33

STH-033“Coast to Coast covering Circuses, Canoes, Cow Pies, Coulees and more”

WisMap33Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 33 is a “coast-to-coast” state highway, connecting La Crosse on the Mississippi with Port Washington’s scenic harbor on Lake Michigan. From the big blue waters of the Great Lake to the beautiful coulees framing La Crosse, you encounter hairpin turns in what seems like a mountain range, Baraboo’s famous Circus Museum, ski slopes of Cascade Mountain, the natural wetlands of Horicon Marsh, and some of the best canoeing in the nation along the Kickapoo. It’s a terrific cross-section of southern Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Highway 33 Road Trip

The Drive (East To West): Highway 33 begins along the main street leading into Port Washington (called Grand Avenue) at the intersection with Highway 32. From the eastern terminus, you can see the hill dropping into downtown and the beautiful harbor on Lake Michigan, which is postcard-worthy on a nice day. Port Washington Tourism notes a “New England fishing village charm”, and they’re not lying.

The Start: Port Washington

Port Washington (pop. 10,683) is a beautiful harbor town with the largest collection of pre-Civil War buildings in the state on the National Register of Historic Places; they can be easily navigated in walking tours downtown. While there, check out the lighthouse that marks the harbor entrance… and count the number of tourists taking its picture. Just north on Highway 32 is the headquarters of Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corporation and the “Shoe Bank”, where you can get discounts on the upscale men’s wear.

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. Highway 33’s eastern start is just west of here.

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Port Washington’s beautiful, bustling harbor.

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Looking to the east from Highway 33’s end at Highway 32, Lake Michigan provides a beautiful backdrop. The western end of Highway 33 comes within blocks of the Mississippi River, but can’t be seen from the road.

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Above: Smith Bros. Fish Shanty was famous for freshly-caught fish dinners for decades in Port Washington. The original restaurant has since closed; the name is retained in the coffee shop occupying part of the building. The rest is a Duluth Trading Company retail store and offices. The landmark sign has been refurbished and towers over the view towards the lake from where Highway 33 begins heading westward and ends heading eastward. Highway 32 continues the ride east to the waterfront and Rotary Park. Below: Port Washington’s largest annual celebration is Fish Day, which takes place in July. Fireworks over the beautiful marina are just part of the event.

For biking enthusiasts, the Interurban Trail winds through town, and all of Ozaukee County, on a former rail line. For music enthusiasts, it’s good to know that Port Washington – along with neighboring Grafton – was an early hub for Blues, Gospel, even some Country music a century ago. Grafton, about five miles southwest of Port Washington, had a building that hosted the legendary Paramount Records from 1917 to 1932. There, 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. Many of the musicians were African-American and came up from Milwaukee or Chicago (often originating in St. Louis, Memphis, or New Orleans) and would record in Grafton and then stay overnights in Port Washington, where the record company had its offices independent from the studios. Both towns embrace this grand era of music and celebrate it annually on Labor Day weekend with the Paramount Music Festival, a three-day outdoor live music salute to the music styles of early musicians and those who followed them.

From Port Washington’s charming downtown, Highway 33 heads west through residential neighborhoods before a roundabout with County LL, which was once the highway bypass of Port Washington as U.S. 141 before the freeway was completed about a mile away in the late 1960s. An old interchange built in 1957 lasted until the early 2010s.

Highway 33 is actually one of the oldest roads in Wisconsin, tracing its roots to the 17th century as a trail connecting Horicon Marsh with the harbor on Lake Michigan in today’s Port Washington.

Heading west from Port Washington and crossing I-43/Highway 57, you enter Saukville (pop. 4,068), which sits along the Milwaukee River and is one of the fastest-growing communities in the state. A number of upscale golf courses lie nearby, including The Bog, whose entrance abuts the highway. Entering Washington County at Newburg (pop. 1,119), you encounter a mixture of farmland, forests, and some marshland.

West Bend

Before long, you hit West Bend (pop. 31,078), the second largest city on Highway 33 and the seat of Washington County. As Washington Street, Highway 33 dives right into town and shaves across the north end of West Bend’s beautiful downtown district, which can be accessed directly via Main Street. Featuring a wide variety of shops, the West Bend Theater and a slew of 19th century brick architecture – several holding notable jewelry stores – it’s a great place to spend a chunk of time shopping and just enjoying the day.

