedestrian bridge allows a stroll there. There’s also a Wisconsin Welcome Center at the U.S. 41 bridge – as well as a Michigan Welcome Center on the other side.

State Trunk Tour Approved Eats & Drinks
marinette_mickey-lu_outsidesunWhile in Marinette, along U.S. 41 just south of Highway 64 there are two great places to check out. The first is just under two miles south of Highway 64 and it’s a well-known classic among locals and veteran road trippers: Mickey-Lu Bar-B-Q (1710 Marinette Avenue, 715-735-7721). An old fashioned diner with jukeboxes and counter service, Mickey-Lu’s serves up incredibly tasty little burgers charcoal grilled in a brick oven that’s right in front of your face. Everything here is old school, including the price. USA Today named it in a nationwide list of “Great American Burger Joints”! (It’s the 10th one on there.)

mickey-lu_burger_800

Mickey-Lu in Marinette

This is actually Mickey-Lu’s deal with Tootsie Rolls.

Mickey-Lu’s – from the outside to the brick-lined charcoal grill, from the 1950s era jukeboxes to the tasty little burger itself –  is a chow-down pleasure. Further south, the Rail House Restaurant & Brewpub (2029 Old Peshtigo Road, 715-735-9800) houses 11 microbrews from the Rail House Brewing Company, including a delicious Silver Cream, a Blueberry Draft and a hoppy Big Mac IPA. Try the sampler!

Highway 64 begins about 1/2 mile from Michigan as a western offshoot from U.S. 41. Beginning with a slow push past some residential neighborhoods (Highway 180, which runs along the Menomonee River to Wausaukee, angles off in Marinette’s west side) and over the Peshtigo River just outside of town, Highway 64 becomes a straight shot west for about 15 miles before intersecting with the newly-expanded 4-lane U.S. Highway 141 and grazing the northern edge of Pound (pop. 484). Pound is part of the Lena-Coleman-Pound-Crivitz stretch of towns that run north-south along U.S. 141 in central Marinette County. Pound itself is a small burg that was once featured in national commercials for a weight loss company (“How many pounds did the people of Pound lose?”) where the town’s residents lost a collectively sizeable amount of weight. Highway 64 grazes the northern edge of Pound with an interchange at U.S. 141 and a connection to County CP, which is the original U.S. 141 and connects to the heart of Coleman and Pound (hence the CP.) From here, Highway 64 makes another beeline west, over rolling hills into Oconto County and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

64packersmailbox_300

It’s less than an hour to Lambeau Field in this stretch west of Pound along Highway 64, where Packer fans aren’t shy about their allegiance. No word on if the mailman ever drop-kicked letters or packages through the uprights.

Oconto County

Oconto County.org and Highway 64

West of Pound, Highway 64 enters Oconto County, straddling the line for about two miles. At a hilltop right by County Z is a great butcher shop called Meatski’s, where a quick stop for sausages and jerky is always a great idea for fans of said foodstuffs.

Oconto County is officially part of the Green Bay Metropolitan Statistical Area, so despite your current relatively rural location, you’re in a “metro area.” The County runs from the waters of Green Bay and its county seat, Oconto, and stair-steps northwestward through the Oconto River Valley and into higher ground within national forestland. Highway 64 heads mainly through the latter; it’s an area filled with forests, ATV and recreational trails, and outdoor adventure opportunities.

64arrows_800

Highway 64 travels through some beautiful, wide open spaces like here, just east of Mountain. Which is interesting, because there are no mountains around.

64intoforest_800

The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest covers wide swaths of northern Wisconsin; Highway 64 travels through parts of it in Oconto, Langlade and Taylor Counties.

Highway 64 runs a beeline westward for and reaches the boundary of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, a 1.5-million acre wonderland of old growth and replanted forest land. The eastern part of the state primarily holds the Nicolet portion.

Just inside the Forest boundary, Highway 64 curves slightly and meets Highway 32 for a trip into the town of Mountain, which goes on along the road for several miles. This unincorporated town,  with a center around the intersection with County W. It’s a popular stretch for stores catering to visitors hunting, fishing and snowmobiling in the area since two major state highways run together here for about six miles. It’s a good stop for gas, sacks, or other refreshments. Just past the center of Mountain, Highway 32 breaks away to head north and 64 continues westerly through more of the forest and into Langlade County.

64tornado01_800

64tornado03_800

A TORNADO’S POWER: Taken along Highway 64 in June of 2007 just after a tornado cut a wide swath through parts of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, these show just how strong the winds of a tornado can be. This was solid forest prior to the storm.

Just inside the county line, you cross Highway 55 and the crossroads of Langlade (pop. 472), along the Wolf River. A marker at that junction describes the town and county’s namesake, Charles Michel de Langlade, as the “Father of Wisconsin” (pictured below). A series of lakes and rivers dot the landscape around Highway 64 continuing westward, past settlements like Elton (not named after the singer, apparently) and Polar, past the Ice Age Trail, picking up Highway 52 and heading towards the county seat, Antigo.

langlademarker_800

Langlade County’s namesake, Charles Michel de Langlade, is commemorated at Highways 55 & 64 with this marker. Langlade was one of Green Bay’s first settlers, fought in several wars and led, among others, a young guy named George Washington.

64school_800

The Elton Schoolhouse, opened in 1912.

64school_redone_lg

Elton Schoolhouse after its 2009 restoration.

See these above? A nice before and after between Elton and Antigo, the Elton Schoolhouse opened in 1912 and closed several decades ago. It looked charming but decrepit when I first drove by it on Highway 64. By 2009, the Elton School Preservation Society had arranged for its restoration and today the Elton Schoolhouse serves as a small museum.  State Trunk Tour reader Agnes Wiedemeier drove by provided the new photo (thanks, Agnes!) and you can tour the school by appointment (call Donald Rose at 715-882-3008 or Carl Zuelke at 715-882-2112) and check out local artifacts in there, including an old chalkboard signed by residents and visitors who attended the school.

Neon Heaven. On the north side of Antigo is Northern Advertising, which among other things makes neon signs for companies around the U.S. Somewhat visible by day, this building shines in the nighttime, with neon signs from Blatz, Oldsmobile, Rexall Drugs, and even the old Red Owl stores beaming along the roadway. Inside is an incredible collection of neons: some custom, some originals from the 1930s, some great replicas. It’s one of the largest neon collections in the world in one area. The owner, Dean Blazek, makes signs and has two sons, one in Seattle and one in Australia, who also make them and send them to destinations around the world.

neons1_800neons2_800

neons_epdb_800

This is just a sample of the phenomenal collection of neon signs Northern has. My mouth rarely hangs open when I look at things, but that was the case looking around here. At bottom, owner Dean Blazek showed me around and stopped shaping glass long enough to pose for a picture.

Antigo

Highway 64 meets up with U.S. Highway 45 and Highway 47, where you head south into the City of Antigo (pop. 8,560). Sitting atop a plateau about 1,500 feet above sea level, it’s been an over 900-foot climb since the start of the route in Marinette. Wisconsin’s state soil since 1983 is the Antigo Silt Loam soil, named, of course after the city. Antigo bustled with sawmills 100 years ago and today still hosts a series of industries dealing with lumber, as well as farming, food production, shoes, fertilizer and steel and aluminum products. It’s a popular stop for tourists on their way to points north and east in the North Woods, so expect a full variety of restaurants and stores, including a Super Wal-Mart.

antigo_markersiltloam_800

To the right is the historical marker describing Wisconsin’s state soil, along Highway 64 outside of Antigo. (Photo courtesy of State Trunk Tourer Agnes Wiedemeier. Thanks, Agnes!)

Antigo is home to the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association. It’s also where John Bradley, one of the Navy corpsmen who took part in the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima in World War II, came from; his son, James Bradley, became a best-selling author of books like Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage and The Imperial Cruise. You know that older Menard’s guy that annoyed you in commercials for years? His name is Ray Szmanda and he retired to Antigo. His great-nephew Eric Szmanda portrays Greg Sanders on CSI, although he grew up in Milwaukee. But we digress…back to Antigo.

kcbagels_500

This just confused me… KC Bagels are NY style… in Antigo.

 

 

 

antigorefuge_800

Large deer are abundant in northern Wisconsin; only a few are plastic and have the patience to hang out atop restaurant signs, though. This is at the corner of Highway 64 where it meets up with U.S. 45 & Highway 47.

Highway 64 once joined U.S. 45 and Highways 47/52 for the ride downtown; today, 64 continues west from that busy intersection on the city’s north side and bypasses the town to the north and west by itself. To see Antigo’s main points of interest, you need to head south along 45/47/52 past the Langlade County Fairgrounds to downtown.

 

antigotrain_800

The railroad was important to Antigo, especially because of its logging industry. Along with Highways 45/47/52 just south of downtown, you’ll find the Langlade County Historical Museum & Railroad Park, which includes historic artifacts inside a 1905-built Carnegie Library, a classic 1800s cabin, and an original 1900 stream locomotive that is on full display. All are available for tours.

 

 

Merrill alllll the way west to Stillwater, Minnesota is COMING SOON! Keep watching the site for developments… but in the meantime, here’s the west end!

wbend64_800

Highway 64 comes to an end on the bridge to Stillwater, Minnesota, which you see in the background behind the “END 64” sign.

stillwaterbridge1_800

The Stillwater Lift Bridge opened in 1931. Particularly on summer weekends, this bridge carries plenty of traffic between Wisconsin and Minnesota. The newer, high-speed bridge construction is underway.

Coming up: Express bridge across the St. Croix

Work has officially begun on the new four-lane bridge connecting Highway 64 with Minnesota Highway 95 in Stillwater. Check out this video from the MN Dept. of Transportation, showing what the new bridge over the St. Croix will look like. Highway 64 westbound travelers will see something very different heading into Minnesota; a virtual trip begins about 8:50 into it:

 

54

STH-054“The Hills of Winona To the Beaches of Algoma”

 

WisMap54Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 54 is a “coast to coast” route, connecting the colleges and hills around Winona, Minnesota, winding through the hills around the Black River and Black River Falls, through the forests, cranberry bogs, and lakes of central Wisconsin, and punching right through the heart of Green Bay on its way to the beautiful lakefront setting of Algoma.

Wisconsin Highway 54 Road Trip

The Drive (West to East): Highway 54 begins smack dab in the middle of the Mississippi River – on the North Channel Bridge leading away from picturesque Winona, Minnesota (named after our favorite Hollywood shoplifter) toward a massive bluff on the Wisconsin side of the river – the first of many this road comes across as it begins its ride through the Driftless Area on its way to Algoma, 244 miles away. As soon as you’re off the bridge onto terra firma, you reach Wisconsin’s Great River Road, Highway 35.

54ebstart01_800

Highway 54 starts as you cross into Wisconsin from Winona, Minnesota, a lovely river town that’s billed as the Stained Glass Capital of the World. Just as long as there’s none in the road, I guess it’s alright. Once you enter Wisconsin, Highway 54 meets up with Highway 35 for a little trek into Trempealeau – County.

54ebstart02_800

Highway 54 junction sign in Brown CountyHighway 54 turns east and follows Highway 35, hugging the bluffs with the river and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge to your right. The Trempealeau N.W.R. covers over 10 square miles and consists of the backwaters away from the Mississippi and the Trempealeau Rivers. Called a “prairie wonderland” by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, you’ll find tall grasses that reach heights of eight or nine feet. Watch for controlled fires in the area, primarily during the spring months. Past tiny Marshland and over the Trempealeau River, Highway 54 leaves Buffalo County and enters Trempealeau County (I’ll bet you’ve never seen the word “Trempealeau” so many times in one paragraph) for a beeline ride east, past the intersection where Highway 35 breaks away to head south toward La Crosse and Highway 93 joins from the north for the ride into Galesville (pop. 1,427). Galesville celebrates the apple orchards of Wisconsin the first Saturday in every October with the Apple Affair, featuring everything apple (except, perhaps, for Gwyneth Paltrow’s kid), tons of activities and multiple bicycle tours that let you pedal around and check out the fall colors.

