Highway 30 beginning at the Badger Interchange
30

STH-030  “The Way Into Madison – Once the Main Way to Milwaukee, Too”

Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 30 is a shell of its former self. Today it’s a short freeway spur from I-39/90/94 to U.S. Highway 151 (East Washington Avenue), with the Aberg Avenue extension connecting to Highway 113 and the MSN/Dane County Regional Airport. But prior to I-94’s opening in the 1960s, Highway 30 was THE main road between Madison and Milwaukee. We’ll look at the former highway and follow as much of it as possible so we can experience what getting between the two cities was like back in the day.

Highway 30 Road Trip – Today

The Current Drive (East to West): Highway 30 once ran all the way across from Milwaukee to Madison from 1924 until 1965, when I-94 was completed from Milwaukee to I-90 just outside of Madison. The three-mile stretch of original Highway 30 from I-39/90/94 to Aberg Avenue is what remains… so this will be quick!

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We pick up Highway 30 in what’s called the “Badger Interchange.” where I-39/90 and I-94 meet. It’s the southern start of I-39/90/94’s “triple concurrency” run up to Portage – the longest such concurrency in the nation. Highway 30 heads west from the Badger Interchange and offers a view of the Madison isthmus, including the Capitol, much of downtown and part of the UW campus, as you descend from the high point of the Badger Interchange down into the city of Madison.

This portion is freeway, basically a continuation of I-94 getting into the capital city. Highway 30 crosses U.S. 51/Stoughton Road, the major north-south highway on Madison’s east side if you don’t count the interstates.

After that, you reach a small interchange with Fair Oaks Road, where an on-ramp to westbound Highway 30 basically points at the “END” sign for today’s highway just before the interchange with U.S. 151/East Washington Avenue. “East Wash,” as it’s called, is basically the primary route to the State Capitol from Highway 30.

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The “END” sign for Highway 30 is right as traffic joins the road from Fair Oaks Avenue – or leaves it for U.S. 151/East Washington Avenue.

 

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You can hit the Capitol via East Wash, or continue past Highway 30 on Aberg Avenue for Highway 113, the airport, Ale Asylum Brewery, the Kraft/Oscar Meyer plant, or another way into the UW campus.

Highway 30 technically ends at that point but the four-lane road continues west for another mile or so as Aberg Avenue, before ending at Highway 113/Packers Avenue. The “Packers” in the name refers to the mammoth Oscar Mayer plant that has been operating in Madison for decades; sadly, it is scheduled to close this year.

** BREWERY ALERT **

Just north on Highway 113, literally blocks away, you’ll find the Ale Asylum Brewery. Ale Asylum moved into this location at the junction of Highway 113 and the road to MSN – Madison’s Dane County Regional Airport – after about seven years on Stoughton Road. This location is a full restaurant, bar, brewery, and event space and is a fun place to enjoy craft brews, watch games, or see people having a few before dealing with TSA at the airport.

From this end, downtown Madison, the Capitol, and the UW campus are all an easy ride down U.S. 151 or Highway 113.

CONNECTIONS:
Western Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 151/East Washington Avenue
Can connect nearby to: U.S. 51/Stoughton Road, about 1.5 miles east; Highway 113, about one mile west

Eastern Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: I-39, I-90, I-94
Can connect nearby to: Highway 73, about 10 miles east

What’s more intriguing about Highway 30? The HISTORICAL route!

The Highway 30 Historic Drive

The HISTORIC Drive (West to East): Highway 30 was originally designated between Madison and Milwaukee in 1924. From the Capitol, Highway 30 ran northeasterly out of downtown along East Washington Avenue and then dived to to Atwood Avenue, hugging Lake Monona and then beelining east about County BB/Cottage Grove Road through Cottage Grove and then via today’s County B through Lake Mills, Johnson Creek and Concord. From there, it followed much of today’s I-94 path except for the section between Willow Glen and Saywer Roads where it followed today’s County DR, and into Delafield where it followed today’s Delafield Road. East of today’s Goerkes Corners, Highway 30 followed Bluemound Road and Wisconsin Avenue into downtown Milwaukee.

In the early 1940s, Highway 30 was moved to a more direct route from Lake Mills to Concord, on the route of I-94 today. Gradually west of Lake Mills and east of Concord, Higwhway 30 was moved to today’s I-94 path in sections. In the late 1940s, the section of Highway 30 west of Cottage Grove was moved to today’s County T and Commercial Avenue.

Got it?

Okay, we’ll follow selected parts here, allowing us to go right through the heart of many of these towns that I-94 skims.

And we’ll be posting that shortly!

 

 

 

188

STH-188“From the Winery to the Ferry”

 

WisMap188_200wSouthern terminus: Dane County, at U.S. 12 in Roxbury

Northern terminus: Columbia County, at Highway 113 and the Merrimac Ferry in Okee.

Mileage: about 12 miles

Counties along the way: Dane, Columbia

Sample towns along the way: Prairie du Sac, Merrimac

Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 188 follows the Wisconsin River to the east from U.S. 12 just south of Sauk City to Highway 113 where it meets the Merrimac Ferry. A short highway, it nevertheless makes for a pleasant drive with plenty of twists and turns, nice views and a winery making for a very enjoyable stop.

The Wisconsin Highway 188 Road Trip

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The short but fun little drive up Highway 188 starts right off U.S. 12, and other than the winery, you have one destination, according to the sign: Lake Wisconsin. The Merrimac Ferry also awaits.

188rolling_500The Drive (South to North): Highway 188 begins at U.S. 12 just south of Highway 78 just south of the Wisconsin River in the Town of Roxbury. Nestled in the hills and bluffs that frame the area around the Wisconsin River, Highway 188 keeps you busy with curves and hills. About two miles into the route, you’ll encounter the Wollersheim Winery.

WINERY ALERT!
The Wollersheim Winery is tucked into the hills, with vineyards stretching all along around a cluster of buildings where they work their magic. As far back as the 1840s, this beautiful setting was selected for winemaking. Indeed, Wollersheim’s original winery building dates back to 1858, and an expansion that holds the gift shop and visitor space opened a mere 150 years later. Wollersheim Winery began here in 1972 and continues as a family business to this day.

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The entrance to the Wollersheim Winery, colorful in the warm months with plenty of flowers.

Today, Wollersheim Winery produces over 240,000 gallons of wine annually and rakes in award after award (here’s just what they won in 2009.) They are open year ’round from 10-5 and offer guided tours daily. Find out more here or call them at (800) VIP-WINE.

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The original winery building for Wollersheim, visible on the right, dates back to 1858.

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Before or after a tour, feel free to sit up near the eagle and sample some wines. You get a lovely view of the winery’s buildings, grapevines and the cave that served as the original wine cellar. And yes, there are bald eagles around.

Wollersheim also owns the Cedar Creek Winery in Cedarburg, along what used to be Highway 57 (and still is, according to the “spirit” of the State Trunk Tour.)

Beyond the winery, Highway 188 continues to wind around before meeting up with Highway 60, just east of the Wisconsin River bridge that takes it into Prairie du Sac (pop. 3,231). This is Eagle Country, where bald eagles – and perhaps some with hair – can be regularly spotted.

Prairie du Sac and Sauk City (pop. 3,019) are essentially twin cities and collectively the area is called Sauk Prairie. Sauk City itself is Wisconsin’s oldest incorporated village (1854) and is the site of the first Culver’s restaurant ever (1984). Culver’s headquarters, meanwhile, is in Prairie du Sac. Don’t ever question putting butter on a burger around here.

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The Wisconsin River at Prairie du Sac, whether you’re on the west bank (Highway 60) or the east bank (Highway 188), features great fishing, scenic terrain and good eagle-watching.

Highway 188 follows Highway 60 to the east for about a mile before breaking north again. From Highway 60 on north, there’s very little in the way of businesses, towns or even residences for most of the stretch; it’s pretty much all about twisting and turning as you enjoy the scenery. The Wisconsin River is just to the northwest of Highway 188 the whole time, which is why you’re always going north, then east, then north a bit, and then east again. This stretch is fun to drive or ride on, but note that it’s a bit narrow and there are a lot of blind curves. Barrel down the road carefully!

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North of Highway 60, Highway 188 rides the edges of hills and you get sweeping views of the Baraboo Range to the north. On this section, you’ll make more than a few 90-degree turns.

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Highway 188 heads through a lot of farmland; the soil is rich because you’re in the valleys formed by the Wisconsin River. The Baraboo Range provides a formidable background. Portions of Highway 188 climb up on some ridges overlooking the river and Lake Wisconsin. Here’s a nice shot of a barn with the range in the background. Further down, you descend one of the ridges and get this view of the bluffs in the distance.

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Highway 188 comes to an end at the Merrimac Ferry, which carries Highway 113 across the Wisconsin River between Okee (the side Highway 188 is on) and Merrimac, on the other shore in Sauk County. You can go north on 113 and cross the ferry, or continue straight, which puts you southbound on 113 and on the road to Lodi, looping back to the Highway 60 you crossed before near Sauk Prairie.

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As Highway 188 Ends: The Merrimac Ferry

Highway 188 ends at Highway 113’s junction with the Merrimac Ferry – the last remaining ferry on the State Trunk Highway system. The Merrimac Ferry began as a toll ferry in 1924, becoming free in 1933. It has been ever since. The Colsac III, launched in 2003, is the third boat (hence the “III”) to serve this run and can accommodate 15 cars at a time. Expect a pretty hefty line during summer weekend days, especially in August. They’ll take care of you, though: vendors offer ice cream and other ways to enjoy the day, even when you have to sit and wait. The Merrimac Ferry generally runs from about April 15 through the end of November. – but weather can always be a factor. You can always call them at (608) 246-3871 to check availability and wait times.

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The Merrimac Ferry runs from April to November. In the winter, the Colsac III is tied to the south shore, on the Highway 188 side.

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It’s definitely worth the crossing!

At the end of Highway 188, you can follow Highway 113 back south towards Lodi and Madison, or head across (in season) via the Merrimac; Highway 113 can take you to Baraboo and Highway 78 also awaits on the other side, which can take you back south to Prairie du Sac on the west side of the river or north towards Portage and central Wisconsin. Or, you can double back to the winery… it’s up to you. Have fun!

 

CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 12
Can connect nearby to: Highway 78, about 1/4 mile north

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 113
Can connect nearby to: Highway 78, just across the Merrimac Ferry

134

STH-134 “Cambridge to London in five minutes or less…no England needed”

WisMap134_200wQuickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 134, essentially unchanged since its 1923 commissioning, connects Cambridge with the tiny burg of London and, via county highway connections, points north – eventually Waterloo.

The Wisconsin Highway 134 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Yep, this won’t take long. You start at U.S. 12/18 on the west side of Cambridge (pop. 1,100), a charming town that straddles the Dane-Jefferson County line (much like Highway 134 does for a spell). Just to the west – and by “just” we mean within sight – is Highway 73, the main north-south state highway in the area. Pretty much AT the intersection where Highway 134 begins is the Matt Kinseth Museum & Fan Club Headquarters (700 Kenseth Way, 866-878-1717), a must for NASCAR fans – especially Wisconsin ones. Free to enter, the Museum features plenty of cars and exhibits that pay homage to the Cambridge native, who returns frequently.

The Matt Kinseth Museum & Fan Club Headquarters holds a lot of NASCAR memorabilia, especially as its related to Kinseth’s impressive career on the circuit. It’s free to enter, but a stop at the gift shop is always encouraged.

As long as you’re at the beginning on Highway 134, take a spin south on U.S. 12 and check out downtown Cambridge, a town long known as a destination for fine hand-crafted pottery. Today, it’s known just as much for great antiquing. Rowe Pottery Works (214 W. Main Street) is a great place for fans of ceramics and pots and is well known for salt-fired gray and blue pottery. Its founder Jim Rowe now has the place across the street, the Cambridge Stoneware Company (217 W. Main Street, 608-423-9700). There’s even a World Pottery Games festival every June. The Old Stone House is the oldest remaining building in Cambridge, built in 1851… it now houses a jewelry store. Just off Main on South Street, check out the Cambridge Historic School (213 South Street, 608-423-3327), a museum which features exhibits across a number of cultures and nostalgic displays all in coordinated layouts. Built in 1906, the school was designed by Cambridge native Ole Evinrude, famous for becoming the inventor of the outboard motor after he got frustrated rowing a boat manually on a hot day while trying to fetch ice cream for his girlfriend at the time.

Highway 134 northbound begins

The beginning of Highway 134 heading north. This won’t take long.

Cambridge is centered around Lake Ripley, a 418-acre lake that is not only popular with locals, but served as a tourist destination as far back as the 1890s while people from Chicago, Milwaukee and nearby Madison. For a spell, Cambridge was known as the “Umbrella City”, not for rain protection but rather all the beach umbrellas people stuck in the sand around Lake Ripley. Some of the village’s materials still use the moniker today.

