28

STH-028“From Birds in the Marsh to Brats and Surfing on the Lake”

 

WisMap28Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 28 begins in Horicon and passes by Horicon Marsh, a National Wildlife Refuge and a huge haven for all kinds of migrating birds. From there, it meanders generally northeast, heading through towns like Mayville, Theresa (home to Widmer’s Cheese) and Kewaskum before ducking through Kettle Moraine. Highway 28 offers access to Sheboygan Falls, Kohler, and even the nation’s tallest flagpole before heading into Sheboygan. In Sheboygan, you can enjoy breweries, brats served the traditional way, a vibrant downtown with museums, shops, and events at City Green, and the beautiful harbor and beaches along the city surfers call the “Malibu of the Midwest.” Along the way, Highway 28 crosses a number of major State Trunk Tour routes and allows one to see a lot of eastern Wisconsin in a relatively short trip.

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How it all begins: Highway 28 starts off Highway 33 on Horicon’s east side.

The Wisconsin Highway 28 Road Trip

The Drive (West To East): Highway 28 begins at Highway 33 on the east side of Horicon (pop. 3,775), known as the “City On The Marsh”. The marsh, of course, being Horicon Marsh, which we’ll cover in a minute.

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An old war relic sits in a park in Horicon, overlooking the Rock River and the John Deere plant behind it. Horicon cranks out a LOT of tractors, snow blowers and other sundry, handy machinery. Meanwhile, Highway 28 starts on the east side of Horicon, right off Highway 33. After a cruise through some neighborhoods, Horicon Marsh is just around the corner.

Horicon has access to the Wild Goose State Trail and naturally draws on the scenic beauty of the marsh and also maintains a nice park system, particularly along the Rock River, whose headwaters come out of the marsh. Oh, and the high school team nickname? The Marshmen.

Horicon Marsh
Highway 28 skims the southeastern corner of the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, both a State Wildlife Area and a National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a pretty unmistakeable feature as you drive by: it’s a vast expanse of flat land that looks like a lake had been drained there. And that’s pretty close to how things got to be this way. When the glaciers that once covered this part of the state retreated, a moraine was formed that worked like a dam and created a large lake. The Rock River, which uses the Marsh as its source, gradually drained the natural lake and turned it, well, marshy. People tried manipulating it again twice: from 1846 to 1896, a dam re-created the glacial lake; after it became a marsh again, there was an attempt to drain it from 1910 to 1914 and use the area for farmland. That didn’t quite work either, and today the Marsh is preserved and protected to serve as one of the world’s largest “rest stops” for migrating birds.

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The view stretches far and wide along Horicon Marsh, which sprawls to the north from Horicon and Highway 28. This is a prime spot for bird watching, and several areas along the road have turn-outs and side roads where you can set up with some binoculars and plant yourself.

SPECIAL EXHIBIT NOTE FOR BIRD LOVERS

The Horicon Marsh International Education Center (N7725 Highway 28, 920-387-7860) has a temporary display right now featuring a rare passenger pigeon and will soon add more songbirds and waterfowl. Get details from this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here. The Horicon Marsh International Education Center can be found right along Highway 28 just outside of Horicon.

The Horicon Marsh covers about 50 square miles – equivalent to about half of the City of Milwaukee. The southern third of the marsh, around Horicon, is managed mostly by the state; the northern two-thirds (up by Highway 49) is under Federal control by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Over 290 species of our winged friends have been documented in the Marsh, making it a top birding area. It’s a favorite layover for over 200,000 migrating Canada geese as they make their way back and forth in spring and fall – think of it as a rest area on the bird migration highway. (Find out more about birding here.) Horicon Marsh draws nature lovers, bird watchers, hunters, scout groups and naturalists. It can draw mosquitoes too, so bring some repellent.

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

Highway 28 skims along the southeastern edge of the Horicon Marsh for a few miles. On the east edge of the Marsh is a ridge that recently became a huge wind farm. The windier the day, the more action you’ll see on over 80 windmills that stretch north towards Brownsville.

Next up on Highway 28 is Mayville (pop. 4,902). Mayville started early; it incorporated as a city in 1845, three years before Wisconsin became a state. Big on manufacturing, Mayville is home to a number of industrial facilities and maintains a pretty steady employment base. One of the old manufacturing buildings, the former Hollenstein Wagon & Carriage Factory, is maintained by the local historical society and offers wagons on display in what is now a museum-like setting. Mayville also sports a very nice “Main Street” downtown; Highway 28 meets up with Highway 67 for the ride through it, past a variety of handsome old structures offering everything from antiques to food to collections of rural pictures in the White Limestone School, right on Main Street. Mayville has produced three members of Congress (all pre-1920), one Major League Baseball player (Bert Husting, who played from 1900 to 1902) and, more recently, actor, writer, producer, comic book creator and Primetime Emmy winner Rob Schrab.

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The Audubon Inn is one of Mayville’s attractive downtown landmarks, right along Highway 28 on the push through town.

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Downtown Mayville features numerous storefronts featuring unique retail shops, restaurants, cafes and even some art galleries.

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As far back as 1849, Mayville’s been cranking out products via heavy manufacturing. The state’s first iron smelter, a facility which took iron ore and extracted metals from it (such as iron), opened in Mayville in that year and cranked out up to 800 tons of iron every day. It lasted until 1928 and sprawled across the northern part of Mayville along the Rock River.

Highway 28 joins 67 for the ride east into the village of Theresa (pop. 1,252). Theresa holds the distinction of being named after the mother of Solomon Juneau, who’d founded this other place called Milwaukee years earlier, moved out, established Theresa, and therefore was the first European settler to begin urban sprawl in Wisconsin.

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Solomon Juneau first founded in Milwaukee, then fled in later years to establish Theresa, named after his mother. His final homestead, built in 1848, is along Highway 175 in town, close to where Highway 28 comes in.

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The section of Highway 28 combined with Highway 175 is part of the historic Yellowstone Trail, a trailblazing path through the early days of American driving.

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Not as early as the Yellowstone Trail but still becoming a slice of old Americana are the old logos on signs, such as the one for 7Up on this store in Theresa.

*** Cheese Factory Alert ***

Theresa is home to Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, which has been making brick, cheddar, and colby varieties in this location since 1922. They still use many of the original cheese vats and you can stop in and buy their cheese in their store, right from the source.

In Theresa, Highway 28 – as well as 67 – hooks up with Highway 175 and heads north out of town. Prior to 1954, this was also part of U.S. 41 before the four-lane variety was constructed nearby; it’s also part of the historic Yellowstone Trail, the “Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound” road that spent over 300 miles of its existence in Wisconsin, from Kenosha to Hudson. About one mile north of Theresa, Highway 28 breaks east; 67 & 175 stay together a few more miles northward to Lomira. Meanwhile, Highway 28 spans the Theresa State Wildlife Area and then has an interchange with I-41 before heading into Washington County.

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West of I-41, you cross marshland along Highway 28. East of I-41, you climb higher and suddenly some nice views come into play, revealing the rolling hills that characterize the approaching Kettle Moraine region.

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Highway 28 meets up with U.S. 45 after a few miles and joins it southward briefly for the ride into Kewaskum (pop. 3,274). Like many communities in the Kettle Moraine vicinity, Kewaskum considers itself the “Gateway to the Kettle Moraine” – at least the Northern Unit – and this is indeed a great launching point for exploring everything from Sunburst Ski Hill (on the south end of town, along U.S. 45) to the multitude of hiking, biking, camping, fishing and more that the rolling hills of Kettle Moraine offer.

kewaskum_28-45jctHighway 28 enters Kewaskum’s downtown and then leaves U.S. 45 to head east as Main Street. This is a great spot to take a break and do some for antique shopping, or grab a beer at John’s On Main (143 Main Street) or maybe even a hearty meal at Victoria’s Cornerstone Inn (109 Main Street, 262-626-2222). You can work it off walking, biking, or even snowmobiling on the new Eisenbahn State Trail, which runs from West Bend northward through downtown Kewaskum and up into Fond du Lac County before ending at Eden.

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Kewaskum lies along the Milwaukee River, which gets considerably bigger as it flows to the state’s largest city. Here’s it pretty tiny and mainly used as a drinking fountain for farm animals in the area.

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Kewaskum’s former railroad link to the world is now the Eisenbahn Recreation Trail… a fairly new and popular line for bicyclists, snowmobilers, walkers, runners and the occasional deer.

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The “Spirit of ’76” still shines – albeit with some rust on the support – along Highway 28 in St. Michaels. 76 gas is now part of the Chevron Corporation, and while the ’76’ balls were widely seen around the country in the 1960s through the 80s (and are still popular in California), they are rarely seen in Wisconsin today. There isn’t a gas station this property, but all evidence indicates there was one at some point.

East from Kewaskum, Highway 28 goes right through Kettle Moraine – hey, the town says it’s the gateway to it – crossing the Ice Age Trail and eventually hooking up with Highway 144. At that point, Highway 28 breaks northeast with 144. The archaeologist in you might like a side jaunt, south on Highway 144 to Lizard Mound County Park. It’s a prime example of remaining effigy mounds in Wisconsin, built by Native Americans over 1,000 years ago… some date back about 10,000 years. Effigy mounds were typically built over burial pits and often shaped like mammals, birds or reptiles. Considered one of the best preservations of such ancient mounds – there are about 28 of them – Lizard Mound County Park can be accessed via County A, less than one mile east of Highway 144 and about four miles south of its junction with Highway 28.

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Part of this stretch skims Kettle Moraine, which features plenty of rolling hills, making for a nice drive.

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Left: Strange but interesting mailbox along Highway 28 just north of Batavia. Apparently, the bird is the word. Right: A three-letter county highway in Sheboygan County apparently inspired by the sound a snake makes.

The two highways together go through Boltonville (no, it’s not named after Michael Bolton, it’s just a coincidence. Boltonville was named after Harlow Bolton, their first settler) and into Sheboygan County, where Highway 144 heads east toward Random Lake. Highway 28 continues through the countryside, along the eastern side of the Kettle Moraine area through tiny settlements like Batavia and Cascade.

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Yup. It’s right here.

Eventually you literally find Waldo (pop. 450), a small town that Highway 28 rolls through before hitting Highway 57. You follow 57 for less than half a mile, hopping over the Onion River, before Highway 28 heads northeast again toward the Sheboygan ‘burbs.

First up in the “Sheboygan ‘burbs” is Sheboygan Falls (pop. 6,772), which lies where the Onion and Mullet Rivers merge into the Sheboygan – a few small “falls” in the area helped the founders figure out a name. The downtown area is awesome for shopping, walking and marveling at the restored 19th century buildings, most of which are light colors of brick. Highway 28 skims the southern edge of Sheboygan Falls today, but you can access downtown by following the “old” route, which today is County Highway PPP on the west side and County EE on the east side. You can also run right up into town from the south via Highway 32, which intersects with Highway 28 at a roundabout.

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Just some of the storefronts in Sheboygan Falls, a hub of activity for shops, galleries, cafes and bars. The preservation of old buildings here is impressive.

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A nice little watering hole in Sheboygan Falls is the Osthelder Saloon, which opened in 1853 or 1878, depending on who you ask and which sign you believe. Either way, the old-school materials are fully present and the beers are priced right.

Sheboygan Falls began as the Town of Rochester when the first sawmill went up in 1836. The name change came in 1850, and by then Sheboygan Falls had three sawmills, a tannery, flour mills and an iron foundry. Some of the original buildings housing these industries from that time have been beautifully restored and contribute to the character that makes this downtown very much worth a visit. Sheboygan Falls hosts some significant industries, too: it’s home to Bemis Manufacturing Company, furniture builder and yacht interior outfitter Richardson’s Lumber, and the famous, tasty Johnsonville Sausages. Events are plentiful too, including the “Ducktona 500”. It takes place every July, which includes 4,500 plastic ducks racing down the Sheboygan River. They don’t paddle or quack much, but they’re still fun to watch.

kohler_golfcartxingWith Kohler next door and Whistling Straits within the county, Sheboygan Falls is part of this golf mecca. Between Sheboygan Falls and Sheboygan itself is Black Wolf Run, a Pete Dye-designed course which Highway 28 skims…and yes, watch for golf carts crossing.

Just on the other side of all the golf, you hit I-43 and a bevy of shops and chain restaurants. Bikers will like a stop at Route 43 Harley-Davidson, where you can get gear, relax, do whatever.