U.S. Highway 53 joins Highways 54 & 93 for a miles east from Galesville. U.S. 53 and Highway 93 then take off southeast toward La Crosse and Highway 54 becomes its own road for the first time since the bridge over the Mississippi. The next twenty miles or so are beautiful; you wind through the Driftless Region. There are many twists and turns on this fairly narrow stretch of road — it’s not the place to open it up and do 100 mph, even on a motorcycle — as you enter Jackson County and approach the Black River near North Bend, a great place to stop and do some canoeing.

Try Riverview Inn & Supper Club (608-488-5191), where you can dine and/or navigate the Black River as a nice break from the drive.Further past, you cross the northern beginning of Highway 71, which leads toward Sparta. Highway 54 then heads into Melrose (pop. 529) before a meandering ride roughly paralleling the Black River to Black River Falls.

amishcross_800

This area is Amish country, where signs like this remind you to watch for a slow buggy here and there.

54roadsideint_800

From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on the State Trunk Tour” Department: I have no idea what this is, but it was definitely picture-worthy.

Black River Falls (pop. 3,618) is the county seat of Jackson County and, frankly, the first sizeable town along Highway 54 since Winona. The county seat of Jackson County, Black River Falls sits along the Black River. A small waterfall provided the hydroelectric power for a sawmill, which of course was all that was needed back then to establish a town.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
In 1872, Black River Falls became the first village in Wisconsin to establish a free city library.

brfbanner_800

brfdowntown1_800

Highway 54 runs right through Downtown Black River Falls.

brfmural1_800

brfmural2_800

The Black River, which runs through the heart of Black River Falls (logically enough), indeed has a blackish hue due to its high iron content. It’s a popular paddling and canoeing river, as evidenced by the opportunity you had earlier in North Bend. The Black River Falls Chamber of Commerce offers information on a bunch of other places to take advantage of the river’s amenities, as well as the city’s. Just follow U.S. 12/Highway 27 (Water Street) north from the downtown junction for a brief minute and it’s right there. You can also call them at 800-404-4008.

brf_vc1_800

brf_vc2_800

*** BREWERY ALERT! ***

Black River Falls is home to Sand Creek Brewing Company (320 Pierce St., 715-284-7553), which makes a variety of quality brews on a site that started brewing beer in 1856, but has had a wild history since then. Brewing here actually took a 75-year hiatus until the Pioneer Brewing Company started up in 1995 and became the new home of Sand Creek Brewing in 2004. For more history, check out this page. Meanwhile, stop in (right off Highway 54) and check out their brews, from the light Golden Ale to the hearty Sand Creek Imperial Porter. State Trunk Tour picks include the Groovy Brew, Woody’s Wheat (banana overtones are a good thing) and the Pioneer Black River Red, which won the World Beer Cup’s Gold Award for a German-style Marzen in 2000.

sandcreekbldg_800

sandcreek_steinsawards_800

sphagnummoss_500Ever heard of Sphagnum moss? Me neither, but it’s actually a significant plant that pumps money into the local economy. Growing quickly in the boggy and marshy lands in the area, Sphagnum moss is used to keep nursery plants and flowers alive and watered during shipping, since this moss can hold 20 times its weight in water. It’s used in hydroponic gardening, which I had to look up — it’s basically about growing plants with mineral nutrient solutions instead of the traditional soil. It’s even used for surgical dressings because it is sterile (ironically, it reproduces quickly.) It also helps prevent fungus attack in seeds. Wisconsin is actually the only state that produces Sphagnum moss commercially.

Cool kitsch: Familiar with the British band The Fall? They actually mention the Black River Falls Motel. Why? I’ll do some digging and find it, ’cause I’ll bet the story’s interesting. Also, you should check out the orange moose at the Best Western Arrowhead Lodge & Suites, and the “cow” McDonald’s, a Mickey D’s with cow-like themes on the tables – although they could be dalmation-like, too. They’re both right along Highway 54 by the I-94 interchange. Also, the Majestic Pines Casino is maintained by the Ho-Chunk Nation just east of Black River Falls, so if you’re feelin’ lucky, stop in and test your fate.

The Legend of the Orange Moose
54moose2_lgThey proudly call it the world’s most unusual town ornament. Legend says a Norwegian farmer named Torvaald Kjorvak (try pronouncing that) found a wounded moose calf along the Black River. With no mother around to be found, Kjorvak nursed the animal back to health himself. He then fed him an experimental grain that helped him grow huge… and orange. Find out more here!

East from Black River Falls, Highway 54 moves from the state’s Driftless Area to forestland, where dense trees and occasional bogs replace the jagged hills as you speed through the sparsely-populated eastern part of Jackson County. After the curvy nature of Highway 54 west of Black River Falls, a little straightaway can be nice. Expect few services, though: this is a pretty remote stretch for a while. You go through the Black River State Forest, past Sugarloaf Mound and toward Wood County in the tiny settlement of City Point. This is one of the most sparsely populated areas in Wisconsin, so if you truly want to get away from it all, this is a pretty good place to be.

Highway 54 mileage sign to City Point

It’s a long way to anywhere heading east from Black River Falls on Highway 54. The stretch from BRF to Wisconsin Rapids is one of the longest without sizable towns, or even gas stations, in the state as you head through remote forests and bogs.

Evidence of the forthcoming cranberry domination along Highway 54 shows up just before City Point, a town that crams 189 people into only 90 square miles. Many more of the brilliant red seas of berries (in season) will come in Wood County. Meanwhile, how about some wildlife? Check out the Sandhill Wildlife Area Trails inside the 9,100-acre Sandhill State Wildlife Area. It features a 3.5-mile hiking trail known as the Swamp Buck, a captive herd of bison, and camping abundant opportunities for wildlife viewing and interaction. If you prefer the comfort of your vehicle, there Trumpeter Trail Auto Tour gives you 14 miles of road to follow. Three observation towers and a slew of guidance and informational signs tell you more about the animals you’re watching, including white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, Canada geese, ducks, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, shorebirds, songbirds, hawks, owls… you get the idea. Oh, and there’s no hunting allowed. You can access the Sandhill Wildlife Area Trails right off Highway 54 by following County Highway X south.

Rail bridge over the Yellow River from Highway 54 near Dexterville

The railroad paralleling Highway 54 over the Yellow River near Dexterville has some interesting low trestles.

Back onto 54, you cross the Yellow River (check the cool railroad bridge trestle just to the south, pictured above) and meet up with Highway 80. Together Highways 54 & 80 go through Dexterville briefly before Highway 54 breaks east again and plows eastward through miles of cranberry bogs in towns with names like “Cranmoor.”

The Wisconsin River beckons as you hook up with Highway 73, just out of Nekoosa and head into Port Edwards (pop. 1,944). Originally known as “Frenchtown”, Port Edwards grew around a sawmill owned by John Edwards, Sr. and Jr., and the town was eventually renamed after them. The “Port” part comes from the Wisconsin River, upon which Port Edwards sits. While there, check out the Alexander House Center for Art & History, (715-887-3442) which features art displays, colonial furniture, and historical looks at the area’s papermaking and lumber industry. The Alexander House is right along Highway 54. The Edwards and most of its inhabitants weren’t big drinkers; this was a “dry” community from its establishment in the 1830s all the way into the 1990s. So for a century and a half, residents in search of imbibe-ment headed up today’s Highway 54 to their “big city” neighbor.

Wisconsin Rapids

Highway 54 entering Wisconsin Rapids

Wisconsin Rapids (pop. 18,435) isn’t necessarily a big city, but it is big enough to be its own “micropolitan” area, which has over 54,000 people. “Da Rapids”, as some locals call it, used to be two cities on opposite sides of the Wisconsin River, Centralia and Grand Rapids; they merged in 1900. Then, in 1920 when locals were fed up with getting mail misdirected to Grand Rapids, Michigan, they changed the city’s name to Wisconsin Rapids. The “rapids” refers to a 45-foot drop this “hardest working river in the world” made at this point, which provided some good acceleration to boats and canoes that didn’t want to make the portage. Dams have since changed this – there are five now from Stevens Point to Nekoosa – but this stretch of the river still provides hydroelectric power and makes it convenient to pound wood into pulp so we can eventually have something to write on.

Consequently, Wisconsin Rapids became a major hub for papermaking and also serves as the shipping point for a lot of the cranberries you may have seen in the bogs getting here. Wisconsin grows more cranberries than any other state – over 300 million pounds per year – and Wood County (of which Wisconsin Rapids is the county seat) is pretty much the center of it all. It’s home to a major educational software company, Renaissance Learning, Grim Natwick, creator of Betty Boop (and to salute that, the city has an annual Betty Boop Festival) and the hometown of the driver with NASCAR’s coolest name ever, Dick Trickle (technically he’s from Rudolph just to the north, but still…)

Side Trip: Rudolph Grotto & Dairy State Cheese
Fans of the remarkable collections of stone, glass and rock that make up Wisconsin’s fascinating grottos will want to check out Rudolph Grotto & Wonder Cave, located about nine miles north of Wisconsin Rapids via Highways 13/34. Red gossan rocks dominate much of the grotto, ranging from pebble-sized to a 78-ton boulder. The Wonder Cave itself is something to see. So is the cheese selection at Dairy State Cheese – they like to point out that cheese is they “whey” to good health.

Highway 54/73 runs along the Wisconsin River’s west shore into the city. Shortly after the city limit, you can enjoy beautiful Ben Hansen Park, which is home to the Wisconsin Firefighters Memorial. Established in 1996, the Memorial salutes and remembers firefighters across the state who were injured or killed in the line of duty. The 7.5-acre park, trees, riverside location, and memorials make for a great to stop to reflect and relax. The Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial (WSFM) is designed like an early 1900s firehouse and contains articles and artifacts, as well as facilities like restrooms and water fountains.

Just north of the park and memorial, Highway 54 comes to a junction with Highway 13. At this point, Highway 73 breaks west and Highway 54 joins 13 eastbound across the Wisconsin River via the “Riverview Expressway.” The Riverview, built in 1982 to route state highways around downtown, isn’t that expressway-like but it’s still the first real divided highway stretch on Highway 54 since it began on its Mississippi River crossing. At 8th Street, Highway 13 heads south toward Wisconsin Dells; Highway 54 used to shoot north along 8th Street into downtown Wisconsin Rapids. Highway 13 used to follow this route too, so you’ll see “Business” 13 signs along your way. Wisconsin Rapids via Google Maps.

Hey, tours aren’t just for highways, breweries and museums. Tour the Stora Enso North America papermaking plant at 4th Avenue and High Street (715-422-3789) or, if you want to see paper in its original form, check out the Griffith State Nursery (473 Griffith Avenue, 715-424-3700), the largest forest nursery in Wisconsin.

Highway 54 leaves “Da Rapids” on Baker Street (insert Gerry Rafferty song here) and then into Portage County as Plover Road for the ride to – you guessed it – Plover. This stretch is a 65 mph expressway, so open it up and enjoy. The Canadian Pacific Railroad parallels this straightaway for a while… and it’ll probably be going faster than you.

Plover (pop. 10,520) was once the Portage County seat, a distinction lost to nearby Stevens Point in the 1860s — and some resentment may still remain. Plover itself incorporated and was dissolved several times over its history, but that situation stabilized a while back and now – in a way – it’s a southern suburb of Stevens Point. The town is pretty good at producing athletes. They stretch back a ways to Walt Wilmot, an MLB player who began his career with the Washington Nationals in 1888 (the first incarnation of that team, obviously) through the 1898 season with the New York Baseball Giants, with a long stint with the Cubs in between. Current hockey star Joe Pavelski, who skates and body slams for the San Jose Sharks, also grew up in Plover. Former wrestling Olympian Dennis Hall, who snagged the Silver in Atlanta in 1996 and the Gold the year before that at the Pan Am Games, now lives in Plover, although he also spends a lot of time training future Olympians up in Marquette, Michigan.