North of Cambridge, Highway 134 runs through sparsely-populated farmland and jogs northeast enough to land you square on the Dane-Jefferson county line, which it bisects right up to its sole destination, the tiny burg of London.

Not much has changed on this stretch since Highway 134 began in 1923, but some things do fade away… this barn may be deteriorating, but there’s a beauty in it just the same.

London (unincorporated) is home to the oldest Moravian church in Wisconsin and lies along the Glacial Drumlin Trail, a terrific rail-to-trail bike and snowmobile path that connects Waukesha to Cottage Grove, just east of Madison. In the early years, a small train named “The Cannonball” connected London with Cambridge, in a sort of early form of transit. Today, that connection is State Trunk Highway 134.

London Moravian Church in London, Wisconsin.

The London Moravian Church was established in 1889 and continues on in its lovely building, just north of where Highway 134 becomes County Highway O.

Northbound 134 ends

Less than three miles after it begins, Highway134 comes to an end in downtown London (yeah, it’s not a big downtown.) The road becomes County O and continues north if you’re interested. Otherwise, you can check out the Glacial Drumlin Trail in town or head back to Cambridge; it’s all good.

So, where does one go from here? You can continue north on County O, which will eventually take you to Waterloo and Highways 19 and 89, or head back south four minutes to U.S. 12/18, and continue your journey to a bunch of other fantastic Wisconsin destinations. Enjoy!

CONNECTIONS

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 12, U.S. Highway 18
Can connect nearby to: Highway 73, less than one mile west

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: County O in London
Can connect nearby to: Not much else

113

STH-113 “A Ferry Nice Drive”

WisMap113_200wQuickie Summary: Wisconsin Highway 113 serves Baraboo (the “circus city”), Devil’s Lake State Park and the shores of the Wisconsin River around Merrimac before crossing the river on the state’s only free river ferry. From there, Lodi, Dane, and the only Waunakee in the world await before you hit the north side of Madison, Dane County Regional Airport, breweries and more ending at U.S. 151/East Washington Avenue, a major gateway to Wisconsin’s State Capitol. In only 40 miles or so, the scenery and variety makes for an enjoyable morning or afternoon jaunt. Yes, I used the word “jaunt.”

Wisconsin Highway 113 Road Trip

The Drive (North to South): Highway 113 begins at Highway 33 in the northern portion of the city of Baraboo (pop. 11,550), named as one of the 20 best small towns to visit in the U.S. in 2013 by Smithsonian.com. Just west of the junction with Highway 33, the Ochsner Park & Zoo offers the opportunity to view and learn about a variety of animals, from snow leopards to wolves and more. And this is a city that knows animals; Baraboo is home to the International Crane Foundation. Famed ecologist Aldo Leopold is a native son, and the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center at the Foundation is LEED-certified as perhaps the “greenest” building in the U.S. It’s carbon-neutral and uses locally-harvested wood products. But Baraboo is probably most known for the circus — the big one, for all practical purposes.

Early Ringling Bros. poster

An early Ringling Bros. poster. Apparently barrels were very popular at the time.

Baraboo and the Circus…and the College. In 1884, seven brothers named Ringling (Al, August, Otto, Alfred, Charles, John and Henry) founded the Ringling Brothers Circus in Baraboo. Actually, it was called “Yankee Robinson and Ringling Brothers” but Yankee went away at some point. They traveled the country, wowing people with a show that for a while had a monstrous official title: “Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals”. They eventually bought the Barnum & Bailey Circus and by 1919, they were merged into the name most people know them by: Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth.”The “Barnum” in question, by the way, is P.T. Barnum, who is credited with the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (Barnum was all wet, by the way – there are hundreds of suckers born every minute.) There was a Ringling Clown College for a while. It started in Venice, Florida in 1968, moved to Baraboo in the early 90s and then relocated back to Florida before closing in 1997. Graduates and instructors from Ringling’s Clown College include Bill Irwin, Penn Jillette, Steven “Steve-O” Glover, and Philippe Petit (the guy who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York in 1974.) Honorary graduates of the school include Dick Van Dyke and weatherman/octogenarian greeter Willard Scott who, interestingly, was the first person to portray Ronald McDonald in a TV commercial. But we’re getting off track here.

Embedded in the concrete surrounding the Sauk County Courthouse are elephants, camels, everything short of cotton candy to help illustrate Baraboo’s circus connection. Not enough to convince you? Check the historical marker on the big rock across from the Ringling Theatre.

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Highway 113 is part of the west side of Baraboo’s beautiful town square, which frames the Sauk County Courthouse. Encircling the square are shops a’plenty, along with bars, restaurants and the impressive Al Ringling Theatre. Built in 1915, it’s often known as “America’s Prettiest Playhouse.”

From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on a State Trunk Tour” Dept:
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On the Sauk County Courthouse grounds, an impromptu oversize chess match.

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Imagine getting a ticket for going 3 mph.

Okay, back to circus stuff: following Highway 113 past downtown, the road turns to parallel the Baraboo River and approach the Circus World Museum, a place where boys, girls and children of all ages can see how circuses have worked and entertained people for generations. As they say, “experience the thrill that never gets old,” featuring a Circus Museum, an area called Ringlingville, a wide variety of circus animals and the World’s Largest Circus Wagon Collection. History abounds along this stretch of Highway 113; a series of buildings in the Circus World Museum date back to the 19th century and plenty of plaques will tell you more.

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The entrance to Circus World, right along Highway 113 on Baraboo’s south side.

 

 

 

 

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The Circus World Museum offers plenty of history, animals and smells along Highway 113.

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The drive south out of Baraboo on Highway 113 gets increasingly hilly and beautiful as you approach Devil’s Lake State Park and the Wisconsin River.

devilsdoorway_599x398As you leave Baraboo on Highway 113, the Baraboo Hills greet you and so does Devils Lake State Park. The most popular state park in Wisconsin (up to 1.4 million visitors annually), Devils Lake State Park offers 29 miles of hike and bike trails, a unit of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve and a segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Parking for part of that trail is available in a lot right off Highway 113. Access to Devil’s Lake State Park is best found via County DL (I’ll bet you can guess what “DL” stands for, right?) Devil’s Lake State Park is about 1.5 billion years old in geologic terms, though it didn’t become a state park until 1911. Heaven for soil scientists, geologists, hikers, bikers, campers, skiers and climbers, it’s without question one of the most topographically interesting areas of the state.

 

devilslakemap_dnrwiClick left for a details and a map of the Devil’s Lake State Park area, courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website.

The picture illustrates how these rock formations look lining Devil’s Lake itself, giving Sconnies and visitors from other areas of the Midwest the impression that they’re approaching the mountains “out west.” Plenty of hikers head up to the top and enjoy the scenery along with a granola bar or two.

The drive along this stretch is hilly, twisty-turny and quite fun. You make your way downward because you’re about to travel along the Wisconsin River.

Merrimac Ferry

Highway 113 joins Highway 78 for the ride east to Merrimac (pop. 416), home of the Merrimac Ferry – the last remaining ferry on the State Trunk Highway system. The Merrimac Ferry began as a toll ferry in 1924, becoming free in 1933. It has been ever since. The Colsac III, launched in 2003, is the third boat (hence the “III”) to serve this run and can accommodate 15 cars at a time. Expect a pretty hefty line during summer weekend days, especially in August. They’ll take care of you, though: vendors offer ice cream and other ways to enjoy the day, even when you have to sit and wait. The Merrimac Ferry generally runs from about April 15 through the end of November. – but weather can always be a factor. You can always call them at (608) 246-3871 to check availability and wait times.

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Approaching the Merrimac Ferry; we’re about to be “on a boat.”

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Awaiting the ferry on the Merrimac side. You can drive your car onto the ferry to head across, or simply tag along as a pedestrian. A one-way trip takes about 7 minutes.

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The Colsac III on its run toward the Columbia County side of the river; this is part of Highway 113.

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Checking out the side of the road along Highway 113… it’s a little wet from the ferry. The railroad bridge frames your view to the east. It’s pretty cool to watch when a train is crossing, too.

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Across the ferry, you enter Columbia County. Highway 188 begins there and heads southwest towards Prairie du Sac and the Wollersheim Winery & Distillery; Highway 113 begins a ride along the southern arm of Lake Wisconsin, a picturesque extension of the Wisconsin River with 57 miles of shorelines and bluffs towering above. Pine Bluff is particularly noticeable as you cruise within sight of the water for several miles, past the tiny settlement of Okee. Farmland begins to dominate again as you make your way to the next town – one that salutes a historic duck and produced a Duke.

That town would be Lodi (pop. 2,929), which founded in 1846 for its water power potential because of Spring Creek, which runs through the downtown area. About one hundred years later, the town adopted a mascot named “Susie the Duck” for a duck that returned to build a nest in the downtown area along Spring Creek year after year. While the original Susie is long gone, wild ducks continue to flock to this area. Lodi celebrates with an annual “Susie the Duck Day” – and the highlight is the rubber duck race.

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The story of Susie the Duck. New Susies keep coming back every year to hatch eggs in downtown Lodi.

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Spring Creek runs through downtown, and nice walkway right off Main Street (Highway 113) lets you descend closer to the water and behind some of the downtown buildings to view the area.

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Pouring plastic ducks into Spring Creek for the rubber duck race. Ernie from “Sesame Street” would be in heaven. (Photo courtesy of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce.)

Lodi’s downtown runs mainly along Highway 113, right at the crossing with Highway 60, which heads east to Grafton near Lake Michigan or west to Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi. At the Susie the Duck spot, you can buy handfuls of dried corn from vending machines to feed the ducks – one of whom just might be this year’s Susie. The annual “Susie the Duck Day” celebration features the plastic duck race, where you can buy a small duck that will, along with thousands of others, get dumped into Spring Creek for a “race” to the finish line. We’ll check into what the winner receives.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Lodi is one of three Wisconsin cities to have its own fair, the Lodi Agricultural Fair. It’s been running since 1865.

South of downtown Lodi, Highway 113 runs along a portion of the Ice Age Trail and Ice Age Park. There’s also easy access to the Lodi Marsh State Wildlife Area, a large wetland complex filled with springs and cattail marshes, and it’s noted for a habitat popular with mamy varieties of moths, including several rare species. Who knew? Into Dane County, Highway 113 starts to do some zigzagging. You zig into tiny little Dane (pop. 799), then zag and zigzag again (this is a great excuse for typing “z”‘s) into the only town of its kind…

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Yes, you hit the only Waunakee (pop. 8,995) “in the world”, as they like to point out. It was founded as Leicester in 1870; the following year, two early settlers persuaded the St. Paul Railroad, via cash and land, to relocate through their property instead of the original intended location two miles north. A post office and other buildings sprouted up, and the village incorporated as Waunakee (one Native American meaning: “the fair and pleasant valley”) in 1893. Just into town, Highway 113 hooks up with Highway 19. Together, they go through downtown and head east for a few miles.

Brewery Alert. Right in downtown Waunakee in a renovated building, the Lone Girl Brewing Company brews up a variety of craft beers right on site, with a full menu restaurant that includes fried muenster cheese curds and some other unique twists. The rooftop offers seating and movies in the summer. It’s a dynamic addition to downtown Waunakee, right where Highway 113 crosses the railroad tracks. The original train station, as well as the Chamber of Commerce office, are right next door.

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A crane of the neck to the south on a clear day just might reveal the buildings of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin State Capitol, at this point almost 10 miles away as the crow flies. At certain times, you can see the water of Lake Mendota, which separates this area of Dane County from Madison proper. The capitol, of course, is at the far left of the picture; the sprawling building complex in the middle is UW Hospital. Other tall buildings on the university campus, including Van Hise Hall, are visible on clear days.

Octopi Brewing's 3rd Sign Brewery sampler

Samples of 3rd Sign brews at the Octopi Brewery in Waunakee.

Another Brewery Alert. Also, in the light industrial park shortly before Highway 19 heads east an 113 begins to head back south, you can connect to Octopi Brewery, a craft brewer that brews for others along with a nice line of their own brands under the name 3rd Sign Brewing. Opened in 2016, their Tap Room offers a wide variety of samples and makes a good stop.

From Highway 19, Highway 113 heads south into Madison (pop.243,344), Wisconsin’s second largest city, of course the state’s capital, and – as some have famously claimed – “77 square miles surrounded by reality.”

