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Highway 20 Trunk Tour

  • Western terminus: Walworth County, at Highway 67 & U.S. Highway 12 near La Grange
  • Eastern terminus: Racine County, at Highway 32 (Main Street) in downtown Racine
Distance: 44 miles

Counties along route 20

  • Walworth
  • Racine

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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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. The square itself epitomizes Americana, and the people I encountered were quite friendly. I sneezed twice, loudly, walking along and a lady way down the street turned around and yelled “Bless you!” Of course, I replied “Thank you!” at the top of my lungs before rattling off several more sneezes.

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.

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. Sturtevant (pop. 5,451) features a recently-built “gateway” that towers over tracks where the Amtrak Hiawatha makes its daily runs between Milwaukee and Chicago, the city being one of the few stops along the way.

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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.

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.

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 ***

Benjamin Beer along Highway 20

Along the westbound side of Highway 20 (as well as southbound 32) on 6th Street, you’ll find Benjamin Beer Company, which bills itself as “Racine’s Oldest Craft Brewery” even though they established there in 2016. But yes, since no legal craft brewery had popped up in Racine since Prohibition and the law had to be changed, Benjamin rightly makes this claim. Their year-’round brews – usually around six varieties – are consistently available in their Tap Room; additional seasonals and occasional guest brews can be found at various times. Originally founded in Paddock Lake, they’ve done quite well for themselves and their future plans along this popular strip along Highways 20 & 32 in downtown Racine.

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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.

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

Events on this Tour

  • First Fridays in Racine

    May 5, 2017 9:00 pm
    Racine First Fridays

    Spring into Fun during Racine First Fridays in Downtown Racine on May 5th from 4-9pm! It happens throughout the downtown area, centered on Monument Square where Highways 20 and 38 cap the ends of a main thoroughfare that is Highway 32. Socialize with friends and neighbors or even other road-trippers as you enjoy shopping, cool drinks and take a horse drawn carriage ride or stroll through the historic city streets. Join 50 plus independent downtown business owners as they welcome you to shop and dine locally while enjoying live music and discovering the best of Racine . . . Downtown! After the April 7th event, watch for more throughout the 2017 season, including May 5th, June 2nd, July 7th, August 4th, September 1st, October 6th, November 3rd, and December 1st! Come early & stay late! If you value a big event in a historic downtown, Racine First Fridays is worth the drive, especially on a State Trunk Tour route! First Fridays is a group of small business owners of boutique shops, restaurants, art galleries and museums who have worked together to put this event on nine times a year for 13 years. Businesses stay open late, put live music outdoors in three parks, have horse & carriage rides and an outdoor beer garden. Art galleries offer artist's demonstrations, restaurants offer specials and boutiques highlight new or favorite product lines. The sidewalks are filled with people and downtown is alive and vibrant. In addition to First Fridays, downtown Racine is on the shores of Lake Michigan next to their beautiful, filled almost to capacity marina, near the beach, zoo, Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and SC Johnson sites. Take the drive to where Highways 11, 20, 32, and 38 come together in downtown Racine. Enjoy happy people taking in the best of what downtown Racine has to offer as we head into the holiday season! Check out the First Fridays website for more details.
Open House Racine County, May 6, 2017

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