*** BREWERY ALERT! ***

Just north of Highway 54 along I-39/U.S. 51 at County B (the next exit north) you’ll find the O’so Brewing Company (you can also access it by continuing east on Plover Road past where Highway 54 turns south to follow Business U.S. 51.) Tucked into a shopping center at the southwest quadrant of the interchange, O’so makes some pretty popular microbrews including their “Big O” Wheat Ale and a Memory Lane Pilsner, where they donate portions of sales to help Alzheimer’s research. Their Tasting Room offers about 40 beers on tap, encompassing a variety of Wisconsin and regional selections.

Right by O’so Brewery in Worzella Pines Pink, you’ll find the Wisconsin Korean War Veterans Memorial. Situated on an island in a small lake, the Memorial features an “Isle of Honor” commemorating the 132,000 Wisconsin residents who served in the Armed Forces during Korean War, including 4,286 who were injured and 801 who died. The Main Wall is filled with memorials, statues commemorate soldiers, medical staff, and others who served in the line of fire, and thousands of tiles are posted in memory of individuals.

Highway 54 dives southeast out of Plover, crosses I-39 & U.S. 51 and then across a wide expanse of farmland through Portage County and into Waupaca County, where you cross the Ice Age National Scenic Trail with access to Hartman Creek State Park, a great park for camping and canoeing. The Park is on the edge of the popular “Chain O’Lakes” area. Once known as the “Kilarnies of Wisconsin”, the area features 22 interconnected glacial lakes and ample opportunities for swimming, boating, scuba diving, hanging out next to the water doing absolutely nothing, and more. Highway 54 grazes the northern area of these lakes. For access, follow County Q or QQ south and check out Ding’s Dock (715-258-2612) for pontoons, boat rentals, cottage rentals and more. You can also take a cruise on the lakes by contacting Clear Water Harbor (715-258-2866), which also features the Waterfront Restaurant & Bar and Moo’s Dairy Bar, charged with the task of keeping plenty of malts, floats and ice cream at the ready for boaters. At the eastern edge of the Chain O’Lakes lies King, an unincorporated area that holds the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, a sprawling complex where veterans receive care and can enjoy the beauty of the lakes.

** BYPASS ALERT **

Technically, Highway 54 hooks up with the U.S. 10 freeway  to bypass Waupaca… but what fun is that? Follow the business route through town. This is about experiencing these places, after all. Just go straight instead of onto the freeway. Signs guide you through.

So, following our “city” route, Highway 54 crosses U.S. 10 and hooks up with Highway 49 for the ride into Waupaca (pop. 5,676). A popular tourism town, due in large part to the nearby Chain O’Lakes, Waupaca’s name is also familar because of the former Waupaca Foundry, now known as ThyssenKrupp Waupaca (they have additional foundries in Marinette, Indiana, and Tennessee.) The Waupaca location melts over 9,500 tons of gray, ductile and compacted graphite iron castings. Actress Annie Burgstede, who played Willow Stark in Days of Our Lives and has also had roles in CSI, Smallville, Charmed, and most recently, Without A Trace, grew up in Waupaca.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Clay Perry, the caver who first coined the term “spelunker”, was born in Waupaca.
22wpca

Entering Waupaca, we checked out South Park, which features Shadow Lake and a nice beach across the way, which a large assortment of Waupacians(?) were enjoying on a nice summer day.

22rosa

The Rosa Theater and part of Main Street in downtown Waupaca, which features a lot of places to shop, eat and yes, drink.

Waupaca hosts a number of events throughout the year.One of them is Strawberry Fest, which loads up downtown with berry, berry happy festivalgoers (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Being the county seat of Waupaca County and the largest town for about 20 miles, Waupaca bustles quite a bit for a city its size.

Highway 54 joins up with Highway 22 for the ride eastward out of Waupaca for a little while. Highway 110 joins briefly too, before both break away and head north to Manawa and beyond. Meanwhile, Highway 54 cuts east through Royalton and Northport before heading into New London.

Straddling the Waupaca-Outgamie county line, New London (pop. 7,085) sits along the Embarrass and Wolf Rivers and is considered among the best places in the state to catch some tasty walleye. It hosts a variety of historic buildings, five of which are in the Heritage Historical Village. There’s also the New London Public Museum, which has been hosting exhibits since 1917. Adding the culture in this relatively small burg, the Wolf River Theatrical Troupe performs at the Wolf River Theatre. There’s even a group of movie stunt performers that hosts a western stunt show called “Whips, Garters, and Guns Wild West Review” that is based here but puts on shows all over the country.

newlondon-newdublin-leprechaunsThe luck o’ the Irish is all over Wisconsin, but it hits New London with four-leaf clover force on St. Patrick’s Day, when the city becomes “New Dublin” for the week.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user “Leprichauns”)

 

newlondon_marker_waterspaniel

New London is the birthplace of the American Water Spaniel breed, registered by Dr. F.J. Pfeifer in the 1920’s. The historical marker is in Franklin Park, on Beacon Avenue near downtown.

U.S. 45 used to intersect Highway 54 in the midst of downtown, but it now runs on a bypass on the east side of New London. Once you cross U.S. 45, Highway 54 barrels eastward through Shiocton (pop. 954) and then to Black Creek (pop. 1,192), where it intersects with Highway 47. Black Creek is often locally pronounced as Black “Crick”. One fun thing of note is that two of its first settlers were named Abraham Lincoln Burdick and Thomas Jefferson Burdick. It was originally called Middleburg, probably because it pretty much is smack dab in the middle of Outagamie County. A creek at the village’s edge, which is apparently dark in color, prompted the name change.

seymourburgersign_500After Black Creek, Highway 54 skims the southern edge of Seymour (pop. 3,335), a.k.a. “Home of the Hamburger.” One of several places worldwide that lays claim to being the hamburger’s birthplace, Seymour grabs the title with a full embrace and hosts its annual Burger Fest every August. Burger Fest features hamburgers, a hamburger eating contest, kids’ games, music and a hot air balloon rally, no doubt tons of buns and a (what the…) ketchup slide. Don’t wear clothes you care about. But it sounds fun!

Seymour also hosts the Outagamie County Fair every July, drawing tons of people from the Appleton area and beyond. Want some racing? Grab a burger and plop down in a seat at Seymour Speedway, a 1/3-mile clay oval on the fairgrounds. The speedway hosts Fastrak Late Models, IMCA Modifieds, Stock Cars, and Northern Sport Mods. And they all move pretty fast.

seymour_burgerstatue Seymour’s Version of the Hamburger Invention:
“In 1885, Charles N. Nagreen, a young lad of 15, came to the Seymour Fair to sell meatballs. When he realized people wanted to walk around the fair grounds and eat, he flattened a meatball between two slices of bread and called it a ‘hamburger.’ This was the first time the hamburger sandwich was produced and sold.”

seymour_hugeburgergrill

The Guinness Book of World Records noted that Seymour is where the “World’s Largest Hamburger” was cooked – right there on the Charlie Grill. In August of 2001, a 8,266 pound hamburger was cooked up and served to over 13,000 people.

Feature: Burger Fiesta
Seymour’s annual hamburger festival runs in early August. The State Trunk Tour was there; amidst the bands, the model railroad museum and hungry and thirsty festival goers milling about under the statue of Charles “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen (the hamburger’s inventor), was the main attraction: a 60-pound hamburger. Sure, it’s a fraction of the monstrous 8,266 pound record grilled in 2001, but it was still a monster.

60lbburger01_80060lbburger02_800

Left: The 60 pound mound of meat, hot off the grill. Right: It took some work, but the meat was successfully wedged within a gi-normous bun – even though part of the patty’s north side fell a bit!

Just east of Seymour, Highway 55 heads south towards Kaukauna while Highway 54 heads through the Oneida Indian Reservation, which was established by treaty in 1838, ten years before Wisconsin became a state. There’s the town of Oneida, and then Hobart (pop. 5,090), which incorporated as a village in 2002. Hobart is a fast-growing suburb of Green Bay, based in part on its proximity to Austin-Straubel International Airport and the surrounding highways. While Highway 54 is one of the main highways, the key freeway route is I-41, which marks the boundary between Hobart and Green Bay itself.

Green Bay

Entering Green Bay (pop. 102,313 and a.k.a. “Titletown U.S.A.”), Highway 54 is a major east-west (well, learning southeast-northwest) thoroughfare called Mason Ave. Green Bay is Wisconsin’s oldest city and – not sure if you heard about this or not – are the smallest city to host a National Football League team. They’re called the “Packers” and…what, you’ve already heard about them? Okay.

Green Bay is also the headquarters of ShopKo Stores and Schneider National (admit it, you know the commercials and you’ve seen the “big orange trucks”). Famous people from Green Bay include Tony Shalhoub of Monk fame, ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Anderson, comedian and Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, Pat MacDonald of the group Timbuk 3 – you know, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”? – that group. Naturally, Green Bay is home to tons of atheletes too, among them NFL stars Curly Lambeau, Jerry Tagge, Ted Fritsch Jr., Arnie Herber and Aaron Stecker, as well as baseball pitcher Bob Wickman.

** Triple Brewery and One Distillery Alert! **

titletown_front_lgGreen Bay calls itself “Titletown”, so when some guys decided to start up a brewery there, it only made sense to call it the Titletown Brewing Company. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – Titletown Brewing started in December of 1996, right before the Packers’ first Super Bowl victory in nearly three decades. Located on Dousman Street/U.S. 141 just west of downtown and the Fox River, Titletown occupies a classic old railroad station built in 1899. Titletown brews Packer-backer beverages such as the Johnny “Blood” Red and Canadeo Gold as well as a great root beer called Sno-Cap, which uses Clyde the Penguin as its mascot. Trains, football, beer, food… definitely a good stop on the State Trunk Tour. Meanwhile, across the street Copper State Brewing Company moved into the former Hinterland Brewing space (more on that in a sec), which is a former meat-packing warehouse (yes, how the “Packers” got their name.)

Meanwhile, in the Titletown District, adjacent to Lambeau Field on the north you’ll find Hinterland Brewing, which did start where Copper State is now but moved into a brand new space in 2017 on the grounds of the former Mobil station so many of us stopped at to get snacks before going into a game. South and east of Lambeau but within the Titletown District, you’ll also find Badger State Brewing Company, a relative newcomer with a great selection of in-house craft brews and others from across Wisconsin. And just over on Mike McCarthy Way (named after the now former coach who – along with Aaron – brought up Super Bowl 45), you’ll find the Green Bay Distillery. It opened in 2011 with a classic vodka and a cherry vodka (handy for Green Bay winters) and expanded to gin and whiskey in subsequent years. Their restaurant has a full menu – including a full menu of macro- and craft-brewed beers if spirits aren’t your thing. Either way, both Badger State Brewing and the Green Bay Distillery are easy walking distance to Lambeau Field, the Resch Center, Ray Nitschke Field, the Brown County Arena, the famous Stadium View bar, Anduzzi’s, the BEST WESTERN Green Bay Inn Conference Center, and more.

Side Trip to Lambeau.
For Lambeau Field seekers on this route, the “frozen tundra” lies about 2 miles south of Highway 54/Mason Street; you can cut south to it via I-41, Oneida Street, or Military Avenue. Trust me, you WILL be able to find Lambeau, the home of the Green Bay Packers… the cross street is Lombardi Avenue, after all.

Highway 54 enters the heart of Green Bay just south of downtown and becomes a brief expressway and it leapfrogs the Fox River, one of the few northward-flowing rivers in North America. From here on north through downtown, bridges are lit up at night, flanked by condos, bars, offices, and shops that are springing up at an increasing rate. At the intersection with Broadway, a Farmers Market offers produce and other items on Wednesday afternoons from June through September from 3pm-8pm. Also in the downtown area along the Fox River at U.S. 141/Dousman Street, you’ll find the Neville Public Museum, which focuses on art, history and science for northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is also a Children’s Museum, currently undergoing redevelopment.

East of the Fox River, blocks feature an array of bars and restaurants. Places to party include Kittner’s Pub, Hip Cats, Liquid 8, Confetti, Washington Street Pub, the Fox Harbor Pub & Grill, and Stir-Ups (Stir-Ups is a country bar – yes, think about it.) Green Bay’s party crowd hangs out in this area, and it’s not uncommon for Packers players to be seen…and perhaps you can see their Super Bowl ring!

browncoch

The handsome Brown County Courthouse, completed in 1908. You’ll find at the corner of Highway 29/Walnut Street & Jefferson Avenue on the east side of downtown and the Fox River.