From flying to fly balls, the next attraction along Highway 113 – now called Sherman Avenue – is Warner Park, home to Madison’s Northwoods League baseball team, the Madison Mallards. Often referred to as the “Duck Pond”, the stadium holds 7,500 plus standing room for baseball games and offers up a dozen closed-circuit TVs so fans can monitor the game when they’re not in their seats. A popular “B” (or “C” or “D” or so) List Celebrity Friday Nights promotion hosts everyone from Emmanuel Lewis (Webster from “Webster”), to Sonny Shroyer (Enos from “The Dukes of Hazzard” and, amazingly, an eponymous TV show spinoff for about 3 episodes) and William “The Refrigerator” Perry of the NFL Team That Shall Remain Nameless from South of the Border.

danecoairport_welcome_signJust north of all this is Madison’s airport, Truax Field/Dane County Regional. With an airport code of MSN, it fortunately came before Microsoft’s attempts at duplicating AOL, so they couldn’t sue. An airport since 1937, it was activated as an army base in 1942 and deactivated in 1968, though it still holds the 115th Fighter Wing, flying F-16’s. The commercial portion of the airport is expanding rapidly, with a new parking garage, terminal expansions and adjacent business parks spouting up. Highway 113 is the main “gateway” to the airport; you’ll pass it just north of Aberg Avenue.

Brewery Alert
Right where you can turn into Madison’s airport, you’ll spot the Ale Asylum Brewery. Originally located just west of here, Ale Asylum brews up several popular beers including Ambergeddon and Hopalicious. They brew on-site and have a full restaurant; tours are available on Sunday afternoons.

This is THE route from Madison’s downtown to the airport. On the way, you pass the world headquarters of Oscar Meyer Foods, home of a variety of meats and the ever-popular Weinermobile. Direct access to the interstates east of Madison (I-39, 90 & 94) can also be had via Aberg Avenue, which also leads to Highway 30, a key route out of Madison that was also the key road to Milwaukee prior to the I-system taking over.

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Highway 113 ends as First Street, at East Washington Ave., also known as US 151.

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It’s clearly visible in the distance from the end of Highway 113, but if you follow East Wash (US 151) southwest, you can end up with a nice close-up view of the State Capitol, like this.

Highway 113 ends at U.S. 151 (East Washington Avenue, a.k.a.”East Wash”) in Madison, in view of the state capitol just down the road. (map)

CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 30, U.S. Highway 151
Can connect nearby to: Interstate 39/90/94, about 3 miles east; U.S. 51, about 2 miles east

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 33
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 12, about 1 mile west

92

STH-092 “A couple of twists from Mt. Horeb to Brooklyn… Wisconsin, not New Yawk”

Northern terminus: Dane County, at Highway 78 & Business U.S. Highways 18/151 in Mount Horeb

Southern terminus: Rock County, at U.S. 14 just east of Brooklyn

Mileage: about 31 miles

Counties along the way: Dane, Green, Rock

Sample towns along the way: Mt. Horeb, Mt. Vernon, Belleville, Dayton, Brooklyn

Bypass alternates at: none

WisMap92_200wQuickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 92 is a minor state highway, but a pretty drive within easy distance of Madison. From Mount Horeb to Belleville, rolling hills and valleys dominate, along with plenty of farms and parks; to the east, more open scenery, Liberty Pole Hill and more greet you through Brooklyn to the end at U.S. 14. It’s a short route, perfect for a “no rush” afternoon.

The Wisconsin Highway 92 Road Trip

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Highway 92 runs only about 30 miles, but in that short distance you get a nice variety of scenery and several nice towns to check out. This sign, from County Highway A in Dane County, shows the “WIS” in the state sign, which was standard in the 1960s. Later signs phased this out in favor of just the number.

The Drive (North to South – really, a west north-west to east-southeast): Highway 92 begins at a roundabout on the east end of Mount Horeb (pop. 7,009 and “Troll Capital of the World”), where U.S. 18/151’s original route through town meets up with Highway 78. Highway 92 heads south as 8th Street, winding through residential neighborhoods and past Mount Horeb High School. But you shouldn’t head out before checking out Mount Horeb itself.

Trollin’ The Trollway. Mount Horeb is a charming town with a strong Norwegian heritage. And trolls – lots of trolls. Trolls line the main street (which is called “The Trollway” and is part of Highway 78 & Business U.S. 18/151, which Highway 92 meets on the east end of downtown) and have names like the Chicken Thief, the Accordion Player, the Peddler and one called “Little Pisser” for reasons we won’t get into. The Trollway is also home to a wide variety of shops and B&Bs.

Brewpub Alert. Just off the Trollway, a few blocks west of Highway 92, is the Grumpy Troll. Their brews include the Amnesia Baltic Porter, which won a Gold Medal at the World Beer Cup. That’s just the latest in a long line of awards they’ve won, since previous awards have been bestowed upon their English Brown Ale, Trailside Wheat (probably named after the nearby Military Ridge Trail, I’ll get confirmation on another visit), Norwegian Wit, Curly Scotch Ale, Spetsnaz Stout and Maggie Imperial IPA. It was also rated one of the 50 Best Brewpubs worldwide for 2008, a distinction held by only one other in Wisconsin. Growlers are a popular way to take the beers to go. They also have a $5 martini menu featuring items like the Cosmi-troll-itan and the I’m Just Happy To See You, which involves banana (inquire further when you go.) Tours are available by appointment by calling 608-437-2739.

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Heading into Mount Horeb, alpacas and llamas were spotted, some available for sale. They’re fun to look at, and seemed to enjoy the view on a nice, relaxing Saturday.

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Mt. Horeb isn’t shy about the accolades they get, including “Best Suburb in Dane County.”

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Directly connected from the west end of Highway 92, Highway 78 is the main street through downtown Mt. Horeb – also known as “The Trollway.”

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Just west of Highway 92 on Second Street in downtown Mount Horeb is the Grumpy Troll, a great stop for local brew, sandwiches and occasionally some good bands.

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Especially on a nice day when people play guitar out front, Dee’s Cheese ‘N More is a nice little stop along Main Street (Highway 78). Inside the store is a very Wisconsin experience, chock full of ice cream flavors, cheeses, sausages and more to choose from.

Another nice little stop is Dee’s Cheese ‘N More (504 E. Main, 608-437-DEES), a cute little store featuring over 90 cheese varieties, ice cream from UW-Madison’s Babcock Hall, sausages a’plenty and other sundry treats. Does your back hurt? First tip: don’t drive with your wallet in your back pocket… it can throw off your back’s alignment. Second tip: a chiropractor might help, and Mount Horeb actually has the largest chiropractic clinic in the United States, the Gonstead Clinic of Chiropractic. It’s on the east side of town along Business U.S. 18 & 151, just past the roundabout on the east end of town where you also intersect Highway 78, which heads north from here towards Black Earth. Meanwhile, Highway 92 heads south for a nice drive into the countryside.

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The main roundabout in Mount Horeb, on the east side of town. Highway 92 begins here, heading south; Highway 78 enters from the west and heads north, while Business U.S. 18/151 heads east-west through this decorated rotary device.

From Mount Horeb, just past the high school, Highway 92 ducks under the U.S. 18/151 bypass (there’s no interchange access) and immediately begins threading through the countryside.

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Highway 92 begins as a residential street in Mount Horeb; it’s pretty much the only state road that doesn’t have an interchange with the U.S. 18/151 freeway, although it begins where the Business (read: “Original”) U.S. 18/151 still exists. Here’s the underpass; and as you can see, it’s a countryside drive beyond it.

Right away after Mount Horeb, you feel miles away from anywhere. You’re basically in the Sugar River Valley, where the 480-acre Donald Park can be found. The park marks the headwaters of the Sugar River, which runs south through several towns Highway 92 enters before flowing towards Monticello, Brodhead, and Illinois. You’re twisting and turning a bit through the valley, past quite a few old family farms – some of which literally date back to the 1850s. After about 7 miles, Highway 92 reaches the tiny burg of Mount Vernon (unincorporated). The town was originally settled around 1846 and grew around a grist mill while also serving as a stopping point for miners hauling lead from southwestern Wisconsin to Milwaukee. Mt. Vernon’s history includes a controversial time in the 1850s, when a Dr. Philander Byam and his two brothers bought up land in the town. They came to be infamous for their fraudulent business dealings, selling worthless “patent rights” to local farmers and marketing the settlement in New York State (where most new settlers to the area were coming from in those days) using false and misleading sales materials. One showed a picture of Mount Vernon as a settlement larger than it was, complete with a steamboat on the Sugar River – which is barely 20 feet wide and 2 feet deep around Mt. Vernon. In 1859, a group of residents fed up with such dealings proceeded to Dr. Byam’s residence. When his wife falsely claimed that he was not at home, they began to tear down Dr. Byam’s house until he eventually came outside. The Byams were given 24 hours to leave, or be hanged. They chose the former, and moved to Madison. (Want the complete story? It’s available here). Today, Mt. Vernon is home to a few hundred people, a few taverns and businesses, and one tree remnant that looks like Bart Simpson.

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Some family farms along Highway 92 have been around for over 150 years. The Donald Farm (a family, not “The Donald” as in Trump) established in 1855 and still farms this land.

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What’s left of this tree ended up being an eye-catcher along Highway 92 in Mount Vernon. “Don’t have a cow, man!”

From Mt. Vernon, Highway 92 opens up into more expanses of farmland and some of the rolling hills that mark this area, which is the eastern edge of the “Driftless Zone”, the sections of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota that the glaciers missed in their mission to flatten most of the Midwest. Nestled in these hills and valleys are plenty of farms (left). Along some ridges, you can see for quite a distance, taking in the topsy-turvy topography that characterizes southwestern Dane County. All this time, you’re within 20 miles of Madison.

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Once you hook up with Highway 69, Highway 92 heads east into Belleville (pop. 1,908). When this area was considered the “frontier”, American statesman Daniel Webster owned land right in town, which was then part of Michigan and then Wisconsin Territory. By 1850, the area was named “Belleville”, after Belleville, Ontario, the original hometown of early settler John Frederick. Today, Belleville spans the Dane-Green County line, although the downtown strip (which Highway 92 follows along with Highway 69) is in Dane County. The village grew up around the old Illinois Central Railroad; its path lives on today as the Badger State Trail, which runs from Fitchburg in the Madison suburbs down to Freeport, Illinois.

Belleville has hosted, off and on, a blues and American music festival called BamFest; it’s also big on unidentified flying objects. Being self-billed as the “UFO Capital of the World”, the annual UFO Day Festival & Parade takes place every October, usually on the last Saturday. Why a UFO festival? It all started with some sightings in 1987… you can read more here.

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This Ford logo is a neon sign that dates back fifty-plus years. Classic car buffs love classic car signs often as much as the cars themselves. Today’s Ford dealer in Belleville is just down the street.

 

 

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Once a hotel for weary travelers, the Dam Bar & Grill (3 E. Main, 608-424-9600) is named not for the cursing term, but for the nearby dam of the Sugar River that forms Lake Belle View, just north of downtown.

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Where Highways 69 and 92 meet up in town, you can see Library Park, which surrounds Belleville’s original Village Hall. The charming little 1894 structure has a small bell tower on top and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The downtown area has a lot of cool older things to check out.

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Once the railroad through town, this beaten path is now the Badger State Trail, which extends from Fitchburg to the Illinois State Line. Looking north, you can see one of the original railroad bridges; to the south is Belleville’s former train station. Further south is a 1,200-foot tunnel.

Highway 92 winds through some residential streets in Belleville before turning south into Green County. After about two miles you bend east again through the hamlet of Dayton (unincorporated), where you cross the Sugar River again and proceed east until Highway 92 curves at Liberty Pole Hill. You’ll notice because it’s not only a hill, but one with a large American flag waving – and a history.

libertypolehill_lgLiberty Pole Hill dates back to the Civil War era. Being one of the highest points for miles around, affording a view of portions of Dane, Rock, and Green Counties, a log cabin was built here to serve as a recruitment center for the war effort. Hundreds of area residents came here to enlist and then marched to nearby Janesville to depart for the battlefields of the Civil War – many did not return. The original flag and log cabin have long since vanished, but the name for this hill stuck, and the new flag now flies proudly on top of Liberty Pole Hill, which is now a county park.

Zigging and zagging back north and east a bit, Highway 92 enters little Brooklyn (pop. 916). Incorporated in 1905, Brooklyn sports a lot of tasty little cafes and hosts an annual event called Depot Days. The original Chicago & Northwestern rail line is abandoned, but many of the original buildings that served the trains, freight and passengers of the era still stand and are being used for other purposes. Like Belleville, Brooklyn straddles a county line – in this case, the Green-Rock County line, which Highway 104 follows south from town beginning at Highway 92.

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As Highway 92 winds through Brooklyn next to the old railroad, former buildings retain charm and adapt to new uses – although their original tenants may be indicated by some signage.

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After a brief but enjoyable jaunt (even on a rainy day such as this), Highway 92 ends at U.S. 14. Connections to other roads are quick and easy.

On the east end of Brooklyn, Highway 92 ends it brief journey at U.S. 14, a major thoroughfare that goes north to Madison (eventually, Wyoming) and south to Janesville (eventually, Chicago.) For a short ride, you get to take in a lot of what Wisconsin’s rural towns and scenery has to offer. Enjoy!

