Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 32 runs the north-south length of Wisconsin and goes through the heart of so many key Wisconsin cities and towns, serves as the lakefront route for southeastern Wisconsin and a key highway for the lake- and forest-filled regions in northern Wisconsin. It’s both the main drag for downtowns in Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee and Green Bay, and the distant road winding through otherwise quiet forests seemingly hundreds of miles from anywhere.
On Highway 32, you can see Wisconsin’s tallest building, look up at the largest four-faced clock in the Western Hemisphere, drive on and past the two streetcar lines Wisconsin cities feature, pass along the Titletown District and near Lambeau Field, and wander through miles of Nicolet National Forest very close to the source of the Wisconsin River..
It’s also designated the “Red Arrow Highway” in honor of the 32nd Division (a.k.a. the Red Arrow Division, and known as “Les Terribles” to the French), which fought with impressive distinction in World War I, among them being the first American division to set foot on German soil in the war. The highway is designated as such officially by Wisconsin State Statute 84.104, in case you want to check it out.
Wisconsin Highway 32 Road Trip
The Drive (South To North): We begin the northbound drive at the Illinois state line. With the exception of the Carol Beach Yacht Club, you’re pretty much as far in Wisconsin’s SE corner as you can get. Highway 32 is Sheridan Road here, following about 2,000 feet west of Lake Michigan. You’re also on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour.
The first town is Pleasant Prairie (pop. 16,136) a vast expanse of town without a real center. In fact, Pleasant Prairie for a long time was known not to have a single sidewalk. The enclave of Carol Beach lies along the water just east of Highway 32 as you go past bars whose allegiances gradually lean more Packers/Brewers/Bucks than Bears/Cubs/Bulls as you keep heading north.
The first state highway junction you encounter is just one mile north of the border; it’s Highway 165, which provides access west a few miles to the Jelly Belly Plant Tours. Want to see them spin sugar into those delectable flavored candies? Then this is the tour for you. You can watch videos of how they make the candy whilst riding on an indoor train through their distribution center. You can reach Jelly Belly by going west from Highway 32 via Highway 165 about five miles, just past the intersection with Highway 31. Tours are generally available every day from 9am-4pm, and you can call 866-868-7522 for more details.
After only a few miles, past the Keno Drive-In and other older landmarks, you enter Kenosha (pop. 99,889), Wisconsin’s fourth largest city and the fourth largest city on the Lake Michigan coast (and oh so close to the coveted 100,000 population level!) Originally known as Pike and then Southport – a name many businesses still use – Kenosha got its current name in 1850, a descendent name from the original Potawatomi name, Mas-ke-no-zha, meaning “place of the Pike.”
Today, Kenosha just keeps changing. Relying on heavy manufacturing for many, many years, the demise of the American auto industry in the 1970s and 80s took a heavy toll. Kenosha’s economy hums along, however, buoyed by services and health care. Some manufacturing remains and the area contains headquarters for companies like Jockey International and Snap-On Tools. Proximity to Chicago and Milwaukee make it a handy area for transportation, warehousing and tourism. A recent influx of Chicago-area residents heightens the Packers-Bears tension every autumn. Kenosha actually did have its own NFL team once: the Kenosha Maroons, which played for one season in 1924, posting no wins. It does have the Kenosha Kingfish, a Northwoods League team. They play at Historic Simmons Field, which once hosted the Maroons and the Kenosha Comets, a pro women’s baseball league (AAGPBL) – the same one depicted with the Rockford Peaches in A League of Their Own. Simmons Field, named after the longtime bedding company, is right along Highway 32 on the city’s south side.
Kenosha – Downtown & HarborPark
As Sheridan Road just past the intersection with the start of Highway 50, Highway 32 runs along Kenosha’s downtown and revamped harbor district, both of which are redeveloping at a rapid pace.
Formerly the site of a massive American Motors assembly plant that sat right along the lake, HarborPark is now an upscale-leaning area giving rise to lakefront condos, museums, and emerging small businesses with a streetcar system with a trolley connecting them all.
HarborPark is basically the eastern and northern edge of Kenosha’s downtown; attractions there include the Kenosha Public Museum and the Museum of the Civil War. Two new microbreweries have opened up within blocks of each other, Rustic Road Brewing Company on 56th Street (the boulevard) and Public Craft Brewing Company on 58th Street, two blocks south. Adjacent to Public Craft you’ll find Frank’s Diner, a classic diner located in a real train car that’s been whipping up classic breakfasts for hungry locals since 1926, when a team of horses towed the train car to its present location. Plenty of tourists check out Frank’s too, as it’s been featured in numerous travel magazines, on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and now – I’m sure this makes them proudest – as part of the State Trunk Tour!
Kenosha’s manufacturing history is massive: not only were cars produced here, but Simmons made bedding, mattresses, and even wooden insulators and cheese boxes here; they moved their headquarters to Atlanta in 1975. The G. Leblanc Corporation was the nation’s largest manufacturer of wind instruments here for over half a century. Snap-On still has its headquarters in Kenosha, Ocean Spray turns cranberries into juices at a major facility, Jockey was founded in Kenosha in 1876, invented men’s “Y”-front briefs in 1934, and still has its headquarters in the city; many other smaller machine shops continue to operate. To show how the economy has changed, Abbott Labs is now the largest employer in the Kenosha area.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|Car manufacturing in Kenosha dates back to 1902, when Thomas Jeffery switched from making bicycles to building cars. Since then, models by American Motors, Chrysler, Dodge, Nash, and Renault have been made here. Full production stopped in 1987, although component-making continues.|
Continuing north past downtown and the junction with Highway 158/52nd Street, which connects west to I-94, you’ll come to Washington Road. Just west via Washington Road you’ll find the Washington Park Velodrome – the oldest continuously operating velodrome in the United States. It opened back in 1927 and still hosts bike races even as it works on upgrades.
We love classic Wisconsin supper clubs, and the Hob Nob is an awesome one. Opened in 1954, the Hob Nob is perched right along Lake Michigan and offers great food and cocktails, mid-century modern decor, and views of the lake. Hob Nob is known in particular for steaks, seafood, an extensive wine list, ice cream drinks, and chairs at the bar that bring you back to the 1950s. Reservations are definitely recommended Friday and Saturday nights, but duck in anytime after 5 Tuesday-Thursday or after 4:30 on Sunday and get a good feel of the place; it’s definitely a terrific throwback supper club. You’ll find it right along Highway 32, just before the Kenosha-Racine county line. Despite its location in Kenosha County, it has a Racine mailing address.
Just past the Hob Nob, you enter Racine County and make a beeline to the start of Highway 11 (Durand Ave.) and the City of Racine (pop. 81,855), which 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 more indelible marks on the city. Racine is known as the “Kringle Capital of the World”. Famous locales like Lehmann’s, O&H, and the Larsen Bakery 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 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.)
|Highway 32 hooks up with Highway 20 for the push into downtown Racine.|
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 many 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 no frozen tundra talk here.
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.
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 off Highway 32, along 4th and 5th Streets leading down to the water.
*** BREWERY ALERT ***
Along Highway 32 at 303 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.
Other things to see in Racine include the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Johnson Wax Research Tower, the Johnson Wax Golden Rondelle (1525 Howe Street), built in 1964 for the New York World’s Fair, 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. The Zoo is located right where Highway 32 turns away from Main Street and onto Goold for a little jog through the north side neighborhoods.
Heading north from Racine, you’ll see the “Mile Roads.” Many drivers on I-94 are familiar with 7 Mile Road (and perhaps 7 Mile Fair). Well, the Mile Roads in Racine County actually measure the number of miles to Highway 20, and they go up as you head north. Near 3 Mile Road, you can head east to Wind Point and check out the beautiful Wind Point Lighthouse (4725 Lighthouse Drive, Wind Point), one of the oldest (1880) and tallest (108 feet) lighthouses on the Great Lakes.
Once your cross 5 Mile Road, Highway 32 becomes a two-lane road again; at 6 Mile, you meet up with Highway 31, the inland route back through Racine and Kenosha; and at 8 Mile, you reach Milwaukee County (note: this is not the same “8 Mile” that Eminem sang and starred in a movie about. Trust me, they’re quite different.)
After 8 Mile and into Milwaukee County is Oak Creek (pop. 31,029), a city formed in 1955 out of its original township. A huge We Energies power plant lies between the road and Lake Michigan, cranking out a sizeable chunk of the power used in this part of the state. The junction with Highway 100 provides an option to bypass much of the Milwaukee area, but hey, if you’re on the Red Arrow Highway, you gotta keep going, right? Many suburbs and a major downtown lie ahead!
One such suburb is South Milwaukee (pop. 21,256), a city in its own right founded in 1892. It’s the only city in Milwaukee County that follows its own numbering system for addresses and is home to manufacturing giant Bucyrus International, formerly known as Bucyrus-Erie. Bucyrus made shovels for building of the Panama Canal, and continues today making dragline excavators and shovels, including some of the world’s largest. One former famous Bucyrus product was Big Muskie, a dragline used from 1969 to 1994 that stripped over 200 million tons of coal during its tenure and moved more earth than was dug for the Panama Canal – and this was just in the State of Ohio. It consumed the electrical power of 27,500 homes.
Highway 32 jogs a few times approaching South Milwaukee’s downtown, which is focused on Milwaukee Avenue in the midst of a whole series of cross streets starting with the letter “M.” From Milwaukee Avenue, you end up on Chicago Avenue – ironically as you head in a northerly direction. On the west side of this stretch is the Bucyrus International World Headquarters and the Bucyrus Museum (1100 Milwaukee Ave., 414-768-4594), which opened in 2009. The Museum provides a detailed look at the company’s history, complete with multimedia displays, scale replicas and interactive activities – including a re-creation of an early mine.