For a few miles, Highway 54 becomes a little mini-freeway, lifting up over neighborhoods and leapfrogging over the Fox River. On the west bank of the Fox is Ashland Avenue (Highway 32), which is available via an exit. For train enthusiasts, Green Bay is the site of the National Railroad Museum (2285 S. Broadway, accessible along Highway 32 about two miles south of Highway 54), which features over 70 locomotives and train cars, including the world’s largest steam locomotive, known as “Big Boy.” Also, just across the river off Highway 172 (Green Bay’s southern freeway bypass), you’ll find the lovely Heritage Hill State Historical Park. Technically located in Allouez, this 48-acre outdoor museum lives up to its name. Over 30 historic structures and endangered buildings are perched on a hill overlooking the Fox River in an area that once served as a prison farm. Log cabins from the fur trade era, original stores and public buildings, even buildings from the original Fort Howard are all located here and available for exploration. Populating the grounds in summer are live historic interpreters – many in period attire – to help illustrate what these buildings are all about. More and more fun events take place throughout the year here, too.

5457thrugb_east_600On the east bank of the Fox River, Highway 57 comes in as Monroe Avenue. At this point, Highway 54 leaves Mason Street and joins Highway 57 for the ride into downtown Green Bay. We’ve already mentioned much of the downtown attractions that tend to be just west of the Fox River, but one is coming up on the east side of the river if you detour under I-43 a bit. That’s Bay Beach Amusement Park, which offers everything from roller coasters to carousels and water rides from May through September. The biggest coaster is Zippin’ Pippin, a 2,800-foot long wooden coaster with nearly hundred-year-old origins in Memphis, Tennessee. It was moved to Green Bay and re-opened in 2011 and has remained quite popular. A new Ferris wheel is going up for 2019!

Just next door to the action and noise, the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is next door, providing 700 acres of refuge for animals. The Sanctuary features live animal exhibits, educational displays, miles of hiking/skiing trails and various wildlife viewing opportunities; they care for more than 4,500 orphaned and injured animals each year. It traces its roots to 1936, when it established as a site for waterfowl rehabilitation with an assist from Aldo Leopold. The Sanctuary is free and open year ’round. The whole area of Bay Beach lies along the waters of Green Bay, adjacent to where the Fox River empties into this arm of Lake Michigan.

57eb54split_800From the east side of Green Bay – now as University Avenue – Highway 54 & 57 are coupled together past the interchange with I-43 and begins a push northeast. After five miles, Highway 54 branches off to head east towards Lake Michigan.

On the way, Highway 54 goes through New Franken and into Kewaunee County. The first town in this last county on the route is Luxemburg (pop. 1,935), one of many towns in this area named after European places – others in close proximity include Denmark, Brussels and Poland. The town was named after – not surprisingly – the home country of its first settlers. They came primarily from the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, an area that has since graced the town with a statue to commemorate U.S. soldiers who helped free Luxemburg in World War II. Luxemburg also hosts the Kewaunee County Fair on the (not surprisingly named) Kewaunee County Fairgrounds. Also nearby is the Luxemburg Speedway, which hosts IMCA modifides and other races. The Speedway is on the south side of town, best accessible via 3rd Street.

*** Brewery & Cheese Alert ***
Yes, Luxemburg now has its own brewery once again: Thumb Knuckle Brewing Company opened in 2017. Their Tap Room right along Highway 54 is open Wednesday through Sunday and offers a peek into their brewery area. And while you’re in Luxemburg, be sure to check out Ron’s Wisconsin Cheese (124 Main Street/former Highway 163, just south of Highway 54, 920-845-5330.) This cheese shop, which offers a variety of cheeses but highlights locally-made cheeses from Pagel’s Ponderosa, the state’s largest privately-owned dairy farm not too far away. At Ron’s, you’ll find their own Ponderosa brand cheeses, super fresh curds and string cheese and a huge selection of other fresh, aged, and flavored cheeses and spreads along with other state favorites like summer sausage and beef sticks. Definitely a fun State Trunk Tour stop!

Continuing east, Highway 54 heads through Casco (pop. 572), Rio Creek and Rankin, all very small settlements about 2-3 miles apart.

And with that, we come to the eastern end of Highway 54 at Algoma (pop. 3,357), perched atop the Lake Michigan shore and home to a large charter and commercial fishing fleet (once the largest on Lake Michigan) as well as a nice downtown. Algoma also has a nice beach. Fish shantys used to dot the shoreline, and some remain, which leads to the biggest annual event in town, “Shanty Days”, which takes place every August. They have fish, music, and – if you ask nice – beer and wine. Algoma is known as a salmon and trout capital of the Midwest. They make stuff here, too: hammocks, doors, mops and labels among them. Algoma also has a heavy Belgian population (as in “numerous.”)

*** Winery & Brewery Alert! ***
algoma_vonstiehl1_800Algoma is home to the Von Stiehl Winery, the oldest licensed winery in Wisconsin. The winery offers tours in its building constructed in the 1860s, back when Algoma was called Ahnapee (they renamed it Algoma in 1879.) In 1967, when the building was about 100 years old, Dr. Charles Stiehl founded the winery, using Door County’s famous cherries to create Door County Montmorency Cherry Wine. Over 30 varieties are available now, including several produced just for special events. Tours are available for $3.50 from May through October; wine tasting is complimentary all year.

Next door you’ll find the Ahnapee Brewery, named for the river that runs through town – in fact, “Ahanpee” was Algoma’s original name. Ahnapee was a brewery in town from 1868 to 1886, and it was resurrected in 2013 with a brewery just outside of town that supplies in their in-town tap room with fresh craft beer. They’re open Wednesday-Sunday, always opening at noon while closing at 9pm Wednesday and Thursday, 10pm on Friday and Saturday, and 5pm on Sunday. You’ll find Von Stiehl Winery and Ahnapee Brewery’s Tap Room along County S in downtown Algoma, just east of Highway 42 and north of the eastern terminus of Highway 54, within a few hundred yards of Lake Michigan.

54eastend_800

Highway 54 comes to an end at Highway 42, in full view of Lake Michigan – by the time you get to the intersection.

On the south side of Algoma, Highway 54 ends at Highway 42, 244 miles from its origin over the Mississippi River going into Winona, Minnesota. Travelers to Door County at this point can use Highway 42, or County S, which runs through Algoma’s northeast side and serves as a “short cut” to Sturgeon Bay. If you follow Highway 42, you’ll go through downtown Algoma and then head along the Ahnapee River (they changed the name of the town, but not the name of the river) for several miles to Forestville.

algomafog2_1000

Right where Highway 54 ends, you’ll find this beach along Lake Michigan. We found it on a slightly foggy morning.

downtownalgoma_800

A quick turn north on Highway 42 brings you to downtown Algoma – and they let you know.

 

CONNECTIONS
West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Minnesota Highway 43, Wisconsin Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 53, about 7 miles east

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 42

49

STH-049“Marshes, Sculptures, Fishing…this thing even goes to Berlin”

WisMap49Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 49 meanders through a large part of central Wisconsin. Starting and ending not in towns but at interchanges with other major Wisconsin highways, Highway 49 links a series of towns and recreaion areas on an almost haphazard route path. Highway 49 touches Horicon Marsh, the site of the Republican Party’s founding, Rippin’ Good Cookies’ plant and headquarters, car shows at Iola, and provides access to some of the best fishing in the state.

The Wisconsin Highway 49 Road Trip

The Drive (South To North): Highway 49 starts at U.S. 41 (which could become “Interstate 41” soon… watch this site for details) just north of Lomira in the northeastern corner of Dodge County.

49begin_lg

Taking over from a lonely county road, Highway 49 starts up at I-41 and begins a 128-mile journey through the middle of eastern Wisconsin with a lot of interesting stuff ahead.

Within eyeshot of the interchange where Highway 49 begins, the massive Quad/Graphics plant cranks out incredible amounts of printed material – magazines, books, and just about anything else that can be read – or ripped. Much of its production goes out by train, as evidenced by the railroad crossing. Right after is the junction with the original U.S. 41, which is now Highway 175. Also visible at times to the north is a sign of the future: giant turbines providing wind-generated electricity, an area now known as the Forward Wind Energy Center. Eventually there will be 86 wind turbines here, playing off the wind generated by this high ridge above the Horicon Marsh, which is coming up along the route.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The massive Quad Graphics plant in Lomira is the largest single printing facility in the Western Hemisphere.
brownsville_redowl_400

In Brownsville, you can stock up on goodies at a Red Owl, a chain of stores that were once all over this part of Wisconsin. Very, very few still exist, so it’s now cool enough to take a picture of them. We LOVE these old signs!!

49towardmarsh_800

The flat expanse of Horicon Marsh appears abruptly as Highway 49 approaches from the east. After a curve, the road cuts right across the marsh, providing a great opportunity for bird-watching and animal-dodging.

Highway 49 runs right through the pleasant little burg of Brownsville (pop. 570), which is the last town before you reach the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, both a State Wildlife Area and a National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a pretty unmistakable feature as you approach it: before you suddenly is a vast expanse of flat land that looks like a lake had been drained there. And that’s pretty close to how things got to be this way. When the glaciers that once covered this part of the state retreated, a moraine was formed that worked like a dam and created a large lake. The Rock River, which uses the Marsh as its source, gradually drained the natural lake and turned it, well, marshy. People tried manipulating it again twice: from 1846 to 1896, a dam re-created the glacial lake; after it became a marsh again, there was an attempt to drain it from 1910 to 1914 and use the area for farmland. That didn’t quite work either, and today the Marsh is preserved and protected to serve as one of the world’s largest “rest stops” for migrating birds. Over 290 species of our winged friends have been documented in the Marsh, making it a top birding area. It’s a favorite layover for over 200,000 migrating Canada geese as they make their way back and forth in spring and fall.

The Horicon Marsh covers about 50 square miles – equivalent to about half of the City of Milwaukee. The southern third of the marsh, near the City of Horicon (where Highways 33 and 28 trek), is managed mostly by the state; the northern two-thirds is under Federal control by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Highway 49 veers into the Marsh by curving onto the Dodge-Fond du Lac County line and cutting across its northern edge. It’s a long, straight stretch populated with birds overhead, cattails flanking the swampy land on either side, photographers parked along the shoulders and enough animals crossing to prompt a sign announcing a running tally of year-to-date roadkills (621 last time we rolled through).

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the U.S., and the area around Horicon Marsh has the highest concentration of drumlins in the world.
horiconmarsh_800

Cattails a’plenty: the Horicon Marsh area is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States.

marshmarker_400There are two places along Highway 49 that will help you out if you want to find out more or tour the Marsh. From mid-April to mid-November, the Marsh Haven Center offers hiking paths and an observation tower at the northwestern edge of the Marsh itself. The Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is on the east side of the Marsh, offering more information and tours.

After the straight shot across the Horicon Marsh, you go up a hill and before long you cross U.S. 151 on its new freeway path between Madison and Fond du Lac. A series of restaurants and hotels hint at the sizable town ahead, Waupun (pop. 10,718). Long known for holding Wisconsin’s primary state prison, Waupun is also billed the “City of Sculptures”, being the home of famous sculptor Clarence Shaler and a series of his works. Sculptures like End of the Trail, Who Sows Believes In God, Dawn of Day, and Morning of Life grace the city in various parks and streetsides.

49thruwaupun_800

Highway 49 cuts through the heart of Waupun as the main street, still cutting the county line; Dodge County is to the south, Fond du Lac County is to the north.

waupun_citadelstatue_800

Throughout the city, the sculptures show up to greet you. This one above is called The Citadel.