CONNECTIONS

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 78, U.S. 18/151 Business Route through Mount Horeb
Can connect nearby to: U.S. 18/151, about 2 miles (east or west via Business U.S. 18/151)

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 14
Can connect nearby to: Highway 104 in Brooklyn, about 1 mile west

89

STH-089 “Trekking and Milling About Between Milwaukee and Madison”

WisMap89_200wQuickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 89 cuts north-south through a number of small but significant towns in the area of southern Wisconsin between the Milwaukee and Madison metro areas. Along the way, you can enjoy the college town of Whitewater, the river town of Fort Atkinson, breweries, wineries and parks in Lake Mills, the twists and turns near the TREK headquarters in Waterloo, and the charming “antique city” of Columbus.

Wisconsin Highway 89 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Highway 89 begins at a nondescript intersection where U.S. Highway 14, just in from Darien, Walworth and Illinois, meets up with Highway 11 from Delavan on the way to Janesville. Highway 89 is the northward continuance of where U.S. 14 was heading before it cut west. The first eight miles of the road is fairly unexciting until you join Highway 59, go past the U.S. 12 bypass, and enter Whitewater.

Whitewater

Whitewater (pop. 14,540) spans Walworth and Jefferson Counties and is a college town, home to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater – a noted business and party school. Whitewater is the birthplace of Thomas Hulce, the actor who played Mozart in Amadeus and, more importantly, Larry Kroeger in Animal House (of course, John Belushi, who was Bluto in Animal House, went to UW-Whitewater in real life.) Noted author and historian – and later movie producer – Stephen Ambrose also grew up in Whitewater.

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Technically, Highway 89 joins the U.S. 12 bypass and beelines toward Fort Atkinson. But we like to actually check out the towns along these routes, so continue past the bypass to Highway 59/Janesville Street to head downtown. Along Main Street (Business U.S. 12) you can enjoy Birge Fountain, a beautiful structure of cast iron and bronze that was originally donated to the city in 1903. Some campus-related buildings – including a few Greek houses – line Main Street as do a nice selection of shops, restaurants, and assorted haunts 12,000+ college students enjoy.

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The beautiful Birge Fountain along Business U.S. 12/Main Street in Whitewater dates back to 1903.

Brewery Alert.
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With plenty of thirsty UW-Whitewater students in close proximity, Second Salem Brewing keeps its small nanobrewery busy. The brewery took its name from one of Whitewater’s historic nicknames, harkening back to “witches’ gatherings” that supposedly took place near the water tower, strange creatures in the local lake, and other lore that makes for good stories. You’ll find it along Whitewater Street, just south of Main/Business U.S. 12.

Whitewater also holds Indian Mounds Park, a Native American ceremonial and burial site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Open daily, the Park holds an incredibly diverse collection of animal and geometric mounds, many of which date back over 1,000 years. Speaking of history, Whitewater’s Historic Train Depot traces the city’s past since it holds the Historical Society Museum. The Depot is located along Cravath Lakefront Park, named after one of the two lakes inside Whitewater (the other is Tripp Lake.) Ironically, the lake known as Whitewater Lake is about 5 miles south of town.

Fort Atkinson

As U.S. 12’s new bypass meets up heading west and northwest, you enter Jefferson County and have about a six-mile ride to Fort Atkinson (pop. 11,621), or “Fort”, as all the locals call it. A bustling town (Money Magazine named it “One of America’s Hottest Little Boomtowns”) set along the banks of the Rock River, Fort Atkinson was originally Fort Koshkonong but renamed Atkinson after Henry Atkinson, the fort’s general. A lake named after Koshkonong is just to the southwest.

Along U.S. 12 and Highway 89 on the southeast side of town is the Hoard Historical Museum, which features history of the area including Sauk warrior Black Hawk, Abraham Lincoln’s early days in the area, the “father of American dairying” (for whom the museum is named) and, next door, the National Dairy Shrine Museum, which offers plenty of interactive exhibits, displays, and artifacts covering the fine art of bovine lactation, which of course leads to milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream… so this is important.

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Real children actually play quite a bit in the yards in Fort, but even in the harshest weather these kids are always outside. Check this out after sundown... they're holding "fireflies" that have fiber optic lights so they look like real fireflies at night.

Real children actually play quite a bit in the yards in Fort, but even in the harshest weather these kids are always outside. Check this out after sundown… they’re holding “fireflies” that have fiber optic lights so they look like real fireflies at night.

The Fireside Dinner Theatre is located in Fort Atkinson, even though most of their auditions are held in New York. Drawing people from far and wide, the Fireside combines dining with stage entertainment, celebrating 50 years of Klopcic Family hospitality and more than 35 seasons of professional theatre. This year’s shows include Disney’s “High School Musical”, “The Witnesses” and “The Sound of Music.” The place is huge inside, and that’s just the gift shop. The Fireside is along Business Hwy. 26, just south of town… you can access it from Highway 89 by cutting west on Hackbarth or Rockwell Avenues to Janesville Avenue.

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Chief Black Hawk’s legacy is well-documented across south central and southwestern Wisconsin. In some communities, he has a park or monument named after him. In Fort, it’s a tavern.

In Fort Atkinson, Highway 89 breaks away from U.S. 12 and heads straight north out of town as Main Street. It crosses what is now Highway 26 on its bypass and parallels it to the west for a bit to U.S. 18 just west of Jefferson. Highway 89 joins U.S. 18 for a brief stint; you have access to Jefferson Speedway, a quarter-mile track that bills itself as “Wisconsin’s Action Track”. Most of the racing action happens on Saturday nights, and during racing season hosts the Jefferson Bargain Fair every Sunday. Over 100 vendors come out to the track with various items for sale, as the smell of fuel and tires has usually dissipated by then. There’s also the Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre, Wisconsin’s first digital cinema drive-in – though the drive-in has been here for decades.

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Where U.S. 18 & Hwy 89 meet briefly, the Highway 18 Outdoor Theater is one of the few active drive-in movie theaters left in Wisconsin.

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A salute to Aaron Rodgers along Highway 89 between Jefferson and Lake Mills.

Off U.S. 18, Highway 89 heads through more Jefferson County countryside, which rolling hills and farms – some of which have decorative carvings and more along the road for your enjoyment.

Lake Mills

Next up is Lake Mills (pop. 4,843), which notes itself as “legendary”. Originally called Tyranena from an indigenous name meaning “sparkling waters”, Lake Mills has a history as a stop between the state’s largest city and its capital. It served as a layover for Chief Black Hawk in 1832; the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad started chugging through Lake Mills a few decades later. As the automobile era emerged, travelers on Historic Highway 30 (the precursor to I-94) would come east or west through the heart of town, as they do now on a north-south axis on Highway 89. East-west travelers had to get around Rock Lake, the 1,371-acre body of water on the west side of town. The lake – which was also called “Tyranena” originally – contains the legend of a foreign tribe from long before the days when things were written down. A series of stone structures and effigy mounds were built on the edge of the lake; the structures are now preserved in the lake itself. A legendary gastronomical delight are Legion “Sliders”, available at the small Legion stand right along Highway 89 across from the Downtown Commons. Read more about those sliders here.

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Highway 89 is Main Street through Lake Mills and runs along the west side of Downtown Commons. The Legion, where you can get the sliders, is located along the storefronts where the two American flags beckon.

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On the north side of Downtown Commons, the Lake Mills Library is more “stoned” than a Phish concert.

The 4,843 “mostly friendly residents,” according to the city’s Web site, enjoy a charming, very American downtown. Much of it faces Downtown Commons Park, an attractive town square with a gazebo, farmers market and, in the winter, an ice rink. Check out the library on the north side of the Commons too, if you love good architecture that makes liberal use of stone.

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Above: A study in contrasts; two shots of the same location along Highway 89 in Lake Mills; one summer, one winter.

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The ride through Lake Mills after a snowfall can be gorgeous. The Glacial Drumlin Trail cuts through the south side of Lake Mills, popular with bicyclists in summer and snowmobilers in winter.

*** Brewery & Winery Alerts ***
Like Milwaukee, Lake Mills knows its beer. The city is home to two craft breweries, a newer one right downtown along Highway 89/Main Street and one, longer-established one on the eastern side of town. Their winery is also right along Main, about as close to the center of town as it gets.

Sunshine Brewing Company (121 S. Main Street, (920) 320-9735) opened up in 2018 right along Highway 89. Specializing in Belgian-style ales, Sunshine has its taproom in the front and brewery and event space in the back. Their taproom is open Thursday 5-10pm, Friday 5-11pm, Saturday 1-11pm, and Sunday 1-5pm.

Tyranena Brewing in Lake MillsTyranena Brewing Company (1025 Owen St., (920) 648-8699), dates back a little further and has a strong history in Lake Mills. Tyranena, named for the mystical effigy mounds next to the nearby lake – now called “Rock Lake” – says it brews up “Legendary Wisconsin Beer.” It started up in 1999. Tyranena brews up popular beverages like the Bitter Woman IPA, Stone Tepee Pale Ale, Three Beaches Honey Blonde, Rocky’s Revenge Bourbon Brown and Chief BlackHawk Porter. The brewery’s tasting room often features live music, cribbage and chessboards with snacks. It’s generally open Monday – Thursday 4:30-10pm, Fridays 3-11pm, Saturdays Noon-11pm, and Sundays Noon-8pm. During the summer, the beer garden can be an attractive trip diversion. Tour times vary, but you can find the schedule here.

Lewis Station Winery from the outsideLewis Station Winery (217 N. Main St., (920) 648-5481) opened in a former gas station (pump replicas are right out front) in 2011. By 2018, they secured the state’s first Certified Craft Winery designation. They offer daily wine tastings and a small bistro menu – with the pizzas being especially good – Wednesday through Saturday. Sundays they offer wine only, but that’s okay – it’s a winery first after all, right? Many of the wines are made from California grapes, and they’ve won plenty of awards. You’ll find Lewis Station right at the corner of Highway 89 and County B, the original Highway 30 between Milwaukee and Madison – meaning that was one busy gas station way back when!

On the south end of town, Highway 89 crosses the Glacial Drumlin Trail as it runs along the old C&NW rail line. Lake Mills is one of the main stops along the 56-mile trail, which connects Cottage Grove (just east of Madison) with Waukesha, part of a larger bike trail system that runs from Milwaukee’s Henry Aaron State Park on Lake Michigan’s shore to Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi River.

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Lake Mills is a key stop on the Glacial Drumlin Trail, as the city is a key stop for any traveler between Milwaukee and Madison.

Just east of town along County B (the old Highway 30) is Aztalan State Park, a rich archeological site showcasing an ancient village and ceremonial complex. Archaeologists have uncovered plenty of interesting historic artifacts, here include evidence this area was once the frequent site of human sacrifice. The park’s entrance is near County Road Q, just off County Road B (Lake Street). The Crawfish River winds its way along the park’s eastern edge. Motocross and short-track buffs can check out races at Aztalan Cycle Park. Its quarter-mile red clay oval MX track is visible from the interstate just east of the Highway 89 interchange with I-94. To get there, take Gomol Road north off of Highway B, the main road running east from Lake Mills.

Beyond Lake Mills and I-94, Highway 89 begins a more twisty/turny type of existence, winding around the rolling hills that make for fun driving, especially for motorcyclists. Eventually, you hit ABBA’s favorite Wisconsin town, Waterloo (pop. 3,259). Located on the Maunesha River in Jefferson County’s far, far northwestern corner, Waterloo is the home of Trek Bicycles. Waterloo is also the home of Van Holten’s Pickles, innovator of “pickle-in-a-pouch” and today the world’s largest producer of individually-wrapped pickles. Highway 89 enters Waterloo from the east and Highway 19 hooks up for the ride into downtown as Madison Street. Just over the river in downtown, Highway 89 jogs north along Monroe Street.

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TREK Bicycle Corporation, founded in Waterloo in 1976, is the largest U.S. manufacturer of bicycles and aftermarket products. Trek supplied bikes for three of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories and also outfits the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team for the USA. Its headquarters is west of Highway 89 along Highway 19 on the edge of town. And yes, the bike racks are closest to the front doors of the offices.

A special State Trunk Tour salute to Waterloo from ABBA

Okay, we couldn’t resist. When I think of Waterloo, I think of the song..and it’s a fun driving song anyway as long as nobody’s watching. So, straight from German television in 1974, courtesy of YouTube, enjoy this riveting performance of ABBA’s “Waterloo”, complete with sort-of dancing, lip-synching and fake instrument-playing to the song. And the outfits… well. Oh, and don’t forget the German host in an attempt to look like Napoleon introducing each member afterwards. You’ll see.

Columbus

North of Waterloo, Highway 89 features some 90-degree angle turns as it zig-zags to its final stop: Columbus (pop. 4,479), one of 17 U.S. states that has a city named after the Christopher guy.

