“Old 41 from Milwaukee to Fondy”
Sample towns along the way: Milwaukee, Menomonee Falls, Richfield, Slinger, Addison, Theresa, Lomira, Fond du Lac
Bypass alternates at: You can use I-41 to bypass any town or section of Highway 175, since they parallel each other most of the way.
Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 175 basically is what U.S. Highway 41 was before the 4-lane expressway version opened between northwest Milwaukee and Oshkosh in the mid-1950’s. So basically, every town that U.S. 41 (now Interstate 41) now skims past, Highway 175 goes through the heart of. It’s an interesting study in how towns change when the main road is relocated; some spiffed up their main streets, some seemingly relocated everything toward the new highway. But if you’ve never really seen places like Lomira or Slinger or the downtowns of Menomonee Falls and Fond du Lac, take 175 instead of 41 and check ‘em out! They even used Highway 175 to replace U.S. 41 in Milwaukee when they re-routed it to the Interstate, furthering the route’s identity as “Old 41.”
Wisconsin Highway 175 Road Trip
The Drive (South to North): Highway 175 now begins at Miller Park & I-94 on what was originally called the “Stadium Freeway” in the Stadium Interchange. It was the first freeway-to-freeway interchange completed in Milwaukee, having opened in 1962 – and yes, it’s scheduled for a complete rebuild in the next few years. The Stadium Freeway was built to serve Milwaukee County Stadium when first constructed; south of I-94, it was re-constructed around 1999 to serve Miller Park. But from I-94 on north, it’s pretty much the original 6-lane freeway, which meets with U.S. 18/Bluemound Road and then leapfrogs the Menomonee River Valley (home to the Miller Brewery) into the north side of Milwaukee.
The Valley – Miller & Harley
Highway 175/former U.S. 41 is a key connection to the Miller Brewery, via the exit at State/Vliet Streets. Once home to Miller Brewing Company’s world headquarters – now in Chicago after the MillerCoors merger – they still brew over 45 million barrels of beer in “Miller Valley” each year, from Miller Lite and High Life to specialty brews and even old-school brands by contract, including Schlitz, Pabst, Old Style, Blatz, and more. Tours of the brewery and plant are incredibly popular and run every half hour from 10am-3:30pm most Mondays-Saturdays. You can call (414) 931-BEER to check on schedules of these tours, which are free and include three complimentary beers. Off the highway a bit but literally across Highland Boulevard from Miller’s regional offices lies the Harley-Davidson Motor Company headquarters. This sprawling complex is the heart of Harley’s leadership and operations and for bikers, a picture out front with the Harley sign is often a must. The engine and bike manufacturing takes place elsewhere, but for the plans, promotions, and other things tied to these classic bikes and the Harley lifestyle, this locale at 38th & Highland is the “mother ship.” Further west along State Street just into suburban Wauwatosa, a newer microbrewery called Big Head Brewing offers craft brews, so you can enjoy a huge brewery and a tiny craft brewery in close proximity via the State Street exit.
Back to Highway 175, the freeway winds over State and under Vliet Streets and past Washington Park, a beautiful urban park that once held the city’s main zoo. The freeway ends there, once intended for continuation but stopped during the “freeway revolt” years during the late 1960s and early 1970s. At this point, traffic moves to ramps and then is routed onto Lisbon Avenue, which runs northwest and was U.S. 41 originally when the route was first designated in 1926.
Highway 175 meets up with the Zoo Freeway, which was solely U.S. 45 for fifty years before also picking up the I-41 & U.S. 41 designations in 2015. This unusual interchange consists of sweeping ramps that allow access to northbound I-41 only when heading northwest, and southbound I-41/U.S. 45 only when heading southwest. The interchange has been configured this way since its construction in the 1950s, when Appleton Avenue was a bigger deal than U.S. 45. That’s definitely different now.
Within blocks of the interchange, you leave Milwaukee to enter Waukesha County and Menomonee Falls (pop. 35,626), Wisconsin’s largest “village” (they haven’t gotten around to applying for city status yet.) Menomonee Falls occupies the northeastern corner of Waukesha County and serves as corporate headquarters for the Kohl’s Corporation, Cousins Subs, Alto-Shaam, and even Strong Funds before Eliot Spitzer got his hands on them.
As Appleton Avenue, Highway 175 continues as a six-lane boulevard heading into the downtown area, but tapers to a smaller street and enters the heart of downtown, referred to as the “Historic Village Centre”. The downtown crossroads intersects with Main Street – formerly Highway 74 – and passes a variety of craft stores, boutiques, salons and restaurants including Tornado Brewing Company, which relocated to “the Falls” from Cudahy in 2015.
After Menomonee Falls and the rapid growth along County Line Road (where you enter Washington County), Highway 175 becomes more of a rural-type two-lane road and begins to string together a series of towns as the road to Fond du Lac begins, making for a nice drive in the country. I-41/U.S. 45 parallel about mile to the northeast here.
Part of that nice drive in the country includes scenic views, like from atop Meeker Hill (pictured below). Remember, this used to be U.S. 41 and all that through traffic must have had a tough time chugging through here, especially when people would travel up north for the weekend.
Atop Meeker Hill, featuring a view topping 15-20 miles. As you can see, the view varies based on whether it’s June or January.
Highway 175 provides good access to the twin steeples of Holy Hill, by either heading west at the Highway 167 crossing in Richfield or south on Highway 164, accessed by a ramp after an underpass at Ackerville.
Many may not know where downtown Slinger (pop. 4,109) is, but Highway 175 cuts right through it just north of Highway 60. Cool older buildings like St. Peter’s church show architecture from the time Slinger (originally called “Schleisingerville” fer cryin’ out loud) was an outpost village perched at the edge of Kettle Moraine. As a matter of fact, the downtown intersection leads to the start of Highway 144, part of the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive, at I-41 just to the north.