Waupun has held Wisconsin’s primary state prison site since 1851, when it was selected due to its “proximity to transportation and readily available building materials in the area”, according to the Department of Corrections’ historical site. Back in the day, Wisconsin’s justice system was considered so efficient, a popular chant in Milwaukee was once “crime on Sunday, Waupun on Monday”, indicating that infractions would be met with swift action. This was before a lot more lawyers showed up. The Wisconsin Historical Society page on the Waupun Correctional Facility reports that in 1878, sales of the goods manufactured by the prisoners produced enough revenue to run the prison without drawing from the state’s treasury. Wouldn’t that be nice now? You can find the State Prison south of Highway 49 along Madison Street, also known as County M.

oldprisonshot_lg

South Cell Hall was originally built in the 1850s; its walls still stand today.

waupunprison_800

These are the walls in the question, built in the 1850s, that still stand today.

wishistmkr_waupunprison_800

The prison’s history makes it an easy candidate for the State Register of Historic Places.

waupunbldg_800

Another civic building in Waupun, featuring yet another statue in its front yard (click to enlarge).

From Waupun, Highway 49 heads west out of town and then bends northward up into Fond du Lac County for a run through rolling farmland.

horsesalong49_800

On the road north of Waupun, one farm had horses a’plenty, which made for a nice view.

After about eight miles, you curve again in the little burg of Brandon (pop. 912), which is slighly under one square mile and produced one Hollywood actress, Laura Ramsey (her imdb link is here.) Brandon’s growth started with the arrival of the railroad in 1856, when the area was named Bungtown.

49thrubrandon_800

melsinbrandon_800

Highway 49 goes through Brandon, a small burg on not only the highway, but the railraod from Waupun to Ripon. The State Trunk Tour caravan stopped in Mel’s Bar & Grill in Brandon and had a pretty good time before resuming the trip north and west.

After Brandon, Highway 49 hooks up with Highway 44 and heads north into Ripon (pop. 7,619). Ripon was named after the English cathedral city of Ripon, North Yorkshire, in 1849 when it was first settled. The 1850s were busy for Ripon; in 1851 city founder David Mapes founded Brockway College, which evolved into Ripon College. Three years later, the Republican Party was founded in Ripon’s “Little White Schoolhouse” – which happens to be located right along today’s Highway 49. It’s all part of Ripon’s downtown, where Highway 49 joins with Highway 23 to encircle the downtown square.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Ripon influenced the Golden State when former resident Amplias B. Crooks (names were rather interesting back then) moved to Stanislaus City, California and started a store. Unhappy with the town’s name, he had it changed to Ripon, California in 1874.

Ripon is also home of the NFL. Really! We’re talking the National Forensic League, an organization dedicated to training students in communication and debate skills. Founded in 1925, it’s the nation’s oldest and largest debate and speech honor society. Alums of this NFL include President Lyndon Johnson, Senators Russ Feingold and Bill Frist, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, Kelsey Grammar, Shelley Long, Jane Pauley, CSPAN founder Brian Lamb, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and more. So if you stop in town and get into a debate with someone, be prepared. There could be a speech and debate expert that’ll mop up on any topic.

Cookies & College in Ripon

Ripon College counts among its graduates and students people like actors Spencer Tracy and Harrison Ford, singer Al Jarreau and Brittany “McKey” Sullivan, a recent winner on America’s Next Top Model. Ripon College students, like other area residents, generally revel in the fact that the town is home to Rippin’ Good cookies (now owned by Bremner Biscuit Company.) Ever had the Mint Creme Cookies? If not, you have yet to live to the fullest extent. The Rippin’ Good Cookie Outlet can be found by following Highway 44 out of downtown for a few blocks (420 E. Oshkosh Street, 920-748-0293). It is generally open Monday-Friday 8am-4:30pm and Saturday from 8am to 1pm. Prepare for sugar and goodness.

Highway 49 joins with 23 west out of Ripon into Green Lake County for a few miles. Green Lake (pop. 1,100) lies just to the south, home of the famous Heidel House Resort. Green Lake – the lake – is the deepest natural inland lake in the state and the Midwest, averaging over 100 feet deep across its 7,346 acres and reaching a maximum depth of 237 feet.

Breaking away from Highway 23, Highway 49 heads north all the way to Berlin (pop. 5,305), pronounced “BER-lin”…supposedly as a result of anti-German sentiment during the two World Wars. Either way, pronounce it right or they’ll know you’re from out of town.

Berlin to Waupaca and beyond, with more pictures of all of this, is coming soon!

29

STH-029“From the Mississippi river split to lighthouses on Lake Michigan”

WisMap29Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 29 is a “coast to coast” highway, running between Prescott at the Mississippi/St. Croix river split and the shore of Lake Michigan in Kewaunee. On the way, you traverse hills along the St. Croix River Valley, brush by several UW college campuses, kiss the middle of two hemispheres at once, look up at Rib Mountain and check out Wausau, go through the heart of Green Bay, and even visit Poland before landing at Lake Michigan’s doorstep. The middle two-thirds of Highway 29 is high-speed expressway; west of Chippewa Falls and east of Green Bay it’s a rural two-lane just like most state highways. It’s one of the most significant east-west roads in the state and carries the designation of the World War I Veterans Memorial Highway for its entire length.

Wisconsin Highway 29 Road Trip

prescott_welcomesign

The Drive (West To East): The best place to start is actually with U.S. 10 and Highway 35 in the heart of Prescott, the westernmost incorporated city in Wisconsin. Prescott lies right at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers; looking upstream, this is where the Mississippi River turns away from the Wisconsin-Minnesota border and heads straight for Minneapolis and St. Paul. Prescott itself (pop. 4,000) dates back to 1839, named after its founder; his first name was Philander (I believe they just called him “Phil” for short.) Prescott’s location just 25 minutes from downtown St. Paul counts it within the Twin Cities metro. For some, it’s a suburb; the outskirts are seeing subdivisions popping up. But in the downtown area up and down Broad Street (also Highway 35), the original Prescott includes antique shops, a goldsmith shop and a walking tour of historic homes, plus a marina. A State Trunk Tour favorite is Muddy Waters Bar & Grill (231 Broad Street, 715-262-5999). Seems like every year it gets bigger and adds more decks out back that overlook the rivers, a road and rail bridge, and the barges being flanked by boaters and jet-skiers (whom I assume aren’t present in the winter.) The Wisconsin Welcome & Heritage Center, which chronicles local history and features displays, sits next to Muddy Waters at the U.S. 10 bridge crossing into Minnesota.

prescott_riversplit01

The confluence of the St. Croix & Mississippi Rivers at Prescott. The rail bridge pictured is part of the main line from New Orleans to St. Paul.

From Prescott, heading northeast via Broad Street/Highway 35 brings you to the technical start of Highway 29, about one mile north of downtown. Once you hit 29, open countryside beckons. The road, multiplexed with Highway 35 for the 11 miles into River Falls, winds around, up and down hills and valleys that characterize the area close to the St. Croix River. And it’s pretty.

Can you believe there are two Kinnickinnics??

I guess it stands to reason: Wisconsin has more than one Fox River, more than one Wolf River… but more than one Kinnickinnic River? Indeed. One is in Milwaukee, draining the city’s south side into Lake Michigan. The other flows through western Wisconsin into the St. Croix. Kinnickinnic State Park, located along the latter, offers swimming, boat mooring, fishing, cross-country skiing, panoramic views and good bird-watching. Note to fishermen: this version of the Kinnickinnic River is a nationally recognized Class One Trout Stream. Incidentally, the word “Kinnickinnic” comes from the Ojibwa, meaning “what is mixed.” Seems that Kinnickinnic deals with mixing various plant material, including tobacco. Highway 29 offers access to the river and park between Prescott and River Falls.

You can “float the Kinni” with rentals from the Kinni Creek Lodge and Outfitters (877-504-9705), which also offers cabins and features a B&B. They’re located along Highway 35 just north of where Highway 29 turns east in River Falls.

29_hillspastriverfalls

In rural Pierce County, Highway 29 snakes into and around hills that are part of the northern “Driftless Area.”

River Falls – the first of two college towns

Next up on Highway 29 is River Falls (pop. 14,015), “The City on the Kinni”, as it calls itself. River Falls is definitely a college town, with about 14,000 regular residents and 6,000 college students. The city is home to UW-River Falls, which served as the summer practice facility for the Kansas City Chiefs until 2009, and Chippewa Valley Technical College. Like Prescott, River Falls is also increasingly a Twin Cities suburb (Twin Cities workers seem to be seeking out homes in Packers territory.) Highway 35 branches off and heads north at this point towards Hudson; Highway 29 continues its push east through Pierce County. After a short coupling with U.S. Highway 63, Highway 29 heads east into Spring Valley (pop. 1,189), home of Crystal Cave, “Wisconsin’s Longest Showcave!”, as it says. Discovered by accident in 1881, Crystal Cave offers tours taking you through multiple levels of dolomite bedrock revealing stalactites, stalagmites, rippling flowstone, and more. And times, it feels like you’re in a dinosaur’s mouth looking up at its teeth. But don’t, like, let that stop you from checking it out. The cave is cool year ’round, since it burrows down as much as 70 feet from the surface.

29crystalcave

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Founded the same year Wisconsin became a state (1848), River Falls’ original name was Greenwood. Problem was, there already was a Greenwood, Wisconsin. Then they noticed there a falls along the river, and the name change seemed obvious.

Spring Valley is clearly a valley – as you cross the Eau Galle River, you can see the bluffs and ridges on either side. Swimmers frequent the Eau Galle Dam and Recreation Area, home to the largest earthen dam in the Midwest.

Menomonie

Beyond Spring Valley, you enter Menomonie (pop. 14,937), which flanks the Red Cedar River. There is a Menominee River in Wisconsin, and a Menominee, Michigan across from Marinette; the Muppets even had a song called Ma-Na-Ma-Na. But this Menomonie, with its slightly different spelling, is the one that tends to confuse people. (To further the confusion, there’s a Menomonee Falls and a Menomonee River in southeastern Wisconsin.)

Menomonie’s downtown runs along State Highways 29 and 25, which combine for a short distance. U.S. 12 also runs through town and I-94 flanks the town to the north, which allows some people who live in Menomonie to commute to Minneapolis or Eau Claire. Menomonie sprung up because of its handy location on the southern shores of Lake Menomin, a reservoir section of the Red Cedar River that bisects both Menomonie and Dunn County. Consistent settlement in Menomonie dates back to 1830, predating Madison, St. Paul, and Eau Claire. Rapid growth in lumber production during the 1850s and 1860s did a few things: it gave Menomonie the gravitas to snag the Dunn County seat, it gave the city bragging rights as home to the “greatest lumber corporation in the world” for a while (Knapp, Stout & Company produced over 5.7 million board feet of lumber in 1873 alone), and it produced enough population and wealth to create a university campus (today’s UW-Stout) and now-historic landmarks like the Mabel Tainter Theater – more on those in a minute.

menomonie_stoutsign01

menomonie_stouttower_300hi

Bowman Hall’s tower rising above the UW-Stout campus. Bowman Hall dates back to 1897 and is the oldest surviving building on campus.

Highway 29 winds extensively thru Menomonie, combining with Highway 25 and U.S. 12 downtown. Like River Falls, Menomonie is a college town, home to UW-Stout, named after one of the early settlers who had a hefty hand in the lumber business and became a U.S. Senator to boot. Founded in 1891 as the Stout Manual Training School, it went through several name changes before becoming Stout State University in 1964 (first time it was named as a “university”) and then UW-Stout when the University of Wisconsin system consolidated in 1971. In 2007, UW-Stout was officially designated as “Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University” by the UW System Board of Regents… so if you want to study polytechnics, this is the place to go. It’s also a pretty well-respected hospitality school. Today, UW-Stout has about 9,300 students and the campus covers 131 acres, some of which abut and cross Highway 29 going through town.

mabeltheater_sm

The Mabel Tainter Theater, built in 1890 and still fulfilling its mission of bringing the finest in arts and culture to Menomonie and western Wisconsin. The theater and areas around it host a series of events throughout the year. (Photo Credit: Flickr)

Menomonie is also home to the Mabel Tainter Theater, a gorgeous sandstone theater built in 1890…you can see the picture above of its interior. The name “Tainter” is big in this town because a talented young engineer named Jeremiah Burnham Tainter invented the Tainter Gate here. A Tainter Gate is a device designed to help control water flow on rivers and at dams. The clever twist vs. other gates is that a Tainter Gate has a curvature which allows the rush of water to help open and close the gates, minimizing the need for power assistance. The first version was built and demonstrated on the Red Cedar River here in Menomonie in the 1886; to give you an idea of its adaptation since, consider that the Upper Mississippi River uses 321 Tainter gates alone. Get a better sense of how it works here.

wilsonmansion_800

Part of Wilson Place, an 1859 home that today serves as a museum in Menomonie.

taintermansion1_800

The Tainter Mansion, which now serves as the UW-Stout Alumni center. Gates for dams and water locks essentially built this place.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Menomonie was ranked #15 in Smithsonian Magazine’s “Best 20 Small Towns in America” in its May, 2012 edition.