Located on the Crawfish River and straddling Columbia and Dodge Counties, Columbus refers to itself as the “Red Bud City” and boasts the largest antique mall in Wisconsin with the Columbus Antique Mall – 78,000 square feet filled with stuff across 444 booths under one roof. The Christopher Columbus Museum in the antique mall features souvenir memorabilia from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and as well as lithographs, china, tapestries, statues, and more. Columbus also has the closest Amtrak station to Madison, which is a fairly quick ride down U.S. 151 from here.

Columbus has done a great job preserving architecturally significant buildings, with the entire downtown district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Architectural and photography students come to check out Jaeger’s Mill on the Crawfish River, or the Farmers & Merchants Union Bank Building (known as the “Jewel Box”), which was one of the last buildings designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan. Students of history may revel in the Sunday morning toll of the steeple bell from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, partially made up of pieces of French canon captured during the Franco-Prussian War and presented as a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (no comments were solicited from any area French residents.)

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Stretches of downtown Columbus feature an array of preserved architecture, shops and yes, a few watering holes – including a small, newer brewpub.

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One of the last buildings designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan, the Farmers & Merchants Union Bank draws attention with its facade. City Hall is kitty corner.

Columbus, like many Wisconsin cities, has a brewing history. Started on Park Avenue (once U.S. 151 through town, now Highway 73) in 1859, the Kurth Brewery quenched thirsty Columbusinians (or however you’d say it – Columbans, maybe?) for most of the ninety years that followed. Prohibition originally shut it down in 1920, but the Kurth Brewery managed to bounce back for 16 years after it was repealed, churning out items like Banner Beer and Blue Mound Beer throughout the 30s and 40s until it finally closed for good in 1949. One of the original buildings, right at the end of Highway 89, remains open as a hospitality bar on Wednesday and Friday evenings.

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The Kurth Brewery lasted 90 years, from 1859 to 1949. The original building remains as a hospitality bar, open Wednesday and Friday evenings.

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Highway 89 comes to an end when it hits Highway 73, which is also Business U.S. 151, at the old Kurth Brewery. A short jog northeast on 73 brings you into Columbus’ downtown, all of which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From the end of Highway 89 and Highway 73/Business U.S. 151, you can check out everything in Columbus or head south on 151 towards Madison or north towards Beaver Dam, Waupun, and Fond du Lac; or take Highway 73 up into Green Lake County for the beautiful hills and lakes ahead. Pick More Roads and GO!!

CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 11, U.S. Highway 14
Can connect nearby to: Interstate 43, about 3 miles south

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 73
Can connect nearby to: Highway 16, about 1/2 mile northeast; Highway 60, about 1/2 mile northeast; U.S. Highway 151, about 1 mile west

 

81

STH-081“From the Rock through the Driftless to the Mississippi”

 

WisMap81Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 81 starts where I-43 ends at Beloit, heads west through the city over the Rock River, and hops around the southern edge of the state all the way to Cassville, where a ferry boat offers rides to Iowa on the Mississippi River. Passing through the county seat of each of the four counties it traverses, Highway 81 connects to a series of highways in one of the most beautiful sections of the state.

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The Wisconsin Highway 81 Road Trip

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Highway 81 begins at the I-39/43/90 interchange on the east side of Beloit.

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The east end/west start of Highway 81 involves a junction with three Interstates.

The Drive (East to West): Highway 81 begins at the interchange with I-43 – which begins at this point and goes northeast to Milwaukee – and I-90/39, which connects south to Rockford and Chicago and north to Madison.

Beloit

Highway 81 is the “Beloit connection” from the interstates, bringing you into the City of Beloit (pop. 36,966). And yes, right at the eastern terminus of Highway 81 at the Hormel plant is the World’s Largest Can of Chili. Can you imagine the “air power” in the beans in that tower?

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Speaking of air, just down the street towards the city along Highway 81 (called “Milwaukee Street” here) is the site of the first commercially built airplane. Assembled and flown in 1909, the plane was piloted by Arthur Warner, who went on to develop the automobile speedometer and a series of automotive and machine tool accessories. Not to be outdone by instrumentation, Beloit has a history of inventing snack food: Korn Kurls were invented here in the 1930s (although they weren’t sold commercially until 1946) and became the precursor for Cheetos and other cheese-flavored corn snack delights. Beloit, considered a “gateway” to Wisconsin for I-90 travelers, hosts Beloit College, the Midwest League’s Beloit Snappers ‘A’ baseball team, and a variety of companies that take advantage of Beloit’s key location for transportation. Flanked by Janesville to the north and Rockford to the south, Beloit had its share of rough days in the late 20th century but has been bouncing back impressively over the last several years, spurred on my development around the interstates on the east and new and expanding companies in a resurgent downtown.

Beloit is an economic and industrial powerhouse. It’s the only city in Wisconsin that is home to three multi-billion dollar international companies: ABC Supply Company, Kerry, and Regal-Beloit. Anthropologist Margaret Mead once described Beloit as “America in microcosm”, and it’s the hometown of people such as NFL head and assistant coach Jim Caldwell, Cheap Trick’s lead singer Robin Zander, and a slew of NFL, MLB and NBA players. It’s where racer Danica Patrick was born, and where “Shoop Shoop (It’s In His Kiss”) original singer Betty Everett died.

The city holds Beloit College, the oldest continuously operating college in Wisconsin; it was founded in 1846, two years before Wisconsin became a state and two years before UW-Madison started up. A liberal arts college, it adds 1,300 college students to the community’s profile. The campus itself, adjacent to downtown, contains more history than just the college itself. Its 65 acres feature around 20 ancient Native American mounds of conical, linear, and animal effigy style. They are thought to have been built between 400 and 1200 AD. One of the mounds is turtle-shaped and inspired Beloit’s symbol and unofficial mascot; there’s even a “Town of Turtle” east of Beloit itself. While you can explore the campus and see some of the mounds, they may not be disturbed, as they may not be disturbed as they are “catalogued” burial sites. Some pottery and tool fragments excavated from mounds back in the day are now held in the Logan Museum of Anthropology on campus.

The college is on the northeastern edge of downtown Beloit, where redevelopment showcasing the city’s industrial heritage is on full display. Old factories and foundries line the banks near the dam on the Rock River, and new crossings like a pedestrian- and bike-only bridge provide fresh connections. The long legacy (1858-2000) of The Beloit Corporation – which was also known as Beloit Iron Works for decades – is evident in former factory buildings that have been redeveloped on both banks of the river. Office space includes larger company offices and headquarters for start-up companies. Cashback website company Ebates, for example, has a major office in Beloit that serves as a satellite for its San Francisco headquarters. The Ironworks Hotel opened as an upscale boutique hotel in 2016 in a former Beloit Corporation foundry building. It features the tasty Merrill & Hoston’s Steak Joint and a walkway along the Rock River, one block from shops and restaurants along the vibrant Grand Street and a few blocks from Beloit College. The Ironworks, recently joined “kitty corner” by a sister boutique hotel called The Goodwin, is located right along U.S. 51, about a mile south of where Highway 81 crosses the Rock River.

Downtown Beloit

Beloit’s downtown, which is nestled between Beloit College and the Illinois state line along the Rock River, has been undergoing quite the resurgence. Along with the aforementioned boutique hotels, a slew of new restaurants, shops, bars, and event spaces have popped up to accommodate the increasing activity among those working in the tech, manufacturing, and entrepreneurial spaces growing in the city.

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The legacy of Beloit Iron Works lives on in commercial space, a boutique hotel, and murals like this.

 

Back to the north side of all this along Highway 81, just past U.S. 51 the highway crosses the Rock River and is joined by Highway 213, which angles northwest out of downtown Beloit. The two amble north and west together through the city’s west side neighborhoods for a spell before Highway 213 branches off to the northwest, eventually connecting with U.S. 14 to Madison.

Meanwhile, Highway 81 heads out of Beloit and begins a rolling hill journey through the farmlands of Rock County, close to the Illinois state line for quite a while. A brief detour down County H about six miles west of Beloit brings you to Beckman Mill County Park, which features a working, restored grist mill constructed in 1868 and plenty of recreation and 19th century displays in a nice park setting covering 52 acres.

The rest of the ride on Highway 81 is fairly remote; you won’t find a gas station for probably 20 miles along this stretch, but you will find nice views. Shortly after entering Green County, Highway 81 meets up with Highway 11; the two cross the Sugar River and the countryside begins to hint at the larger hills and valleys that lie ahead. This stretch of Highway 11/81 is a major route across Wisconsin’s southern tier, which is evident as you skim Juda and head towards Monroe.

Monroe

*** BYPASS ALERT ***
At Monroe, Highways 81 & 11 bypass the city on a short freeway stretch; but if you want this to be an actual fun experience, get off at the first exit (Highway 59) and follow it as 6th Street into downtown Monroe. You can then join Highway 69 northbound to re-join Highway 81 as it splits from 11 on the bypass.

Monroe (pop. 10,843) is the hub of Green County and the “Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA.” Monroe High School’s team nickname is the Cheesemakers, after all. The Swiss influence is everywhere, from the flags dotting the surrounding landscape to the architecture downtown to the fact that The Swiss Colony is headquartered here. Monroe also features medical center The Monroe Clinic and truck customization company Monroe Truck Equipment, which did a project for the movie The Transformers a few years back. It serves as the trailhead city for the popular Cheese Country Trail, which runs 47 miles from Monroe to Mineral Point. It’s also a major stop along the Badger State Trail, which runs from Madison through Monroe to Freeport, Illinois – which means it’s not all in the Badger State.

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The Green County Courthouse in Monroe, surrounded by a bustling town square. Highway 81 used to come straight through town with Highway 11; it now angles around on the freeway bypass and heads northwest from the city. But you should definitely check out downtown.

Downtown Monroe offers a charming and rather bustling downtown square. Surrounding the impressive, Romanesque Green County Courthouse, are shops offering everything from boutique clothing to electronics. A stop in Baumgartner’s on the Square (1023 16th Ave., 608-325-6157) lets you sample more cheese and beer products made in the area, including a Limburger with mustard and onion served on rye bread. In the name of humanity, the dish is served with a mint on the side.

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bceiling_800Baumgartner’s is a cheese and sausage shop in the front, tavern and sandwich shop in the back. On the high ceiling above, check out the dollar bills hanging from the ceiling – which almost look like hibernating bats if you’re not looking closely! If you give them a dollar, they’ll use their special technique to “throw” it into the ceiling, where they’ll stick until Cheese Days every other year, when they take the bills down and donate them to a chosen charitable organization in the area. It’s worth the buck to watch it happen!

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Monroe is the only place in North America where limburger cheese is currently produced. Wisconsin law makes it tough: it’s actually illegal to produce this cheese without a master cheesemaker’s certification.

Another good stop is the Minhas Craft Brewery, (1208 14th Ave., 608-325-3191), located just south and west of the town center. For a long time known as the Huber Brewery, it’s the second oldest continuously operating brewery in the U.S, brewing beer in one form or another since 1845 – three years before Wisconsin entered statehood. They were purchased by Mountain Crest Brewing Company, a Canadian outfit planning that expanded the Monroe facility (read about it in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story here). As it stands now, the brewery continues to brew Huber’s traditional beers: Premium (which won the Bronze in the 2002 World Beer Championships) Bock and Light, as well as a great old non-Huber-but-totally-Wisconsin throwback: Rhinelander Beer. Although Rhinelander’s original brewery shut down in 1967, Minhas has continued its recipe and now brews the beer in Monroe. The popular Canadian beer Mountain Creek is now brewed here – a result of the Mountain Crest investment – as are a few malt liquors. Tours are available at 11am, 1pm and 3pm Thursday through Saturday.

Downstairs, the Herb & Helen Haydock World of Beer Memorabilia Museum features historic and modern beer brand memorabilia from all over the country; it’s definitely worth dropping in! There’s also a gift shop and they’ve kept historical pictures to browse, along with other memorabilia highlighting the area’s brewing history.

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Monroe is also the home headquarters of the famous mail-order company (and prime source of cheese, meats, nuts and more) The Swiss Colony, which started here in 1926. The main building is right along Highway 69 on the south side on Monroe.

Out of downtown, heading south briefly on Highway 69 brings you to the Monroe Depot Welcome Center, part of Monroe’s original train depot. Outside, you’ll find the charm of a train station, a fiberglass cow and some large copper kettles. Inside, you’ll find visitor information, the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which has plenty of old tools cheesemakers used dating back to the 19th century, and original train depot materials, including old schedules, an original bench, photos and more.

Cows and kettles dot the landscape in front of the National Historic Cheesemaking Center.monroedepot2_500

At lower left, an original typewriter and schedule from the days way back when the trains roared through here as part of the Depot Welcome Center; at lower right, some of the cheesemaking equipment in the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which is part of the Depot. Plenty of vats, weights, wringers, presses and old packaging that held cheeses made back in the 1800s.