A quick drive up Taylor Drive will also give you a close-up look at the headquarters of Acuity Insurance, which hosts the nation’s tallest flagpole. The building itself is interesting, including the lobby.

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Clearly visible from I-43 just north of the interchange with Highway 28, a State Trunk Tour favorite is the Acuity Insurance headquarters and the cat toy-like ornaments dangling from their ceiling. They’re especially noticeable at night.

 

Sheboygan

Sheboygan (pop. 50,792) is the Bratwurst Capital of the World. They make toilets too; it’s the circle of life. Large enough to have “suburbs” like aforementioned Kohler and the Sheboygan Falls, the area is home to a number of major companies, including Kohler, Acuity Insurance and the aforementioned Johnsonville Sausage and Bemis. Comedian Jackie Mason, basketball coach Rick Majerus, and the Chordettes (the ’50s group that sang “Lollipop”) all hail from Sheboygan. The city was referenced in the classic 1959 film Some Like It Hot when Daphne & Josephine (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) claimed to Marilyn Monroe they had studied music at the “Sheboygan Conservatory.” The movies Home Alone, A Kid in Aladdin’s Place, World Trade Center and Surf’s Up all reference the city. There was even a board game in 1979 called The Creature That Ate Sheboygan – who no doubt consumed a lot of bratwurst during that meal. Mattel even claims that the iconic Barbie, their signature doll’s character, hails from the fictitious Willows, Wisconsin – a city claimed by many to be based on Sheboygan. The city even had an NBA team called the Sheboygan Redskins back in the ’40s. It’s also consistently named one of the best places to raise a family and, interestingly enough, one of the best places to retire, in the U.S.

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Points of interest are quite plentiful considering the city’s size. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center (608 New York Avenue, 920-458-6144) hosts galleries chock full of innovative explorations in the arts. Rather than only showing historical artistic pieces, the center works to foster new concepts and forms of artistic creation. It’s definitely worth a stop.

Golfing and Surfing in Sheboygan

One of the reasons Sheboygan is considered a good place to retire is the plethora of golf courses. Incredible courses like Whistling Straits bring worldwide acclaim and establish Sheboygan as a premier place for golf. Nestled along a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan north of the city along County LS, Whistling Straits reminds most golfers of the classic olde links in Scotland and Ireland. Whistling Straits hosted PGA Championships in 2004, 2010, and 2015, and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020.

Surf’s Up! Sheboygan’s Lake Michigan “surf” is considered among the best in the country. The Dairyland Surf Classic ran for many years and helped established Sheboygan as the “Malibu of the Midwest.” Yes, dudes from California even come in for it. From Kohler-Andrae State Park north past downtown to the Whistling Straits course area, Sheboygan makes good use of its lakefront.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Sheboygan’s Dairyland Surf Classic was the largest freshwater surfing competition in the world until it ceased in 2013.
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Charter fishing, pleasure boating and, further out, freshwater surfing are all popular in Sheboygan. The Sheboygan River provides plenty of space for docking and the harbor area is brimming with shops, attractions and new condos.

A popular annual event is Brat Days, which takes place the first weekend in August. During its 2006 celebration, the city hosted the International Federation of Competitive Eating and Takeru Kobayashi broke the world bratwurst-eating record by downing 58 brats in 10 minutes against heavy competition, live on ESPN. Sales of antacids were massive in town that night.

Highway 28 enters the south side of Sheboygan as Washington Avenue. Ahead are the dominant chimney stacks of the Edgewater Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant that was commissioned back in 1931. Eventually, Highway 28 heads north along Business Drive into the city; this stretch, which is County Highway OK leading south, was part of the old U.S. 141, which was the main route between Milwaukee and Green Bay prior to I-43. This was also the main north-south route through Sheboygan until the U.S. 141 bypass – which is where I-43 is today – was constructed in the late 1960s.

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Today’s Highway 28 in southern Sheboygan runs on the original Sauk Trail.

Highway 28 comes to an end just west of downtown Sheboygan as Business Drive becomes 14th Street. It’s actually where three State Trunks come together and end: Highway 23, which runs west from here to Kohler and Fond du Lac and eventually all the way to southwestern Wisconsin near Shullsburg, and Highway 42, which runs north to the tip of Door County. And of course we have the route you just took, Highway 28, which started back in Mayville. Stop and enjoy Sheboygan, or to get moving on Highway 23 or 42 for more fun ‘n adventure!

BREWERY ALERT
Just past the end of Highway 28… literally a few blocks further north via Highway 42, lies the Hops Haven Brew Haus (1327 N. 14th Street, 920-457-HOPS). Once home to the Port Washington Brewing Company and also the 3 Sheeps Brewing Company, you’re sure to find good brews and food here. The new HQ for 3 Sheeps Brewing Company is just a little further north; follow Highway 42 to North Avenue, and then head east a few blocks to their new Tap Room. Heck, you’re done with the drive. Might as well stop in!

CONNECTIONS
West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 33
Can connect nearby to: Highway 26, about 4 miles west via 33; Highway 67, about 4 miles east; Highway 60, about 7 miles south

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 23; Highway 42
Can connect nearby to: Highway 32, about 7 miles west; Interstate 43, about 4 miles west

20

STH-020“Kettles, Kringle, Trains and Boats from East Troy to Racine”

 

WisMap20Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 20 connects Racine residents with points west, including Waterford, East Troy (and the nearby Alpine Valley), and Whitewater, accessed via U.S. 12 past Highway 20’s terminus. You catch some small-town flavor, ride rolling hills near Kettle Moraine, catch a train ride and explore Racine, especially the impressively redeveloping downtown and lakefront.

Highway 20 Road Trip

The Drive (West To East): Highway 20 begins at Highway 67 where U.S. Highway 12 veers off and starts heading west towards Whitewater and Madison – or south towards Elkhorn and Lake Geneva depending on your perspective.) There’s little around the intersection, although cars staying on U.S. 12 tend to move quickly and others may not pay attention to the stop signs.

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Highway 20 starts at a very rural, but pretty significant, intersection with U.S. 12 and Highway 67 north of Elkhorn.

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Heading east on Highway 20 through the towns of La Grange and Troy, the ride is filled with pleasant vistas and gently rolling hills. Horse farms and fields of soybeans and corn abound, and the curves and hills make for a fun, pleasant country drive. Watch the oncoming traffic disappear and reappear. Long, sweeping vistas of farm and grazing land are framed by Kettle Moraine hills in the background.

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East Troy

The first town, East Troy (pop. 3,564), is probably best-known for its proximity to Alpine Valley. But it’s a full-fledged, all-American town in itself. It’s also east of the Town of Troy, but you probably figured that out already.

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Cobblestones make for a fascinating building on East Troy’s town square, just south of Highway 20.

Highway 20 slides through the northern area of East Troy, but it’s worth a jog south to the town square, which features a number of buildings dating back to the 1850s and 1860s. Craft stores, saloons, and other small shops surround the town square. The town square also features the Cobblestone Bar (pictured above, 2088 Church St., 262-642-3735), which houses a history that includes a stay by President Lincoln and the reported haunting by two former owners who disappeared and were never heard from again. Not to freak you out, we’re just the messengers.

The town square also hosts the East Troy Brewery, which opened in a former bank building in 2019. Amidst the teller’s window area (which is now the main bar) or within the original vault – which contains some really cool artifacts to check out – you can explore their signature craft beers or enjoy guest selections from other Wisconsin breweries. They’re also known for a good food menu. Right across National Avenue (County ES, once Historic Highway 15, the main road between Milwaukee and Beloit until I-43 opened in 1973), you’ll find one of the oldest continuously operating bars in Wisconsin: the East Troy House.

East Troy shows up on a lot of concert t-shirts because the Alpine Valley Music Theatre is located just south of town, off Highway 120 which technically starts in the town square but should start at Highway 20. Alpine Valley has hosted an incredible array of concerts with some huge names since its opening in 1977, when the huge names in question were Boz Scaggs, Neil Sedaka and Helen Reddy – they kicked off the first set of shows. Following since has been everyone from Frank Sinatra to Motley Crue, Aerosmith and Boston to the Grateful Dead. Jimmy Buffett and Dave Matthews perform here pretty much every summer, keeping the snack food industry humming. Plenty of videos have been shot here, including Motley Crue’s “Same Ol’ Situation”, the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey”, the Black Crowes’ “Hard To Handle” and, more recently, Korn’s “Politics”. Coldplay had their largest American audience ever at Alpine Valley until they performed at the Super Bowl in 2016.

easttroy_rr01A popular attraction in East Troy is the East Troy Electric Railroad & Museum, housed in a station that served one of the last Interurban lines that once graced southeastern Wisconsin.

Through exhibits and pictures, the museum offers a glimpse of what train service was like when the line began in 1907 and was run by The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company (TMER&L for short.) You can still ride a vestige of the railroad’s former glory on the East Troy Electric Railroad, which runs the old-fashioned cars on a 10-mile journey between East Troy and the Elegant Farmer just southwest of Mukwonago (yes, the place that bakes apple pies in a brown bag). Service runs from May through October and gives you a nice flavor of what the Interurbans were like back when the Milwaukee area was served with hundreds of miles of train lines that reached to East Troy, Watertown and Sheboygan. The museum is on Church Street between downtown East Troy and Highway 20; it’s off the beaten path, but well-marked for visitors to find.

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East of East Troy, the junctions with County ES (the old Highway 15 from Beloit to Milwaukee) and I-43 provide access to stores and services, including a 24-hour McDonald’s. So if you’re driving through at 3am and need Chicken McNuggets, you’re set.

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Cows a’plenty graze on this hill along Highway 20 just east of East Troy (in what might be known as East East Troy, perhaps).

The drive between East Troy and Waterford features more rolling hills and forested areas. Racine County begins as you enter a shaded bend along a hillside that’s more characteristic of western Wisconsin than the southeast.

The rapidly-growing city of Waterford (pop. 4,048) is about four miles east of the Racine-Walworth County line, where Highway 83 hooks up with 20 for the ride into town. Originally known by its Potawatomi name of Tichigan, a name that lives on in the form of a nearby lake, Waterford is now named partially due to its narrow crossing point over the Fox River at Main Street (where one could easily, as they used to say, “ford the water”.) Downtown features stores and bars a’plenty and some nice parkland along the river. Waterford itself is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Highway 20 takes you through the heart of town and then to the southeast, where Highway 83 breaks off and veers south toward Illinois at the intersection with Highway 36; 20 continues east for the push into Racine.

Between Waterford and Racine the land flattens out a bit and farms get larger, until they get taken over by the development west of Racine in the towns of Yorkville, Ives Grove and Mount Pleasant. You cross Highway 75 and U.S. Highway 45 (which joins 20 for one mile). The rules out here in the countryside are different; school speed zones in the town of Yorkville are 45 mph. You can say all you want about the pace of country life being slower, but in the city, school zones are more like 15 or 20 mph. At Highway 75 and County S is Beaumont Park, named after the first batter in World Series history. Ginger Beaumont, born in Rochester, played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and batted against famed pitcher Cy Young in the 1903 World Series. He went 0-for-5 in that game, just in case you were wondering.

Route 20 Bar Sign along Highway 20 near I-41/94

We love to give a shout-out to places that name themselves after the highway. Route 20 Music Bar & Grill has had a few names over the years incorporating Highway 20; now they’ve added an Interstate shield to their logo (even though the Interstates are 41 and 94, a stone’s throw away.) This is a lively place with a lot of bands coming in from all over.

A defining point along Highway 20 is the junction with I-41/94 (Exit 333) in Mount Pleasant. You’re 34 miles east of the western terminus and about 10 miles from Lake Michigan, and from this point on east Highway 20 is a major, multi-lane thoroughfare all the way into Racine. While farmland still exists for a while past the array of hotels, gas stations, and restaurants at the interchange, this is changing quickly. Some of the intersections, including near Renaissance Boulevard and County H, lead you to entertainment and sports complexes, technical college campuses, and major offices for some of the biggest companies in the area including InSinkErator, Johnson Controls, Kerry Ingredients, Evinrude-BRP, and one of our favorite names, Putzmeister America, Inc. Part of the concentration here is because of access to not only Highway 20, but the main passenger and freight rail line between Milwaukee to the north and Chicago to the south.