Menomonie certainly has its share of industry for a town its size. Enjoyed Swiss Miss Cocoa lately? There’s a good chance that it was made in Menomonie. Same for Sanalac nonfat dried milk, all part of a large ConAgra facility here. Windows, metal food cans, iron fittings, and a variety of machinery parts make Menomonie a manufacturing center.

North along Highway 25 past the UW-Stout campus, where you U.S. 12 departs, you can angle east on Pine Avenue to the Rassbach Heritage Museum (1820 Wakanda Street, 715-232-8685). Tucked behind local schools and athletic fields, the Rassbach Heritage Museum traces Dunn County’s history and features exhibits involving early automobile design, folk art, lumber milling, a children’s discovery area, and more.

rassbach1_800rassbach2_800

On Menomonie’s north side just off Highway 25 and U.S. 12, the Russell Rassbach Heritage Museum offers a look at the city and county through the centuries.

Heading east from Menomonie and past the Hoffman Hills Recreation Area, Highway 29 parallels I-94, which runs just about 1-2 miles to the north, over to Elk Mound, when the two routes cross. At this junction, which features a store called Private Pleasures (I’m guessing it’s an adult store; I didn’t stop in, honest), Highway 29 begins its voyage as a 4-lane expressway, which it continues as all the way to Green Bay.

The upgrades to Highway 29 have been going on for almost two decades and the result is a new, smooth, fast highway that lets you jet across the middle of the state with ease. It’s more interesting, of course, to stop and check things out, so that’s why I recommend stopping off in some of the towns the upgraded Highway 29 now whizzes past.

Winery Alert.
Shortly after you follow the original Highway 29 via County X, a quick right on 103rd Street leads you to River Bend Vineyard & Winery, seven acres of vineyards with a lovely tasting room. Many of River Bend’s wines are from the grapes they grow on the premises, with some imported from Australia in the off-season. They create and age their wines in oak barrels right in the building. During summer weekends, they often have live music in their patio yard; people are welcome to bring food and enjoy River Bend’s wines while enjoying the atmosphere. They also have a fairly new distillery, so inquire if you get a chance to visit!

Riverbend Winery just off Highway 29

Riverbend Winery is just off Highway 29 along a bend in the Chippewa River. Sample wine, explore the vines, and maybe even experience an outdoor music performance on a nice summer day.

WEAU Winter Sports, Chippewa FallsChippewa Falls

Chippewa Falls (pop. 13,661) is Eau Claire’s northern counterpart and calls itself “Gateway to the North Woods.” A drive on the old 29 – now known as “Business 29”- takes you through the city on County X, River Street and Seymour Cray Blvd, named after the famous engineer who took supercomputers to a whole new level in the latter half of the 20th century. From Minneapolis-based CDC to his own company, Cray Research (you may have heard of the Cray-2 supercomputer, for example), Seymour Cray played a key role in making computers what they are today. He died in 1996, and Highway 29’s Business route through Chippewa Falls carries his name in memoriam.

chippewafalls_signbus29

Now County X/Business 29, this was THE main road into Chippewa Falls from Minneapolis for decades. You wind along the Chippewa River for a while before getting into the heart of town.

Chippewa Falls is home to the Northern Wisconsin State Fair, which serves this part of the state with plenty of State Fair-style fun, events, animal showcases, concerts, and more and has since 1897, back when it was a lot tougher for northern Wisconsin residents to get to the main fair in West Allis. The grounds, on the north side of town, host various other events throughout the year. The city has its cultural side, too: the Heyde Center for the Arts opened on High Street right downtown in a former high school in 2000. The building, constructed in 1907, is a beautiful Neoclassical structure and today hosts a variety of performances, concerts, films, the visual arts, and more. Irvine Park (pronounced “ER-vin”) was founded as a city park in 1906 and opened a zoo three years later with a bear pen. Today, this half-square mile complex offers the Irvine Park Zoo, which also has exhibits for tigers, cougars (no, the cat kind), bison, bobcats, and more – including some historic structures and a cave with natural springs.

Rumble Bridge in Irvine Park.

Irvine Park offers a zoo, a range where the buffalo literally roam, historic buildings, and the Rumble Bridge, which offers beautiful views along a nice trail.

chippewafalls_downtown02

Chippewa Falls has a pretty healthy downtown.

Chippewa Falls connection

Highway 29 Business runs right past the new Chippewa River Distillery

Highway 29 Business runs right past the new Chippewa River Distillery.

BREWERY & DISTILLERY ALERTS!

Right along Business 29 as you approach downtown Chippewa Falls you’ll find the Brewster Brothers Brewery & Chippewa River Distillery. It opened in 2016 right across from its distillery’s namesake river and offers a variety of small craft brews and spirits, specializing in new cocktail concoctions.

Of course, a major stop for many in Chippewa Falls is the Leinenkugel Brewing Company, famous for beers like Leinenkugel Original (originally called “Chippewa Pride”), Summer Shandy, Honey Weiss, Cream Ale, Big Butt Doppelbock (ya hear that, Sir Mix-A-Lot??), Sunset Wheat, Classic Amber…the list goes on and on! Tours are available year-round, every day except major holidays. Check the tour link or call (888) LEINIES for details.

chippewafalls_leiniebrewery_800

Amidst a beautiful setting, the Leinenkugel Brewery has been at it since 1867. Tours are extremely popular, so be prepared for a lot of thirsty and appreciative cohorts.

chippewafalls_leinietastingarea

The Leinie Lodge tasting area offers a wide variety of their brewed beverages and a gift shop where you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something you’ll like.

Chippewa Falls is known to giddy female movie-goers worldwide in the late 1990s as the hometown of Jack Dawson, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the movie epic Titanic. The famous hole in the script deals with Lake Wissota, which actually did not exist when Titanic sunk — it was developed in 1916, when work on a dam created the now-famous body of water.

Downtown Chippewa Falls features old school advertising signs

Quite a few old advertising signs adorn buildings throughout Chippewa Falls.

At Chippewa Falls, Highway 29 hits a junction with U.S. Highway 53, now on a freeway bypass that connects to Duluth-Superior, Rice Lake and Spooner to the north and provides access to I-94 for destinations to the south. “Business 53” follows the original route through downtown Chippewa Falls, which is also today’s Highway 124 through town. Of course, since we’re “touring” Highway 29, we’ll keep heading east.

As you pass Lake Wissota east of Chippewa Falls, Highway 29 continues its path as a major 4-lane expressway. The “old” 29 parallels this road just to the north as County X, which runs you right through the center of towns like Cadott, Boyd, Stanley and Thorp. The new 29 as an expressway provides exits to each of these towns. Cadott, at the junction with Highway 27 (Exit 91), features the Wisconsin Veterans Tribute. Part of the River Country Plaza Truck Stop at the exit, you’ll find many significant memorials, an AH-1S helicopter, cannons, markers and more all under an eye-catching cadre of flags from all over the world.

cadott_vettrib05

The flags of the Wisconsin Veterans Tribute, at Highways 27 & 29 in Cadott.

cadott_vettrib04cadott_vettrib01

From Cadott, Highway 29 continues east across central Wisconsin as an expressway. Just to the north, County X parallels as the original route of Highway 29. While the expressway bypasses slightly to the south, County X/old 29 heads right through the heart of towns like Boyd, Stanley, Thorp, Withee, Owen, and Curtiss. All are located on a railroad line that came through in the early 1880s, giving rise to the towns and their industries, which often centered around lumber, milling, or dairying. Stanley (pop. 3,633), which extends between Chippewa and Clark Counties, became known for brickmaking; Withee (pop. 487) became a Mennonite settlement.

curtiss_oldsign

We found this old directional sign that pointed travelers on Highway 29 to Curtiss probably in the 1940s and beyond for several decades. Where did we find the sign? In western Oconto County in front of a residence, whose last name we can only guess…

thorp_thorpedo_300

The name just works, what can we say?

Thorp (pop. 1,620) where Highway 73 extends north from 29, still makes frequent use of horse-drawn wagons in town. Along Highway 29 you’ll find one of our favorite names for a diner, the Thorpedo. It’s a classic type of spot to get great home-cooked food when you’re on the road. Thorp is also home to the Marieke Gouda Store & Holland’s Family Cheese, where you’ll find the award-winning Marieke Gouda cheeses and all kinds of other foods, accessories, and more from Holland’s Family Farm. “Marieke” is named for Marieke Penterman, who grew up on a dairy farm in The Netherlands, came to America, met her husband Rolf, and together they started a dairy farm in Thorp in 2002. Her cheesemaking skills led to Gouda styles that started garnering awards in 2007 and the U.S. Grand Champion Award in 2013. This facility opened in November, 2013 and you’ll find it right along Highway 29 at Exit 108, where Highway 73 meets up for the eastbound trip.

You can view the cheese factory from the store itself; they make cheese every day but Monday. There’s also family fun to be had on the farm various days (like a jumpy pillow), so don’t be surprised if the kids want to hang out there for a while as much as you do.

Marieke Gouda cow entrance

Between Thorp and Withee, Highway 29 crosses the Black River, which begins in the Chequamegon National Forest a little bit north of there and flows through Black River Falls on its way to the Mississippi.

On the Clark-Marathon County line at the junction with Highway 13 is Abbotsford (pop. 2,000), known as “Wisconsin’s First City”. That’s “first” in terms of the alphabet, by the way, not in population or how early it was founded (those distinctions go to Milwaukee and Green Bay, respectively). You can get off the expressway and follow “Business 29” through town, which is part of the original Yellowstone Trail, too. Trailblazer markers remind you.

29eb_abbotsford_800

hawkeyecone_225hi

Hard to miss the big cone outside the Hawkeye Dairy.

Highway 29’s old route goes right through town as Business 29 (and on the State Trunk Tour, you should try and cut through every town you can when there’s otherwise a bypass), which features plenty of old-school businesses to check out, including Duke’s for Italian beef, antique shops and taverns. Between Old 29 and today’s 29 along Highway 13 is the Hawkeye Dairy, which features a wide variety of cheeses, sausages, and ice cream – it’s hard to miss the massive cone!

45×90: The Center of Two Hemispheres

geographicalmarker4590sign_500Think you’re the center of everything? Well, just off Highway 29 you can come close. From eastbound 29, turn north on County M (by mile marker 149), and head about five miles north; take a right on County U and then left onto Meridian Road. The meridian of which it speaks is the 90th Meridian (90°W), halfway between the Prime Meridian (which runs through London as 0°) and the International Date Line (180°).

But that’s not all.

About 1/4 mile north of County U, you’re also at the 45th Parallel (45°N), which is halfway between the Equator and the North Pole (theoretically, at least – the flattening of the earth’s sphere near the poles leaves room for debate.) But either way, a parking area in the middle of the cornfields is the starting point for a 300-yard walk that leads you to the center of both the Western and Northern Hemispheres – or the “Northwest Hemisphere” as the signs say.) Stand there and feel the self-absorption!

45x90 Marker at exact point, NW of Wausau

Yep, that dot is the exact point where 45N and 90W meet, a point you’ve seen on every globe, ever.

45x90 Area walkup

The exact 45×90 location was marked and opened for visitors in 2017, carved out of a farmer’s field just off Meridian Road near Poniatowski.