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From Monroe, you can go west on 9th Street and then north on Highway 69 back to the Highway 11/81 bypass, where you can continue straight (and west-northwest) onto Highway 81 and it pushes deeper into southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area.

The topography the rest of the way is one reason tourism is becoming a booming business in this part of the state. You’re leaving the cheese country of Green County and heading into Lafayette County, which has a long mining history. Shortly into the county and about 15 miles since Monroe, Highway 81 reaches Argyle (pop. 823). A Scotsman named Allen Wright founded the town in 1844, who named it after the Duke of Argyle. Here, Highway 78 intersects briefly with Highway 81 and crosses the river past the Argyle Power Plant into downtown. Turning north again, you’ll spot an F-86 Sabrejet Aircraft. Perched at an altitude of about 8 feet above ground, this aircraft was delivered to the Air Force in 1955 and demilitarized in 1970. Colonel Amos Waage, an Argyle native, obtained the plane and dedicated it to all military personnel from the area.

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The 2002-reconstructed bridge carrying Highways 81 & 78 into downtown Argyle blends nicely with the 1800-era power plant, where flour was milled using power from the East Branch of the Pecatonica River.

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Hovering over a park just north of Highway 81 along Highway 78 on Argyle’s north side, this F-86 Sabrejet serves as a dedication to local military personnel. It almost looks like you can walk up and touch it… and in fact, really really tall people can.

More twisting and turning dominates the drive along Highway 81 west of Argyle, over hills, into valleys and past a quarry or two. Next up is Lafayette County’s county seat, Darlington (pop. 2,418), which calls itself the “Pearl of the Pecatonica River”, harkening back to the time when people harvested clams out of the river, apparently to produce pearl button blanks. The whole area is drained by the Pecatonica River and its many tributaries, which carve out the beautiful hills and valleys characteristic of Lafayette County. Author Sylvan Muldoon, who was big on writing about out-of-body experiences, hailed from Darlington.

darlington_cardinaldarlington_shark Some notable animals in Darlington: a cardinal on the south end of town along Highway 81/23 and a shark emerging from a gas station both catch your attention right in the downtown area. Darlington’s school mascot is the “Redbirds”; not sure why the shark is there.
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Highway 81 through downtown Darlington. It’s a nice boulevard with plenty of parking, good architecture and shops to see on both sides. Highway 23 joins briefly through town.

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The Barber Shop Hotel, apparently in a former barber shop, is an example of Darlington’s small, inviting buildings that are being refurbished with historical touches.

Darlington’s restored downtown is a great place to stop and just walk around. Highway 81 hooks up with 23 briefly and proceeds as a little boulevard going through town, crossing the Cheese Country Trail (watch for plenty of ATVers and bikers) and providing plenty of parking for the boutiques, taverns and other points of interest in town. Pecatonica River Trails Park offers riverside camping. Downtown Darlington’s Main Street – which is Highway 23 & 81 – is lined with historic buildings and it’s worth a stop just to explore.

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Being the county seat of Lafayette County, Darlington sports a beautiful courthouse with a Tiffany glass rotunda on the hill above downtown along Highway 23, just north of Highway 81 and Darlington’s downtown.

Highway 81 hooks up with Highway 23 for the ride south out of Darlington; while 23 then heads south toward Highway 11, 81 breaks west and heads on a long straightaway path into Grant County, where it hooks up with Highway 80. After a crossing with the new expressway section of U.S. 151, you hit the town in Wisconsin with some of the state’s richest mining history.

Platteville
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 (where they lost to Duke, of all teams… grumble grumble…).

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Highway 81 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. Vibrant restaurants, galleries, and bars line the streets, with a State Trunk Tour favorite being Steve’s Pizza Palace (175 W. Main, 608-348-3136), which is right along Highway 81 downtown.

platteville_rollojamison01Platteville offers an arboretum and two museums. 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 off Highway 81 along Main Street, which parallels Highway 81 one block north as it jogs onto Pine Street, right when it leaves Highway 80.

For a time, Platteville hosted the Chicago Bears’ summer camp on its UW-P campus and enjoyed the economic benefits that went with it, but they decided to move back to Illinois (friggin’ Bears.)

With the exception of a portion of downtown, 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. Highway 81 enters Platteville with Highway 80, then heads west along Pine Street, north on Chestnut, west on Adams and then northwest out of town along Lancaster Street. On the way to (surprise!) Lancaster.

Heading northwest out of Platteville, the ride is incredibly scenic, right down to the view to the east: the World’s Largest M.

The World's Largest M, on Platteville Mound

Had to zoom for distance, but the “World’s Largest M” on Platteville Mound is clearly visible when you’re on Highway 81 heading northwest out of Platteville.

More on this soon, as well as the rest of the trip through Lancaster to Cassville!

Cassville (pop. 947), a pleasant yet remote burg on the Mississippi River. Cassville is considered one of the best sites in the Midwest for viewing eagles, as this is a prime area for their migration. Cassville was originally settled in 1827 and was named after the Territorial Governor of the time, Lewis Cass (this was Michigan Territory at the time, by the way.) The fledgling burg threw its hat in the ring to become the capitol of Wisconsin Territory when it was first organized in 1836. While it failed in that regard, it attracted a new resident, Nelson Dewey. Drawn to Cassville from his native New York State, Dewey became Wisconsin’s first Governor when it became a state in 1848.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:

Cassville is the southernmost Wisconsin community located directly on the Mississippi River.

Cassville is also known for the Cassville Car Ferry (608-725-5180), which makes the run from Cassville to Turkey Creek, Iowa. It’s the only river crossing between Dubuque and Prairie du Chien, and still serves as the oldest operating ferry service in Wisconsin – Cassville has been served by a river ferry in some form or another since 1833. Click here for a schedule and fare information.

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While waiting for the ferry, you can swing along the Mississippi. That thing to the left is labeled “Steamboat Mooring Ring”, which I assume is either historical or people actually are running steamboats up and down the river still.

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Bathed in late afternoon sun, the Cassville Car Ferry makes one its daily trips across the Mississippi, as a ferry service has been doing here since 1833.

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Need the ferry? Flip the switch!

Cassville is a powerful place, too: a major power plant is located here, which provides both electricity and employment to the town (however, not too long ago there were two major power plants.) For recreation, relaxation, hiking or even camping, a great stop is Nelson Dewey State Park, which begins right across from Stonefield. The State Park covers 756 acres of Stonefield’s original 2,000 and offers bird watching, picnicking and six hiking trails. You can also find various Indian mounds. The park is just north of Cassville; follow County Highway VV just off Highway 133 and it will take you right to it.

Once into Cassville, Highway 81 ends at the Mississippi River and Highway 133, which also serves as the Great River Road. Highway 133 provides access to the Cassville Car Ferry via Crawford Street if you want to meander across the river to Iowa via ferry!

You can also head south on Highway 133 to Potosi to check out the Potosi Brewery and the National Brewery Museum, or north on Highway 133 to see Stonefield, a 2,000 acre historic site that was once the country estate of the aforementioned Nelson Dewey. When the house was completed in 1868, one Wisconsin newspaper described it as “the showplace of Wisconsin with its beautiful green lawns, gardens and orchards, stables and other buildings, and miles of stone fences.” The original home burned down in 1873, but it was rebuilt by General Walter Cass in the 1890s for his home, a building which still stands today. The land was acquired by the Wisconsin Conservation Commission in 1936, and the State designated the area a historic site in 1954. Today, it houses a cornucopia of historical treasures, including the State Agricultural Museum. Completed in 1971, the Museum houses Wisconsin’s largest collection of farm tools, models and machinery detailing Wisconsin’s agricultural history. There’s also a railroad display and a recreated farming village. Check it all out in greater detail here.

Highway 81 westbound's end at Highway 133 in Cassville.

Highway 81’s western terminus in Cassville, with the Mississippi River just ahead.

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Interstate 39, Interstate 90, Interstate 43
Can connect nearby to: Highway 67, about 2 miles south; U.S. Highway 51, about 3 miles west; Highway 213, about 3 miles west

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 133, the Great River Road
Can connect nearby to: Highway 35, about 12 miles east

Highway 78 in Sauk County
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STH-078“Pecatonica to Portage, with Trolls and Ferrys in Between”

 

Southern terminus: Lafayette County, at the Illinois state line 7 miles south of Gratiot

Eastern terminus: Columbia County, at the I-90/94/39 junction south of Portage

Mileage: about 93 miles

Counties along the way: Lafayette, Iowa, Green, Dane, Sauk, Columbia

Sample towns along the way: Gratiot, Argyle, Blanchardville, Mt. Horeb, Black Earth, Prairie du Sac, Sauk City, Merrimac

Bypass alternates at: Prairie du Sac

WisMap78Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 78 runs through some of Wisconsin’s hilliest terrain. From the history-rich areas in Lafayette County, to expanse views at the Blue Mounds, having trolls salute you through Mount Horeb and navigating valleys through Black Earth to the Sauk Prairie area along the Wisconsin River, to the breathtaking views and terrain around Devils Lake State Park and access to some good skiing and rock-climbing, Highway 78 makes for a nice drive in any season.

The Wisconsin Highway 78 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Highway 78 comes into Wisconsin from the Illinois state line, where it’s also Highway 78 going south to Warren and Jacksonville, Illinois.

It’s interesting to note Warren, IL, just Pecatonica Beer Companysouth of Wisconsin, hosts the Tap Room of a Wisconsin brewery: the . Pecatonica, named for the river that runs through it, has its offices on the Wisconsin side of Highway 78; the beers they make can be enjoyed along the same highway, just south of the border in Illinois. So try a tap on the Illinois side, and then (responsibly) hit Highway 78 for the ride into our favorite state!

In Wisconsin, Highway 78 enters the state just past a railroad bridge and through fairly open terrain for a little while before hitting its first town, Gratiot (pop. 252). For bikers, hikers, ATV riders and snowmobilers, this is where the Cheese Country Trail stops paralleling Highway 11 from Monroe and starts heading northwest to Mineral Point. Several bars and establishments, including a nice park, serve those recreational riders and State Trunk Tourers.

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Ducking under a railroad trestle in Illinois, Highway 78 comes into Wisconsin in a wide-open area between Warren and Gratiot. For the 93 mile stretch this “trunk tour” lasts, this is about as flat as the land gets.

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Gratiot is the first village along Highway 78 in Wisconsin, where 252 residents and several watering holes host Cheese Country Trail recreationalists and State Trunk Tourers using Highway 78 and/or 11.

Whether you stop in Gratiot or not, Highway 78 turns east and joins Highway 11 for a very brief stint before breaking north again and beginning one of its nicest stretches. Lots of long vistas and pleasant stretches await on this section, which brings you north through Wiota and along stretches of the picturesque Pecatonica (try saying that fast five times) River, with the valleys that go with it. The road winds up, over and around many hills and valleys, sometimes giving you a view of the road a few miles ahead.

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Narrow and curvy stretches define this stretch as you wind around the Pecatonica River, greeting many farms along the way. Hordes of cows often cluster close to the road; they rarely respond to people who yell “Mooooo!” out the window, but sometimes one gets lucky.

78vista_600Narrow and curvy stretches define this stretch as you wind around the Pecatonica River, greeting many farms along the way. Hordes of cows often cluster close to the road; they rarely respond to people who yell “Mooooo!” out the window, but sometimes one gets lucky.

A crossing over the East Branch of the Pecatonica happens at Argyle (pop. 823), the largest town between Mount Horeb and Illinois along Highway 78. A Scotsman named Allen Wright founded the town in 1844, who named it after the Duke of Argyle. Here, Highway 78 intersects briefly with Highway 81 and crosses the river past the Argyle Power Plant into downtown. Turning north again, you’ll spot an F-86 Sabrejet Aircraft. Perched at an altitude of about 8 feet above ground, this aircraft was delivered to the Air Force in 1955 and demilitarized in 1970. Colonel Amos Waage, an Argyle native, obtained the plane and dedicated it to all military personnel from the area.

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The 2002-reconstructed bridge carrying Highways 81 & 78 into downtown Argyle blends nicely with the 1800-era power plant, where flour was milled using power from the East Branch of the Pecatonica River.

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Hovering over a park just north of Highway 81 along Highway 78 on Argyle’s north side, this F-86 Sabrejet serves as a dedication to local military personnel. It almost looks like you can walk up and touch it… and in fact, really really tall people can.

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Highway 78 climbs and descends a lot of hills as its makes its way across Lafayette County, affording nice views like this one just outside Blanchardville.