Art lovers will take note of the Museum of Wisconsin Art (300 S. 6th Ave., 262-334-9638), which holds a sizeable collection from Carl von Marr and a unbelieveable doll house – seriously. Walter Zinn, who had a malting company way back when, started building a doll house for his daughter Lenore in 1911 for her fifth birthday and just couldn’t stop. By 1957, he had developed a 27-room mansion of a doll house that contains over 1,200 miniature items, including artifacts brought back from overseas trips. On the next block, the Washington County Historical Society (320 S. 5th Ave., 262-335-4678) offers museum fun in their 19th century courthouse and a jailhouse. The Society also operates the St. Agnes Historical Site nearby, which features homestead sites built between 1856 and 1878 that are well-preserved.

Appliance lovers will love the Regal Ware Museum (18 E. Washington Street), located right on Highway 33. Since 1911, West Bend and “suburb” Kewaskum have been meccas for the manufacture of small cooking appliances and utensils. The name “West Bend” has peered out to users of blenders, mixers, and utensil users everywhere for decades. In 2002, Regal Ware (which started in Kewaskum in 1919) took West Bend over and, despite being worldwide conglomerate, continues to manufacture items in the area. So what can be exhibited at such a place? How about the world’s first whistling tea kettle? Or inventions that never quite made it to market, like the electric pizza cutter? Kitchenware products throughout the decades – reflecting everything from elegant styles to fashion eras some may wish to forget – are on display at this new and rather unique museum. Built inside a former credit union, the Regal Ware Museum is the only museum in the nation with an operable drive-thru window. Check out a YouTube video of the museum here, made by somebody we stumbled upon.

The west side of West Bend brings Highway 144 along for the ride and a freeway junction with U.S. Highway 45, which bypass the city. West Bend’s growth continues along Highway 33 to the west, approaching Highway 144’s turnoff southward toward Cedar Lake and Slinger, being part of the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive.

33divideOn the ridge right next to 144’s turnoff, you cross the Subcontinental Divide, designated with a marker along the south side of the highway. East of this marker, all water flows into Lake Michigan and out to the Atlantic Ocean; west of it, water flows to the Mississippi River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not quite the Continental Divide through the Rockies, but it’s still pretty major. At this point, you’ve climbed 600 feet in the 20 miles since the Port Washington harbor at Lake Michigan.

Further west, the junction with I-41 marks the entrance to Allenton; you swoop down into the (unincorporated) town, cross the Rock River and railroad line and head back up. On the climb, you have a nice view back east. Allenton is where former NASCAR driver and current General Manager of Roush Fenway Racing Robbie Reiser was born. His father John Reiser also raced throughout Wisconsin and the nation, founded Triton Trailers and managed the Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series race shops. He obviously lived there for a while too, so racing is tied in with Allenton’s history – and yet, the speed limit on Highway 33 is pretty strictly enforced.

The Yellowstone Trail Junction.
You may notice a small street sign saying “Yellowstone Tr.” on it. While today’s Highway 33 swoops left slightly, what you see marked as “Yellowstone Trail” is a small segment of the old Highway 33 that once crossed under Highway 175, which prior to 1954 was U.S. 41 and part of the nationwide Yellowstone Trail, the famous route “from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound.” A rather cool Art Deco-style bridge (below) was built back in 1933 to carry U.S. 41 over Highway 33 in what was an early attempt at bypassing a town – in this case, Allenton – and creating a safer intersection by using grade separation.

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The Highway 33 underpass under the Yellowstone Trail, 1933-2005.

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The story of an old bridge and the Yellowstone Trail along Highway 33 on the west side of Allenton.

The bridge was torn down in 2005 and now the two roads meet at a regular 4-way stop (that’s no fun, what the heck??) But you can still trace parts of the old route, and right next to where the bridge stood stands the Simon Weiss House. The house was built in 1896 and was the neighbor of the bridge for 72 years; the historic marker to the right tells the story.

