Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 55 starts on a picturesque overlook above Lake Winnebago, cut through the eastern edge of the Fox Valley and becomes a winding highway through Seymour, birthplace of the hamburger and home to the world’s largest burger, both the Menominee Indian Reservation and the Nicolet National Forest, with excellent access to campgrounds, fishing, hunting and a variety of summer and winter up Nort’ activities.
The Wisconsin Highway 55 Road Trip
The Drive (South to North): Highway 55, which once began all way down in Milwaukee, begins today where U.S. 151 veers away from Lake Winnebago on its way to Chilton. Where 151 goes east, 55 continues north, running close to the east shore of the “non-cityed” side of Lake Winnebago. While not always visible from this stretch of Highway 55, Lake Winnebago is the third largest freshwater lake in the U.S. (Okeechobee in Florida was first, in case you were curious) and is visible from space. While the lake’s west side is heavy with reefs and cities like Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Menasha, and Neenah, the east side is characterized with serene shorelines and rocky cliffs.
High Cliff State Park is the best place for viewing Lake Winnebago. Perched atop the limestone cliff of the Niagara Escarpment, which runs from this point to Door County and then to Niagara Falls, you can picnic, camp, walk the Indian Mound Trail, check out the nature center, or climb the 40-foot observation tower and get a look across the lake to Appleton, Oshkosh and even north to Kaukauna, which Highway 55 cuts right through on this Tour.
After a brief combo with Highway 114, which heads west toward Appleton, you enter Outagamie County, crossing U.S. 10 and going past the Wisconsin International Raceway into Kaukauna (pop. 12,983). Known far and wide for the tasty cheese spread brand (now technically made in Little Chute), Kaukauna is considered the easternmost of the Fox Cities. One of the first communities in Wisconsin, Kaukauna was explored by Father Claude Allouez in 1670 and a fur trading post was established at KeKalin Falls in 1760. Back then, travelers moving by canoe had to detour by land around three waterfalls on the Fox.
The numerous small waterfalls on the Fox made Kaukauna a natural choice for hydroelectric power generation, which dates back to the 1880s. With several plants and some of the lowest power rates in the state, Kaukauna embraces the nickname “The Electric City”. They weren’t using electricity in 1793, when Dominique Ducharme secured the first land deed granted in Wisconsin along portions of the Fox River in Kaukauna. On part of that land now stands the Grignon Mansion, built in 1837. Parkland surrounds the mansion; paper mills (and when the wind is right, their essence) dominate across the street.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|The first land deed in Wisconsin was granted to Dominique Ducharme in 1793. The initial payment? Two barrels of rum.|
(Above) The Grignon Mansion, built in 1837 on the site of Wisconsin’s oldest deeded land. To the side is the mansion’s outhouse… and yes, they cut crescent moon shapes into the door for ventilation. And because that’s how outhouses always seem to look. It’s not available for public use, but then, why would anyone want to use it?
Finding Freedom – and a Drive-In!
Through Kaukauna, Highway 55 crosses Highway 96 and then heads north to cross I-41 and heads out of town into the rural portions of Outagamie County. That’s where, after several miles, you’ll find Freedom. Well, actually there are three towns in Wisconsin called “Freedom”, but THIS one is along Highway 55 AND Field of Scenes, one of only five active drive-in theatres in Wisconsin. Field of Scenes shows movies like any drive-in theatre, but it’s also a sprawling campus featuring horse-pulled wagon rides, an 18-hole miniature golf course, a game room, and basketball and volleyball courts.
Left: A clear summer day looks all the more awesome looking up at a cool church. This is in “downtown” Freedom.
Right: Since this is called “Freedom”, why not have a replica of the Statue of Liberty? Sure enough, here it is.
It’s a straight beeline through Freedom and most Outagamie County, where you cross through southwestern section of the Oneida Indian Reservation. You can connect to Oneida Casino and Green Bay by taking Highway 54 east when you reach it; otherwise, Highway 55 joins 54 going westward for a brief jaunt into the birthplace of one of the best road foods ever created.
I speak of the hamburger, and Seymour (pop. 3,335) calls itself “Home of the Hamburger.” One of several places worldwide that lays claim to being the hamburger’s birthplace, Seymour grabs the title with a full embrace and hosts its annual Burger Fest every August. Burger Fest features hamburgers, a hamburger eating contest, kids’ games, music and a hot air balloon rally, no doubt tons of buns and a (what the…) ketchup slide. Don’t wear clothes you care about. But it sounds fun!Seymour also hosts the Outagamie County Fair every July, drawing tons of people from the Appleton area and beyond. Want some racing? Grab a burger and plop down in a seat at Seymour Speedway, a 1/3-mile clay oval on the fairgrounds. The speedway hosts Fastrak Late Models, IMCA Modifieds, Stock Cars, and Northern Sport Mods. And they all move pretty fast.
Seymour’s Version of the Hamburger Invention:
“In 1885, Charles N. Nagreen, a young lad of 15, came to the Seymour Fair to sell meatballs. When he realized people wanted to walk around the fair grounds and eat, he flattened a meatball between two slices of bread and called it a ‘hamburger.’ This was the first time the hamburger sandwich was produced and sold.”
North of Seymour, Highway 55 is a pretty straight shot to Angelica, where you get to hop the “express” by joining Highway 29 on a freeway for a while.
Around Bonduel, you also combine with Highway 47. There, right along the highway, you can check out Doc’s Zoo & Muscle Car Museum (715-758-9080), which features a variety of 60’s muscle cars, motorcycles, a classic 1930’s Standard gas station, and a whole line of unique autos, including one of the 1958 Plymouth Fury cars used in the Stephen King classic “Christine”. It’s hard to miss; part of Doc’s Harley-Davidson, Inc. of Shawano County, you’ll notice Bo & Luke Duke’s General Lee looking like it just leaped the building (yes, it’s one of the actual General Lee cars used in filming “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
Shawano to Crandon to the U.P. is coming soon!
In Menomonee County, 10 miles past Keshena though, we want to note Big Smokey Falls. More than the whitewater rafting opportunity on the Wolf River is also coming soon!
Can connect immediately to: M-73 in Michigan
Can connect nearby to: Highway 70, about 5 miles south