The next town is Blanchardville (pop. 806), whose downtown strip features a series of 1840s and 1850s-era structures nestled in a pleasant valley. Originally founded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), it was named Zarahemla at first. Mormon settlers mined lead – a popular economic engine at the time – and built the first mill in 1840. A newbie named Alvin Blanchard moved to the area in 1856 and eventually platted a village that now bears his name.

Blanchardville hugs the northeast corner of Lafayette County, and as Highway 78 departs the village and heads through McPeace Valley, you also nick corners of Iowa and Green Counties before entering Dane County and heading into Daleyville.

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A large church near Daleyville, at one of many tight turns Highway 78 takes along this stretch.

Through and past Daleyville, the Blue Mounds come into view to the north by northwest (with apologies to Alfred Hitchcock). At 1,719 feet above sea level, the western mound is the highest point in Wisconsin’s southern half. Just after crossing the “new” U.S. 18/151, a 4-lane expressway connecting Madison with points west and southwest, Highway 78 reaches the “old” U.S. 18/151, now known as County ID. Right goes into Mount Horeb via Highway 78; left brings a good side trip involving mounds, hills, caves, skiing and Norwegians.

Brief side trip: Just west of Highway 78 and Mount Horeb, follow County ID (the original U.S. 18/151 highway) for some terrific attractions in close proximity. Skiing opportunities abound at Tyrol Basin (3487 Bahn Rd., 608-437-4135), where expert skiiers can enjoy the black diamond runs while beginners at skiing or snowboarding can try the Gentle Ben Progression Park, with “gentle” ways to immerse yourself and practice before taking on the bigger runs.

cavemoundsvc1_800If you prefer interior spaces, check out Cave of the Mounds (608-437-3038), which sat under the site of Dane County’s first white settler but wasn’t discovered until workers accidentally blasted into it in 1939 while quarrying limestone. Perpetually at 50 degrees, the cave features guided tours past crystal formations and stalagtites; you can also mine for gemstones or rise back to the surface to walk the nature trails or check out the rock gardens.

If you want to go a few more miles off track, visit the highest point in southern Wisconsin: Blue Mound, in Blue Mound State Park. At 1,716 feet above sea level, it offers quite a view.

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The view from Blue Mound is remarkable. And the top of the hill is great for a picnic.

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Heading into Mount Horeb on Highway 78, alpacas and llamas were spotted, some available for sale. They’re fun to look at, and seemed to enjoy the view on a nice, relaxing Saturday.

Trollin’ The Trollway. Mount Horeb (pop. 7,009 and “Troll Capital of the World”) itself is a charming town with a strong Norwegian heritage. And trolls – lots of trolls. Trolls line the main street (which is called “The Trollway” and is part of Highway 78) and have names like the Chicken Thief, the Accordion Player, the Peddler and one called “Little Pisser” for reasons we won’t get into. The Trollway is also home to a wide variety of shops and B&Bs.

Mount Horeb is home to the flagship store of the Duluth Trading Company (100 West Main Street, 608-437-8655), which includes the Wally Keller Tool Museum, which shows you how everything was done a few years – or a century-plus – back using tools of the time. It’s right on Main Street.

grumpytroll_500Brewpub Alert. Just off the Trollway – and Highway 78 – is the Grumpy Troll. Their brews include the Amnesia Baltic Porter, which just won a Gold Medal at the World Beer Cup. That’s just part of a long line of awards they’ve won, since previous awards have been bestowed upon their English Brown Ale, Trailside Wheat (probably named after the nearby Military Ridge Trail, I’ll get confirmation on another visit), Norwegian Wit, Curly Scotch Ale, Spetsnaz Stout and Maggie Imperial IPA. It was rated one of the 50 Best Brewpubs worldwide for 2008, a distinction held by only one other in Wisconsin. Growlers are a popular way to take the beers to go. They also have a $5 martini menu featuring items like the Cosmi-troll-itan and the I’m Just Happy To See You, which involves banana (inquire further when you go.) Tours are available by appointment by calling 608-437-2739.

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Highway 78 is the main drag (or the “Trollway”, if you will) through Mount Horeb.

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A State Trunk Tour favorite, Dee’s Cheese & More in Mount Horeb.

Another nice little stop is Dee’s Cheese ‘N More (504 E. Main, 608-437-DEES), a cute little store featuring over 90 cheese varieties, ice cream from UW-Madison’s Babcock Hall, sausages a’plenty and other sundry treats. Does your back hurt? First tip: don’t drive with your wallet in your back pocket… it can throw off your back’s alignment. Second tip: a chiropractor might help, and Mount Horeb actually has the largest chiropractic clinic in the United States, the Gonstead Clinic of Chiropractic. It’s on the east side of town along Business U.S. 18 & 151, just past the roundabout on the east end of town where you also intersect Highway 92, which heads south towards Brooklyn – the Wisconsin one. Meanwhile, Highway 78 heads north again into some fun topography.

As you wind through the Vermont Valley and a series of hills, past quarries and expansive vistas, it’s hard to believe you’re in Dane County, with Madison’s western sprawling growth only about ten miles to the east. There’s not much that’s man-made on this stretch, and although that will undoubtedly change in the coming years, it’s a great drive right now.

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From the “You’ll Never Know What You’ll Find Along the State Trunk Tour” Dept: the Tin Man. He’s got some mail for ya.

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Between Mount Horeb and Black Earth, Highway 78 is nestled cozily in valleys and does a lot of twisting and turning, perfect for the bike or car.

Eventually, you reach Black Earth (pop. 1,320). Renamed in the 1850s as “Farmersville” for a brief spell, in 1857 it was changed back to Black Earth and it became the second incorporated village in Dane County, after that one place called Madison. Highway 78 is basically the main street running up downtown Black Earth, with County KP serving as a main crossroad; it was the former path of U.S. Highway 14, which was rerouted further north several decades back. You reach U.S. 14 and The Shoe Box, the largest shoe store in the Midwest and one of the largest shoe stores in the country – over 300,000 pairs are regularly in stock. Step inside and there’s room after room with shoes everywhere. There’s also more references to baseball than you can shake a boot at. Steve Schmitt, the owner, is not only a passionate St. Louis Cardinals fan, but the owner of the Madison Mallards, a Northwoods League team that plays at Warner Park on the north side of Madison along Highway 113. So if you’re into both shoes and baseball, this place is like Disneyland.

blackearthcoop_300aThe oldest cooperative in the nation started in Black Earth, resulting in a store for farmers that opened in 1894 and lasted exactly 100 years. A marker saluting it is right along Highway 78 (pictured, right).

Highway 78 follows U.S. 14 west out of Black Earth for just a few miles and turns northeast. This happens just before Mazomanie, right at a popular baseball and bikers’ bar called Rookies. If you thought a baseball theme was noticeable back at the Show Box, you won’t believe its presence at Rookies. Sports memorabilia is here in incredible abundance (same owner, so no surprise there). Check this out:

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Top: Rookie’s features a mini-baseball field, used for whiffleball, with a great ballpark look and a rather nice view behind it. Center and Lower: The bar is in the front, the restaurant is in the back and the men’s bathroom (above, center) could keep you in there for hours, for the right reasons. I was going to check out the women’s restroom but thought better of it eventually.

19ebstart_800From this point, Highway 19 begins and runs along with Highway 78 for about a mile before breaking east across Dane County towards Sun Prairie and, eventually, Watertown. Meanwhile, Highway 78 heads north again, where the influence of the Wisconsin River begins to show. Some lowlands line the area to the west and there’s good access to hunting grounds. Eventually, you hit U.S. Highway 12, now a full 4-lane highway coming in from Madison. Highway 78 joins U.S. 12 to cross the river.

 

***BYPASS ALERT***
Where Highway 78 meets U.S. 12, you have an option to bypass Sauk City and Prairie du Sac by angling south very briefly and catching Highway 188, which parallels Highway 78’s run from Sauk City to Merrimac, but on the east side of the Wisconsin River. You skip the two towns and can access the Wollersheim Winery, about 4 miles north of U.S. 12. You can rejoin Highway 78 via Highway 60 into Prairie du Sac or Highway 113 via the Merrimac Ferry.

With U.S. 12, Highway 78 crosses the Wisconsin River into Sauk City (pop. 3,019), Wisconsin’s oldest incorporated village (1854) and site of the first Culver’s restaurant ever (1984). Culver’s headquarters, meanwhile, is in Prairie du Sac. Don’t ever question putting butter on a burger around here. Sauk City and its neighbor, Prairie du Sac (pop. 3,231), are essentially twin cities and collectively the area is called Sauk Prairie. Highway 78 splits from U.S. 12 and goes through the heart of both towns combined with Highway 60 along the Wisconsin River’s western bank. This is Eagle Country, where bald eagles – and maybe even some with hair – can be regularly spotted.

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The Wisconsin River at Prairie du Sac features great fishing, scenic terrain and good eagle-watching.

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Sauk City’s downtown features several sports bars, including the Press Box – illustrated quite vividly on its facade.

After Highway 60 breaks away and heads east toward Lodi, Highway 78 continues northeast, following a mile or two off the Wisconsin River in the Sauk County countryside. Just to the northwest in much of this area is the Badger Army Ammunition Plant, the largest of its kind in the world when it was constructed in 1941-1942. It provided thousands upon thousands of jobs in wartime, from World War II through Korea and Vietnam. Everything from rocket propellant, smokeless powder and gun powder protection to testing for weapons and chemicals took place at Badger. The U.S. Army declared Badger to be excess to its needs in 1997, and is being split among six parties ranging from the Ho-Chunk Nation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the State Department of Transportation.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
When it opened in 1942, the Badger Army Ammunition Plant – then called Badger Ordnance Works – was the largest in the world. It displaced hundreds of farmers for construction and employed 6,600 workers during its peak time during World War II.

Great access to Devil’s Lake State Park (608-356-8301) can be found just up Highway 113, which comes in from Baraboo. Devil’s Lake has over 1.2 million visitors every year, and why not? It features spectacular landforms and phenomenal hiking, biking, fishing, rock climbing, camping and more across its almost 10,000-acre landscape.

devilsdoorway_599x398Right: Devil’s Lake State Park, just off Highway 78 via Highway 113 north, offers spectacular scenery and a ton of things to do, much of which involves rocks.

Highway 78 heads straight east to Merrimac (pop. 416) and the Merrimac Ferry, the last remaining ferry on the State Trunk Highway system. The Merrimac Ferry began as a toll ferry in 1924, becoming free in 1933. It has been ever since. The Colsac III, launched in 2003, is the third boat (hence the “III”) to serve this run and can accommodate 15 cars at a time. Expect a pretty hefty line during summer weekend days, especially in August. They’ll take care of you, though: vendors offer ice cream and other ways to enjoy the day, even when you have to sit and wait. The Merrimac Ferry generally runs from about April 15 through the end of November. You can always call them at (608) 246-3871 to check availability and wait times.

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Approaching the Merrimac Ferry; we’re about to be “on a boat.”

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Awaiting the ferry on the Merrimac side. You can drive your car onto the ferry to head across, or simply tag along as a pedestrian. A round trip takes about 14 minutes.

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The Colsac III on its run toward the Columbia County side of the river; this is part of Highway 113.

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Checking out the side of the road along Highway 113… it’s a little wet from the ferry. The railroad bridge frames your view to the east. It’s pretty cool to watch when a train is crossing, too.

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Staying on Highway 78 past Merrimac, you can access Devil’s Head Ski Resort, which offers great skiing and golfing. Unlike the Merrimac Ferry, though, it’s not free. Highway 78 winds around a lot at this point, and farms are plentiful. You enter Columbia County along this stretch, with the Baraboo Range to your north and northwest. It’s a nice view as you head toward the three interstates that await you.

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Highway 78 requires frequent use of the steering wheel as you wind along the edge of the Baraboo Range.

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One of my favorite animals along any State Trunk Tour. We named him Wolfgang. Here he his posing for a picture, saying, “Dude, are ya done with the pictures? I’m tryin’ to graze here…”

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As seen along many state highways, old buildings that once served as farms, houses or outbuildings, deserted years ago, are being overtaken by nature once again.

Highway 78 used to continue north into Portage to meet U.S. 51. When I-39 was designated in the 1990s, though, they pulled the north end back to the interchange with I-90/94. There’s a massive Petro at this interchange, where there’s trucks a’plenty 24 hours a day. You can reach faraway places quickly, what with quick access to three interstates. You also have quick access to skiing at Cascade Mountain, just to the west, and everything in Portage, just by continuing north. Via the freeways, Madison is only 40 minutes away, Milwaukee’s an hour and 45 minutes, Wausau is less than 2 hours and the Wisconsin Dells are only about 15 minutes. Enjoy!

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CONNECTIONS:
North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: I-39, I-90, I-94
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 51, about 8 miles north; Highway 16, about 5 miles north; Highway 33, about 2 miles north

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Illinois Highway 78
Can connect nearby to: Highway 11, about 7 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!