This is all part of Sturtevant (pop. 5,451), by the way, a “gateway” that towers over tracks where the Amtrak Hiawatha makes its seven or eight daily runs between Milwaukee and Chicago, the city being one of the few stops along the way. It’s easily visible from Highway 20 and anchors this fast-growing area of development. With the FoxConn development just to the south, it will only get busier.

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Gateway to Sturtevant. The Amtrak Hiawatha stops here on its seven daily runs between Milwaukee and Chicago. Highway 20 ducks under the bridge of the railroad that ducks under the brick overpass picture here.

Eastward from Sturtevant, it’s pretty much city for the rest of the way. Highway 20 is Washington Avenue going into Racine; large stores, car dealerships and chain restaurants dot the landscape (as does Racine Case High School) as you approach the city. At the junction with Green Bay Ave. (Highway 31), you reach the city itself.

Real Racine Activities Leader

Racine

Racine (pop. 81,855) calls itself the Belle City and is Wisconsin’s fifth-largest. The French may have named the city (Racine is French for “root”, after the Root River which flows into Lake Michigan here), but Danish immigrants left the tastiest mark on the city; Racine is known as the “Kringle Capital of the World”. Famous locales like Lehmann’s, O&H, and the Larsen Bakery (which is located right along Highway 20 at 3311 Washington Avenue near the intersection with Hayes Street, in an area known as Kringleville or Little Denmark) crank out millions of the tasty iced and filled pastries every year and ship them worldwide. You, however, can stop in for a fresh one right there. They’re best that way.

Racine’s industrial and entrepreneurial history now spans three centuries. Home to major companies like J.I. Case (now Case IH, where the IH stands for “International Harvester”) and S.C. Johnson, it’s where the garbage disposal was invented in 1927; In-Sink-Erator still calls Racine home. It’s also where malted milk was invented in 1887 by William Horlick, who now has a high school named after him (they do not have a malted milk stand, however, according to my limited research.)

Many cities the size of Racine host minor-league baseball, but Racine hosts minor-league football. The Racine Raiders of the North American Football League are one of the most respected minor-league football organizations in the country and have been around for over 50 years. The Raiders have sent players to the NFL over the years, although unfortunately most of them went to the Vikings. They play at Horlick Field, on the north side of town, just a few miles off Highway 20’s path. Their season begins in June, so there’s no talk of frozen tundra here.

Highway 20 continues east as Washington Avenue, winding around parkland and through the Uptown neighborhood, formerly known as The Junction back when two railroads crossed here and Washington Avenue was a plank road charging tolls. Follow the signs past a split where it becomes 7th Street, and you will find yourself on a downtown strip, lined with stores. Highway 20 ends one-way eastbound as 7th Street (westbound runs on 6th Street) at the intersection with Main, at which point you’re also on Highway 32 and just blocks away from Lake Michigan.

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The new Johnson Building overlooks Monument Square; the Racine Art Museum is to the left and ranks among the best art museums in the state.

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The Civil War Monument that gives Racine’s Monument Square its name.

Downtown Racine and the Harbor area offer a wealth of sights and things to do. The Racine Art Museum (441 S. Main St.) houses a series of contemporary craft exhibits and street-level displays while the Racine Heritage Museum (701 Main St.) houses a bird collection and other features from Racine’s early days. Monument Square (500 S. Main Street, just off Highway 20’s eastern end) offers a look back – and up – with its 61-foot high Civil War Soldiers Memorial, dedicated in 1884, when it was called Haymarket Square, while also giving a nod to the future with Wi-Fi Internet Access for anyone using their laptops in the square, perhaps imbibing in a beverage or meal from the surrounding stores. If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned diner experience and one of the best-rated burgers in the state, by the way, a visit to the Kewpee (520 Wisconsin Ave.) should satisfy you, as it has for Racine residents since the 1920’s.

Kewpee Burgers in Racine

The Kewpee offers very tasty old-school little burgers.

Racine’s attention to the lakefront is among the most impressive in the state. Buildings lining downtown streets offer increasingly busy storefronts, but their upper floors also offer sweeping lake views, as do the condos springing up all over the place. The Reefpoint Marina, Festival Park and Pershing Park can be accessed right after Highway 20’s terminus, along 4th and 5th Streets leading down to the water.

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Downtown Racine along 6th Street, where Highways 20 & 32 go past a series of shops, restaurants, galleries, and even a brewery.

*** BREWERY ALERT ***

Racine Brewing logoJust past the end of Highway 20 along Highway 32/Main Street, you’ll find the Racine Brewing Company, which established its Tap Room in a storefront in 2017. The Reefpoint Brew House is located just east of the end of Highway 20 in the busy Marina area; they don’t brew beers on site but do offer unique crafts that are contract-brewed by other breweries in southeastern Wisconsin.

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Boats busily buzz under a bridge just north of Highway 20 as it crosses the Root River, just before it empties into Lake Michigan.

Johnson Wax Tower, just south of where Highway 38 begins

The fascinating, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Johnson Wax Research Tower, on the HQ campus of S.C. Johnson in Racine.

Other things to see in Racine include the Johnson Wax Research Tower, the Johnson Wax Golden Rondelle (1525 Howe Street), built in 1964 for the New York World’s Fair; the Wind Point Lighthouse (4725 Lighthouse Drive, Wind Point), one of the oldest (1880) and tallest (108 feet) lighthouses on the Great Lakes; and the Racine Zoo (2131 N. Main Street, about 1.5 miles north of downtown), which offers an impressive array of animals – over 76 species – overlooks the lake, and offers its “Animal Crackers Jazz Series” on Wednesday and Selected Sunday evenings.

Want more details on Racine? Check out RealRacine.com!

From the relative bustle of Racine to the serene countryside, Highway 20 provides a good sampler of southeastern Wisconsin over a short distance. Plus, there’s Lake Michigan and kringle at the end!

Racine Fall Festival Kringle sample

This awaits you at the eastern end of Highway 20.

Listen to our State Trunk Tour Podcast on Racine!

From Highway 20, you can run along Lake Michigan on Highway 32 up towards Milwaukee or down towards Kenosha, or head back out on Highway 11 to the west and southwest or Highway 38 to the northwest for an inland route towards Milwaukee. But definitely enjoy Racine as much as you can!

CONNECTIONS
West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 67, U.S. Highway 12
Can connect nearby to: Highway 11, about 7 miles south

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 32
Can connect nearby to: Highway 38, about 1/2 mile north; Highway 11, about 1 mile south

11


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“Kringle by the Great Lake to Bluffs by the Great River”

 

WisMap11Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 11 is a key “coast to coast” highway across southern Wisconsin. From Racine’s impressive harbor on Lake Michigan to the bluffs overlooking Dubuque, Iowa across the Mississippi River, Highway 11 weaves through and around key towns and a variety of sights. Along the way you’ll find kringle in Racine, chocolate and yo-yos in Burlington, parks and activities in Janesville, circus history in Delavan, and tons of cheese around Monroe and Shullsburg. It’s a great cross-section of what far southern Wisconsin has to offer.

Wisconsin Highway 11 Road Trip

The Drive (East To West):

Racine

Highway 11 begins in Racine (pop. 78,860), just a few hundred yards from Lake Michigan at Highway 32. Racine calls itself the “Belle City” and is Wisconsin’s fifth-largest. The French may have named the city (Racine is French for “root”, after the Root River which flows into Lake Michigan here), but Danish immigrants left the tastiest mark. Racine is known as the “Kringle Capital of the World.” Famous locales like Lehmann’s, O&H, and the Larsen Bakery (located in an area known as Kringleville or Little Denmark) crank out millions of the tasty iced and filled pastries every year and ship them worldwide. You, however, can stop in for a fresh one right there. They’re best that way.

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Mmmm… Kringle.

Racine’s industrial and entrepreneurial history now spans three centuries. Home to major companies like J.I. Case and S.C. Johnson, it’s where the garbage disposal was invented in 1927; In-Sink-Erator still calls Racine home. It’s also where malted milk was invented in 1887 by William Horlick, who now has a high school named after him (they do not have a malted milk stand, however, according to my limited research.)

Many cities the size of Racine host minor-league baseball, but Racine hosts minor-league football. The Racine Raiders of the North American Football League are one of the most respected minor-league football organizations in the country and have been around for over 50 years; the won their last championship in 2012. The Raiders have sent players to the NFL over the years, although unfortunately many of them went to the Vikings. They play at Horlick Field, on the north side of town. Their season begins in June, so no frozen tundra talk here.

Racine Art Museum on Main Street

The acrylic panels on the Racine Art Museum are flooded with different colored lights most evenings, adding an intriguing glow to Main Street.

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The Civil War Monument that gives Racine’s Monument Square its name.

Downtown Racine and the Harbor area offer a wealth of sights and things to do. The Racine Art Museum (441 S. Main St.) houses a series of contemporary craft exhibits and street-level displays while the Racine Heritage Museum (701 Main St.) houses a bird collection and other features from Racine’s early days. Monument Square (500 S. Main Street, just off Highway 20’s eastern end) offers a look back – and up – with its 61-foot high Civil War Soldiers Memorial. The Memorial was dedicated in 1884 when it was called Haymarket Square, while also giving a nod to the future with Wi-Fi Internet Access for anyone in the square, perhaps imbibing in a beverage or meal from the surrounding stores. If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned diner experience and one of the best-rated burgers in the state, by the way, a visit to the Kewpee (520 Wisconsin Ave.) should satisfy you, as it has for Racine residents since the 1920’s.

Kewpee Burgers in Racine

Tasty little burgers at the Kewpee, an old-school crown jewel in downtown Racine.

Racine’s attention to the lakefront is among the most impressive in the state. Buildings lining downtown streets offer increasingly busy storefronts, but their upper floors also offer sweeping lake views, as do the condos springing up all over the place. The Reefpoint Marina, Festival Park and Pershing Park offer terrific parkland, access to the lake, and fun places to imbibe like the Reefpoint Brew House. Along Main Street (Highway 32 between 20 and 38) you’ll find the Racine Brewing Company, which established its Tap Room in a storefront in 2017.

Annual events include the Racine Boat Show, the Great Lakes Brew Fest,  and Salmon-A-Rama (which is fun to say, actually). From April – December, First Fridays bring extra fun, specials, music, displays, and more along the streets of downtown Racine on the first Friday of each month.

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Downtown Racine along 6th Street, where Highways 20 & 32 go past a series of shops, restaurants, galleries and cafes. Highway 11 is just to the south.

Johnson Wax Tower, just south of where Highway 38 beginsOther things to see in Racine include the Johnson Wax Golden Rondelle (1525 Howe Street) and the adjacent Johnson Wax Research Tower, both at the headquarters of S.C. Johnson. The Wind Point Lighthouse (4725 Lighthouse Drive, Wind Point), one of the oldest (1880) and tallest (108 feet) lighthouses on the Great Lakes; and the Racine Zoo (2131 N. Main Street, about 1.5 miles north of downtown), which offers an impressive array of over 75 species of animals – overlooks the lake and offers its “Animal Crackers Jazz Series” on Wednesday and Selected Sunday evenings.

 

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Highway 11 starts at this intersection with Highway 32 on Racine’s south side. Just past the train lines and a berm is Lake Michigan.

 

Highway 11 westbound begins in Racine.

Heading west on today’s start to Highway 11 means running through neighborhoods on Racine’s south side. Plenty of cool stuff lies ahead.

Real Racine Fall 2018

Meanwhile, as Durand Avenue, Highway 11 works its way west through Racine’s south side residential neighborhoods and heads for the western ‘burb of Sturtevant (pop. 6,970). Known for its key Amtrak stop along the Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago, which is north along Highway 20, Sturtevant is emerging from a crossroads town to a bigger city on the map, in large part now due to the new FoxConn development. That runs along Highway 11 for over a mile.

On the west side of Sturtevant – and the new FoxConn development campus – Highway 11 has an interchange (as Exit 335) with I-94/I-41, the main north-south freeway connecting Chicago and Milwaukee. You may see small-craft planes taking off or landing at nearby Sylvania Airport or head south slightly along the freeway’s east frontage road to the former campus of the University of Lawsonomy. Remember seeing the sign for it along the highway? Well, Lawsonomy is the outgrowth of the writings of William Alfred Lawson (1869-1954), whose philosophy, Lawsonomy, is “defined as the knowledge of life and everything pertaining hereto. Lawson was a professional baseball player, aviation pioneer and author of a slew of books. While his credibility has been called into question – or shredded – by many and the University only on the Internet now, it did have something akin to a campus just south of Highway 11 along I-94/I-41. Here’s what it looked like around 1994; any will remember that long “University of Lawsonomy” sign!