Get more details on the 45×90 spot here!

Meanwhile, back to Highway 29 and continuing east, you can make quick time towards Wausau. Once you cross Highway 107 at Marathon City, a nice view of Rib Mountain guides you in. Rib Mountain (elevation: 1,924 feet) is an imposing ridge that dominates the surrounding landscape and provides area residents with great winter skiing right nearby. The hill is one billion years old, but doesn’t look a day over 600 million. It’s the third-highest peak in the state and has the highest “prominence,” its height compared to the average surrounding terrain. With the prominence being about a 760-foot difference between peak and surrounding average terrain, it’s obvious why it can be seen so well for miles and miles around. Rib Mountain is the site of Rib Mountain State Park and the Granite Peak Ski Area, which was one of the first ski areas in the nation when it opened in 1937. The tower towering on top of Rib Mountain rises an additional 400-plus feet and broadcasts 95.5 WIFC, one of the longest continuously-running Top 40 stations in country… which is one reason that signal booms over 100 miles in every direction.

ribfrom29west

Rib Mountain comes into view well west of Wausau. At 1,924 feet, it’s the second highest point in Wisconsin and hosts both Rib Mountain State Park and a pretty cool ski area.

29towards51_500

Highway 29 now joins I-39/U.S. 51 at a relatively new freeway interchange. The old 29 continued east into the city via Stewart Street on what is now Highway 52; today’s 29 follows the freeway south and then east again south of Rib Mountain. The map at the lower right illustrates both options.

Wausau

Wausau (pop. 39,106) itself is the the dominant metro city in central Wisconsin, the center of a “primary statistical area” according to the U.S. Census that includes all of Marathon County and brings in nearby cities like Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, and Merrill. It’s the 141st largest metro area in the country with about 308,000 people (by comparison, Milwaukee takes in most of SE Wisconsin and is ranked 33rd nationally with 2.07 million, while Madison is 69th with 844,000 people, taking in Janesville, Beloit, and Baraboo.)

Wausau has been known far and wide for insurance. The Employers Insurance of Wausau – which became Wausau Insurance Companies – ran many national ads that many recall today, especially with the music and focus on the “Wausau” name on an old Milwaukee Road railroad depot. (here’s a YouTube sample – the last 6-7 seconds are what people saw over and over again) before the company was taken over by Liberty Mutual in 1999; they retired the Wausau name ten years later. Grrrr. The city is also known for American ginseng; while Wisconsin cultivates close to 95% of the ginseng grown in the U.S., much of it is grown in Marathon County. You can see the artificial shade covers over ginseng fields all over the area. But with forests nearby and a big river providing power for sawmills, it was the lumber industry – and then paper production – that really got Wausau going early on; it’s still a big chunk of the economy here. Wausau is the largest city along the Wisconsin River, which runs right through the center and downtown areas. In general, the older part of the city is to the east of the river and newer areas are to the west.

Recreation abounds: the Wisconsin River splits the city and widens into a lake at times, providing great canoeing and kayaking; of course, Rib Mountain offers skiing, hiking and mountain biking; and numerous restaurants abound for both foodies and aspiring competitive eaters alike.

29_map_wausau

Our high-tech map showing the main route of 29 (solid line) and the original city route (dashed). It’s more fun to go through town.

Today’s Highway 29 runs as a freeway in from the west and then follows U.S. 51 south for about seven miles before heading east again past Wausau, serving as a bypass to the heart of the city. But you’re best served seeing and experiencing Wausau, of course!

Go through the city itself on Business 29, which is also the start of Highway 52. To follow 29’s old route before the freeway bypass opened in 1963, follow Stewart Avenue (Highway 52) east instead of joining Highway 29, U.S. 51 & I-39. Stewart will bring you over the river and into downtown. The graphic at the right gives you a good eyeball view of how this works around Wausau. Much of the new growth is along the freeway west of the river, but the heart of the city and most of its points of interest lie to the east.

histmarker_1stteachersschoolOne of Wausau’s early names was “Big Bull Falls” due to the falls and rapids along the Wisconsin River. Around 1840, the area started to take the name Wausau, roughly meaning “a place which can be seen from far away” in the Ojibwe language. On your way downtown, you’ll see the campus for UW-Marathon County, which has its roots as the first teaching school in the state.

Stewart Street brings you into downtown Wausau, which thanks to the Dudley Tower has some level of skyline. At 241 feet tall, it’s the tallest office building in Wisconsin outside of the Milwaukee area (the State Capitol and Van Hise Hall in Madison are taller, but neither are office buildings.)

wausau_dudleytower01

Completed in 2007, the Dudley Tower is the tallest commercial building outside of Milwaukee in the state.

wausau_kayakstatue

A salute to kayaking marks the crossing of the Wisconsin River into downtown Wausau on Stewart Street, the original Highway 29 route (now part of 52.)

Part of downtown Wausau includes the River District and a beautiful set of downtown blocks with a mix of old and new. A mall opened in the 1980s on the south edge of downtown (which Highway 52 and “Business” U.S. 51 circles around) and offers indoor shopping. Adjacent are blocks of shops, restaurants, bars, offices, hotels, apartments, and condos that has dramatically increased the vibrancy of the city’s downtown. The lovely Grand Theater went up in 1927 to replace an earlier opera house; the Center for the Visual Arts features several free exhibits in gallery spaces and hosts events like ChalkFest, Exhbitour, and a series of kids’ events throughout the year. These cultural facilities and adjacent offices, coffee shops, and restaurants surround the 400 Block, an open green space in the heart of the city that hosts farmers’ markets, holiday celebrations, summer concerts, and more.

wausau_visitorcentersign

Answers may vary depending on your attitude.

Just off the Block, the Wausau Visitor Center is located at 219 Jefferson Street and offers plenty of information about the area, plus this sign (right) that could be interpreted more than one way.

From downtown, follow 6th Street south to Grand through the city. This is also Business U.S. 51, the former route of U.S. 51 before the freeway on the west side opened in 1963.

*** Brewery Alerts ***
Tucked inside a former factory south of downtown just blocks east of Business U.S. 51 (also the original Highway 29 through town) via Thomas and Genrich Streets, Bull Falls Brewery opened in 2007 and serves up a variety of brews – mostly in cans – that started with their popular Oktoberfest. They have a nice tasting room and offer tours at select times or by appointment for $5. Calling 715-842-2337 will get you details. Bull Falls is named after an actual falls on the Wisconsin River, which is close by. The brewery also hosts quite a few events throughout the year – several involving barbecue.

Wausau hosts a professional baseball team, the Wausau Woodchucks of the Northwoods League. Also worth a stop is the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum (715-845-7010), featuring numerous works of nature-based art and sculpture, including its world-renowned “Birds In Art” exhibit.

wausau_woodchucks01

According to the tongue-twister, woodchucks can’t chuck wood. But the Wausau Woodchucks can knock balls out of this park.

wausau_yawkeyhouse02

Considered a gem of a museum in Wausau, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum features some world-class art and exhibits.

“Old” 29 rejoins the current Highway 29 south of Wausau at Exit 171. From Wausau and its eastern suburbs of Rothschild, Weston and Ringle, Highway 29 is expressway all the way east to Green Bay. Bicycle enthusiasts may note that the Mountain-Bay Trail, a rail-to-trail conversion that runs the span between Wausau and Green Bay, parallels this stretch of 29 just a few miles north.

Shortly after crossing the subcontinential divide (the point where water starts draining to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean vs. the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico), you reach Highway 49, which begins at Highway 29 and heads south to Elderon, Waupaca and eventually the Horicon Marsh area. After crossing into Shawano County, Highway 29 (as the now-freeway bypass) snakes around little Wittenberg (pop. 1,177), where U.S. 45 joins for a few miles heading east before heading south toward Clintonville.

wittenberg_neuskessignBacon Alert. In the midst of this coupling with U.S. 45, Highway 29 passes Wittenberg’s most famous business: Neuske’s Applewood Smoked Meats. Neuske’s makes “the beluga of bacon”, according to the New York Times. Neuske’s was founded in 1887 by Prussian immigrants, drawn to Wisconsin because everybody was immigrating here at the time and Wittenberg appealed to them – in part because of the significance of the city’s German counterpart (apparently Wittenberg, Germany is where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church, touching off the Reformation. A little history note for ya.) Neuske’s began with a smokehouse and during the Great Depression R.C. Neuske sold smoked bacon, sausages, hams and turkeys to budding resorts across northern Wisconsin. Long story short, today Neuske’s sells through mail order and supermarkets across the nation and a few foreign markets. Their bacon (a State Trunk Tour favorite) is the preferred bacon for a plethora of famous, tony restauarants across the country, including Balthazar and An American Place in New York, Commander’s Place in New Orleans, The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, and Pinot in Los Angeles. But lucky you, you can buy Neuske’s right at the Wittenberg Retail Store, located on Grand Avenue between Exit 196 and 198, in full view of Highway 29. In fact, Grand Avenue was Highway 29 before the expressway was built. So there.

Further east, you reach Shawano (pop. 8.298), the main city between Green Bay and Wausau. Shawano is perched on Shawano Lake and offers the most amenities on this stretch. Highway 29 officially bypasses the city to the south on a freeway bypass – which is only fitting, since the name “Shawano” is Native American Menomonee for “to the south.” You can follow Business 29 into town and go through its center. Being the main city between Wausau and Green Bay, it’s also the main city along the Mountain-Bay Trail.

In the downtown area, Business Highway 29 follows a stretch of Green Bay Avenue for several miles, combining 29 with State Trunk Tour Highways 22, 47 and 55. Gas tends to be a little cheaper in Shawano than surrounding areas, so just note that for the trip.

22shaw02

Four State Trunk Highways converge and go through Shawano’s main drag: 22, 47, 55, and “Business” 29, which was the mainline 29 until they built the bypass.

camelshawano_800

From the “You Never Know What You’ll See on a State Trunk Tour” Dept: a camel grazes in the front yard of a home along the main drag downtown. The Shawano County Fair was in town at the moment – we can only assume there was a connection there.

If you follow the Highway 29 freeway bypass – which saves probably 10-15 minutes – check out the view as you cross the tree-lined Wolf River. Especially on the eastbound run, the view of the trees framing the river makes for a great picture. If only I’d had my camera ready at the time…

East of Shawano, Highway 47 combines with 29 to Bonduel and Highway 55 sticks around until Angelica. At Bonduel, check out Doc’s Zoo & Muscle Car Museum (715-758-9080), which features a variety of 60’s muscle cars, motorcycles, a classic 1930’s Standard gas station, and a whole line of unique autos, including one of the 1958 Plymouth Fury cars used in the Stephen King classic “Christine”. It’s hard to miss; part of Doc’s Harley-Davidson, Inc. of Shawano County, you’ll notice Bo & Luke Duke’s General Lee looking like it just leaped the building (yes, it’s one of the actual General Lee cars used in filming “The Dukes of Hazzard.”)

29genleewalruschime_600

The General Lee just after “leaping” over Doc’s Zoo & Muscle Car Museum. At right, I never thought I’d see this…but if you click on the picture to enlarge it, yes…it’s apparently a walrus penis windchime. Ouch.

Just northwest of Green Bay, Highway 29 ducks into Brown County and then Outagamie County for such a short time, you can see the Brown County sign ahead of you again. The signs themselves are small, but you literally cut the northeast corner of Outagamie within a few blocks. Highway 32 joins in too, fresh from the North Woods and Gillett. The two head together towards Titletown.

On the west edge of Green Bay itself lies Pamperin Park. Not be confused with the medicine Pamprin, Pamperin Park is the largest park in Brown County and the Green Bay Metro Area. The park offers a huge wooden children’s playground area, a stone pavilion, fireplace, gardens and a picturesque suspension bridge. Pamperin serves as a nice recreational stop for relaxation or letting kids get their energy spent before resuming the journey.

29pamppark

Pamperin Park is quite the playland.