Along Highway 32 in South Milwaukee, the wall mural next to the city’s public library will get your attention. Across the street, you’ll find the Bucyrus Museum, part of the Bucyrus International World Headquarters complex.
As Chicago Avenue, Highway 32 continues northward for another mile and then heads east on College Avenue for a brief spell before returning to Lake Michigan’s shore as Lake Drive, where you head north again.
Once on Lake Drive, you’re in Cudahy (pop. 18,267), with houses on your left and parkland to the right (and, to quote America, “here we are, stuck in the middle with you…”) A blue-collar town founded originally as Buckhorn Settlement and then in the 1890s was renamed after meat-packing magnet and bacon lover Patrick Cudahy, whose statue guards the entrance to Sheridan Park along the lakefront right along Highway 32.
Cudahy still cranks out Patrick Cudahy’s applewood smoked bacon and other meat products as it has for generations – even the high school team name is the Packers, and they weren’t copying Green Bay. Cudahy’s industry also includes airplane and machine parts, such as from the sprawling Ladish Drop Forge Company plant. They started in 1905, grew huge during the World Wars, shrank in the late 20th century, and yet continue today – albeit in a smaller capacity – as ATI-Ladish Forging. So one might say they “forge on,” serving aerospace and mining industries.
From Cudahy into St. Francis, Milwaukee Bay and the skyline of downtown Milwaukee comes into view. At this point, Highway 32 (aka Lake Drive) runs about 60 feet above lake level and the views on a nice day – or evening – can be quite impressive. St. Francis (pop. 8,662) is one of Milwaukee County’s smallest incorporated places and is named after St. Francis of Assisi. Condos line the lakefront now where a power plant and substation stood for decades; this area is now growing as a bedroom community for commuters to downtown Milwaukee.
Highway 32 officially turns west on Howard Avenue just inside the City of St. Francis to head north on Kinnickinnic Avenue, about 1/2 mile inland. Here, we’ve provided two options for you to get through Milwaukee – both of which are quite enjoyable; one is the official highway route and the other is a slight bypass.
Highway 32 through Milwaukee
**BYPASS ALERT – MILWAUKEE LAKEFRONT ALTERNATIVE**
There are two officially sanctioned State Trunk Tour options for following Highway 32 through Milwaukee: the official route and a “hugging the lakefront” alternative, which is a bit shorter time-wise. At Howard Avenue, continue up Lake Drive, which becomes Superior Street; you’ll follow the signs to I-794 to use the Hoan Bridge to leapfrog Jones Island, the habor entrance, and Summerfest with a beautiful view of the city skyline beckoning you in. From there, follow Lincoln Memorial Drive (Milwaukee’s pleasant version of Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive) along the city’s shoreline parks and beaches you meet up with Highway 32 officially on the north end of the city, where it once again is called Lake Drive. In doing so, you bypass Bay View, much of downtown Milwaukee and the East Side, but if it’s rush hour on a weekday or time is of the essence, or if you prefer sticking close to Lake Michigan, do this:
Lakefront Alternate Route Guide:
Continue north on Lake Drive through St. Francis and into Milwaukee, where it becomes Superior Street. You’re going through Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, same as Highway 32 does, but through a residential area. South Shore Park is a nice stop, especially detouring east on Iron Street, which drops into the South Shore Yacht Club; the view to downtown is postcard-like on a nice day. Along Pryor Street within about 100 feet of Superior Street is the Iron Well, an artesian water well built in 1882. A pressurized aquifer below keeps a cold, constant stream of water flowing night and day throughout the year; you can load up on drinking water all you want! The water is iron-rich, which is good for your body but not as kind to taste buds. If you don’t mind the well taste, though, it’s great drinking water and served as a valuable alternative when Milwaukeeans suffered from the Cryptosporidium outbreak in 1993. During that time, people lined up for blocks for water from Pryor Street’s Iron Well.
Further down, a right turn on Russell takes you to the lakefront and past the U.S. Coast Guard Station. This is also the access point for the Lake Express, a high-speed ferry boat to Muskegon, Michigan. Follow the signs to I-794 West, which brings you up onto the Hoan Bridge. The Hoan Bridge, named after Milwaukee’s last Socialist mayor, is an elevated freeway structure that provides a fantastic view as you move northward: to your left is the salt flats where Milwaukee County stores its road salt for winter use, and a number of storage facilities for the feature just to your right: the Port of Milwaukee. An international port, it’s not uncommon to see ships flying numerous flags of foreign nations transporting goods to and fro on the Great Lakes System, sometimes out into the oceans for voyages far, far away. Watch the sailboats as they dodge 550-ton iron ore freighters; it can be rather sporting. The view ahead, of course, is the increasingly interesting Downtown Milwaukee skyline and the line of towers running along the coast on the city’s East Side.
The highest point of the Hoan Bridge rises 173 feet above the entrance to Milwaukee Harbor, where the Milwaukee River channels into Lake Michigan. Yellow steel arch supports hold the highway up and make it look like a McDonald’s restaurant from a distance (this author mistook the Hoan Bridge once for a McDonald’s. But hey, he was only 4 years old.) From the Hoan Bridge arches on towards downtown the Third Ward neighborhood of Milwaukee is to your left and the Henry Maier Festival Grounds (home of Summerfest, the World’s Largest Music Festival) is to your right.
The tallest building in Milwaukee, the 42-story, 625-foot U.S. Bank Tower, is straight ahead. At this point, you can re-join Highway 32 northbound by following the Milwaukee Street exit and turning right, or continue the Lakefront Alternative by following the Michigan Street/Lincoln Memorial Drive exit to the right. Continue straight onto Lincoln Memorial Drive, crossing Michigan Street, which is also the beginning of U.S. Route 18.
This intersection gives you access to so many things: downtown and its multitude of activities is to your left via Michigan Street; to your right via Harbor Drive, is Discovery World; and just to the north of that the Milwaukee Art Museum rises with its internationally-known “Briese Soleil,” a set of majestic “wings” that open and close above the Museum’s grand entrance hall that opened as a 2001 expansion. It was the first project in North America for famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Up Lincoln Memorial Drive, you have a lovely drive along the lakefront. Big-shouldered residential towers sit atop the cliff to your west up above while bikers, runners and skaters flank you on the both the recreational trail to the west (once the main rail line connecting Milwaukee with Green Bay and the North Woods) and the Oak Leaf Trail to the east, running right alongside the parkway. Access to Juneau Park can be had via Lagoon Drive, where you can rent kites, bikes or roller blades and take advantage of the miles of trail in the area. Under the Brady Street pedestrian bridge, look to your right and you’ll see the Milwaukee Yacht Club and McKinley Marina, with a mass of boats that dot the lake during those nice summer days. At the junction with Lafayette Hill, feel free to stop in Colectivo-on-the-Lake Coffee, a local bean-brewing house that occupies what was once Milwaukee’s main Water Works. Built in 1888, the building contains original machinery that pumped water from Lake Michigan in a museum-like display on one side… and good coffee on the other. Colectivo-on-the-Lake is a popular spot for UW-Milwaukee students to get some studying done while satisfying their caffeine fix at the same time. In the nicer months, outdoor concerts are held that drown out the tennis balls popping back and forth on the courts across the street.
Lincoln Memorial Drive goes past McKinley Beach and abuts the lake closely for the next two miles, offering up a wide variety of views depending on the weather and time of day. Shortly before the next light, check out Villa Terrace to your left; it’s easily seen as this mansion with horticultural splendor stair-stepping their way up the cliff to the house, once a private residence and now a museum. It’s also a popular spot for weddings for couples with big budgets. Several hundred feet to the north, visible for miles, is Milwaukee’s answer to Chicago’s Water Tower. Since 1873 this 175-foot Victorian Gothic limestone tower has hovered over the East Side; for the first ninety of those years it pumped water and equalized pressure between Lake Michigan and the Kilbourn Reservoir, about one mile to the west. Today, it still houses the 120-foot standpipe but is otherwise simply something cool to look at.
Lincoln Memorial Drive continues along the lakeshore, with Bradford Beach at your side. Bradford is one of Milwaukee’s most popular beaches, and an August 2008 revitalization has brought thousands back to the shore for volleyball, swimming and showing off whether or not they worked out a lot over the winter. Bradford Beach runs along the drive for about one-half mile. Further down, on the cliff to your left is Lake Park Bistro, an upscale restaurant in Lake Park (above the cliff) that offers great views of Lake Michigan as you dine on things that are a pleasure to eat but occasionally hard to pronounce, like Assiette de Pates Maison. Check out the grand staircase that leads up to the restaurant. Continuing on Lincoln Memorial Drive, you’ll head gradually up the cliff slightly further to the north and rejoin Highway 32 for the turn north again onto Lake Drive.
Back to the regular route, starting at the intersection of Lake Drive & Howard Ave. in St. Francis:
*** BREWERY ALERT ***
Heading west along Howard Avenue for less than a mile, you’ll find St. Francis’ own microbrewery, the St. Francis Brewery (3825 South Kinnikinnic, 414-840-2450). Located right where Highway 32 turns north from Howard Avenue onto an avenue called Kinnikinnic [Kinni-kinn-ick], St. Francis Brewery is a full bar and restaurant that brews up a number of ales, some with the city’s namesake in mind. There’s the St. Francis Archbishop Amber Ale, a Kitzinger Kolsch, the KK Weiss (named after Kinnikinnic, often referred to locally as “KK”), a Mariner Nut Brown Ale and the South Shore Stout. They also have a homemade root beer for the kids with a hint of maple.