Past I-94/41, Highway 11 heads west through southern Racine County and some of the most fertile farm fields in the nation. Before long, we reach the town where the hyper, deep-voiced echoes of “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” beckon. That’s because it’s close to the widely-known “Great Lakes Dragaway, Union Grove, Wisconsin!”

Union Grove (pop. 4,915) is a pleasant little town along Highway 11, where U.S. 45 intersects. The Dragaway, due to all its hard-to-forget radio commercials over the years, is how many have become familiar with Union Grove over the years.

Union Grove hosts the annual Racine County Fair. It has an interesting history: the “Union” in its name comes from an early school that brought together students from a number of different schools; the “Grove” came early Wisconsin Governor Dodge who combined the school’s name with a nearby grove of burr oak trees. In 1919, the interestingly-named “Southern Wisconsin Home for the Feeble-Minded” opened. The town has been hit by tornadoes by 1954 and 2010 – when it hit in November, a true rarity.

The aforementioned Great Lakes Dragaway is a quarter mile dragstrip located just south of Highway 11 along County KR, the east-west road running the Kenosha-Racine County line (hence the county road letters.) Opened in 1955, it’s the oldest continuously operating dragstrip in the country, is open for more dates than any other track in the U.S., and was voted the “Most historically significant dragstrip in the United States” by readers of BangShift, a blog dedicated to drag racing. Even in winter months, you’ll find snowmobile drags.

Just off Highway 11:
Further west through Racine County, you pass about two miles north of the funniest-named park in Wisconsin, the Bong Recreation Area. Originally slated to be the Bong Air Force Base in the 1950s to protect Milwaukee and Chicago from attack by Soviet bombers, construction began in 1956 but was abandoned in 1959 when officials decided it wasn’t needed. A 12,900-foot runway was three days from being paved with concrete when construction was halted; its footprint remains today. The base sat in disuse for many years and it became a hotbed for gangs and criminal activity. By 1974, the State of Wisconsin bought the land and turned it into a massive state recreation area filled with options of things to do. Today, the Bong Recreation Area offers 16 miles of hiking trails, off-road biking trails, camping, hunting, cross-country skiing, sledding, and more. The presence of Wolf Lake means swimming and a 200-foot beach with a bath house, along with boating.

To get there, head south from Highway 11 via Highway 75 at the small crossroads of Kansasville, then access the park via Highway 142. For simplicity’s sake, you can just follow the soon-to-be-disappointed hippie vans misinterpreting what “Bong Recreation Area” means. The park-that-was-almost-an-air-force-base’s namesake is Richard Ira Bong (yes, “Dick Bong”), the United States’ highest-scoring air ace and Medal of Honor recipient during World War II. Along with the recreation area, Bong has one of the bridges in northwestern Wisconsin from Superior to Duluth (the one carrying U.S. 2) named after him, as well as a bridge in Townsville, Australia, an Air and Operations Center on Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and even a theatre in Misawa, Japan.

burlingtonsign_800The last main city in Racine County along Highway 11 is Burlington (pop. 10,485), known as “Chocolate City USA” for its Nestle plant. One motto, “The town with the tall tales”, reflects on its serving as home to the Burlington Liar’s Club. Highways 36, 83, and 142 intersect with or near Highway 11 here — much of it on the new bypass. But on the State Trunk Tour, we go INTO town.

Burlington is also not shy about pointing out it’s the hometown of All-Pro quarterback Tony Romo. He played for the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a broadcaster for the NFL. We remember, according to The Onion, when Jessica Simpson helped ensure that he wouldn’t stand in the way of the Packers’ (relative) success in the 2007 playoffs.

Burlington, true to its “Chocolate City USA” name, hosts a festival every Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the tasty cacao bean-based treat. Suggested reading prior to attending Chocolate Fest includes the Willy Wonka books and any diet book that suggests you can eat as much chocolate as you’d like. Originally named “Foxville” (perhaps because of the Fox River?) Burlington is big on firsts: it’s been home to the first World War II draftee to receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the first player to bat in the World Series…it’s even in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. It’s also the home of three-time World’s Strongest Man winner Bill Kazmaier, one of the few to earn the title without a name like “Magnus”.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit (+ “tall tale”)
Did you know the first person in Burlington to own an automobile was Leonard J. Smith in 1902?
He is also the first person to express road rage in 1903 by using a specific finger to gesture to a slow pedestrian.
The Top Museum in downtown Burlington.

Burlington’s Top Museum is one of several unique places to visit downtown. “Business” Highway 11 goes through here.

Burlington features some interesting attractions, including the the Logic Puzzle Museum offers a wild array of hands-on puzzles, brain teasers, and more. Next door, the Spinning Top & Yo-Yo Museum offers yo-yos, gyroscopes, spin toys, and plenty of hands-on science exhibits…. over 2,000 in all! Call first and get tickets, though; they are by appointment only.  And, since it’s “Chocolate City USA”, check out the Chocolate Experience Museum (113 E. Chestnut Street, 262-763-6044), which houses exhibits that survive the annual Chocolate Fest, and other chocolate sculptures… even one that replicates the brick road from the Wizard of Oz – only this one is chocolate instead of yellow. Hurry, before somebody eats it!

Speaking of eating, Fred’s (596 N. Pine Street/Highway 11 at the corner of Highways 36 & 83, ignoring the bypass, 262-763-8370) claims to have the “World’s Best Burgers.” That’s a tall order and we can’t definitively say for sure – but they’re pretty close. You have to order at the bar, and along with tasty burgers they have a good selection of appetizers, beers, and they even have a Tony Romo jersey from the Dallas Cowboys; he worked at Fred’s in his teenage years. They like to spice up their burgers, and the recommended one is the “cheese-sauced” burger. Even in Chicago, they’re saying it’s worth the drive to Burlington… who are we to argue, even though they’re probably Bears fans?

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Fred’s in Burlington, famous for their burgers. They play up the Tony Romo thing, too.

West of Burlington, the bypass merges back with the original route and Highway 11 heads across the countryside as a two-lane beeline through farm fields. The only real place to have to stop is a 4-way stop at the junction with Highway 120 in Springfield Corners. To the north is East Troy and Alpine Valley; to the south you can access Lake Geneva. But here on Highway 11, we continue west to the Walworth county seat, which continues below.



Elkhorn

That seat is Elkhorn (pop. 7,305), named during the founding years by Colonel Sam Phoenix when he spied some elk antlers in a tree. Ten years later by 1846, Elkhorn was designated the Walworth county seat; five years later, it started hosting the Walworth County Fair, one of the largest and oldest in the state (the grounds host a popular flea market four times a year too, which draws over 500 vendors.) The historic Webster House Museum, just south of downtown, showcases the home of the famous 19th century composer Joseph Webster and offers a great look at life and original items from the mid-1800s.

U.S. 12 skirts the east and northern sides of Elkhorn as a freeway before merging into Highway 67, which is the main north-south route through town. Highway 11 is the main east-west street; it ducks under U.S. 12 but meets up with Highway 67 in a lovely town square.

First National Bank in Elkhorn

The First National Bank building in Elkhorn. It’s doesn’t go very deep.

Highway 11 ducks south and west around the Walworth County Courthouse and past a series of downtown buildings, including the facade of the First National Bank. Yes, it’s just the facade; the bank itself is gone, but you’re free to step through the doorway into the grassy little park. It would be funny, however, if some pens were chained to a park bench in there somewhere for that true bank feel.

Downtown Elkhorn

Highway 11 heads around Courthouse Square in Elkhorn. Plenty of shops, restaurants and bars, and theatre, and more help make the town bustle.

Highway 11 goes through Delavan, home to Andes Candies and those incredible mints

Highway 11 goes through Delavan, home to Andes Candies and those incredible mints.

The proximity of I-43 means for a brief stretch Highway 11 is less of a main road from Elkhorn west to Delavan (pop. 7,956), so enjoy the ride. Now, a key theme along Highway 11 might be chocolate: not only is Burlington “Chocolate City USA”, but in Delavan they make those delicious Andes Candies.

Delavan is the native home of Gary Berghoff (Radar O’Reilly on M*A*S*H) and historically a circus town: it’s the original home to P.T. Barnum’s “Greatest Show On Earth” (P.T. stood for Phineas Taylor, in case you were curious) and from 1847-1895 about 26 circus companies made their headquarters here. A 12-year-old runaway named Harry Houdini stayed in a livery stable in Delavan’s Park Hotel, along Highway 11 on the west side of town. Also on the west side of Delavan lies the site for Wisconsin’s first School for the Deaf, the marker for which is right on Highway 11 just past County X, the former Highway 15 route.

From Delavan, Highway 11 traverses some forested areas before hitting the relatively wide-open farmland past the junction with Highway 89 – where U.S. 14 joins 11 for the ride west – and into Rock County. You’ll pass, as I noticed, a farm called Happy Holstein Heaven, which claims to be the home of “happy cows”, a claim Californians will want to debate using their cheese commercials. But who cares what they think?

Janesville

It’s a fast ride to Janesville (pop. 60,483), the “City of Parks.” Major companies founded in Janesville include Parker Pen and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, neither of which are headquartered in the city anymore. Janesville does host playground equipment maker Swing N Slide, now a subsidiary of Playcore, Inc., Blain’s Farm & Fleet (a store you see many times on the State Trunk Tour), and Gray’s Brewing Company, of which more will be divulged shortly. Well before you reach the city, the U.S. Highway 14 route leaves, as it’s ducked around the north and east sides of Janesville since 1952. Highway 11 then turns west to meet I-39/90 and technically winds south of town on a bypass.

***BYPASS ALERT***

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The solid line is Highway 11’s original City route; the dashed line is today’s bypass. Go through the city! (Click on the map for a live Google map version.)

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Highway 11’s city route into Janesville – as Racine Street, in salute of the road’s eastern origin – goes past a number of lovely parks and it descends toward the Rock River and downtown.

Highway 11 traditionally went through the heart of Janesville. Today, officially Highway 11 heads around the south end of Janesville by following I-39/90 south about two miles and then runs around the southwest side of town, meeting up with the traditional Highway 11 just west of the city. It saves a good 5-10 minutes, so if time is a factor, by all means, use it. If you want the full Janesville experience, read on below:

Following Highway 11’s traditional route through Janesville, stay on the route past the I-39/90 interchange into town. You come in on Racine Street, past Palmer Park and into the downtown area. After crossing the Rock River, the “traditional” Highway 11 turns northwest on Franklin Street, along what was also former U.S. Highway 14, as indicated by “City” U.S. 14 signs that have been up since the 1950s

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This old U.S. 14 sign has been up since the 1940s, even though they built a bypass for U.S. 14 around Janesville in the early 1950s. We hope they keep it posted!

At Court Street, you jog to the right briefly into the main downtown area (demarcated by actual multi-story buildings) before jogging back west (doing a U-turn) along Milwaukee Street for the ride westerly out of town. For a little while, streets are one-way. After crossing U.S. Highway 51, the former Highway 11 is a two-way street as Court Street.

Janesville Statue

Janesville is the home of former Senator Russ Feingold, Representative and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (not exactly two peas in a pod), race car driver Stan Fox, even WNBA Houston Comets player Mistie Williams, daughter of Chubby Checker. Janesville hosted Wisconsin’s first state fair in 1851 on a site just south of downtown, which still holds a series of impressive, expansive older homes. Janesville is the county seat of Rock County and the largest on the Rock River, with the exception of Rockford, Illinois. Janesville’s a bit of a brewing town, too: on the west side lies the aforementioned Gray’s Brewing, crafter of numerous award-winning brews. They’ve even been making cream sodas since 1856. The brewery offers tours on Saturdays and samples in their Tasting Room, located at 2424 W. Court Street/City Highway 11.

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Gray’s has been crafting beer and a variety of cream sodas in Janesville since 1856.

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Janesville hosted the first Wisconsin State Fair in 1851. No word on how much cream puffs cost back then.

Janesville’s “skyline” – to put it fairly loosely – looms along the river to the south and a series of city streets lined with historic buildings await, especially in the Courthouse District. Homes like Lovejoy Mansion (pictured below) and the Merrill-Nowlan House are registered historic places; the Lovejoy Mansion held the local YMCA’s offices for a while.