33at67Approaching Highway 67, Highway 33 ducks under a major railroad line, one of many that connect the northern woods with the big cities that processed the trees and minerals that came down. Today, you’ll also notice between Allenton and Horicon that there are windmills everywhere – this area, like the ridge on the north end of Horicon Marsh, has a lot of wind and was designated as a good place for wind farms.

 

Horicon and the Horicon Marsh

Shortly after entering Dodge County and crossing Highway 67, you come upon Horicon (pop. 3,775), known as the “City On The Marsh”. The marsh, of course, being the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, both a State Wildlife Area and a National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a pretty unmistakable feature; a vast expanse of flat land that looks like a lake had been drained there. And that’s pretty close to how things got to be this way. When the glaciers that once covered this part of the state retreated, a moraine was formed that worked like a dam and created a large lake. The Rock River, which uses the Marsh as its source, gradually drained the natural lake and turned it, well, marshy. People tried manipulating it again twice: from 1846 to 1896, a dam re-created the glacial lake; after it became a marsh again, there was an attempt to drain it from 1910 to 1914 and use the area for farmland. That didn’t quite work either, and today the Marsh is preserved and protected to serve as one of the world’s largest “rest stops” for migrating birds.

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The view stretches far and wide along Horicon Marsh, which sprawls to the north from Horicon and Highway 28, just north of where it begins at Highway 33. This is a prime spot for bird watching, and several areas along the road have turn-outs and side roads where you can set up with some binoculars and plant yourself.

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

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

As you go into Horicon’s downtown area, Highway 28 begins and heads back northeast, along the southern boundary of the Marsh. Meanwhile, Highway 33 heads right into downtown. John Deere has a large plant in the city that cranks out lawn and garden tractors, golf and turf reel mowers and utility vehicles. It’s been there a long time, and will hopefully continue for a long time. Horicon also has access to the Wild Goose State Trail and naturally draws on the scenic beauty of the marsh and also maintains a nice park system, particularly along the Rock River, whose headwaters come out of the marsh. Oh, and the high school team nickname? The Marshmen.

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

Highway 33 cuts right through Horicon after the junction with Highway 28 and then ducks southwest out of town, pushing west past the Wild Goose Trail, a great rail-to-trail path connecting Clyman Junction and Fond du Lac while skirting the west edge of Horicon Marsh. The intersection with Highway 26 is known as Minnesota Junction. Note, however, that it looks nothing like Minnesota. There was a noticeable lack of Vikings fans and lutefisk at the junction on this particular day.

Crystal Creek Cheese House along Highway 33

Crystal Creek Cheese House, where you can battle potential osteoporosis in a tasty way.

Shortly thereafter to the south you’ll see the Dodge County Fairgrounds (I happened to catch the Fair on my trip) right near the Crystal Creek Dairy House (920-887-2806), which not only has a nice selection of cheese but serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a specialty in burgers and homemade ice cream. But the “CHEESE” sign is what catches the eye as you drive by.

Just past the fairgrounds and the Beaver Dam Raceway, a 1/3-mile banked clay oval track, Highway 33 meets the U.S. 151 freeway, which is a bypass of Beaver Dam to the east.

 

 

Beaver Dam

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Highway 33 runs through the heart of Beaver Dam, which features an extensive downtown strip and, apparently, access to dams and beavers.

Founded in 1841, Beaver Dam (pop. 15,169) is Dodge County’s largest city. Bobby Hatfield, one of the Righteous Brothers, was born here and actor Fred MacMurray of the classic TV show My Three Sons – and many movies – grew up here. Beaver Dam is home to Wayland Academy, a college preparatory high school that was established in 1855 as a Baptist university. Graduates of Wayland include pro wrestler Ric Flair; Jensen Buchanan, formerly of Another World and General Hospital fame, Olympic speed skater Maddie Horn, and a series of congressional representatives, reporters and columnists and even a NASA rocket scientist (Andrew Mulder), although apparently you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to go there. Highway 33 cuts right through the center of Wayland’s 55-acre campus.

Midwest Cream Cheese Competition, Beaver DamHey, this is Wisconsin, the cheese capital of the nation – and perhaps the world. Do you like cream cheese? If so, know that Beaver Dam is home to one of the largest processing plants for Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese. In fact, Beaver Dam hosts the annual Midwest Cream Cheese Competition in salute of this distinction, so bring your best cream cheese-related recipe.