GREEN BAY

Entering Green Bay (pop. 104,057, a.k.a. “Titletown U.S.A.”), Highway 29 finishes being an expressway at a huge interchange with I-41 and simply becomes Shawano Avenue, cutting through the heart of downtown. Green Bay is Wisconsin’s oldest city and – not sure if you heard about this or not – are the smallest city to host a National Football League team. They’re called the “Packers” and…what, you’ve already heard about them? Okay.

Green Bay is also the headquarters of ShopKo Stores and Schneider National (admit it, you know the commercials and you’ve seen the “big orange trucks”). Famous people from Green Bay include Tony Shalhoub of Monk fame, ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Anderson, comedian and Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, Pat MacDonald of the group Timbuk 3 – you know, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades“? – that group. Naturally, Green Bay is home to tons of athletes too, among them NFL stars Curly Lambeau, Jerry Tagge, Ted Fritsch Jr., Arnie Herber and Aaron Stecker, as well as baseball pitcher Bob Wickman.

** Multiple Breweries and One Distillery Alert! **

titletown_front_lgGreen Bay calls itself “Titletown”, so when some guys decided to start up a brewery there, it only made sense to call it the Titletown Brewing Company. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – Titletown Brewing started in December of 1996, right before the Packers’ first Super Bowl victory in nearly three decades. Located on Dousman Street/U.S. 141 just west of downtown and the Fox River, Titletown occupies a classic old railroad station built in 1899, as well as a newer brewery and tap room across the parking lot with the Titletown smokestack on top. Titletown brews Packer-backer beverages such as the Johnny “Blood” Red and Canadeo Gold as well as a great root beer called Sno-Cap, which uses Clyde the Penguin as its mascot. Trains, football, beer, food… definitely a good stop on the State Trunk Tour. Meanwhile, across the street Copper State Brewing Company opened in 2017 where Hinterland Brewing was before they moved to the Titletown District (more on that in a moment) in a building that was originally a meat-packing warehouse (yes, how the “Packers” got their name.)

Meanwhile, in the Titletown District, just west of Lambeau Field the aforementioned Hinterland Brewing opened in 2017, having relocated from its original brewery that dated back to 1995. Juts southeast of Lambeau in the same district you’ll find Badger State Brewing Company, a relative newcomer with a great selection of in-house craft brews and others from across Wisconsin. Leatherhead Brewing Company is a few doors down along Lombardi Avenue, and just over on Mike McCarthy Way, you’ll find the Green Bay Distillery. It opened in 2011 with a classic vodka and a cherry vodka (handy for Green Bay winters) and expanded to gin and whiskey in subsequent years. Their restaurant has a full menu – including a full menu of macro- and craft-brewed beers if spirits aren’t your thing. Either way, they are all easy walking distance to Lambeau Field, the Resch Center, Ray Nitschke Field, the Brown County Arena, the famous Stadium View bar, the famous Andouzzi’s, Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, and much more.

Side Trip to Lambeau.
For Lambeau Field seekers on this route, the “frozen tundra” lies about 3 miles south of Highway 29; you can cut south to it via I-41, Oneida Street, or Military Avenue. Trust me, you WILL be able to find Lambeau, the home of the Green Bay Packers…the cross street is Lombardi Avenue, after all.

Okay, back to Highway 29…

As Highway 29 enters downtown, it crosses the Fox River, one of the few northward-flowing rivers in North America. Here, bridges are lit up at night with condos, bars and shops springing up. At the intersection with Broadway, a Farmers Market offers produce and other items on Wednesday afternoons from June through September from 3pm-8pm. Highway 29 is also Walnut Street here, and just north along Dousman Street (U.S. 141) is the Neville Public Museum, which focuses on art, history and science for northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is also a Children’s Museum, currently undergoing redevelopment.

East of the Fox River, blocks adjacent to Highway 29 feature an array of bars and restaurants. Places to party include Kittner’s Pub, Hip Cats, Liquid 8, Confetti, Washington Street Pub, the Fox Harbor Pub & Grill, and Stir-Ups (Stir-Ups is a country bar – yes, think about it.) Green Bay’s party crowd hangs out in this area, and it’s not uncommon for Packers players to be seen…and perhaps you can see their Super Bowl ring!

browncoch

The handsome Brown County Courthouse, completed in 1908. You’ll find at the corner of Highway 29/Walnut Street & Jefferson Avenue on the east side of downtown and the Fox River.

For train enthusiasts, Green Bay is the site of the National Railroad Museum (2285 S. Broadway, south of Highway 29 via Highway 32), which features over 70 locomotives and train cars, including the world’s largest steam locomotive, known as “Big Boy.” Also, just across the river off Highway 172 (Green Bay’s southern freeway bypass), you’ll find the lovely Heritage Hill State Historical Park. Technically located in Allouez, this 48-acre outdoor museum lives up to its name. Over 30 historic structures and endangered buildings are perched on a hill overlooking the Fox River in an area that once served as a prison farm. Log cabins from the fur trade era, original stores and public buildings, even buildings from the original Fort Howard are all located here and available for exploration. Populating the grounds in summer are live historic interpreters – many in period attire – to help illustrate what these buildings are all about. More and more fun events take place throughout the year here, too.

We’ve already mentioned much of the downtown attractions that tend to be just west of the Fox River, but one is coming up on the east side of the river at the bay if you detour north via Highways 54/57 and under I-43 a bit. That’s Bay Beach Amusement Park, which offers everything from roller coasters to carousels and water rides from May through September. The biggest coaster is Zippin’ Pippin, a 2,800-foot long wooden coaster with nearly hundred-year-old origins in Memphis, Tennessee. It was moved to Green Bay and re-opened in 2011 and has remained quite popular.

Just next door to the action and noise, the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is next door, providing 700 acres of refuge for animals. The Sanctuary features live animal exhibits, educational displays, miles of hiking/skiing trails and various wildlife viewing opportunities; they care for more than 4,500 orphaned and injured animals each year. It traces its roots to 1936, when it established as a site for waterfowl rehabilitation with an assist from Aldo Leopold. The Sanctuary is free and open year ’round. The whole area of Bay Beach lies along the waters of Green Bay, adjacent to where the Fox River empties into this arm of Lake Michigan.

Back to Highway 29, heading through eastern Green Bay a strip known as “Olde Main Street” offers a variety of shops. Around these points, Highway 29 meets up with US Highway 141; this was the main road out of Green Bay towards Milwaukee before I-43 was constructed.

Leaving Green Bay, Highway 29 turns southeast heading out of town, crossing over I-43 on the way to Bellevue (pop. 14,570), a fast-growing village that incorporated in 2003. About two miles later, U.S. 141 turns to I-43 and ends; Highway 29 becomes a two-lane road again and makes a beeline east along the remaining 22 miles to Lake Michigan.

poland

The bustling burg of Poland. So what kind of jokes do they tell here?

Along the way, it’s mostly farmland. But you do go through Poland, in this case not the country but an unincorporated burg named after the nation that is indeed the source of approximately 60% of all lightbulb-changing jokes. It might be best to skip telling them here. However, if you want to share your theories about aliens from other planets, well, the UFO landing port (slogan: “We’re not the only ones”) in Poland is a good place to do it. Featured in RoadsideAmerica.Com, the port is owned by Bob Tohak and he maintains it in anticipation of aliens landing someday. And you thought immigration was a wild subject now!

Into Kewaunee County, you also hit little unincorporated Pilsen, named after Czech town where Pilsener beer was invented, so I think you know how to salute the place. In wine is more your thing, the Parallel 44 Vineyard & Winery can be found a few miles south of Highway 29 along Sleepy Hollow Road, just east of Pilsen. Parallel 44 is named for its geographical location along not only Kewaunee County but also the Bordeaux region of France and the Tuscany region of Italy – two of the finest areas in the world for winemaking. While the climate in Kewaunee isn’t quite the same as Tuscany’s (shame, isn’t it?), owners & winemakers Steve Johnson and Maria Milano manage to grow a variety of French hybrid grapes that have led to award-winning wines. Their first harvest was in September, 2007 and things have only grown since then. They offer tours and complimentary tastings – within reasonable limits! Weekly tours are available Saturdays at 3pm, and you can call them at (920) 362-1550. They also host a series of events and concerts in the summer, and their “Frozen Tundra Wine Fest” in February.

parallel44_1_800parallel44_ledge_800

parallel44_2_800parallel44_climate_800

Parallel 44 is off Sleepy Hollow Road and County J, a few miles south of Highway 29. The “Ledge” refers to the Niagara Escarpment, a unique geological feature that results in things like fertile soil and the existence of both the Door County peninsula and Niagara Falls. The Climate sign (lower left) illustrates how the combination of temperatures, sunlight and precipitation results in this area actually being a great one for growing certain varieties of wine grapes.

sunsetstengelville_800

A February sunset viewed from the Parallel 44 Winery; the church on the horizon is the center of nearby Stengelville.

Kewaunee

The final stop on Highway 29 is Kewaunee (pop. 2,833). With an attractive harbor, Kewaunee was a popular Native American settlement for centuries; the French followed suit in 1634, when Jean Nicolet landed here. In 1674, Father Marquette celebrated a Holy Sacrifice of Mass here. But it wouldn’t be until 1836 when permanent European settlement took place – largely on rumors of a “gold rush” led speculators to believe Kewaunee could become a Chicago-esque, booming city someday. They laid out wide avenues and bought up lots in preparation, but things ended up falling a little short. No matter. The city thrived as a lumber town and trading center, finally becoming a city in 1893.

Like nearby Manitowoc and Sturgeon Bay, Kewaunee became a shipbuilding city. A number of vessels, including the U.S.S. Pueblo, were built and launched in Kewaunee. Car ferry service lasted for many decades, although it is no longer available today. The maritime heritage of the city is well-reflected across the city. The harbor area and marina hosts a lot of pleasure craft and the Tug Ludington (detailed below) offers tours. It’s also a very popular fishing spot, with two piers and plenty of boat and charter rental opportunities.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Kewaunee was the site of the first car ferry service across Lake Michigan, with a line established across to Frankfort, Michigan and back in 1892 (at the time, the cars were pretty much railroad cars.)

Attractions include the Tug Ludington, a U.S. Army tug built in 1943. Made to help with World War II efforts, the tug participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and assisted with harbor operations in France and Virginia before being transferred to Kewaunee in 1947, where it lives a much calmer life. It rests in Harbor Park in downtown Kewaunee and is available for tours. Kewaunee Historical Jail Museum (613 Dodge Street), is an 1876 structure featuring a six-celled jail, the sheriff’s living quarters and a lot of the original materials and arrangements to show you what incarceration was like for the outlaws of the day. Also downtown, check out the World’s Tallest Grandfather Clock, which was up the hill previously but reassembled downtown in 2015. It’s so new we have to get a new picture of it!

kewauneelight

The Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse has been looking over Kewaunee’s Lake Michigan harbor since 1931. It makes use of a fresnel lens, using some of the original materials from the first lighthouse built here in 1891.

On this particular day I happened upon Troutfest, an annual event saluting – yes – trout! An Art Fair, motorcycle run, Venetian boat parade, fireworks, music, and a parade are all part of the festival. The final few blocks of Highway 29 in downtown were closed for the parade, actually, so I detoured through town and happened upon this:

29crush

From the “You’ll Never Know What You’ll Stumble Across” Department: spotted two blocks south of Highway 29 in Kewaunee.

Yes, you never know what you’ll find on the State Trunk Tour. Near Lake Michigan, Kewaunee is a hilly town and as I stood at the eastern end of Highway 29, at its downtown intersection with Highway 42, listening to a marching band playing Blink 182’s “All The Small Things”, I couldn’t help but marvel at how fun the 300-mile trek across the state was, from the Mississippi River all the way to Lake Michigan.

29east_end1

Kewaunee Trout Fest parade-watchers await the show at the end of Highway 29, at the corner with Highway 42…

29east_end2

…and when the parade passes by the end of Highway 29, they march on toward the Lake Michigan shore, visible in the background.

 

CONNECTIONS:
West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 10, Highway 35
Can connect nearby to: Highway 65, about 13 miles northeast

Eastern Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 42
Can connect nearby to: Highway 54, about 12 miles notth