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Nearby St. Lawrence Avenue, which parallels the river and runs through the Courthouse District, overlooks downtown; lovely old mansions line the street for a good distance.

Once Highway 11’s new, bypass route and the original route come together again west of Janesville, it becomes the primary highway along the southern tier of Wisconsin. The land starts to have more hills and a series of towns come along… some of which Highway 11 skirts, others it’s the main street through. For example, 11 skims the edge of Footville (pop. 788), which bills itself as “Friendly Footville”.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Footville holds the distinction of being the first community in the United States to have a lighted baseball diamond, which it built in 1931. It would be four more years before the first night game was played in Major League Baseball.
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As you can see in many towns where railroads once dominated, tracks can sometimes simply disappear as they approach former train and freight stations. An active line still serves Orfordville, but many of the spurs are no longer used.

Continuing the “ville” theme – after Janesville and Footville – Highway 11 reaches Orfordville (pop. 1,442). where the town center is just south along Highway 213, once part of Highway 13 from Beloit to Superior prior to 1961.

The town was originally called just “Orford” after a New Hampshire town, but it kept getting confused with Oxford, a town about 100 miles north. So, they made it “Orfordville.” You’ll see some cool old original buildings, from the old train depot to an original 1930s gas station to the charming little Orfordville Public Library, which looks more like a house. And we’re okay with that.

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This rather nice throwback scene features a 1930s-era Studebaker pickup in a typical ’30s setting – a gas station. Today, the building is a pottery studio; no word on whether the pickup runs or if the gas is still a 1930s-era 15 cents per gallon.

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The Orfordville Public Library, along the small downtown strip on Highway 213, just blocks south of Highway 11.

Past Orfordville, Highway 11 enters Green County and runs through the heart of Brodhead (pop. 3,293). At this point you’re about halfway between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, as indicated by an old Native American historic marker on what’s called Half-Way Tree. What is now Highway 11 was once part of a long, “coast-to-coast” foot trail going back many hundreds of years. Another, current trail, begins in Brodhead: the Sugar River Trail is a limestone-surfaced rail-to-trail conversion that runs from Brodhead to New Glarus, 23 miles away. Designated as a National Recreation Trail by the National Park Service, the Sugar River features replicas of covered bridges, plenty of cool rock outcroppings to look at, and abundant wildlife, including over 100 species of birds. The Sugar River itself has proved quite an asset to the community over time: around 1900, “pearling” in the Sugar River proved lucrative as dealers bought and sold thousands of dollars’ worth of pearls from the river. The river’s flow also allowed Brodhead to be one of the first towns in the nation to generate electricity from water power.

Brodhead has a nicely developed town for a city its size and offers a look back in its Historical Depot Museum, which features a caboose and locomotive on display as well as sundry artifacts of the old days. Located in the old Wells Fargo Depot, the adjacent rail line remains active through town. If you want to stop and enjoy some go-karting, the Sugar River Raceway just might be the place for you. Opened in 1959, it’s a half-mile asphalt course with plenty of turns – some of which have a 15-degree banking!

** Quick Cheesy Side Trip: Decatur Dairy **

Just west of Broadhead via County F off Highway 11, a great side trip for cheese is at Decatur Dairy (W1668 County Road F, Brodhead, 608-897-8661), one of the great stops in Green County for fresh cheese, made at the source. Decatur is a combination cheese factory and store, making many traditional cheese varieties you know and love while also developing some unique signature cheeses of their own. Operating since the 1940s, Decatur Dairy sells its fresh cheeses and will cook you up a killer grilled cheese sandwich there, too. Decatur Dairy has won quite a few awards at the U.S. and World Cheese Contests and always makes a splash at the Wisconsin State Fair. Definitely a good cheese stop! You can double back on F to Brodhead to reach Highway 11, or follow County OK west and south to meet up with Highway 11 a few miles further west.

Just past Brodhead, Highway 81 comes in from Beloit and joins Highway 11 for an increasingly hilly and scenic ride.  Another great cheese shop in Green County, the Maple Leaf Cheese Store, is right along Highway 11/81 in Juda, a small unincorporated community that formed along the railroad tracks that cross here.

Continuing west, Highway 11/81 begins to widen into a 4-lane expressway as you approach Green County’s seat, Monroe.

Monroe

*** BYPASS ALERT ***
At Monroe, Highway 11 bypasses the city on a short freeway stretch that opened back in 1981; 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. On the west side of town you can join Highway 69 northbound for a few blocks to re-join Highway 11 on the western end of 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 via Highway 69 from 11 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 jump back on today’s Highway 11. Highway 81 breaks away northwest towards Argyle and Darlington.

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The rest of Highway 11 west of Monroe features a lot of rolling hills, exposed rock formations and historic mining towns.

Meanwhile, Highway 11 barrels through rural Green County, past the Browntown-Cadiz Springs Recreation Area and a funny little street called Smock Valley Road past Browntown (pop. 252) and into Lafayette County.

Just inside Lafayette County, the Pecatonica River runs along Highway 11 for a while – as does the Cheese Country Trail – into South Wayne (pop. 484). They originally called the town “Collins” but changed after realizing another Collins, Wisconsin existed. They then wanted use “Wayne” in honor of Revolutionary War Hero “Mad” Anthony Wayne, but since there was a community already called “Wayne” in northeastern Wisconsin the town changed its named to “South Wayne”. Ironically, the township surrounding is called “Wayne” (complicated, no?)

Next up is Gratiot (pop. 252), where you briefly look up with Highway 78. For bikers, hikers, ATV riders and snowmobilers, this is where the Cheese Country Trail stops paralleling Highway 11 and starts heading northwest to Mineral Point. Several bars and establishments and a nice park serve those recreational riders and State Trunk Tourers. A brief but good diversion to the south can be found in the form of Pecatonica Beer Company, which has its offices right there in Gratiot but its Tap Room a few miles south via Highway 78, just over the border in Warren, Illinois. We declare it worth it!

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Abner Frank Dalrymple, the first Major League Baseball player to get an intentional walk with the bases loaded (1881 with the Chicago White Stockings), was born in Gratiot in 1857.

cheesecountrytr1_800The Cheese Country Trail (left) parallels Highway 11 pretty closely from Monroe to Gratiot. Features include railroad trestles (somewhat visible in this shot) and abundant wildlife, along with the occasional sound of trucks rumbling by on the nearby highway.

 

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Gratiot, where 236 residents and several watering holes host Cheese Country Trail recreationalists and State Trunk Tourers using Highway 78 and/or 11. This view is northbound on 78 looking toward the intersection with Highway 11.

A wider, flatter stretch greets you west of Gratiot, although the area’s hilly topography is visible on either side for miles. On a clear day, Platteville Mound (which features a massive “M” – in fact, the world’s largest – on its southwest slope) can be seen… and it’s at least 15 miles away. Here, you intersect with the southern start of Highway 23, which runs north through the Driftless Area up to the Dells and then east to Sheboygan. Two major State Trunk Tour routes intersect in what is essentially the middle of nowhere. But, it doesn’t stay that way for long.

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Just outside Shullsburg, some moos chill out in a stream and enjoy some soft, tender grasses. They didn’t mind getting their picture taken, although I did feel bad when I had my burger later on…

Shullsburg Interactive Map

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The next town up is Shullsburg (pop. 1,246), an old lead mining town that has preserved its older buildings well. The Badger Mine and Museum (279 W. Estey Street, 608-965-4860) features exhibits on lead mining, cheesemaking and lets you tour a more recent mine. The Brewster Hotel sign is an interesting artifact: check out the bullet holes from a 1927 robbery by Chicago mobsters. Plenty of food, stores, scenery, history and quaintness awaits.

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Looking down Water Street in Shullsburg, now a National Historic Landmark. Filled with antique shops, boutiques, historic guest rooms and places to imbibe in food and beverage.

shullsburgalley_600A dense cluster of downtown buildings and some narrow streets and pathways give Shullsburg a cozy feel, especially with the surrounding hills. Highway 11 grazes past Shullsburg, which is why turning off at County U or Water Street is a good idea. The Shullsburg Creamery is right along Water Street; also recommended is Frank’s Place, in salute of Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. Elsewhere in the state, you’ll see trucks hauling Shullsburg Cheese products all over.

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Shullsburg’s old high school is an attractive stone building and an excellent example of why their high school team name is the “Miners.”

leadregion_500The area around Shullsburg along this stretch of Highway 11 is the heart of Wisconsin’s Lead Mining Region, which is probably why the state chose to put the commemoration marker here.

Evidence of the lead mining past is notable not just on highway markers, but in place names. Remember this as you go through the Town of New Diggings and the village of Lead Mine. Next up is Benton (pop. 998), which bills itself as the “Mining Capital of Wisconsin.” Highly respected pioneer priest Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, who came to the area from Italy in the 1830s, is buried in Benton. He was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II in 1993, and possible Sainthood is pending, which would make his gravesite in Benton a national shrine. Benton was originally called Cottonwood Hill in salute of the dominant local tree.

11mmound_250hiOn a clear day, Platteville Mound is visible to the north, on the horizon past the farm fields. It’s 15-20 miles away. (Click on the picture at left for a larger view).

Right into Grant County, Highway 11 meets up with Highway 80 and heads south into Hazel Green (pop. 1,183), which calls itself the “Point of Beginning.” Hazel Green hosts a number of bed & breakfasts and antique stores and served, in the 1800s, as lodging for land surveyors. In downtown Hazel Green, Highway 11 breaks west, with Sinsinawa Mound, a dominant local landform, visible just to the south.

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Sinsinawa (not to be confused with how a little kid – or Gilda Radner’s SNL impression of Barbara Walters from the 1970s – pronounces “Cincinnati”) Mound.

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High bluffs and steep hills as you approach the Mississippi River means some cool, dramatic rock cuts, like this one on Highway 11 just east of its western terminus near Dubuque.

You can sense the approaching Mississippi River as the landforms get increasingly hilly. Highway 11 comes to end as it crosses Highway 35 and then intersects with U.S. Highway 61 & 151, fresh into Wisconsin from Dubuque. Highway 11 officially ends as a Wisconsin Welcome Area rest stop, which is not a bad place to stop and rest (the view of Dubuque, Iowa from the hill is quite nice) before heading elsewhere.

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Highway 11 ends as it approaches U.S. 61 & 151, just in from Dubuque, Iowa. A rest stop is ahead; Dubuque and the Ole Miss are less than one mile south on the freeway. Highways 35, 61 and 151 offer much adventure heading northbound.

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Where you’ve been: looking back east along Highway 11’s western start towards Hazel Green, with Sinsinawa Mound visible in the distance.

Highway 11 is a great southern tier coast-to-coast tour of far southern Wisconsin. From Racine’s Lake Michigan coast, kringle, and busy downtown to the beautiful bluffs overlooking Dubuque, Iowa from Wisconsin’s Mississippi River shore, you can enjoy tiny burgs, charming town squares, breweries, cheese factories, historic buildings and sites, beautiful landscapes, and more. And Illinois stays just far enough away (we kid, we kid!)

CONNECTIONS:
Eastern Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 32
Can connect nearby to: Highway 20, about one mile north; Highway 38, about two miles north; Highway 31, about 4 miles west.

Western Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 35, U.S. 61/151
Can connect nearby to: Highway 80, about 5 miles east

LaCrosse Brewery
16

STH-016

“La Crosse to Milwaukee the fun and historic way!”

WisMap16Quickie Summary: A former U.S. highway, State “Trunk” Highway 16 comes in from Minnesota at La Crosse and works its way toward Milwaukee through routes so popular they were supplanted by Interstates in most areas. Paralleling I-90 and/or I-94 much of the way, Highway 16 goes through many of the towns the interstate highways bypass. Highway 16 used to continue into downtown Milwaukee and across Lake Michigan on a ferry to Muskegon via the old Milwaukee Clipper, where it then ran all the way to downtown Detroit just short of the Canadian border, hey. Today, though, it ends at I-94 in Milwaukee’s western suburbs, but not before passing by a ton of interesting things along its almost 200-mile journey.

Wisconsin Highway 16 Road Trip

The Drive (West To East): Highway 16 in Wisconsin begins on, of all places, an island in the Mississippi River. You’re skipping over The Mighty Mississip. The Old Miss. The Old Man (just channeling my inner Clark W. Griswold.) Highway 16 here is multiplexed with U.S. Highways 14 & 61 and was the busiest bridge across the Mississippi River between Dubuque and St. Paul before I-90 was built just to the north in 1969.