The downtown stretch of Highway 33 follows Business US 151 for a while before angling north to run parallel to Beaver Dam Lake, upon which the city sits. There were no actual beaver sightings during the Tour, however…maybe it was an off day.

Highway 33’s northern jaunt leads to nearby Fox Lake (pop. 1,454). The Depot Museum on Cordelia Street (920-296-0254) sits in a building constructed in 1861 just off Highway 33, which is known as Spring Street through town. Along with information, it features about one block of no-longer-used railroad track and an adjacent walking trail that winds through and describes the native vegetation. Adjacent is an historical marker noting Fox Lake as the birthplace of noted jazz musician “Bunny” Berigan, who played with Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, and Bing Crosby. Louie Armstrong was a big fan, too, as the marker indicates.

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Built in 1861, the Fox Lake Depot remains to give people information about the railroads and let people play on real railroad tracks without fear of getting run over.

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Adorned with older Buick and Pontiac neon signs, this classic dealership facility is today home to Streich Motors, along Highway 33 in Fox Lake as you begin to head west again.

Fox Lake is about 62 miles from the starting point in Port Washington… or 100 kilometes for all you metric freaks. This is a longer trek across farmland and the approaching hills. You cross Highway 73 and see lots of rural things, like mailboxes with fish mouths for doors. Parts of “Old” Highway 33 are visible just west of the intersection with Highway 73, giving you an idea of what some of the roads were like way back when. Hints of landforms to come also become visible heading westbound, as some of the hills in the distance begin to show themselves and beckon.

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Old sections of Highway 33 are still in use – or at least visible – in areas. This was grandpa’s route on 33, taking decades to deteriorate; to the right, you can see the new, current highway adjacent to the old one.

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Highway 33 beelines across Columbia County past rolling farmland, with impending hills in the distance as you approach Portage.

Portage

Highway 33 entering Portage

After parading across some territory and crossing Highways 22 and 44, the next town in question is Portage (pop. 9,728), named for its location at the only traditional land break along the Fox-Wisconsin waterway, a 1.5 mile “portage” between the two rivers which connect the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Used as a land portage for centuries by Native Americans and then European settlers to cross between the two major basins of the country, it was eventually connected via the Portage Canal. The Canal was constructed between 1849 and 1876, the dream of investors to make the Fox-Wisconsin corridor one of the great water highways in the nation. However, the railroads took over in importance and the Canal couldn’t compete. It still exists, treated by pumps and an aeration flow system. Efforts are underway to restore the canal, the use of which by boats ended in 1951 when the dam and locks making its use possible were closed to protect the separate water basins. The Canal’s south bank is now part of the National Ice Age Trail, created in 2006, which also included cleaning up the canal.

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Above and Below: Portions of the original Portage Canal, connecting the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Portage Canal

It’s home to Fort Winnebago Surgeon’s Quarters Historic Site, part of former Fort Winnebago. It was built in 1828 between the rivers on the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway to help protect the portage. Decommissioned in 1845 and ravaged by fire in 1856, little remains today, but the old “Surgeon’s Quarters” stayed intact and is open for tours. Built in 1824, this log cabin started as a trading post at this strategic junction and later served as the Surgeon’s Quarters for Fort Winnebago (hence the name.) The Old Indian Agency House is another point of interest on the grounds.

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Fort Winnebago site along Highway 33

Fort Winnebago Surgeon’s Quarters Historic Site, right along Highway 33.

Portage is the county seat of Columbia County and considered by many where “up North” begins – including its Chamber. Its strategic location, once defined by a connecting waterway and Fort Winnebago, is now defined by the I-39 and I-90/94 split and junction of Highway 16, and U.S. Highway 51, while Highway 33 goes through the heart of town as Cook Street. Still, Portage boasts a sizeable downtown that overlooks the waterway area, filled with shops and businesses catering to both tourists and residents from miles around. Writer Zona Gale hailed from Portage and used the area as a setting for her Pulitzer prize-winning play Miss Lulu Bett in 1921. It’s a nice walking downtown, and this Walking Tour Guide can help you enjoy stretching your legs and discovering shops, restaurants, and other points of interest.