This is all still part of the original Yellowstone Trail, by the way. After the brief time on Howard Avenue, Highway 32’s north turn onto Kinnickinnic takes you along the route of a trail that has led into Milwaukee since it was a mere Native American trading stop. Today, the dynamic neighborhood of Bay View is reemerging with an eclectic mix of old and new. Bay View was once an independent place in its own right, incorporating in 1879 with its own downtown, Post Office and distinct identity. By 1892, it was absorbed into the city of Milwaukee. It has remained a strong, distinct neighborhood.
Along Kinnickinnic Avenue (aka KK), you’ll find a wide variety of homes, small businesses and taverns. This is a great place for creating for own pub crawl. The Palm Tavern (2989 S. KK) offers a wide variety of European beers; old-school Lee’s Luxury Lounge (2988 S. KK) across the street was a pizza restaurant in the 1950s and now offers fantastic furniture, seats, and decor from the 50s and 60s; a few blocks north, Kneisler’s White House (2900 S. KK) has been in business since the 1890s and brims with history – and beverages – while Frank’s Power Plant (2800 S. KK) up the street – look for the Blatz sign – is a towny bar that often hosts rock bands. Bay View is the kind of neighborhood where bars will pop up along side streets too, so feel free to explore. Side streets like Delaware, Ellen and Clement provide plenty of places for you to pleasantly stumble onto. This area has plenty of new places, too: The Highbury (2320 S. KK) features a variety of European beers, live music (often jazz) and shows soccer matches live for the surprisingly high number of British soccer fans in Milwaukee. Bar Lulu (2265 S. Howell, in full view of KK) is part funky bar, part kitsch, and part hipster. It’s where the guys from Swingers would stop in for a drink. Lulu has an adjoining cafe complete with old school counter service, so there’s definitely variety here.
For other eats in Bay View, traditional comfort food-style fare can be found at Honeypie Cafe (2643 S. KK), which features pasties, though they’re open-faced. Sven’s Cafe (2699 S. KK, at Russell) started as a coffee roasting operation but moved to Bay View to provide not only that great coffee smell, but a variety of fair trade and organic coffees, sandwiches and salads. The owner’s name is actually Steve, though, not Sven, and he hails from Berlin, Germany. More tasty, smaller meals can be found at the Hi-Fi Cafe (2460 S. KK), which also features a cool jukebox and just a slight dose of counterculture energy. Up the street, Tonic Tavern (2335 S. KK) is an “eco-chic” lounge.
The Bay View stretch of Highway 32 is great for parking your vehicle and getting out to walk around. Abundant stores and places to check out abound: Rush-Mor Records, Loop, , even Bay View Bowl are cool to explore. The Alchemist Theatre (2569 S. KK) features a variety of, as they put it, “Ego-Free” Art, local musicians and unique theatrical performances. Meanwhile, the recently restored Avalon Atmospheric Theatre & Lounge (2473 S. KK) opened in the 1920s and is updated to feature dining service during movies, a lounge, full digital movie experiences, and more. Bay View has a burgeoning arts and entertainment scene and the evidence is pretty much all around you.
Once you cross Bay Street, you’re leaving Bay View. On a nice day, you can get a dose of Florida’s outdoor drinking and eating shack experience by heading to the hard-to-find-but-worth-it Barnacle Bud’s (1955 S. Hilbert St, east off KK Ave. on Stewart and north on Hilbert past some warehouses), where you can munch seafood out of a basket or a bucket along the KK River, sometimes with people who arrived by boat. Past the intersection with Stewart that leads you to Barnacle Bud’s and continuing north on Highway 32, you duck under some railroad tracks, hop over the Kinnickinnic River, and duck under more railroad tracks (the Amtrak line from Chicago) before heading up a hill and spotting another fun bar, Chaser’s Pub (2155 S. KK, 414-769-0630). Chaser’s is not only a good drinkin’ place, but they advertise their “last minute gift shop”…and they’re not kidding. Knick-knacks a’plenty, including deer-themed merchandise, pewter dragons, and assorted sundry items that help if you find yourself suddenly realizing you need a last-minute gift and 2am is approaching.
From there you head into Walker’s Point, an area that hummed with factory activity in the 19th century and today hums with redevelopment. As Highway 32 becomes 1st Street, the former World’s Largest Four-Faced Clock appears. The Allen-Bradley clock has been boldly providing the correct time to south-side Milwaukeeans since 1964 and, at night, serves as a shining beacon. Once dubbed “the Polish moon” to reflect the area’s primary ethnic group at the time, it could now be a moon of many faces: this area is heavily Hispanic now, and increasingly a place for artists to establish studios and galleries. After a larger clock debuted in Mecca, Saudi Arabia a few years back, the Allen-Bradley is now the World’s Second-Largest Four-Faced Clock.
The Massive Concentration of Bars in Walkers Point
Scientists have calculated that if you spent 30 minutes inside each bar and restaurant in the Walkers Point area, it would take several years to make the full rounds (although I think they a) rounded up and b) may have gotten a little disoriented during research). Highway 32 as 1st Street has a variety of places right along it; 2nd Street runs parallel one block west features many more. Further west along 5th and 6th Streets near the cross street with National Avenue (Highway 59) is another concentrated area of places to go, especially if the Latin flavors are tempting you; this is also a center for the LGBT community with plenty of bars and clubs
Another concentration of bars and restaurants lie within a few blocks of Highway 32/1st Street at National Avenue (the start of Highway 59), including but not even remotely limited to Steny’s (800 S. 2nd), Crazy Water (839 S. 2nd), V Bar (703 S. 2nd), Braise (1101 S. 2nd) and a host of others. State Trunk Tour Recommendations include:
O’Lydia’s (338 S. 1st), which features great food, a wide variety of beers and other beverages, and an outdoor patio that ranges from peaceful, cozy and sun-kissed to loud and wild when the freight and Amtrak trains grind away on the tracks above you. Try the Reuben Rolls!
La Merenda (125 E. National) opened in 2007 and offers a variety of tasty tapas items.
Just Art’s Saloon (181 S. 2nd) is old, kinda dumpy and yet quite endearing. There’s just something about it.
Walkers Point is named after one of Milwaukee’s founding fathers, George Walker. Before Milwaukee was Milwaukee, it was three different settlements: Juneautown, founded by French trader Solomon Juneau; Kilbourntown, founded by aggressive developer Byron Kilbourn; and Walkers’ Point, founded by businessman George Walker. Walker was the largest of the three men; he tipped the 19th century scales at over 300 pounds and yet was renown for his skills as an ice skater and on the dance floor. Three three men competed for settlers until they realized the nastiness of things – particularly between Juneautown and Kilbourntown – got so adversarial that settlers were getting scared away. Finally, they united under one city charter in 1846, and Milwaukee was born. Walkers’ Point is most distinct of the three original settlements in terms of identity – what was Juneautown and Kilbourntown are now known as a variety of neighborhoods: downtown, Third Ward, Yankee Hill, Westown, East Side, etc. Meanwhile, the original Walkers Point is still Walkers Point.
Highway 32 as 1st Street continues through Walkers Point, providing a nice view of the impending downtown area. Straight ahead are buildings like the 100 East, which at 37 stories is the second tallest building in the city. The blue glass building in front of it is the Chase Tower, completed in 1962. And you’ll see new construction all around you as you go through Walkers Point. The aforementioned O’Lydia’s will be on your right at Florida Street, right before the railroad bridge overhead where Amtrak and freight trains hover over the back patio. Just past the railroad underpass, Highway 32 angles to the right; the street ahead is Water Street, a main downtown thoroughfare. Highway 32 heads east briefly as Pittsburgh Street, then angles north over the Milwaukee River into the Third Ward.
Milwaukee’s Third Ward along Highway 32
Highway 32 runs right up the middle of the Third Ward, mostly as Milwaukee Street. In years past, this was also part of U.S. Highway 16, right before it joined the old Milwaukee Clipper for the ferry ride to Michigan. Just over the Milwaukee River at Erie Street, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (aka “MIAD”) is to your left, with art and design students everywhere; to your right is a long line of growing condo and art galleries and restaurants, as well as the south end of the Henry Maier Festival Grounds, home to Summerfest, The World’s Largest Music Festival, and so many great ethnic festivals that make Milwaukee one of the best festival cities in the United States. Continuing north, you’ll have lines of six-story, late 19th century-era buildings on either side. Plenty of opportunities for eating, drinking, shopping, browsing and architectural marveling are not only right along Highway 32, but down every cross street: Menomonee, Chicago, Buffalo and St. Paul, all the way to I-794.
About the Historic Third Ward
The Third Ward is one of Milwaukee’s most interesting neighborhoods. Nestled just south of downtown, the Third Ward is bordered by the Milwaukee River to the west and south as the river makes its final push into Lake Michigan. Once home to factories and small working class homes, the Third Ward was an Irish neighborhood and became Italian later in the 19th century. Two major events shaped the neighborhood in the 19th century: the tragic sinking of the Lady Elgin in 1860, which claimed the lives of so many in the area it fundamentally changed the neighborhood, and a massive fire in 1892 that left the area in ruins. Many of the buildings along Broadway, Milwaukee and Water Streets, three key north-south thoroughfares, were built between 1893 and 1906 during the recovery process. Factories boomed here in the early 20th century, but a decline got so ugly that in the 1970s some city officials toyed with the idea of turning the area into a “Combat Zone”-style red light district. By the 1980s, however, the revival had begun. Classic old buildings became apartments, studios and new restaurants. The pace quickened in the 1990s and today, it’s a booming blend of boutique retail, restaurants, bars, offices, art galleries, studios and condos.