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Highway 16, along with U.S. Highways 14 & 61, begins on an island in the Mississippi, right before the bridge that leapfrogs you into downtown La Crosse.

La Crosse

16_bridgetolcDowntown La Crosse lurks through the truss work of the 1939 bridge carrying eastbound Highway 16 back toward La Crecent, Minnesota. The hills framing La Crosse are clearly visible in the background (click on picture for larger view.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Highway 16 (along with US 14/61) enter and leave Wisconsin using each of these bridges, although the state line is several hundred yards to the west yet. This beach along the Mississippi River faces downtown La Crosse but is still in Wisconsin.

Highway 16’s bridges spanning the Mississippi River connect to La Crosse from La Crescent, Minnesota. The newer span is the Cameron Avenue Bridge, which opened in 2004; the other is the Cass Street Bridge. Opened in 1940, the Cass Street Bridge originally carried both directions of traffic; today, each bridge carries one-way.

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Downtown La Crosse, across from an island beach in the Mississippi River but is still within Wisconsin. That’s the skyline right there – if you don’t count the bluffs in the backdrop.

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The statue of Natives playing lacrosse is fitting for the city. The city’s tallest office building, the 126-foot, 10-story U.S. Bank Place.

Entering Wisconsin here means entering La Crosse (pop. 51,818). Situated on a rare piece of flat land amidst beautiful coulees and hills, La Crosse emerged as a Native American trading post due to its position at the confluence of the Black and Mississippi Rivers. La Crosse holds a number of “quality of life” accolades, often involving low crime or livable small city status; I note USA Today also named La Crosse one of the “Top Ten Places Worldwide to Toast Oktoberfest” (more on that in a second.)

Long known as a brewery town, La Crosse was home to G. Heileman Brewing Company for almost 140 years, cranking out a variety of brands, most notably Old Style. Today, the sprawling brewery complex lies just south of Highway 16 as it comes to the surface in downtown La Crosse and continues to run as the City Brewery. The World’s Largest Six Pack is indicative of La Crosse’s fun style, and you can access this gigantic, John Blutarsky-pleasing sight by following U.S. Highway 14/61 south less than a mile once you’ve crossed the bridge into the city.

6pack_500Once Heileman and the home of Old Style, the “World’s Largest Six Pack,” which holds enough beer to fill 7.3 million cans, lives on as the storage tanks for the City Brewery, founded in 1999. City Brewery brews about a dozen of its own beers as well as Mike’s Hard Lemonade and several flavors of Arizona Tea. This is one block north of Highway 33’s western end.

La Crosse is Wisconsin’s largest city on the Mississippi River and holds the corporate headquarters of Kwik Trip, the Trane air conditioning company, and FirstLogic. This is where journalist Chris Bury got his start before moving on to Emmy Awards and little shows like Good Morning America, Nightline and World News Tonight. Model and actress Alexa Demara hails from La Crosse; FHM magazine called her “the hottest thing to come out of Wisconsin since Brett Favre’s spiral.” A century earlier, actress Minnie Dupree came out of La Crosse to a prominent career in New York theatre. Young actor Brandon Ratcliff also hails from the city.

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Paddleboats ply the Mississippi in the summer and make stops in La Crosse at Riverside Park.

It’s also a college town, home to Viterbo University, Western Wisconsin Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. In keeping with the spirit of the World’s Largest Six Pack, La Crosse also hosts one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States and has been doing so every year since 1961.

Also at the intersection where Highway 16 meets the southern start of U.S. 53, which heads north a few blocks into the heart of downtown La Crosse where you can enjoy Historic Pearl Street. It’s filled with Civil War-era buildings, specialty shops, a microbrewery, galleries, antique shops, coffee houses and, at night, college students doing what they do best when they’re not studying. The Pearl Street Brewery, once located on Pearl Street, now sits nearby on the north side of town in a former Rubber Mills Boot factory. On the east side of downtown along 9th Street, the Swarthout Museum features changing exhibits from prehistoric to Victorian; over on 5th Street, the Children’s Museum of La Crosse has exhibits for our future leaders on three floors, along with a climbing wall for all ages. All of this can be reached by your car, or you can hop the La Crosse Trolley in the warm weather months for a little “no need for the gas pedal” tour.

La Crosse is home to the La Crosse Loggers, one of the Northwoods League baseball teams. They play at Copeland Park (aka “The Lumber Yard”), which sits north of downtown just off U.S. 53. The Loggers play a 70-game season from June through August. This is a good baseball town; it’s where MLB players Damian Miller, Scott Servais, George Williams and Jarrod Washburn all hail from.

16_gdadbluffOne of La Crosse’s most notable landforms, Granddad Bluff made an appearance in Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi, towers over 500 feet above the city and brilliantly reflects the afternoon sun.

 

 

 

Drive-In Watch:
Rudy’s Drive-In is one of the great ones in Wisconsin. Built in 1966, Rudy’s features roller-skating carhops and a sheltered carport where you can pull up and order your probably-unhealthy-but-delicious food from the menu sitting right out your window.

rudys800Car shows and “Cruise Nights” happen regularly throughout the summer. You can find Rudy’s two blocks west of Highway 35 along Highway 16, which is La Crosse Street here. Highway 35 basically bypasses downtown La Crosse, instead going right through neighborhoods.

Past the downtown area, Highway 16 gets close to the bluffs that line eastern La Crosse and heads northeasterly as Losey Boulevard. Approaching I-90, you’re in the busy outskirts where all the big-box stores and chain restaurants are… it’s like the ‘burbs.

Past the junction with I-90 and beyond La Crosse, the coulees and ridges dominate the landscape on all sides as farmland emerges amidst the topography. The first town you reach is West Salem (pop. 4,738), home of Pulitzer-prize winning author Hamlin Garland, the La Crosse Fairgrounds and Speedway, and two octagon-shaped houses, one of which is Garland’s homestead. Past Lake Neshonoc and an intersection with Highway 108, Highway 16 follows the relatively flat area along the La Crosse River valley – not far off the La Crosse River Trail, great for biking – and the hills, bluffs and coulees surround you, often from a distance.

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From Highway 16, Highway 108 heads north, past an “old” section of Highway 16 featuring a bridge from 1926, and zigzags north a bit through La Crosse County along part of Eggins Coulee.

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We love these old bridges. Along Highway 108 just north of today’s Highway 16, the original 16 route is still marked, heading across a creek on a bridge constructed in 1926 – and left practically unchanged since. This is in New Salem.

Sparta

Shortly after entering Monroe County is the Bicycling Capital of America, Sparta (pop. 8,648). Sparta is the western host of Fort McCoy, the eastern terminus of the La Crosse River Trail, and the northern terminus of the world-famous Elroy-Sparta Trail. All of this hubub results in a commercial strip through town where you can get just about anything. Joining Highway 71, Highway 16 goes through this commercial strip as it also crosses Highway 21, which goes into Sparta’s main downtown area before heading towards Oshkosh, and Highway 27, a key north-south route through the coulee region.

The town’s enthusiastic support of bicycling extends to street name signs that bear bike symbols. Numerous motels and B&B’s cater to the cycling crowd while downtown establishments offer supplies for your bike and sustenance for your tummy. And speaking of your tummy, the “Ben Biken BBQ Bash”, named by Governor Doyle as the Official State Barbeque Championship of the State of Wisconsin, takes place every September. Coupled with typical September weather, it might be the best weekend of the year to go check out the area. You can eat brisket and burn it off biking.

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The Deke Slayton Museum, chock full of bikes and space exhibits.

On top of bikes, Sparta has a number of attractions. Some kids who grow up in Sparta leave for big cities; Deke Slayton left for Earth’s upper atmosphere. The Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum honors the astronaut, native son, and head of NASA Operations from 1963 to 1972. And that fiberglass hippo, whose mouth you putt golf balls into while playing mini-golf? Chances are, it was made in Sparta at the FAST Corp. (FAST stands for Fiberglass Animals Shapes and Trademarks.)

spartaphantFAST does business all over the world, and few companies like it exist. A drive into their lot yields a sprawling field filled with fiberglass fun: large cows, alligators, elephants that double as childrens’ slides… the list goes on. You may traverse the field and marvel at their creations, as long as you behave and don’t climb on anything. Their lot can be found by following Highway 21 to the northeast edge of town, at the junction with County Highway Q. Look for giant fiberglass things.

FAST’s work is particularly evident in its hometown. The statue of a man on a bicycle that announces your entrance into Sparta along Highway 71 and the Clydesdale outside of the local Budweiser distributor are just two of the many pieces you can find in the area.

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Made locally, “Ben Biken” greets you to the Bicycling Capital of America along Highway 71 & 16.

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Sparta’s high school nickname? The Spartans, of course! (This doesn’t encourage graduates to go to Michigan State, does it??)

Heading east from Sparta, Highway 16 crosses Interstate 90 and begins a straight shot through the Fort McCoy Military Reservation, often paralleling the interstate just a few hundred feet south. I felt like opening it up and maxing out the speedometer with such a nice straightaway, but something told me that military land but be an even worse place to break the law than a regular ol’ stretch of road. Oh, and turn your lights on for safety.

Tomah

Downtown Tomah along U.S. 12 just north of Highway 16

The Main Street boulevard through downtown Tomah, lined with historic buildings and shops. This is where all the heavy traffic between Madison and Minneapolis went before I-94.

Next up is the crossroads city of Tomah (pop. 8,419), which holds the Monroe County seat. Transportation has long been a hallmark of Tomah; it has an Amtrak station for the Empire Builder line and it’s where main highways tend to arrive and split. Pre-Interstate days, it’s where then-main roads U.S. Highways 12 and 16 split; when the interstates were built in the 1960’s, they decided to split Interstates 90 and 94 here as well. It’s considered a halfway point between Chicago and Minneapolis and definitely focuses on hospitality and logistics. Even shows of power congregate here: the Budweiser Dairyland Super National Truck & Tractor Pull is one of the largest in the country and takes place every June at the Monroe County Fairgrounds, right off Highway 16 on the western edge of town. You’ll find plenty of hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, truck stops, and stores to stock up for trips. Quite a few transport companies and distribution facilities are located here. In keeping with the transportation theme, Gasoline Alley comic strip creator Frank King grew up in Tomah.

Tomah, home to Gasoline Alley creator Frank King bannerPart of the reason for Tomah’s being a center for transportation is its location where the Driftless Area of western Wisconsin meets the forests and cranberry bogs of central Wisconsin. To the west, hills; to the east, flatter forested lands perfect for growing and harvesting cranberries. Tomah is known as one of America’s cranberry capitals, with the world’s largest cranberry festival taking place in late September in nearby Warrens, which also holds the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center. Heading south of out of Tomah via Highway 131, you immediately head into hills and an extensive part of Wisconsin’s Amish Country. And of course, Fort McCoy is just to the west.

Highway 16 comes into Tomah from the Fort McCoy grounds and goes right past Recreation Park, which holds the Monroe County Fairgrounds. Found just off Butts Avenue (heh-heh, heh-heh), events there include the annual Budweiser Dairyland Super National Truck & Tractor Pull, the second largest truck and tractor pull in the nation.

Highway 16 stays on the south side of town and hooks up with U.S. Highway 12 just south of downtown. Highway 131 begins here and heads south.

Continuing east from Tomah, U.S. 12 and Highway 16 two join together for the next 40-plus miles while paralleling I-90/94. This is only fitting since this was the interstate before they built the interstate. A string of towns you zoom past on the interstate become places you can check out with more care on this trip. Quaint burgs like Oakdale (pop. 297) and Camp Douglas (pop. 592) host facilities for Mill Bluff State Park, which is located right between the two.

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Landforms in this part of the state make for great state parks, including Mill Bluff, halfway between Oakdale and Camp Douglas on the Monroe-Juneau County line.

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This view from Highway 16 & U.S. 12, which closely parallels I-90/94 through Camp Douglas, shows Castle Rock. Once an island in a shallow sea, it towers above the landscape.

Camp Douglas also hosts Volk Field, which in turn hosts the Wisconsin National Guard Museum. Housed in a log lodge built in 1896, the museum contains exhibits, dioramas, video and slide programs, and a battlefield map. It also extensively covers the state’s famous 32nd Division, which Highway 32 was named after and the French regarded as Les Terribles, but they meant it in a good way for us – and them. The German Haus Restaurant offers a nice view of Castle Rock, spaetzle and bier along with parking and access the Omaha Trail, which bikers can take to Elroy.