Highway 33 in Portage as Cook Street.

HIghway 33 at U.S. 51 & 16 in downtown Portage

Downtown Portage, a significant crossroads for a long time.

Downtown Portage is a bustling crossroads, where U.S. 51 and Highway 16 also meet.

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Portage includes some nice parks, like the lovely Pierre Pawquette Park, named after an early French settler.

Just past downtown Portage, Highway 33 crosses the Wisconsin River and heads toward two major interstate junctions. The first is I-39 (and formerly Highway 78 until 1992), which heads north toward Wausau and south to Madison and Illinois. The I-90/94 interchange arrives about two miles later, which is the main route between Madison and the Twin Cities. Cascade Mountain, the well-known skiing area, lies just to the south of this interchange and hints at the topography to come; the Baraboo Range, which kicks off the western half of the Highway 33 Tour, undoubtedly the prettiest from a topography standpoint.

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Exposed rock formations along Highway 33 hint at what’s available for climbing and gazing upon in nearby Devil’s Lake State Park.

Between Portage and Baraboo, the Baraboo Range – and the “Driftless Area” of Wisconsin – takes over the local topography. The glaciers that worked like massive irons, flattening out the land and leaving small lakes everywhere in the Midwest didn’t quite catch this part of Wisconsin. Lucky you: Highway 33 snakes around increasingly impressive landforms featuring bluffs, rock formations and deep valleys as a result. Check out the Lower Narrows historical marker, which outlines information on the Baraboo Range and ancient rock formations you’re driving through.

Man Mound

Just off Highway 33, get a little history by checking out the Man Mound National Historic Landmark. By following Man Mound Road, you can access what’s left of a Native American burial mound, originally built to look like a man from above. It remains significant as the only surviving anthropomorphic effigy mound in North America. Measuring 214 feet long by 48 feet wide (before construction of the road cut through the legs and shortened him by about 50 feet), this was one large man. Likely built sometime between 750AD and 1200AD, it was “re-discovered” in 1859, dedicated as a county park in 1908, and became a National Historic Landmark in 2016.

Man Mound Park & Historic Marker

It’s not obvious from this shot, but the Man Mound does clearly show the outline of a man, made hundreds of years ago. The legs got chopped off by what is now called Man Mound Road; the feet end in a farmyard across the street.

Baraboo

Named after the Range, Baraboo (pop. 11,550) hosts a number of organizations and was named one of the 20 best small towns to visit in the U.S. in 2013 by Smithsonian.com. It, similar to Delavan, is a circus town: Baraboo is home to the Circus World Museum, once the headquarters and winter home of the Ringling Brothers circus. Today, the living museum hosts the largest library of circus information in the U.S. Crane lovers probably know that Baraboo is home to the International Crane Foundation, the world’s foremost organization dedicated to preserving and restoring crane species. Famed ecologist Aldo Leopold is a native son, and the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center at the Foundation is LEED-certified as perhaps the “greenest” building in the U.S. It’s carbon-neutral and uses locally-harvested wood products. But Baraboo is probably most known for the circus — the big one, for all practical purposes.

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An early Ringling Bros. poster. Apparently barrels were very popular at the time.

Baraboo and the Circus…and the College. In 1884, seven brothers named Ringling (Al, August, Otto, Alfred, Charles, John and Henry) founded the Ringling Brothers Circus in Baraboo. Actually, it was called “Yankee Robinson and Ringling Brothers” but Yankee went away at some point. They traveled the country, wowing people with a show that for a while had a monstrous official title: “Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals”. They eventually bought the Barnum & Bailey Circus and by 1919, they were merged into the name most people knew them by: Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The “Barnum” in question, by the way, is P.T. Barnum, who is credited with the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (Barnum was all wet, by the way – there are hundreds of suckers born every minute.) There was a Ringling Clown College for a while. It started in Venice, Florida in 1968, moved to Baraboo in the early 90s and then relocated back to Florida before closing in 1997. Graduates and instructors from Ringling’s Clown College include Bill Irwin, Penn Jillette, Steven “Steve-O” Glover, and Philippe Petit (the guy who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York in 1974.) Honorary graduates of the school include Dick Van Dyke and weatherman/octogenarian greeter Willard Scott who, interestingly, was the first person to portray Ronald McDonald in a TV commercial. But we’re getting off track here.