69

STH-069“Through the land of the Swiss”

 

WisMap69Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 69 winds through a beautiful section of southern Wisconsin, from just outside Verona through “Cheese Country” toward “Flatlander Country” (Illinois). Along the way, you get to visit the incredible charm of “America’s Little Switzerland” (New Glarus) and the “Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA” (Monroe) and connect to some other great routes in this part of the state. There’s only a little over 40 miles on the whole route, but there’s plenty to stop and see.

The Wisconsin Highway 69 Road Trip

69sbstartsign_225hiThe Drive (North to South): Highway 69 begins at the U.S. 18/U.S. 151 freeway on the southwest side of Verona (pop. 7,052), a fast-growing community that’s taking in a lot of Madison commuters. Verona is named after the famous Italian city whose history includes being Julius Caesar’s favorite vacation getaway spot and, of course, the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. They don’t have a “sister city” relationship, though; Verona, Italy is hooked up with Albany, New York and Fresno, California instead. Who knows, maybe that will change. Verona lies along the Military Ridge Trail, which runs right through its downtown before heading west. Verona takes its hockey seriously: the Eagles Nest Ice Arena holds the Verona Wildcats High School home hockey rink, but is an Olympic-sized rink. They have open skating Sundays after 4pm.

Highway 69 heads south of Verona and immediately takes you through beautiful farmland nestled amidst the rolling hills that are characteristic of Dane and Green Counties. For the first several miles you crisscross the Sugar River through the little settlements of Paoli (more on Paoli coming soon!) and Basco.

Belleville
Next up is Belleville (pop. 1,908), featuring a beautiful town square of sorts called Library Park, an 1888-era railroad depot, and a main street filled with shops and some interesting bars and restaurants in buildings that once served as hotels. Today, they serve local residents, road-trippers like you and I, and people making use of the Badger State Trail, which goes through town. At Library Park, Highway 69 hooks up with Highway 92 for the ride through.

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Belleville’s Library Park features the old town hall, built in 1894. This is right where Highways 69 and 92 meet.

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Once carrying rail cars from Madison to Freeport, Illinois, this old trestle now carries bicyclists and snowmobilers (sometimes in the same week) over the Sugar River as part of the Badger State Trail.

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Belleville’s old rail depot, built in 1888.

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Once the Park Hotel serving railroad passengers, the Dam Bar now serves locals and trail riders, serving refreshments and sustenance of all kinds.

bellevillefordsign2_250The downtown area has a lot of cool older things to check out, including the old neon Ford sign we saw that hails from at least half a century ago (right). When this area was considered the “frontier”, American statesman Daniel Webster owned land right in town, which was then part of Michigan and then Wisconsin Territory. By 1850, the area was named “Belleville”, after Belleville, Ontario, the original hometown of early settler John Frederick. Belleville is also known for several supposed UFO sightings beginning in 1987, and commemorates them with an annual day and parade.

Highway 69 doesn’t want to leave Dane County right away; just outside Belleville, the road parallels the county line about a half mile north for a while before Highway 92 breaks away for Mount Horeb and you dive south through a nice rock cut into Green County. Like many counties in this part of the state, there isn’t a lot of open water; the county is 585 square miles total but only one square mile of that is water. It’s pretty much little rivers that wind their way through the landscape, and with all these hills, they have to wind a lot. This one cheesy county; co-ops and factories that produce and sell cheese dot the area and they’re not shy about letting you know they’re there. You’ll have plenty of chances to check one or all of them out along Highway 69.

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The rolling hills make for nice views in all seasons along Highway 69, like this view looking north towards New Glarus.

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This looks like a quiet road, but based on the name, who knows? Just west of Belleville.

Not too far into Green County, you reach New Glarus (pop. 2,111), a city that celebrates its Swiss heritage with gusto. Named after the Swiss canton of Glarus, and calling itself “America’s Little Switzerland”, this newer Glarus retains Old World charm. The Swiss Historical Village right off Highway 69 – where State Highway 39 meets up – is definitely worth a stop. You’ll feel like you’re in Switzerland, with not only buildings characteristic of the Alps, but Swiss flags flying along with American flags. Folk art, museums, plenty of craft and gift shops, restaurants and some lodging are all to be had in an area spanning several square blocks. It seems so authentic at times, you’d swear you’ll hear yodeling any minute – and you just might.

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New Glarus really started because Glarus in Switzerland had fallen on hard times; so hard, in fact, that the canton loaned residents money to find land in the “New World” and settle there. Two of them, Nicolas Duerst and Fridolin Streiff, took a roundabout path but finally found this area, which reminded them of their native land. New Glarus was born. Other residents from Glarus in Switzerland followed, although some had a heck of a time finding their new settlement… communication while traveling wasn’t very good back then.

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State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
In 1905, a proposal was presented to the people of New Glarus that limburger cheese be “declared legal tender for the payment of all debts and a medium of exchange throughout the district”. That’d be some stinky money as it passed from hand to hand – what would wallets holding cheese look like, anyway?

***BREWERY ALERT***

You knew this was coming… New Glarus is, of course, home to the New Glarus Brewing Company (608-527-5850), makers of a variety of handcrafted brews such as Totally Naked, Fat Squirrel, Moon Man, Stone Soup and of course, their practically world-famous Spotted Cow. While not (allowed to be) sold outside of Wisconsin, Spotted Cow is one of those “hot” beers that people around the nation want you to smuggle out of the state when you go visit them. And if they don’t, it’s because they haven’t tried it yet. Dan & Deborah Carey founded the brewery in 1993, with Dan serving as the Brewmaster and Deborah raising the money – making her the first woman to found and operate a brewery in the United States.

Growth has been the rule for New Glarus Brewery over the past decade. The original brewery, still in use, is a relatively small building on the north side of town, right along Highway 69. The new facility is on the south side of town, perched atop a hill and accessible via gravel road. Once you round the curves, the new facility is quite a sight.

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The new New Glarus Brewery facility sits atop a hill along Highway 69 on the south side of town. Above is a summer vs. winter look from Highway 69 in winter. A sprawling complex with buildings that offer several different architectural looks, a little waterfall and a hilltop inside and outside “tasting area” are just some of the benefits that await you during a free tour, with our favorite type of copper kettle shot and the beautiful view of the town from the Tasting Room’s outdoor patio. Tours are available 10am-4pm daily.

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The rolling hill topography continues as you move south past New Glarus Woods State Park, which features 431 acres of camping, hiking, picnicking and, in the winter, snowshoeing. Areas of restored prairie dot the park, and in late April during the spring turkey season, hunters (including disabled hunters) can hunt wild turkeys. However, drinking Wild Turkey in the park is strongly discouraged. If you’re from Switzerland, this area will look like home to you, which is probably why Swiss settlers decided Green County was the place to be. I’ve been to Switzerland; minus the Alps part, it sure looks like this part of Wisconsin.

A series of farms, mostly dairy, dot the landscape as you reach Monticello (pop. 1,146). You’ll know the village because it announces itself with a tall limestone sign and little Lake Montesian, which separates Highway 69 from the heart of town with both water and the Montesian Gardens, a nice community garden with a variety of blooming plants.

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Monticello also holds the Green County Vietnam War Memorial. In the middle of Monticello, just down one of the streets, you’ll find access to the Sugar River Trail, the Monticello Area Historical Society Museum (204 N. Main, 608-938-4216), several B&B’s and two cheese factories: Silver-Lewis Cheese (W3075 County EE, 608-938-4813) and Swiss Heritage Cheese (114 E. Coates, 608-938-4455).

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Just south of Monticello, we ran across these handsome guys (above). Chewing away on grass, we definitely caught their attention. At right, one of them looks prepared to charge while the other two seem to be egging him on.

The beautiful rural scenery rules for the next 10 miles or so, and then you reach the outskirts of Monroe, first noted by the Highway 11 Bypass, which also carries Highway 81 here.

**BYPASS ALERT**
A north side bypass of Monroe was built around 1980 to carry Highway 11 and 81 around town; Highway 69 joins this bypass for about a mile before leaving and heading south along the western side of town as 7th Avenue.

Monroe

Monroe (pop. 10,843) is the hub of Green County and the “Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA.” Monroe High School’s team nickname is the Cheesemakers, after all. The Swiss influence is everywhere, from the flags dotting the surrounding landscape to the architecture downtown to the fact that The Swiss Colony is headquartered here. Monroe also features medical center The Monroe Clinic and truck customization company Monroe Truck Equipment, which did a project for the movie The Transformers a few years back. It serves as the trailhead city for the popular Cheese Country Trail, which runs 47 miles from Monroe to Mineral Point. It’s also a major stop along the Badger State Trail, which runs from Madison through Monroe to Freeport, Illinois – which means it’s not all in the Badger State.

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The Green County Courthouse in Monroe, surrounded by a bustling town square. Highway 69 used to come straight through town; it now angles around on the freeway bypass and skims the west side. But you should definitely check out downtown.

Downtown Monroe offers a charming and rather bustling downtown square. Surrounding the impressive, Romanesque Green County Courthouse, are shops offering everything from boutique clothing to electronics. A stop in Baumgartner’s on the Square (1023 16th Ave., 608-325-6157) lets you sample more cheese and beer products made in the area, including a Limburger with mustard and onion served on rye bread. In the name of humanity, the dish is served with a mint on the side.

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bceiling_800Baumgartner’s is a cheese and sausage shop in the front, tavern and sandwich shop in the back. On the high ceiling above, check out the dollar bills hanging from the ceiling – which almost look like hibernating bats if you’re not looking closely! If you give them a dollar, they’ll use their special technique to “throw” it into the ceiling, where they’ll stick until Cheese Days every other year, when they take the bills down and donate them to a chosen charitable organization in the area. It’s worth the buck to watch it happen!

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Monroe is the only place in North America where limburger cheese is currently produced. Wisconsin law makes it tough: it’s actually illegal to produce this cheese without a master cheesemaker’s certification.

Another good stop is the Minhas Craft Brewery, (1208 14th Ave., 608-325-3191), located just south and west of the town center. For a long time known as the Huber Brewery, it’s the second oldest continuously operating brewery in the U.S, brewing beer in one form or another since 1845 – three years before Wisconsin entered statehood. They were purchased by Mountain Crest Brewing Company, a Canadian outfit planning that expanded the Monroe facility (read about it in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story here). As it stands now, the brewery continues to brew Huber’s traditional beers: Premium (which won the Bronze in the 2002 World Beer Championships) Bock and Light, as well as a great old non-Huber-but-totally-Wisconsin throwback: Rhinelander Beer. Although Rhinelander’s original brewery shut down in 1967, Minhas has continued its recipe and now brews the beer in Monroe. The popular Canadian beer Mountain Creek is now brewed here – a result of the Mountain Crest investment – as are a few malt liquors. Tours are available at 11am, 1pm and 3pm Thursday through Saturday.

 

Downstairs, the Herb & Helen Haydock World of Beer Memorabilia Museum features historic and modern beer brand memorabilia from all over the country; it’s definitely worth dropping in! There’s also a gift shop and they’ve kept historical pictures to browse, along with other memorabilia highlighting the area’s brewing history.

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Monroe is also the home headquarters of the famous mail-order company (and prime source of cheese, meats, nuts and more) The Swiss Colony, which started here in 1926. The main building is right along Highway 69 on the south side on Monroe.

Out of downtown and re-joining the current Highway 69, which doubles at 7th Avenue, you skim the western end of Monroe. Definitely worth checking out is the Monroe Depot Welcome Center, part of Monroe’s original train depot. Outside, you’ll find the charm of a train station, a fiberglass cow and some large copper kettles. Inside, you’ll find visitor information, the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which has plenty of old tools cheesemakers used dating back to the 19th century, and original train depot materials, including old schedules, an original bench, photos and more.

Cows and kettles dot the landscape in front of the National Historic Cheesemaking Center.monroedepot2_500

At lower left, an original typewriter and schedule from the days way back when the trains roared through here as part of the Depot Welcome Center; at lower right, some of the cheesemaking equipment in the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which is part of the Depot. Plenty of vats, weights, wringers, presses and old packaging that held cheeses made back in the 1800s.

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Past Monroe, it’s open (and continued pretty) countryside as Highway 69 makes a beeline south to Illinois, where it connects to IL Highway 26 on its way to Freeport, Illinois.

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South of Monroe, Highway 69 ends at the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. The road continues to Freeport as IL Highway 26.

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The better welcome sign is this one, kicking off the northbound 69 ride from here, through Monroe and New Glarus to Verona, just outside of Madison. It’s a great, short drive!

CONNECTIONS:
North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 18, U.S. Highway 151
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 12, about 5 miles northeast; U.S. Highway 14, about 5 miles northeast; Highway 78, about 6 miles west

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Illinois Highway 26
Can connect nearby to: Highway 11, about 7 miles north; Highway 59, about 8 miles northeast; Highway 81, about 7 miles north