*** BREWERY ALERT ***
The Milwaukee Ale House is located at 233 N. Water Street, two blocks west of Highway 32 in the Third Ward. Original home to the Milwaukee Brewing Company, the Ale House has been a fixture in the neighborhood since 1997. Several beers are brewed on location, including the famous Louie’s Demise, a Downtown Light and the hoppy-good Pull Chain Ale. They don’t offer tours per se, but you can take an online tour right here. (The rest of Milwaukee Brewing Company, by the way, is located a few blocks south of the river on 2nd Street, one block west of Highway 32 – you’re parallel to it when you pass the huge Mobil station.) The Ale House is huge, with two dining areas plus a fantastic two-level outdoor patio overlooking the Milwaukee River. Boaters come in and tie up before tying one on. The downstairs area also has a separate, quieter area for imbibing called “Hopside Down” in case the Swing Dance Tuesdays or karaoke Thursdays are a little much for you (the upper level of the Ale House is usually filled with all kinds of activity.) The Milwaukee Ale House opened a second location in Grafton in 2008.
Within the Third Ward is another bar and restaurant that is a longtime State Trunk Tour favorite: The Wicked Hop (345 N. Broadway, 414-223-0345). Serving up a wide variety of food and beverages in the Third Ward’s oldest building, The Wicked Hop is known for incredible Bloody Marys, packed with everything from a beef stick to stuffed olives to string cheese that jostles atop the vodka-V8 concoction and making it quite a meal. The building, constructed in 1875, is located right across from the Milwaukee Public Market, where Highway 32 (southbound) jogs from Broadway onto St. Paul Avenue and back to Milwaukee Street. The outdoor seating (pictured on a beautiful October day), under one of the long awnings that have graced this block of Broadway since it was part of “Commissioners’ Row” in the 1870s, makes for a fun and comfortable meal – or series of beverages – in the great outdoors with plenty of great people-watching. Across the street is Cafe Benelux (346 N. Broadway, 414-501-2500), which focuses on Belgian-style biers (over 30 on tap and hundreds to choose from overall) and foods like pannekaken, which – as its name harkens – is like a giant pancake filled with a wide variety of fillings. Both places do brisk brunch business.
State Trunk Tour Feature: Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward
|The Third Ward is worth an afternoon, or even an overnight stay, in itself. Here are some things to do and see:|
Festivals abound in this area, with Henry Maier Festival Park just to the east along Lake Michigan. The Third Ward also features a variety of art and music festivals, including a very popular Gallery Night & Day. Courtesy of State Trunk Tour fan Tony Silvia, here are some shots from their 2012 festival, which takes place along Broadway, one block west of Highway 32/Milwaukee Street.
Downtown Milwaukee is home to Wisconsin’s busiest business district and has undergone an amazing rebirth over the last decade and change. The diversification of the area from primarily a 9-to-5 enclave that was otherwise deserted has become, not unlike the Third Ward, an active neighborhood where people live and play as much as work. On the Milwaukee Street portion of Highway 32 alone, a streetcar line opened in 2018 to help connect everything. There are tons of restaurants and an increasing number of hotels, including a Marriott and a terrific luxury boutique hotel called Hotel Metro (411 E. Mason Street, 414-272-1937) that provides “green certified” accommodations in an Art Deco building that has attracted attention from the New York Times and Travel & Leisure, which called Hotel Metro a “Top 500 in the World” hotel. Half a block away along Wisconsin Avenue, the five-star Pfister Hotel opened in 1893 and has long been considered one of the nation’s best. Blu, the cocktail lounge atop The Pfister’s 23-story hotel addition that opened in 1965, offers one of the best views of the city.
On the two blocks along Highway 32 (Milwaukee Street) between Wisconsin Avenue and Wells Street, you can choose from a number of great restaurants, including Cubanitas for a phenomenal Cuban sandwich or some empenadas, Carnevor for steak (bring credit cards with a high max), and Saketumi for sushi. This is one of several popular nightlife districts in downtown Milwaukee, known as “East Town”. Highway 32 heads east on Wells Street and that brings you to more bars and restaurants and a lovely park called Cathedral Square, which flanks the St. John Cathedral and hosts a popular Thursday night summer excursion known as Jazz In The Park. Along Wells, you head to the lakefront and (thankfully) before the cliff, Highway 32 turns north again onto Prospect, which carries you through the East Side.
A “must see” for industrial art buffs is the Grohmann Museum of Industrial Art, where Highway 32 turns from westbound on State Street to southbound on Broadway (joining U.S. 18). The rooftop features an amazing patio, complete with statues of workers – which sets interestingly with the buildings toward the lakefront.
This stretch of Highway 32 northbound runs one-way northeast as Prospect Avenue and, one block west, one-way southbound as Farwell Avenue. This is probably the most cosmopolitan part of the Brew City, with a variety of condos, apartments, bars, restaurants and small offices flanking the tree-lined street for a two-mile stretch that is seeing ever-taller buildings going up. As you pass Windsor Street and go over a small bridge that today spans a bike path but once spanned the main railroad heading north out of town, check out the large building to your left. What today houses UW-Milwaukee students and a variety of shops including Urban Outfitters, was a Ford Model T factory back in the 1920s, cranking out the black cars every 30 minutes from a massive assembly line.
Highway 32 jogs around a little more past North Avenue, turning right onto Bradford (and becoming two-way again) before turn north again onto Lake Drive. At this point, you’re in one of the most expensive urban residential districts in Wisconsin – and the Midwest, for the matter. To the east is Lake Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (of New York’s Central Park fame) and flanked with trails, graceful bridges over ravines and a wonderful upscale restaurant called Lake Park Bistro that offers great views of Lake Michigan as you dine on things that are a pleasure to eat but occasionally hard to pronounce, like Assiette de Pates Maison.
The Lakefront Bypass Alternative re-joins Highway 32 at Kenwood Boulevard, which a few blocks west runs right past the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. UWM was established in 1956 – young by state school standards – and has over 26,000 students. The campus is hemmed in by the tight-knit neighborhoods on Milwaukee’s East Side and is working to expand into additional campus locations, including back downtown and in the Walkers’ Point area – in which case Highway 32 would be the major connector between them.
As you continue north, you head into suburbs collectively referred to as the North Shore. First up is Shorewood (pop. 13,763), a charming suburb that was once known as “East Milwaukee.” Shorewood is where former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist grew up; it’s also where the movie Airplane! was made possible, since directors Jerry Zucker, David Zucker and Jim Abrahams also grew up here. So it’s high court or high comedy: take your pick.
Shorewood is a coffee shop-laden village where many residents walk to get what they need. As Lake Drive, Highway 32 is purely residential for most of this stretch. Good shopping is available to the west along Oakland Avenue, starting north from Shorewood’s “downtown” at Capitol Drive (Highway 190), which you meet with at the beautiful Atwater Park.
Atwater Park is a great stop for beautiful views of Lake Michigan. Perched on a cliff about 70 feet above the water, the vantage point is hard to beat. Access to Atwater Beach below means you can enjoy about 800 feet of sandy shoreline – although that can get crowded on a beautiful summer day! Of note is a sculpture – lauded by some and lampooned by others – called Spillover II by artist Jaume Plensa. Made of up steel letters, the sculpture depicts a crouching man taking in the same view you can enjoy. The sculpture reaches just over 10 feet high including its base and was dedicated in 2010. Some people like to explore the lettering close up and see if they can find a pattern or hidden messages.
Highway 32 continues north as Lake Drive into Whitefish Bay (pop. 13,508), the original home of the Milwaukee Brewers’ own Craig Counsell, Actress Kristen Johnson (most notably of 3rd Rock from the Sun fame) and filmmaker Niels Mueller (The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Tadpole, 13 Going on 30). The village originally grew up around Captain Fredrick Pabst’s Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort, which featured concerts, Ferris wheel rides, free-flowing beer and attracted as many as 15,000 visitors on warm summer days from 1889 to 1914. Today, Whitefish Bay is a quiet residential village with some very impressive homes along your drive. Highway 32 zigzags a lot here, hugging the lakefront while adjusting to its changing contours. Whitefish Bay’s “downtown” is along Silver Spring Drive, which Highway 32 joins briefly before zagging north again. A trip down Silver Spring brings you through a strip of traditional “Main Street” style shops; another half mile or so brings you to Bayshore Town Center, a massive shopping, restaurant and entertainment complex.
Back along the lakefront on Lake Drive, Highway 32 continues north into Fox Point (pop. 6,818) and Bayside (pop. 4,518) through forested neighborhoods and expensive real estate before turning west along Brown Deer Road. At this point, you can head east – slightly – into the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center (1111 E. Brown Deer Rd., 414-352-2880), 185 acres of unspoiled beauty along the lakefront with six miles of trails, a variety of nature programs and a 60-foot observation tower that lets you enjoy the lake view as well as the sight of downtown Milwaukee, now about 10 miles to the south.
Once you’ve turned onto Brown Deer Road, you head inland a little over a mile. Here, Highway 100 begins and continues west while Highway 32 turns north and joins Interstate 43 for the high-speed ride (this is the first time since Oak Creek the speed limit has been above 35!) into Ozaukee County.