Embedded in the concrete surrounding the Sauk County Courthouse are elephants, camels, everything short of cotton candy to help illustrate Baraboo’s circus connection. Not enough to convince you? Check the historical marker on the big rock across from the Al Ringling Theatre.

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Just south of Highway 33 along Highway 113 is part of the west side of Baraboo’s beautiful town square, which frames the Sauk County Courthouse. Encircling the square are shops a’plenty, along with bars, restaurants and the impressive Al Ringling Theatre. Built in 1915, it’s often known as “America’s Prettiest Playhouse.”

From the “You Never Know What You’ll Find on a State Trunk Tour” Dept:
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On the Sauk County Courthouse grounds, an impromptu oversize chess match.

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Imagine getting a ticket for going 3 mph.

Okay, back to circus stuff: following Highway 113 south from 33 past downtown, the road turns to parallel the Baraboo River and approach the Circus World Museum, a place where boys, girls and children of all ages can see how circuses have worked and entertained people for generations. As they say, “experience the thrill that never gets old,” featuring a Circus Museum, an area called Ringlingville, a wide variety of circus animals and the World’s Largest Circus Wagon Collection. Many buildings in the Circus World Museum date back to the 19th century and plenty of plaques will tell you more.

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The entrance to Circus World, right along Highway 113 on Baraboo’s south side.

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The Circus World Museum offers plenty of history, animals and smells.

Devil’s Lake State Park, located south of Highway 33 as you enter Baraboo from the east, is Wisconsin’s most visited and, at over 10,000 acres, there’s plenty of room for nature lovers and adventurers of all kinds. Follow Highway 113 or U.S. 12 south to access the park.

Baraboo’s geography isn’t just a pleasant treat for State Trunk Tourers; it’s a hotbed for structural geology. University of Wisconsin researchers, including Charles Van Hise, used the area to advance the science and today the Baraboo Hills are designated one of the “Last Great Places” by Nature Conservancy due to the relatively unique plants, rocks and animals in the area.

Highway 33 skims the north side of Baraboo as 8th Street, where it intersects the northern end of Highway 113 (the route southward to the museum) and enters the village of West Baraboo (pop. 1,414) and passes the Ochsner Park & Zoo (903 Park Street, 608-355-2760), right by a bend in the Baraboo River. The Zoo dates back to 1926 and includes lynx, monkeys, llamas, tortoises, and more.

In West Baraboo, Highway 33 joins meets up with Highway 136, which was previously U.S. 12. Highway 136 continues west and heads towards North Freedom, Rock Springs, and Baraboo; as of 2017 now, it also heads south via the former U.S. 12 to Devil’s Lake State Park. To the north, Pine Street is also the former U.S. 12 and continues now as County BD. Plenty of hotels greet you here. Highway 33 technically follows the new U.S. 12 expressway bypass just west of the Pine Street intersection, but you can take Pine Street/County BD if you prefer the original road. One key stop a few miles north is just where Highway 33 leaves U.S. 12 and begins to head west again.

Cow Pie Alert!

Cow Pie store along Highway 33Ever enjoyed a Cow Pie? No, not the stuff in the grass, the delicious chocolate, caramel, and pecan concoction from Baraboo Candy Company. They invented and popularized the treat, shipping it all over the world. The original featured chocolate, and variations now include dark chocolate, peanut butter, and others. Baraboo Candy also makes chocolate bars, Mint Meltys, a variety of candy and other sources of deliciousness, many made right in-house. You can enjoy a Cow Pie right from source just off Highway 33; the store is located on old U.S. 12, which now County BD, about a mile north of where Highway 33 turns west from U.S. 12. So if you want to get your Cow Pie fix, just continue north one mile from where Highway 33 turns west. Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells and the Baraboo-Dells Flight Center are on the east side of the road, and you’ll see the Baraboo Candy Company store on the west side. It’s an easy stop (they have had fewer “walk-ins” since the bypass opened) and it’s a quick ride back to Highway 33 to continue west towards Reedburg.