Next up for drivers is New Lisbon (pop. 1,436), which calls itself “The Friendly City.” Highway 80 intersects here, as does the Burr Oak Winery in case you didn’t sample any German beer back in Camp Douglas.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Kurtwood Smith (Red Forman in “That 70’s Show” is the only actor on that Wisconsin-based show who is actually from Wisconsin.

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

Next up is Mauston (pop. 4,256), which in some materials refers to itself as the “un-Dells”, referencing its close proximity to, but much more relaxed and homey approach than, nearby Wisconsin Dells. County seat of Juneau County and home to the area’s largest medical center, Mauston (rhymes with “Boston”) hosts five companies who are Fortune 500 members and is wedged between Decorah Lake to its north and One Mile Bluff to its south. Highway 82 provides access to I-90/94 to the east – as well as about twenty fast-food restaurants and tourist places featuring giant plastic things – and access to the more rugged hills toward Elroy to the west. Highway 58 heads north toward Necedah and south into the heart of the Driftless Area, too.

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Mauston’s St. Patrick Catholic Church at the end of Pine Street is one block off Highway 16, but visible around much of the town.

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

After a long end-round past Sheep Pasture Bluff (no sign of sheep on this particular day), Highway 16 heads through little Lyndon Station (pop. 500) on the way towards the Dells.

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This area was once of the greatest hop-raising districts in the country, supplying breweries with a key ingredient. This marker in Lyndon Station recalls the days when an editorial in 1867 encouraged locals to “keep hopping, hoeing and hoping”, which could also be rap lyrics today.

Past Lyndon Station, I saw an interesting place: it just said “massage” and a phone number, which began with the “666” prefix. I do no further research. Shortly after that is the double-entendre named Cruisin’ Chubby’s, in which I believe dancing of some sort takes place. In between is the Dells Motor Speedway, which features a 1/3-mile semi-banked asphalt oval and hosts super late models and stock-car racing on Saturday nights. Lots of interesting places in just a few short miles.

us12us16signOnce you cross I-90/94, the Dells begin. First, you hit about two miles of thick forest; then suddenly, lights, action, and roller coaster rides begin to fill the view. Yes, you’ve reached the tourist mecca of Wisconsin Dells!

By the way, some old signs, like at left, still show 16 as a U.S. Highway, which it was from 1926 to 1978 in Wisconsin. Remember, before the Interstate this was THE way highway between Madison and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Imagine how much busier it was back in the day!

Once you cross I-90/94 at its Exit 85, the Dells area begins. First, you hit about two miles of thick forest that’s part of Rocky Arbor State Park, a 244-acre refuge from the bustling vacationland on the other side of the trees. Pine trees (which aren’t super common in the area otherwise), beautiful bluffs, hiking trails, camping, RV spaces, and more. Hunting and trapping are allowed – with a license – and the park is open in winter for winter hiking and snowshoeing. So any time of year, you can check out the 500 million year-old sandstone formations.

As you cross from Juneau into Sauk Columbia County past Rocky Arbor, one quick drop and suddenly lights, action, and roller coaster rides begin to fill the view. Yes, you’ve reached the tourist mecca of Wisconsin Dells!

Wisconsin Dells & Lake Delton

Ah, Wisconsin Dells, the “Water Park Capital of the World” and Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination. Highway 16 comes into the area and immediately, the architecture changes. The vibe changes. And the amount of traffic changes. When people refer to “Wisconsin Dells”, they usually mean the whole area, including Lake Delton and the region up and down the Wisconsin River, whose gorgeous ‘dells’ and gorges give the area its name. Wisconsin Dells itself started out as Kilbourn City in 1857. It was named after founder Byron Kilbourn, who also played a major role in getting Milwaukee started as a city one decade earlier. Renamed Wisconsin Dells in 1931, the city set the state’s high temperature record of 114 degrees Fahrenheit five years later. But indeed, it gets cold here, too, which explains why so many waterparks offer indoor facilities. It’s also chock full of foreign workers, many of whom are college age from Eastern Europe and South America. Time magazine actually named it one of the “Best Places for College Students to Work during the Summer” in 2004, proving there’s a list for nearly everything.

For Highway 16, it all starts at the junction with Highways 13 and 23, where a ride west on 13 leads you right to I-90/94. Here, U.S. 12 leaves Highway 16 and, coupled with 23 southbound, heads into Lake Delton. This section on the west side of the Wisconsin River is where the bustling and larger resorts generally are; you’ll find roller coasters, mini golf courses, ferris wheels, waterparks, upside-down White Houses (a place called “Top Secret”), plastic pink flamingos, motels, hotels, ski jumps in bodies of water… it’s all along this stretch. The world’s largest Trojan Horse can’t be missed. I mean, it’s right there – you can even see it from Highway 16 before it turns east!

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Motels, pedestrians and stray beach balls line this stretch in Lake Delton just south of Highway 16, with skywalks allowing pedestrians to avoid traffic and/or winter; and as you can see, traffic can get heavy on this stretch. Stop and go traffic much of the time on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer is not uncommon.

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It’s hard to miss the World’s Largest Trojan Horse along U.S. 12/Highway 23 just south of the junction with Highway 16. A ride passes through it; no word on if anything else is hiding inside.

So at the big intersection where U.S. 12 leaves and heads south, Highway 16 breaks east with Highways 13 and 23, hopping over the Wisconsin River and entering the energetic strip that marks downtown Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418).

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At the intersection coming up, U.S. 12 and Highways 13, 16, and 23 all converge. I-90/94 is less than a mile to the west via Highway 13. The Dells’ main “strip” is to the east, along 16.

In addition to being home to the amphibious World War II vehicles known as the Wisconsin “Ducks” (which started in 1946) and Tommy Bartlett’s Water Ski & Jumping Boat Thrill Show (which made the Dells its permanent home after an amazingly successful temporary stop in 1952), Wisconsin Dells’ selection of waterparks is unparalleled anywhere in the world.

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One of the Wisconsin Ducks in front of Ripley’s, believe it or not.

This is truly a mecca of recreational vacation fun. Let’s take a look at some facts about the area around the Dells (thanks to the “Quick Facts” section of wisdells.com):

– There are 18 indoor waterpark/playground properties in the Dells, the highest concentration of such facilities in the world
– The first indoor waterpark in the nation, The Polynesian, opened here in 1989
– The largest indoor waterpark in the U.S. is the Kalahari Resort, with 125,000 square feet
– North America’s largest waterpark is Noah’s Ark, covering 70 acres, utilizing five million gallons of water and powering screaming people down three miles of waterslides
– The Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort’s indoor and outdoor waterpark space combined covers the space equivalent to six football fieldsAnd if you want fudge shops, only Mackinac Island in Michigan can compete with the downtown strip along Highways 13/16/23. Mmmm… fudge. “The Strip” features t-shirt stores that seem to repeat every 100 feet or so. But there are also a ton of unique – or just not too common – things. Among them: Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not!” Museum, one of only two in the U.S. (the other is in Jackson Hole, Wyoming); the Rick Wilcox Theater; and waterparks a’plenty. Feel like going extreme? Extreme World features a 130-foot high bungee jump, a skycoaster and for those who prefer to stay on the ground the whole time, a big selection of go-karts and tracks.

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Plenty of sights to see along Broadway, the stretch of Highway 16 where it goes through the heart of Wisconsin Dells. Highways 13 and 23 run with 16 here, too. Nig’s Bar, pictured at night just above, is one of those places advertising itself via t-shirts that people wear (“I had a swig at Nig’s”) all over the place… you’ve probably seem them.

wisdells-cyclesthru13-16-23Basically, Highway 16 goes through the original Dells’ main strip as Broadway. This is a major crossroads in the state and marks a division for Highway 16, where it ceases to parallel Interstates for a while and begins its push into eastern Wisconsin.

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This is part of the “dells” in Wisconsin Dells. A boat ride reveals all kinds of rock formations along this stretch of the Wisconsin River. These dells were formed about 15,000 years ago during the last Ice Age.

At the east end of Wisconsin Dells, you’re suddenly in the countryside again. Highway 13 heads north towards Lake Superior (it’s a long road) and Highway 23 makes its way toward Green Lake and Sheboygan. Meanwhile, Highway 16 makes the plunge southeast and you have a long, fairly lonely ride (most traffic takes I-90/94, which parallels 16 on the other side of the Wisconsin River) towards the next town, with plenty of time to decompress from the activity in the Dells.

Portage

The next town in question is Portage (pop. 9,728), named for the Fox-Wisconsin waterway that quietly connects the two rivers, and by extension the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. What remains is now a small water pump and aeration flow system, although efforts are underway to restore the canal, whose use by boats ended in 1951 when the dam and locks making its use possible were closed.

Portage is the county seat of Columbia County and considered by many where “up North” begins. Its strategic location, once defined by a connecting waterway and Fort Winnebago, is now defined by the I-39 and I-90/94 split and junction of Highways 16, 33, and U.S. Highway 51. Still, Portage boasts a sizeable downtown that overlooks the waterway area, filled with shops and businesses catering to both tourists and residents from miles around. Writer Zona Gale hailed from Portage and used the area as a setting for her Pulitzer prize-winning play Miss Lulu Bett in 1921.

It’s home to Fort Winnebago, which protected the portage in the frontier days. Little remains of it today, but the old “Surgeon’s Quarters” are still available to view. The Old Indian Agency House is another point of interest. In keeping with part of Portage’s raison d’etre, Highway 33 crosses the Wisconsin River at this point.

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Portage includes some nice parks, like the lovely Pierre Pawquette Park, which I can only assume is named after a Frenchman.

Heading out of Portage, U.S. 51 hooks up with Highway 16 for the ride past the Swan Lake State Wildlife Area (no, this isn’t where the song came from). This is the second instance of the former U.S. highway hooking up with a current one. After a few miles, U.S. 51 departs southward for Poynette, Madison and eventually New Orleans. Highway 16 heads southeast again toward Wyocena (pop. 732), where it speeds under Highway 22 in a “Super 2”-style interchange. It may seem unnecessary, but Highway 16 once went through Wyocena and the bypass was built in the 1950s before the interstates displaced it as the main route between Milwaukee and destinations like Minneapolis and La Crosse.

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This road once carried Highway 16 through Wyocena. The highway’s role as a primary route between Milwaukee and Minnesota before the interstates necessitated a bypass in the 1950’s, which carries Highway 16 today. Other bypasses were since built at Watertown and, much more recently, Oconomowoc.

Highway 16 also ambles around the village of Rio (pop. 938), which is pronounced, please, “rhy-oh”. They had to do something to distinguish it from the Brazilian city. The lack of beaches, palm trees, Sugar Loaf Mountain and Portugese-speaking people do the same, as does the lack of crime and instability. Rio provides crossroads to access two state wildlife areas, Mud Lake and Grassy Lake (how creative can you get?)

The next actual city on Highway 16 greets you right as you hook up with Highway 60 and duck under the U.S. 151 bypass: Columbus (pop. 4,479). It’s one of 17 U.S. states that has a city named Columbus. Located on the Crawfish River and straddling Columbia and Dodge Counties, Columbus refers to itself as the “Red Bud City” and boasts 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.

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Stretches of downtown Columbus feature an array of preserved architecture, shops and yes, a few watering holes.

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.)

Downtown Columbus features a wide variety of shops and draws a good number of visitors on a nice day. Highway 16/60 intersects with Highway 73 right downtown. A short jaunt along 73 (aka Park Avenue) brings you past a nice part of town, to the original 1902 Kurth Brewery building (described and pictured below), and a connection with Highway 89.

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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 (today’s Business U.S. 151/Highway 73 at the intersection with Highway 89) 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.

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Highway 60 snakes along the Rock River between Astico and Columbus. Highway 16 is along for the ride here, too.

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A couple enjoys the serene wayside along the Rock River just outside Columbus. The Rock eventually flows to the Quad Cities before meeting the Mississippi.

Highway 60 continues with 16 for the straight shot from Columbus to Clyman. At Clyman Junction (named for the railroad junction, not the road one), Highway 60 heads north and then east toward Hartford and Grafton. Meanwhile, we turn south and join Highway 26 for the ride south toward Watertown. It’s pretty much open land for this section, but it’s worth checking out Dickie Lee’s Whacky Shack (920-696-3563) for a bite or beverage and some good immature humor.