Ozaukee County is quite different from Milwaukee County, consisting mostly of farms and small towns. In the county’s southern half, Highway 32 follows I-43; the old route can be followed on the parallel Port Washington Road, if you prefer.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|Ozaukee County is the second smallest county in Wisconsin by land area. It’s one of the 25 wealthiest counties in the U.S.; Forbes rated it #2 on its list of “Best Places to Raise a Family” in 2008.
The first city inside Ozaukee County is Mequon (pop. 23,820) is consistently rated as one of the “Best Places to Live in the United States” by Money Magazine (and there’s a lot of money in Mequon). The city has a lot of high-end homes, some plotted on acre-plus lots and others amidst forested neighborhoods. Mequon is often paired with Thiensville (pop. 3,254), known locally by some as the “worthwhile square mile,” accessible along Mequon Road (Highway 167) several miles to the west. At this point (Exit #85), Highway 57 also joins the freeway for a few miles – so it’s a three-way (I-43/Hwy 32/Hwy 57) for about eleven miles heading north. Mequon is Wisconsin’s fourth largest city by area – in the state’s smallest county, no less.
Next up, Highway 32 has an interchange with Highway 60 and Grafton (pop.11,568). Originally called “Hamburg” prior to its 1846 charter, Grafton flipped its name to “Manchester” from 1857 to 1862 before changing back. So far, it’s stayed “Grafton” ever since. Originally a lumber town, Grafton has hosted a series of industries ever since, including the famous Paramount Records from 1917 to 1932. It was right here where 78 rpm records were pressed and distributed to the nation, allowing artists such as Lawrence Welk, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tom Dorsey and Louis Armstrong to inspire future music generations and lay the seeds for the R&B and Rock ‘N Roll Eras. Between 1929 and 1932 alone, over 1,600 songs were recorded in Grafton at a make-shift studio that was formerly a chair factory; the output accounted for about 1/4 of the so-called “race records” of the era. You can get to the heart of Grafton by following Highway 60 west for just a few miles from Highway 32/I-43.
Where Highway 60 begins was once part of what was to be that turnpike from Port Ulao on Lake Michigan (just east of the interchange) to the Wisconsin River, which eventually runs into Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. So this would have been major connection. You can buzz east real quick from the Highway 60 interchange and follow County Road Q east to the lakefront, where on foot you can discover the original piles that made the piers of Port Ulao, although watch for lots of private property owners in the area. Ulao itself was established along the railroad tracks when they were built through in 1873. You’ll see the Ghost Town Tavern, essentially all that remains of Ulao, from Highway 32/I-43.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|Port Ulao once hosted a 1,000-foot pier to supply Lake Michigan boats with wood; it’s also where the first Macadam road in the country was built.|
*** Brewery Alerts ***
Grafton features a Water Street Brewery, which also has locations in Milwaukee and Delafield. Six beers are brewed on the premises in this nice new building that features an outdoor deck, full restaurant and plenty of beer memorabilia. It’s located right along the I-43/Hwy 32/Hwy 57 freeway at Highway 60 (Exit 92). Just west along the Milwaukee River in, there’s a Milwaukee Ale House location, a piece of the aforementioned Milwaukee Brewing Company.
*** BYPASS ALERT ***
You can save time if needed by staying on I-43 around Port Washington; Highway 32 will re-join the freeway at Exit 100.
At Exit #93, Highway 32 leaves I-43 and returns to its original path, heading northeast through farmland on a beeline to Ozaukee County’s seat, Port Washington (pop. 11,762). This attractive town, originally named Wisconsin City, then Washington, and then Sauk Washington, has a beautiful harbor area and port – and the “port” became part of its name. Port Washington has the largest collection of pre-Civil War buildings in the state, and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places; they can be easily navigated in walking tours downtown. As you approach downtown via Spring Street, you reach an intersection that marks the start of Highway 33, which heads west out of Port Washington all the way to La Crosse. Meanwhile, Highway 32 heads east into downtown as Grand Avenue, dropping into the harbor area.
Port Washington has a few claims to fame, including being the setting of the ABC television show Step By Step (a Brady Bunch-esque sitcom that ran during the late ’90s) and the current residence of Dustin Diamond, Screech from Saved By The Bell. No word on whether Tiffani Thiessen plans to relocate here, however. The city has a long manufacturing history, including chairs and tractors. Simplicity Manufacturing was founded here, as was Allen Edmonds shoes, which we’ll get to in a minute. You can get a ton of information at the Visit Port Washington Visitors center, located one block west of Highway 32’s turn by the old Smith Brothers Fish Shanty sign.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|Dredging and other improvements in Port Washington in 1870 resulted in the first man-made harbor in North America.|
Into downtown, you turn north onto Franklin Street and go past a variety of shops and restaurants. St. Mary’s Church looms above on the hill, providing a picture postcard view that has actually made it onto quite a few picture postcards. Check out the lighthouse that marks the harbor entrance… and count the number of tourists taking its picture. For biking enthusiasts, the Interurban Trail winds through town, and all of Ozaukee County, on a former rail line. This is a good place to stop and take some time, whether you want to hike or bike the trail or check out the shops downtown. If you have your rod, Port Washington also offers some terrific fishing and extensive piers and places to go. Some longtime shops like Bernie’s Fine Meats (119 N. Franklin Street, 262-284-4511) have existed for decades; other, newer shops include Duluth Trading Company and Sherper’s, as well as a number of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and stores for housewares, yoga, and more.
Port Washington’s bustling Lake Michigan harbor is well-known as a great place to keep your boat and get some good fishing in. The downtown area is adjacent to the harbor, with bars, restaurants, shops, hotels and condos.
*** Brewery Alert ***
Along Lake Street just east of Highway 32 at the northeast edge of the heart of downtown you’ll find Inventors Brewpub.
Heading north on Highway 32, you pass the headquarters of Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corporation and the “Shoe Bank”. It’s a great stop for discounts on high-quality men’s shoes. Tell ’em you’re driving on the State Trunk Tour when you go in!
Just as it did before Port Washington, Highway 32 once again links up with I-43. You re-join the freeway for about 13 miles, into Sheboygan County. The Lake Church exit (#107) provides access to Harrington Beach State Park. County Highway D, the access road to the park, continues east all the way to Lake Michigan – literally: the pavement practically disappears into the beach. Originally, Highway 32 followed the old U.S. 141, which used to be the main road from Milwaukee to Green Bay before the freeway was built. The old road lives on today as County LL, which parallels the freeway mostly just to the west… so if you’re in a two-lane mood, go ahead and follow LL – that’s the way it was back in the day!
At Exit 113, Highway 32 leaves the freeway and heads west into Cedar Grove (pop. 1,887). The village and area has a strong Dutch heritage, including having a full-size replica of a windmill in – you guessed it – Windmill Park. Cedar Grove was also the setting for one episode of FOX’s Prison Break in 2006, although it wasn’t actually filmed here.
A roundabout greets you at the junction with Highway 28, which will take you west into Kettle Moraine or east into Sheboygan. As you go ’round and continue north on 32, you enter lovely Sheboygan Falls (pop. 6,772). Located along the Sheboygan River between the Onion and Mullet (yes, Mullet) Rivers, there are quite a few rapids along the water and – no surprise – a waterfall. Sheboygan Falls is home to Bemis Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest maker of toilet seats. And while Johnsonville is its own unincorporated community just north of here, tasty sausage maker Johnsonville Foods lists Sheboygan Falls as its official headquarters.
Sheboygan Falls has a beautiful downtown. They’re done a great job of preserving and restoring 19th century-era buildings, now filled with shops, restaurants and artisan galleries. It’s a great place to spend a few hours. To the right is an example of one of the many rapids along the river downtown, which flows behind a series of buildings and provides a nice view and good venue for a picnic or just to stretch out and relax for a bit.
Highway 32 heads right into downtown Sheboygan Falls, a well-preserved cluster of 19th-century era brick buildings. The Sheboygan River, with rapids and a waterfall, runs through the area and it makes for a very pleasant setting. Water power from the river is what established Sheboygan Falls originally back in 1835, and industry sprung up. Sheboygan Falls won the “Great American Main Street Award” in 1995 and today has two historic districts, one for the downtown area and one called the Cole Historic District. The Cole features a mill house and hotel built in the 1830s and 1840s. Sheboygan Falls is worth a longer stop if you plan on some lunch or milling about the stores.
Heading north from Sheboygan Falls, Highway 32 crosses Highway 23 and heads north to Howards Grove (pop. 2,973), where you meet Highway 42. At Howards Grove, Highway 32 turns northwest and heads toward Manitowoc County and a junction with Highway 57, where the two highways start traveling together for quite a ways and the road opens up as a divided highway briefly. Two crossings of the Sheboygan River and a few more miles send you to a junction with Highway 67 and Kiel.
Past Plymouth, Highway 32 heads straight through the “great wide open”, bending northwest slightly as Highway 32 joins in just inside the Manitowoc County line. Two crossings of the Sheboygan River and a few miles send you to a junction with Highway 67 and Kiel.
Kiel (pop. 3,450) bills itself as the “little city that does big things.” What are those big things? I’m working to find out. Situated halfway between Lake Michigan and Lake Winnebago, Kiel sits on the Sheboygan River and dams it in the downtown area, about where Highway 32/57 crosses it for the third time. This is where I stumbled across a brat fry – which, of course, requires stopping and imbibing. On the other side of Kiel, 32/57 heads northwest again, into Calumet County (technically, you’re now in the Appleton-Oshkosh metro area – even though Highway 32 doesn’t go near either city.)