Several points of interest lie on the other side, including Held’s, a great place to stock up on Sconnie eats like cheese and beef jerky, Little Switzerland Ski Area, featuring 15 runs and 5 chair lifts; and Slinger Super Speedway, known as the World’s Fastest Quarter Mile Oval.
Slinger Super Speedway has been around in one form or another since 1948 and was paved in 1973. A paved “X” infield allows for Figure 8 racing, and the quarter-mile oval hosts races for stock cars and modifieds of almost all types. Drivers like Matt Kenseth, Dick Trickle, Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty, Ernie Irvan, Sterling Marlin, Ted Musgrave, Rusty Wallace and, well, the list goes on and on.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|Little Switzerland Ski Area, named after a neutral nation, opened on December 7, 1941, the same day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that led to U.S. involvement in World War II.|
After Slinger comes the little crossroads of St. Lawrence, which features a charming chalet-looking place called the Little Red Inn, a bar called the St. Lawrence C-Way (clever, no?), and the gracious St. Lawrence Church (1880-82), featuring loud chiming bells that echo through the burg. Just north of tiny St. Lawrence, 175 intersects with Highway 83, which blends right into the roadway if you’re going northbound.
Cheese store alert. Widmer’s Cheese Cellars has been producing a variety of cheeses in Theresa since 1922. Specializing in Wisconsin native cheeses brick and colby, Widmer’s 12,000 square foot facility uses the same open vats and well-worn bricks that press the whey used since Widmer’s opening. The facility includes a small store area with a full view of the cheesemaking area. A quick left on Henni Street right past Solomon Juneau’s cabin will bring you there. Stop in, take in the scent of cheese being made (not for everybody) and load up on fresh curds – that’s what the State Trunk Tour does. They offer tours but times can vary, so check here for details.
After skidding west of Addison in a new alignment past Highway 33, you enter the village of Theresa (pop. 1,252), pronounced “ther-ay-sa”. 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.
The downtown area features a variety of “old-school” buildings, including a series of signs that have been up since this was U.S. 41.
In Theresa, Highways 67 and 28 join 175 just past the Rock River crossing. All three highways head north for a few miles before Highway 28 breaks east toward Kewaskum; Highway 67 stays until Lomira, when it heads east toward Plymouth.
Lomira (pop. 2,233) is one example of a town that was once focused on this road when it was U.S. 41, but now most of the activity and development lies further east along the busy freeway that is today’s I-41. But where the freeway view of Lomira reveals gas stations and fast food restaurants, Highway 175 offers a slower, easier ride, smaller, quaint structures, a variety of homes and the attractive St. Mary’s Catholic Church. A lot of nice old churches adorn this road.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|The massive Quad Graphics plant in Lomira is the largest single printing facility in the Western Hemisphere.|
The stretch from Lomira to Fond du Lac is straight as an arrow, paralleling I-41, which lies about a quarter mile to the east. You pass the Quad/Graphics plant near Highway 49, and a sign of the future around Byron: giant turbines providing wind-generated electricity.
Highway 175 also negotiates a ridge on its path; the view to the west stretches for miles and miles, as does the massive wind farm. Over 80 wind turbines churn in this territory – a since they all have those red aircraft warnings lights on top, it’s quite sight a night. During the daylight, just past the intersection with County B in Byron, you can look north and see parts of Fond du Lac and Lake Winnebago, ten miles away.
Past today’s end of Highway 175 at the U.S. 151 bypass of Fond du Lac, you leapfrog over I-41/U.S. 41. Just past there is the Kristmas Kringle Shoppe, where it’s always Christmas and people stop in from all over the country. You want Christmas in July? It’s here.
That’s your gateway to Fond du Lac (pop. 42,203), entering a city whose name literally means – in French – “bottom of the lake.” The lake, of course, is Winnebago. Fond du Lac is the home to Mercury Marine, Marian College, the “living museum” of the Galloway House and Village, and a downtown that’s fairly vibrant for a city this size. The former Highway 175 (and U.S. 41, remember) is Main Street in Fond du Lac, running right up through downtown. You can choose one-way alternate routes around the downtown strip, where U.S. Highway 45 joins, or run straight up Main Street to get the full flavor of shops, restaurants, and some good old architecture, much of which dates back to the late 19th century.
Straight up Main Street, downtown Fond du Lac offers up a long line of great old buildings with 19th century architecture. Storefronts are full and it’s a great place to park and walk around. By the way, if you buy lottery tickets, do it in Fond du Lac. Since the 1990s, a number of winning Powerball jackpot tickets have been sold along Main Street, prompting many to dub it the “Miracle Mile.”
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|Fond du Lac is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having created the world’s largest working fondue pot (8 feet in diameter, can hold 2,500 pounds of melted cheese) during their Fondue Festival in 2007.|
Between downtown and Lakeside Park, you cross Highway 23, a major east-west state road, and the cool collage painting on the south side of Mike’s Music & Sound.
The old Highway 175 turns left onto Scott Street, at the entrance to Lakeside Park. A good diversion is to head straight into the park and enjoy the southern shore of Lake Winnebago. Being the “bottom of the lake” city, Fond du Lac sits on the southern end of this largest inland lake in the state, and one of the larger lakes in the nation; the north shore, near Appleton, is 30 miles away.
Can connect immediately to: I-94, U.S. 18, Highway 59
Can connect nearby to: Highway 57, about 1 mile east; Highway 190, about 3 miles north; Highway 181, about 3 miles north
Can connect immediately to: I-41, U.S. Highway 151
Can connect nearby to: Highway 23, U.S. Highway 45 about 3 miles north