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Methinks there’s a double entendre in this business establishment’s name along Highway 16 near Clyman, but maybe it’s just me.

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Perhaps part of an old gas station, this charming little sight is just north of Watertown along Highway 16 while it’s joined with Highway 26 in Dodge County. It may have been moved since the expansion to four lanes, we’re checking.

Highway 16 technically runs as a bypass to the southeast that was built in 1962 and skirts the outer edge of Watertown (pop. 21,598), while Highway 26 leaves to bypass the city to the west on a new route opened in 2013. But for the true State Trunk Tour experience, follow Business 16 – the traditional city route – into town! Heading into downtown Watertown, crossing into Jefferson County, you reach an intersection with Highway 19, which you join eastbound because that’s also Business 16. Downtown is fairly extensive, featuring a number of shops and late 1800s-era buildings. A nice stop is Mullen’s Dairy Bar, a throwback malt shop-type place that opened in 1931. An aggressive Main Street program is paying off and walking around, back and forth over the Rock River, is a great way to stretch your legs as you check out everything from clothing stores to taverns and historic bank buildings.

octagonhousemarker_267hiWatertown was the second-largest city in the state back in 1855 and launched the first kindergarten in 1856. It can be found – and toured – on the grounds of the Octagon House, an 1854 structure built by one of the city’s founders, John Richards, to fulfill a promise to his sweetheart (he promised to built her the finest house in Wisconsin Territory if she would marry him. This was before the days of just using a stadium message board to ask.) The “water” in Watertown comes from the Rock River, which winds through the city. Twice.

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Amid a typical Wisconsin middle-class neighborhood on the southeast side of Watertown lies the historic Octagon House, built in 1854 to fulfill a guy’s promise.

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Up for a malt, ice cream or other sweet concoction from an old-fashioned, authentic soda fountain place? Mullen’s Dairy Bar in downtown Watertown offers items for your taste buds and cool items to look at from the store’s early days.

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The main drag in Watertown, which is Highway 19 – and was U.S. 16 until 1962. Today, this section is also “Business” Highway 16.

The first crossing of the Rock River is downtown where all the murals are; the second crossing is on east side of town at a park where walking trails, pedestrian bridges, and even fishing piers with carp-specific disposal bins are available(?)

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A nice summer day along the Rock River in Watertown. Water levels can vary greatly – we’ve seen this park submerged before.

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Highway 19/Business 16 ends as it merges into today’s Highway 16 east of Watertown, heading towards Oconomowoc. Highway 19 once continued with 16 all the way to Milwaukee; it was truncated back to Watertown in 1947.

Highway 16 continues east from Watertown and parallels the Canadian Pacific railroad through northeast Jefferson County. The road juts over the north end of Ixonia‘s (pop. 2,902) main crossroads. Technically still a town rather than a village or city (but probably not for long, given the recent growth), its name came from a little girl. As explained in the Ixonia Heritage Book Index, which illustrated the naming debate going on when the town first split from the Town of Union in 1846: “To satisfy all factions, it was agreed to put the letters of the alphabet on slips of paper and have young Mary Piper draw them until a word was formed that could be used as the town name. The result was Ixonia.”

It goes on to say that it’s the only Ixonia in the country. I’ll bet you’re just as shocked as I am by that revelation.

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The BP along Highway 16 in Ixonia salutes “crusin'” along the highway.

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In autumn, vast farm fields turn colors just as leaves on the trees do. This field between Watertown and Ixonia turns a brilliant yellow on a sunny September day.

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Wisconsin was the first governmental body to identify roads by number. The first actual markers went up along this section of Highway 16 (originally Highway 19) in 1917. Click on the picture to enlarge, and then you can read all the text!

East of Ixonia, a cozy little wayside at the Rock River crossing features the historical marker detailing Wisconsin’s status as the first governmental body in the world to number its roads.

History here is indicated not only by the route marker, but by evidence of the original U.S. Highway 16 and State Highway 19 from the 1920s, the remnants of which are still visible in broken-up pavement paralleling the new road just to the south by 100-200 feet between the Rock River crossing and the exit where Highway 16 either goes into, or bypasses, Oconomowoc.

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Part of the original U.S. 16 (which was actually WIS 19), a road dating back before it was numbered in 1917. Can you imagine this as a main road between Milwaukee and Minneapolis?

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Here’s that same stretch of 16 once things green up. The prettiness of the area cannot be debated.

Oconomowoc

**Bypass Alert**
Highway 16 – technically – now runs around the north and east ends of Oconomowoc on an expressway bypass that, although planned since 1960, opened in 2007. If you want to save about five minutes, follow the bypass. To see the town – which you should do – follow Wisconsin Avenue (now known as “Old” 16) at the exit simply marked “Oconomowoc”. Wisconsin Avenue re-joins Highway 16 automatically on the east end of the city.

Oconomowoc (pop. 12,382) is a ten-letter city, five of which are o’s. Native American for “gathering place of the beaver” (according to one translation), it’s probably also the only Oconomowoc in the world, too, just like Ixonia. And Waunakee. And a bunch of other Wisconsin places.

Oconomowoc, built around Lac La Belle, Fowler Lake and Oconomowoc Lake, is at the western edge of Waukesha County’s “Lake Country” and served as a resort town for wealthy Americans as far back as the 1870’s, earning it the nickname “Newport of the West.” A host of American presidents throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s visited Oconomowoc, and some of the mansions where they stayed can be seen on walking tours around town.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The first premiere of Wizard of Oz was in Oconomowoc, at the Strand Theater on August 12, 1939, thirteen days before it opened nationwide. You can find the site of the Strand in front of today’s Oconomowoc City Hall, on Wisconsin Avenue – Historic Highway 16.
Brewfinity Brewing's Jorge jalapeno beer in a can

Brewfinity’s Jorge jalapeno beer, a State Trunk Tour favorite.

*** Brewery Alert ***
On the way into Oconomowoc on the city/”old” Highway 16 route you can reach Brewfinity, a craft brewery that originally opened as the Sweet Mullets Brewing Company in 2014. Brewfinity offers a variety of beers, including an unusually good and flavorful jalapeno beer called Jorge, which does a great job offering up the flavor of a jalapeno pepper without the heat. How do they do that? Something about not using the inner ribbing of the pepper. Regardless, it’s good. If you’re eastbound on Highway 16, just follow the Oconomowoc exit to “old” Highway 16/Wisconsin Avenue. About one mile down, follow Division Street south to Industrial Road. It’s a residential area going into a light industrial area, just follow the signs – because nobody “happens” across the building where Brewfinity is located. But inside, you’ll find a great Tap Room with a food menu and a good variety of craft beers.

Oconomowoc does a lot of things, including baking bread that goes all over the country: the Brownberry Ovens plant, home to delicious baking bread smells since Catherine Clark opened her first bakery there in 1946, can create some nice smells near downtown. Brownberry Ovens is now a subsidiary of Canadian conglomerate George Weston Limited, the same company that provides Entenmann’s, Thomas’ muffins and Boboli pizza crust. You can buy it at the source in the store along Summit Avenue right in front of the factory.

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Once the city’s main connection to the rest of the world, Oconomowoc’s old depot on Collins Street is now a restaurant and bar featuring a nice array of railroad memorabilia.

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In the spring breeze, a pier into Lac La Belle offers views and access to one of the area’s most beautiful lakes.

Along Wisconsin Avenue into town, you cross Main Street, the old Highway 67. The headquarters of five-state pizza chain Rocky Rococo is also at this intersection, though you have to go down to 1075 Summit Avenue to imbibe in their deep-dish slices. The main shopping district for the city is east along Wisconsin and further north along Main, where you’ll find old timers like Boelter’s Shoes. Plenty of boutique shops, antique stores, bars, restaurants, and more flank both sides of Wisconsin Avenue; Lac La Belle and then Fowler Lake are just to the north by a block or so.

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A roundabout now circulates traffic heading into the Main Street strip in Oconomowoc. You’ll encounter it following 16’s “city” route. The city’s “five O’s” make for a nice centerpiece, especially at night when they use a variety of colored lights.

Continuing east as Wisconsin Avenue, Highway 16’s mainline re-joins on the east side of town and begins its stretch as a freeway, which it stays as until it terminates. But the historic route offers some great things to check out along the way!

*** Drive-In Alert ***
The Kiltie (262-567-2648), along old 16 just south of the Highway 16/County P interchange, dates back to 1946 and serves up great burgers, sides, malts and more on the old fashioned window tray. As a resident of Oconomowoc during my toddler years, I believe the burger I ever ate was at the Kiltie. There have been many, many more since.

The Kiltie, one of our classic Wisconsin drive-ins

At the exit for the Kiltie (Highway P/Brown Street), you can follow the old, old original Highway 16 through Okauchee, a nice little burg nestled within the multiple arms of Okauchee Lake. Go just north of the freeway along P, turn right along Wisconsin Avenue and follow it through town; you’ll be able to hook back up with the freeway on the east side of town. While Okauchee doesn’t have anything “touristy”, there are a lot of beautiful views on the streets around and plenty of good places for food and drink. Highly recommended for a nice dinner is the Golden Mast (1270 N. Lacy’s Lane, 262-567-7047), which has been there for over five decades and offers beautiful lake views and tasty German fare, brunches, and fish fries. Other great stops include Bertrand’s Point Comfort Place (N52W35002 Lake Drive, 262-569-9700), Foolery’s Liquid Therapy (N52W35091 Lake Drive, 262-912-6777), which can get wild at night and offers deck seating along the lake), and a slew of other bars and restaurants in the area.

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Okauchee has been a solid settlement since the 1840s. Its namesake lake is extremely popular with boaters and a variety of homes, restaurants and bars line the lakeshore, as well as the main street through town. A clock tower in the roundabout is where you can follow Wisconsin Avenue back towards the freeway; the historic marker gives you some interesting details about Okauchee’s past.

Since the mid-1970s, the rest of Highway 16 has been a four-lane freeway. The original road went through Okauchee, Nashotah and Hartland, charming lake villages and towns winding past Waukesha County’s Lake Country. This area combines hills common to the Kettle Moraine area with lakes that surround the towns. Jumping off Highway 16 along this stretch, including past the interchange with Highway 83, makes for a series of pleasant rides. County C, which runs north to Chenequa and Stone Bank and south to Delafield, is part of the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. The exit at County E, which takes you into Hartland, is also part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Eventually, Highway 16 turns south for the final stretch to I-94. Way back when, Highway 16 followed Capitol Drive (now Highway 190) all the way into Milwaukee. Later, it followed Blue Mound Road (now U.S. 18) into Milwaukee and followed a car ferry across Lake Michigan to Muskegon, then as part of the Grand River Road across Michigan into downtown Detroit. Today, it ends at I-94 on the Pewaukee/Waukesha boundary in the heart of a booming area with plenty of things to do.

Pewaukee (pop. 13,195) surrounds the eastern end of seven-mile long Pewaukee Lake. It can be accessed from the Ryan Drive exit to follow the old 16 road, or via the Highway 190/Capitol Drive exit (Exit #187) – heading west from the interchange will lead you to the lake. The main street fronting the lake was recently rebuilt with a series of storefronts that feature everything from a bike shop to a sub shop to salons and a blend of restaurants. The beach bustles with swimmers and sunbathers all summer, and lake homes – both new and old – stretch along the north and south shores of the lake. The boating theme is appropriate; Pewaukee holds the world headquarters of Harken, Inc., a leading manufacturer of sailboat hardware and accessories.

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Next to the beach, across from stores and restaurants, a pier juts out into Pewaukee Lake. Plenty of people enjoy fishing on this particular summer day. Extending east from this area is Capitol Drive, where Highway 190 begins just west of the freeway junction with today’s Highway 16. This stretch is where the original Highway 16 came through.

Today’s Highway 16 bends around the north and east sides of Pewaukee as a freeway. It’s bypassed Pewaukee since the 1940s, when this stretch was built as a 2-lane road bypass before the freeway upgrade in the 1970s. After junctions with 190/Capitol and County JJ, which connects to Waukesha County Technical College and a major complex for GE Healthcare, Highway 16 ends on a flyover ramp on its way to join eastbound I-94 for the ride into Milwaukee.