Just a few miles later, along the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks is New Holstein (pop. 3,301). Where is the “Old” Holstein? We have an answer: the Holstein region in Germany, which is where many of the town’s founders came from. Remember our discussion of Hildegarde back from Adell? New Holstein is where she was raised, before hitting the big time. New Holstein also “sired” Edward Schildhauer, who was the chief engineer on a little digging project (the Panama Canal) and three NFL players (Ken Criter of the Broncos and Bob Schmitz of the Steelers and… grumble grumble… Vikings.)
So is the glass half empty of half full? At Optimist Park, you should know the answer. It all began in 1974 – not a majorly optimistic time – on land purchased partially to prevent encroachment of the adjacent wastewater treatment facility. Sound good so far? In 1995, they moved to Sled Hill Park with, as the city website notes, a “small warming shack and a homemade Optimist Sign.”
Optimism can pay off, however: today, Optimist Park has a Chalet Building, a real sign, park benches, memorial trees and a landscaped terrace. The sledding hill remains and is very popular.
The Timm House is a local landmark that served as the home of one of the city’s founders. Built in the Greek Revival style in 1873, it was expanded in 1891 and was donated by Timm’s ancestors to the local historic society in 1974. See the story to the right, and you’ll have a new appreciation for the $1.2 million restoration that was just completed several years back.
|State Trunk Tour Sidebar: The Timm House Story:|
|Check out what the heck happened with this historic city landmark:
“The house had a major roof leak that forced an end to the house tours in 1998. An architectural assessment was performed on the house, and the cost to reconstruct the house was estimated between $116,020 and $126,220. Before the roof was repaired, there was a broken pipe in the dining room. The break happened in January 1999. It dumped 500,000 gallons of water through the first floor and into the basement. The rising basement waters extinguished the furnace, causing the water in the pipes and the radiators to freeze, then burst. City water meters knew there was a problem somewhere in the city, but no one could find the source of the leak. A volunteer at the house discovered the leak. The volunteer arranged for a heating repairman to stop the flooding. When the repairman left, he slamming the door closed. The door frame was so swollen that the volunteer was stuck inside. She had to go upstairs and call for help through a front window.”
Next up in this string of cool little Wisconsin cities is Chilton (pop. 3,708), Calumet’s county seat. Chilton features several things to check out, including the Ledge View Nature Center, which can take you through a butterfly garden, high up on a 60-foot observation tower or way down in a series of caves featuring crawl passages, fossils and places called the Bat Room and Wayne’s World. In Mother’s Cave, it’s all crawling. One area called “the Squeeze” recognizes the size of Wisconsinites; you have to fit through a box simulation of the Squeeze before you’re allowed into the cave. Its position on the Niagara dolostone reveals more fossils (coral reefs used to exist there), and they tap the area for maple syrup in the spring months. You can also rent snowshoes and cross-country skis, but it’s best to try doing that in the wintertime. Ledge View is accessible off Highway 57 by taking Irish Road (just before entering Chilton) south to Short Road.
*** Brewery Alert ***
Like an increasing number of Wisconsin communities, Chilton has a local brewpub. Rowland’s Calumet Brewery (25 N. Madison Street, via U.S. 151) features 17 different beers, including interesting names like “Bitter Bitch Belgium Ale”, “Fat Man’s Nut Brown Ale” and a “Total Eclipse”, a monstrously malty opaque beer. Varieties of the beer are also available in liquor stores and restaurants in locations around Chilton and out to places like Manitowoc, Elkhart Lake, Plymouth and Appleton. Rowland’s is along U.S. Highway 151, which runs through Chilton and joins Highway 32 & 57 for a brief spell.
Northward from Chilton and over the interestingly-named Killsnake River (there must be a story in there somewhere), Highway 57 opens up a bit and becomes quite the straightaway for a while, perfect for traversing quickly. It’s also perfect for county sheriffs. One speed zone is in Hilbert (pop. 1,089), birthplace of jazz musician Bunny Berigan in 1908, the last year the Chicago Cubs celebrated a championship (couldn’t resist). Fox Lake (along Highway 33) also claims Berigan and their hometown son, since he grew up there for more of his life before hitting New York and the big time. Berigan’s marker is in Fox Lake, but Hilbert is where he first left any marks at all. In Hilbert, Highway 114 provides access to High Cliff State Park, a beautiful vista high atop Lake Winnebago, which only lies about 7 miles west of this point. A little further up is Forest Junction, whose “junction” claim started with two major railroads intersecting; now Highways 32 & 57 cross U.S. 10 here, making it an increasingly popular bedroom community for people working in Appleton and Green Bay. After all, their slogan is “You CAN get there from here.”
What you get to just past Forest Junction is Brown County and another junction (a relatively new roundabout, actually), this time with Highway 96 in Greenleaf. A rail trail parallels Highway 32 in Greenlead, and the Trail’s End Restaurant hints that you just might be at the end of that trail. Highway 96 accesses Denmark and I-43 to the east and Wrightstown and Appleton to the west. We’re heading north toward the heart and soul of Packer Country.
Civilization emerges in the form of DePere (pop. 22,310), a suburb of Green Bay. It’s pronounced “d’peer”, which a lot of Sconnies also say they fish off of. Split by the Fox River, the name DePere is French (no doy), coming from the term “Les Rapids des Peres”, the “Rapids of the Fathers”. A mission was established here waaaay back in 1671 by French Jesuit priests, led by Father Claude Allouez, whose name adorns the bridge that Highway 32 uses to split from Highway 57 and enter downtown DePere before heading into Green Bay west of the Fox River.
St. Norbert College lies on the west bank of the Fox River. St. Norbert started in 1898 with a single student; today it has over 2,000 and continuously ranks among the best comprehensive colleges in the Midwest, and this author can tell you their alums are loyal. I’ve run into them watching Packer games at Leff’s Lucky Town in Wauwatosa, and instead of Packer gear, many wear St. Norbert College gear – the “Green Knights'” colors are a variation of green and gold, after all, and the Packers have been conducting training camp here since 1958 – the year before Vince Lombardi showed up.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|The training camp relationship between St. Norbert College and the Green Bay Packers is the longest between a team and a school in the NFL, dating back to 1958.|
Now firmly ensconced on the west side of the Fox River as a 4-lane divided highway called Ashland Avenue (once the historic U.S. 41 route before the freeway was constructed in the early 1970s), Highway 32 makes a beeline north into Green Bay (pop. 104,779), Wisconsin’s oldest city and – not sure if you’ve heard – home to a professional football team. In fact, LLLLAAAAMMMMBEAU FIELD lies just west of Highway 32.; at the intersection with Lombardi Avenue, take a left and one mile away, you’ll hit the stadium.
Green Bay is also the headquarters of ShopKo Stores and Schneider National (admit it, you know the commercials and you’ve seen the “big orange trucks”). Famous people from Green Bay include Tony Shalhoub of Monk fame, ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Anderson, comedian and Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, Pat MacDonald of the group Timbuk 3 – you know, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”? – that group. Naturally, Green Bay is home to tons of athletes too, among them NFL stars Curly Lambeau, Jerry Tagge, Ted Fritsch Jr., Arnie Herber and Aaron Stecker, as well as baseball pitcher Bob Wickman.
Just across the river near Lambeau and Highway 172 via Highway 57, you’ll find Heritage Hill State Historical Park. Technically located in suburban Allouez, this 48-acre outdoor museum lives up to its name. Over 30 historic structures and endangered buildings are perched on a hill overlooking the Fox River in an area that once served as a prison farm. Log cabins from the fur trade era, original stores and public buildings, even buildings from the original Fort Howard are all located here and available for exploration. Populating the grounds in summer are live historic interpreters – many in period attire – to help illustrate what these buildings are all about. More and more fun events take place throughout the year here, too.
On THIS side of the river, train enthusiasts and kids alike will love the National Railroad Museum (2285 S. Broadway), which features over 70 locomotives and train cars including the world’s largest steam locomotive – known as “Big Boy.” You can access that just east of Highway 32 by Lombardi Avenue.
Flanking the stadium is the massive new Titletown District, which includes the Brown County Arena, the Resch Center, and a number of bars and restaurants including the classic Anduzzi’s, Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, the Stadium View bar, and newer breweries and distilleries on streets all named after Packers players and coaches. For example, on Mike McCarthy Way you’ll find Green Bay Distillery, which serves up spirits distilled nearby in Door County. Badger State Brewing Company is on Tony Canadeo Run, and the new Leatherhead Brewing Company is on Lombardi Avenue, all within blocks of Highway 32.
Past the Lambeau Field and Titletown District areas, Highway 32 continues north on Ashland Avenue toward downtown Green Bay, though it doesn’t quite get there. At the junction with Mason Street (Highway 54,), Highway 32 joins it and heads west for a ways to the U.S. 41 freeway. You then break away from Highway 54 and go north all of one mile, whereupon you leave the freeway and join Highway 29 at Shawano Avenue. At that point, you start heading northwest out of Green Bay. If you want to check out downtown Green Bay (and it’s worth a side drive), continue following Ashland north to Walnut Street and take a right…you’ll be right in it. Otherwise, onward!
Downtown & other parts of Green Bay
Following Ashland past where Highway 32 begins to head west and into downtown Green Bay, there are plenty of sights and places to check out. Here are just some of them!