The Baraboo Candy Company store is open 9am -5pm Mondays – Saturdays and 10am – 3pm Sundays. You can call ahead at (608) 356-7425.

Reedsburg

After that short stint with U.S. 12 and the old vs. new road, Highway 33 breaks west again, soon picking up Highway 23 for the ride into Reedsburg (pop. 9.537). Prior to entering the city, the Pioneer Log Village and Museum provides a first-hand look at log buildings, antique furnishings and a glimpse of what life was like in the 19th century frontier days. Tours are available from 1-4pm on weekends during the summer. The Museum of Norman Rockwell Art (227 S. Park St.) features almost 4,000 of the famous artist’s works. Speaking of artists, famous comic artist and cartoonist Clare Briggs hailed from Reedsburg. It’s also the starting point for the “400” State Trail, which runs to Elroy as part of the state’s increasingly-extensive rail-trail system for bicycles, hikers, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.

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This marker almost marks the exact spot of the 90th meridian, the halfway point between the Prime Meridian and the International Date Line. The actual spot is within a few hundred yards – but why don’t they just put it right at that spot??

Reedsburg sits on the 90th Meridian, which marks the halfway point between the Prime Meridian (which runs through Greenwich and London, England) and the International Date Line, marking the exact center of the Western Hemisphere. A marker in the median of Highway 33 notes the meridian’s location – actually, for some reason, it sits 325 feet west of it. The city once hosted a World War II POW camp and pioneered both the first Ford dealership and the first sanctioned Little League in Wisconsin.

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Downtown Reedsburg, which Highway 33 goes right through as the main street along with Highway 23, extends for a while with storefronts on either side. It’s a wide street compared to most smaller towns’ main streets, and the views – especially of the Baraboo Bluffs – show the beautiful topography that beckons.

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Built in 1906, the Reedsburg Train Depot served passenger traffic until 1963. Today, it’s a popular stop along the “400” Bicycle Trail, which runs on the railbed of the former train between St. Paul and Chicago.

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We spotted this on a trailer sitting by itself in Reedsburg. What’s it about? We don’t know, but being sign geeks we liked it!

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Colorful sunflowers added to the beauty of the drive along Highways 23 & 33 just east of Reedsburg,

After Highway 23 breaks away to head south, Highway 33 starts moving west and northwest, winding through and around the hills and valleys into places like La Valle (pop. 326 and, creatively enough, “La Valle” is French for “The Valley”) and – once you cross into Juneau County – Wonewoc.

In Wonewoc (pop. 834), Highway 33 is the main street and parallels the Baraboo River through downtown. Canoeing, a theme which will be visited again on this stretch of 33, is popular with both residents and tourists. The “400” Trail, which began back in Reedsburg, ends in Wonewoc where it finds new trails to hook up with. The downtown area is quiet and small, but features a number of bars for some food, a beer, or spirits. And speaking of, the Wonewoc Spiritual Center covets spirits of a different kind. Founded as the Joint Stock Spiritualist Association in 1874 as known for a long time as the Western Wisconsin Spiritualist Camp, the Wonewoc Spiritual Center hosts a sizeable number of members every summer, who enjoy the serenity of hills surrounding the town and the area.

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Only a church steeple reveals itself above the trees in Wonewoc, tucked in a valley along the Baraboo River and the “400” Trail. And, of course, Highway 33.

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Locals said this was the tallest building not just in Wonewoc, but in all of Juneau County. I’d probably have to confirm that… silos are taller than this thing!

Past Wonewoc by a few miles is Union Center, where you intersect with Highways 80 and 82 and head west to Hillsboro (pop. 1,302). Known as the Czech Capital of Wisconsin, Hillsboro is the last town on Highway 33 with over 1,000 people until you get to La Crosse. It’s home to annual Czech festivals and counts among its native sons B.J. Schumacher, who rides regularly with Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (also known as “PBR”, but that gets confused with a different type of PBR in this state.) It’s also home to Hillsboro Brewing Company, which started up in 2012 and offers its brews in a former shoe store in the heart of downtown, where Highways 33, 80, and 82 converge.