Towards downtown along the Fox River, one of the few northward-flowing rivers in North America, bridges are lit up at night with condos, bars and shops springing up around them. Nearing Highway 29 and Broadway on the west side of the river, a Farmers Market offers produce and other items on Wednesday afternoons from June through September from 3pm-8pm. The Neville Public Museum focuses on art, history and science for northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; it’s a great stop for an afternoon, especially before or after hitting Titletown and/or Hinterland Brewing, which are both within eyeshot.
Green Bay does have a bit of a nightlife area downtown, east along the Fox River. Centered on Washington Street adjacent to Highway 29, the area features an array of bars and restaurants. Places to party include Kittner’s Pub, Hip Cats, Liquid 8, Confetti, Washington Street Pub, the Fox Harbor Pub & Grill, and Stir-Ups (Stir-Ups is a country bar – yes, think about it.) Green Bay’s party crowd hangs out in this area, and it’s not uncommon for Packers players to be seen.
On the east bank of the Fox River, a ride along University Avenue (also Highways 54/57 east a bit brings you toward Bay Beach Amusement Park, which offers everything from roller coasters to carousels and water rides from May through September. The biggest coaster is Zippin’ Pippin, a 2,800-foot long wooden coaster with nearly hundred-year-old origins in Memphis, Tennessee. It was moved to Green Bay and re-opened in 2011, where it’s become quite popular.
Just next door to the action and noise, the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is next door, providing 700 acres of refuge for animals. The Sanctuary features live animal exhibits, educational displays, miles of hiking/skiing trails and various wildlife viewing opportunities; they care for more than 4,500 orphaned and injured animals each year. It traces its roots to 1936, when it established as a site for waterfowl rehabilitation with an assist from Aldo Leopold. The Sanctuary is free and open year ’round. The whole area of Bay Beach lies along the waters of Green Bay, adjacent to where the Fox River empties into this arm of Lake Michigan.
** More Brewery Alerts! **
Green Bay calls itself “Titletown”, so when some guys decided to start up a brewery here before all the others in this recent resurgence, it only made sense to call it the Titletown Brewing Company. Coincidentally(?!) Titletown Brewing started in December of 1996, right before the Packers’ first Super Bowl victory in nearly three decades. Located downtown on Dousman Street/U.S. 141 just west of downtown and the Fox River, Titletown occupies a classic old railroad station built in 1899. Titletown brews Packer-backer beverages such as the Johnny “Blood” Red and Canadeo Gold as well as a great root beer called Sno-Cap, which uses Clyde the Penguin as its mascot. Trains, football, beer, food… definitely a good stop on the State Trunk Tour. Meanwhile, across the street Hinterland Brewing started the year prior in a former meat-packing warehouse (yes, how the “Packers” got their name) and brews up their popular Packerland pilsner, several IPAs, an English-style ale, and a number of seasonals. They’re parlayed their success into a gastropub down in Milwaukee and an affiliation with a restaurant up in Fish Creek in Door County. They offer tours on Saturdays – get details here.
Meanwhile, Highway 32 proper joins Highway 54/Mason Street westward towards I-41, where it rides with the Interstate northward quite briefly before joining Highway 29 westbound on a large, new flyover ramp that sends you northwest out of the city.
Below: Here’s what U.S. 41 at the Highways 29/32 exit USED to look like. It’s now I-41 and access to 29/32 heading northwest is a massive flyover ramp. Pictures to come!
For a little while, you’re on the same expressway that takes Highway 29 west to Wausau. You get off sooner than that, though, at Pulaski (pop. 3,060), which Highway 32 goes right through. Pulaski was first settled – not surprisingly – by Polish immigrants. They named the town after famous Polish Revolutionary War General Kazimierz Pulaski, who also created the first cavalry in the United States. Yes, flatlanders, it’s the same guy that Chicago names its “Pulaski Day” after. Pulaski hosts the annual Polka Days – one of the largest Polish festivals in the U.S.
Pulaski has a nice downtown, including the Assumption BVM Church, the largest rural Catholic church in the United States. It’s located right along Highway 32 as you head through town.
Through Pulaski – parts of which cover three counties (Brown, Oconto and Shawano), you also cross the Mountain-Bay State Trail, an 83-mile bike trail following an old railroad bed that links Green Bay to Wausau. If you’re up for some biking, Pulaski’s a good place to bring the bikes and hit the trail. If you’re forging onward on your motorcycle or in your car or truck, then you’ll be straddling the Oconto-Shawano County line for a while up past another Polish-inspired settlement, Krakow, on the way to meet with Highway 22 and then fully getting into Oconto County.
There, you join 22 westward into Gillett (pop. 1,256). It has nothing to do with the razor – that’s Gillette – the town was named after Rodney Gillett, an early settler in the 1860s. Gillett is home of the Oconto County Fair and the Earthaven Museum, an earth sciences museum a few miles north of town along Highway 32 just down Valley Line Road. The Earthaven Museum features thousands of rocks, minerals and fossils with extensive collections of early human tools and artifacts. It’s a rockin’ time. Get it? Okay, we’ll move on…
Gillett bills itself as the “ATV Capital of the World,” owning the trademark and everything. While a tall order to claim, Gillett backs it up with over 18 miles of maintained ATV trails just within their small city limits and the adjoining towns of Underhill and Maple Valley. A popular starting point is at Zippel Park, which is also home to the Oconto County Fair every summer.
North of Gillett, Highway 32 turns to and fro a bit and lines up on the 45th parallel for the ride into Suring (pop. 605). The town prides itself on its smack-dab-on-the-45th location, as evidenced by the “Halfway between the Equator and North Pole” flags hanging from street lights downtown.
Suring makes it clear what latitude you’re on. Heading west of town, an old railroad bridge remains next to Highway 32, even though the old line doesn’t.
Now that you’re closer to the North Pole than the Equator (although TECHNICALLY, the halfway point in terms of mileage between the two is 45° 8′ 45.7″N because the earth is an oblate spheroid…but I’m sure you knew that from science class, right? Yeah, I didn’t either.) Continuing north along Highway 32, you squeeze past lovely Anderson Lake (pictured below left), cross into Oconto County, arrive into the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest and hook up with Highway 64 for the ride into the town of Mountain (pop. 860). Mountain is spread out far and wide and is a popular stop for campers, hunters and those who wish to imbibe at the School House Bar (lower right below.) County Highway W is the only real crossroad going through Mountain.
After “downtown” Mountain, Highway 64 cuts away and heads west toward Antigo and Minnesota; Highway 32, meanwhile forges northward through the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest and towns like Lakewood and Townsend.
The tall, neat lines of pines that frame Highway 32 comes from the extensive logging the area around Mountain and Lakewood experienced over the years. In fact, some areas of these woods have been cleared and regrown four or five times.There is one area, however, that’s still virgin timber: Cathedral Pines, an officially designated “State Natural Area.”
A protected old growth area of pines, hemlocks, maples, beech, basswood, yellow birch and white ash trees, Cathedral Pines is also home to an active Great Blue Heron rookery, where members of this endangered bird species continue to inhabit. You can reach Cathedral Pines by turning left (south) onto Forest Road 2121 (also called Archibald Lake Road) just past Lakewood. The main parking and viewing area is about a mile and a half down the road. Highway 32 itself borders Cathedral Pines to the northeast for 1.3 miles.
Through this area, Highway 32 cuts through forest and slides past a variety of lakes, rivers and areas like Townsend Flowage (pictured at left) that make for lovely views when driving, or stopping to picnic and swat away mosquitoes.
Wabeno and logging
Into Forest County (appropriately named, since you’re still in the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest), Highway 32 goes through Carter before hitting its larger neighbor, Wabeno (pop. 1,264). Interestingly, the town got its name from a tornado that blew through back in 1880; the Native Americans named the 1/2-mile to 1-mile wide strip of fallen timber “Waubeno”, meaning “the coming of the winds” or “the opening”. Waubeno grew up, like many towns up here, as a lumber town. By 1905, five sawmills cranked out 35 million board-feet of lumber annually, a trend that lasted several decades until mills shut down during the Great Depression. Much of the local economy moved to farming, with some tourism now mixed in. Wabeno also won the award for “Wisconsin’s best-tasting water” in 2003, and has been bottling and selling it ever since.
Wabeno’s most notable landmark is Larry the Logroller, a 22-foot high fiberglass symbol of the town’s logging history. Similar to a Paul Bunyan statue, Larry brandishes a logging tool as opposed to an ax. He stands guard over a city park along the north branch of the Oconto River, which also holds the Wabeno Logging Museum and a 1901 Phoenix Log Hauler, a steam engine locomotive that, while not active, still works if somehow needed.
Another charmer is Waubeno’s Public Library, essentially a log cabin originally built by Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in 1897 for use as a land office. Under town ownership since 1923, it remains a library built of logs – one look, you KNOW you’re up North. It’s the only remaining log cabin library in Wisconsin.
Another indication you’re up here is the extensive network of snowmobile trails; the Lumberjack Memorial Snowmobile Trails consist of a network of over 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails organized by Lumberjack Memorial Trails, Inc., which formed out of five separate clubs that united in 1974. Their website tracks the condition of each trail and provides information on pit stops and more. Wabeno and Laona are at the heart of this trail network.
Next up, further north through the woods, you reach Laona (pop. 1,367). Home of the popular Lumberjack Steam Train that will take you to an historic logging camp, museum, country store and blacksmith shop, Laona is also a center for forestry and snowmobiling, like Wabeno just down the road. It’s also home to the World’s Largest Soup Kettle, a legacy of the town’s Community Soup Day which started with free soup in the 1920s and continues today (BYOB – bring your own bowl – if you happen to be there on the proper day.)
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|The nation’s first School Forest was founded in Laona in 1927.|
In Laona, Highway 32 meets with U.S. 8, the main highway from Minneapolis to Escanaba and a key route east-west across Wisconsin’s North Woods. We join U.S. 8 for about 11 miles westerly to Crandon (pop. 1,961). The only incorporated community in Forest County, Crandon serves as a county seat and was named after Frank Crandon, a tax commissioner with the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad who helped Forest County get established (it was part of Oconto County prior to 1887.) Like so many towns in this area, Crandon originally grew via a bustling lumber industry that tripled the town’s size in the early 1900’s and brought a slew of settlers and loggers from Kentucky, so much so that Crandon still holds an annual Kentuck Day’s Festival. Crandon is also home to the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway, which hosts the World Championships Off-Road Races every year; in fact, they’re 40 years old now. The World Championships usually take place over Labor Day weekend.
Much of Crandon’s downtown was built during its “boom” era, which is roughly 1900-1930. The Hotel Crandon (200 N. Lake Ave., 715-478-2414) is an example of “old school”, including the sign claiming the hotel to be “modern” and “fireproof.” Not sure if that’s true, but after all, it’s still there after all these years.
In Crandon, U.S. 8 breaks off and heads west toward Rhinelander, while Highway 32 – coupled with 55 – pushes north to Argonne. There, Highway 55 heads north towards Iron River, Michigan (it’s pretty much just forest all the way there), while Highway 32 zigzags northwest into the highlands and the town of Hiles (pop. 404). At this point, by Pine Lake, you’re about 1,633 feet above sea level, more than 1,050 higher than Milwaukee or Kenosha. Being such high ground, a) it gets really cold here in the winter and b) this area is the headwaters for two major Wisconsin rivers, the Pine River and the Wolf River. This area of Highway 32 follows (sometimes roughly, but still) an old military road that dates back to before this was United States territory. The route connected Green Bay with towns in the U.P. on the shores of Lake Superior. Hiles sprung up as the junction of headwaters and this military road, with settlement dating back to 1860. By 1920, Hiles boasted streetlights, a fancy water fountain in the village park and a modern six-room schoolhouse (everybody else pretty much had one-room schoolhouses), complete with central heat and cement sidewalks. It was quite advanced for the time, although nowadays one of the appeals of these small towns is that time seems to stand still.
Past Hiles and into Oneida County, Highway 32 twists and turns as it navigates the shores of a series of lakes; we’re entering the Chain O’Lakes area, part of the largest chain of freshwater lakes in the world.
You never know what you’ll find on the State Trunk Tour. There’s gotta be a story behind “Chicken in the Woods Road”. Meanwhile, the nearby Harbor Restaurant and Campground near Three Lakes salutes Highway 32…
In Three Lakes (pop. 2,339), Highway 32 meets up with U.S. 45, which stays with it to the end. Three Lakes, which is actually amidst hundreds of them, was named so because of frustrated railroad surveyors who had to alter their planned route because of – you guessed it – three lakes. Three Lakes is also the home of model and Big Brother 8 cast member Mike Dutz, who was also on Lifetime’s show Gay, Straight or Taken? (he was the straight and available one.)
*** Winery Alert ***
Three Lakes is home to Three Lakes Winery, which was an early pioneer in cranberry wine and other types when it debuted back in 1972. Their popular Tasting Room – located in a former Chicago & Northwestern Train Depot – is open seven days a week all year except Christmas and New Years’. They’re open 9am-5pm every day except Sunday, when they’re open 10am-4pm. You’ll find Three Lakes Winery right where U.S. 45 & Highway 32 meet County A in the downtown area.
From Three Lakes, Highways 32 & 45 head north into Vilas County. The county seat comes up pretty quickly!
That would be Eagle River (pop. 1,443), one of Wisconsin’s most popular vacation towns. It’s nicknamed the “Snowmobiling Capital of the World“, and competitions are held here throughout the winter months. Extensive trails stretch for miles from the town and around the multitude of lakes in the area. In warmer months, boating is very popular on these lakes… so many area lakes (28), in fact, that the Eagle River/Three Lakes Chain compose the largest number of interconnected lakes in the world. These lakes are frozen a good chunk of the year, obviously, and on the weekend closest to New Years’, area firefighters and volunteers cut 3,000 foot-thick blocks of ice from nearby Silver Lake to build the Ice Palace. The Ice Palace has been constructed almost annually since the 1920s and usually stands about 20 feet high, lit up at night with a multitude of colors. Tourists are welcome to check it out and take pictures; just don’t build a fire nearby or chip off any ice for your beverage.
Highway 70 comes in from the east and joins Highways 32 & 45 into town. Restaurants and motels line the route, and Wall Street, one block north through the heart of town, is where most of the action is. Lining the Wall are shops, confectionaries, bars, restaurants and the Vilas Theater. A good stop for food, drink and even the occasional live band is BBT’s (715-477-2313) along Wall Street. Just down is the Country Store, a confectionary with numerous fudge choices, candy, chocolates and ice cream where a “scoop” is half the size of Rhode Island.
Okay, back to this snowmobiling thing. Home of the annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby, Eagle River’s Derby Track hosted its first race on February 9, 1964 – about 40 years after Carl Eliason of nearby Sayner invented the first model that was comparable to today’s snowmobiles (and, that evening, The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show). The races since have drawn participants and spectators from far and wide – tens of thousands, regardless of the weather. The races are held in mid-January, meaning it can be sunny and near 40, the typical cold of 6 above zero, or wind chills of -50 – as it was in 1994. There’s plenty of room to watch around the track, and luxury boxes are even available. Additional races and attractions have been added over the years; you can read a pretty comprehensive history right here. Eagle River averages 53 inches of snowfall each year – nothing too crazy, especially when areas closer to Lake Superior average over 100. But with hundreds of miles of trails and the invention of the snowmobile having taken place in the area, this is the epicenter of the sport. Bottom line, this is a place to road trip to in the midst of winter’s grasp!
Just down is the Country Store, a confectionery with numerous fudge choices, candy, chocolates and ice cream where a “scoop” is half the size of Rhode Island. Plenty of other treats are available too, whether it’s 20 below or 95 above outside.
As Highway 70 leaves to head west toward Woodruff, Highway 17 comes in from Rhinelander and joins Highway 32 & U.S. 45 for a few miles through the north side of town and past the AMSoil Derby Track, the local airport, and a bunch of shops (this is the prime shopping town for tens of miles around), and county roads connections to the nearly endless chains of lakes in the area.
We head northward through Conover and shortly before hitting the state line, cross a teeny tiny Wisconsin River. Why is it so small? Because we’re only about two miles from its headwaters at Lac Vieux Desert, the Wisconsin River’s source along the Wisconsin-Michigan line.
The Wisconsin’s source in Lac Vieux Desert is only about 15 miles north of Eagle River along the Wisconsin-Michigan border, and it’s still pretty small as it flows past Eagle River. Of course, it gains significant size and strength as it flows nearly 400 miles and drops over 1,000 feet on its way to the Mississippi! The Wisconsin River actually begins at a small dam that accessible via a walking path if you take County E east to Shore Road, then head just slightly north. There’s a sign and parking area so you can go check it out!
State Line Time – the End of the Line
After 325 miles, Highway 32 comes to an end at the Michigan state line. U.S. 45 continues into the U.P. before ending in Ontonagon on the Lake Superior shore – a loooong way from its start in Mobile, Alabama! We stop where Wisconsin stops, although this state line turned out to be fairly interesting.
Above: Highway 32 ends with the “Welcome to Michigan” sign; only U.S. 45 keeps going. Below: Turning around, this is the scene as you enter Highway 32 southbound coming in from Michigan; no huge “WISCONSIN” sign, although a wooden one shows up a mile or so down the road. County Road B runs along the state line briefly before angling in by a block or two on the Wisconsin side to run through the heart of Land O’Lakes, which is literally several thousand feet to the west.
A sizeable marker along the roadside, however, marks the state line quite exactly. On the left, notice the tree cut in the background, following the state line. In this shot, Michigan is on the left and Wisconsin is on the right. The picture on the right is a close-up of the marker, showing the state line as the strip of grout. It was taken from the Wisconsin side.
The Gas Station That Spans Two States
What was really interesting – at least to a geography geek like me – was the BP station. It literally straddles the state line. I gassed up in Michigan but paid for my gas in Wisconsin. Below: the actual state line is marked with lighter tile inside the convenience store. In this shot, I’m in both Michigan (my left foot) and Wisconsin (the other one) at the same time. In the shot at right, you can see that you can buy Wisconsin lottery tickets on one side of the line, and Michigan lottery tickets on the other. The bait for sale is on the Wisconsin side; most of the Pepsi products and magazines are on the Michigan side. Is there a rhyme or reason to this? I’ll have to find out next trip. But it was cool.
And that concludes our trip on the Red Arrow Highway, State Trunk Highway 32. It was a long but very enjoyable haul from the Illnois state line near Kenosha all the way up to Land O’Lakes on the Michigan border. Along the way, there’s so much to see… a very highly recommend route! Keep watching this page, as we’ll be providing updates and keep up with changes.
Can connect immediately to: Illinois Highway 137
Can connect nearby to: Highway 165, about one mile north; Highway 50, about 4 miles north; Highway 158, about 5 miles north