Highway 33 and Highway 82 in downtown Hillsboro, at Hillsboro Brewing's Tap Room

Highway 33 and Highway 82 in downtown Hillsboro, at Hillsboro Brewing’s Pub.

*** Brewery Alert ***

A glass at Hillsboro Brewing Pub in Hillsboro, Wisconsin

A nice craft brew stop along Highway 82 in the heart of Hillsboro: the Hillsboro Brewing Company.

Hillsboro is home to Hillsboro Brewing Company, (608-489-7486), which launched in 2012. Home to notable craft brews like Joe’s Beer and the Leaping Lemur Cream Ale, Hillsboro offers cans and taps at their downtown pub location right at the main corner downtown. It’s a great old building that served as a shoe store and a slew of other businesses dating back to the 19th century, the last time Hillsboro had their own (legal) brewery. Due to growing demand, Hillsboro Brewing built a new facility called the 2E Brewery on the outskirts of town which is slated to open late fall 2018. Their newer brewery adds capacity and event space while keeping up with their growth.

HIllsboro Brewing at the corner of Highways 33, 80, and 82

The heart of downtown Hillsboro features the Hillsboro Brewing Company on its main corner, right along Highway 33.

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The Amish population is significant between Wonewoc and Cashton on Highway 33, especially near this market parking area in Hillsboro. Just like guys driving Corvettes like to park at the remote area of the lot, the Amish horse & buggy riders often do, too. Both vehicles can leave stains on the pavement, just very different kinds.

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Above: Announcing the Country Market along Highway 33 (coupled with 80 and 82 here) is a large mouse holding groceries, which is better than a large mouse in your groceries, I suppose. Just a short distance later, another huge fiberglass mouse tells you about more available cheese. There should be no calcium deficiencies in this area.

In Hillsboro, Highways 80 breaks south; three miles later Highway 82 splits off to the southwest.

Hillsboro and the Cheyenne Valley… Diversity before diversity was cool

In the mid-1800s, a sizable group of African American settlers came to eastern Vernon County and established Wisconsin’s first integrated schools, churches and sports teams. Interestingly, a racially diverse and by all accounts harmonious community was more easily achieved in rural Wisconsin in the 19th century than some areas are able to have today. Although much of the old community is gone, landmarks remain… including many of the area’s famous “round barns”, many of which were designed and built by Algie Shivers, one of the settlers. About half the barns he supervised and participated in the construction of still stand, and some are seen along Highway 33. There is an official driving tour of the Cheyenne Valley exploring this, which can be download in .PDF format here. Highway 33 from Hillsboro to Wildcat Mountain State Park is part of the tour.

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Terracing crops may be necessary for farmers out here, leading to interesting swaths of corn, soybeans and other growables that the cows can gaze upon and appreciate.

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Part of the drive between Hillsboro and Ontario on Highway 33. As you can see, there’s a reason the lanes are marked for “no passing.”

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The Driftless Area of Wisconsin, which you’re smack dab in the midst of at this point on Highway 33, is the only part of Wisconsin with no natural lakes.

Speaking of, the segment of Highway 33 resembles a twisty Colorado mountain road at times through the gorgeous Cheyenne Valley and approaching Wildcat Mountain State Park. Over 3,600 acres of scenery, trails and wildlife await in the park, which offers great views of the Kickapoo River Valley. Meanwhile, hairpin turns await you on Highway 33… seriously! You have to drop to about 20 mph to make it around some of these curves. Check out one of them in the pictures below, just east of Ontario…you might forget you’re in Wisconsin. (Click on any picture below for a larger version.)

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This is all part of one big hairpin turn in Wildcat Mountain State Park along Highway 33. These are some tight curves!

Entering Ontario (pop. 476), you cross Highway 131 and the Kickapoo River, often called the “Crookedest River in the World.” This is major canoeing territory. Canoe rental places provide opportunities for taking a break from the drive and paddling your way up or down the Kickapoo and checking out the rock formations and (at times unusual) plant species lining the banks.

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Canoes line the banks of the Kickapoo; you can rent them in Ontario and work your way through the twists and turns.

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Past Ontario, Highway 33 enters Monroe County and works westerly across ridges and coulees, providing a twisty-turny drive (if you have a directional compass in your vehicle, it might be spinning like a top) and great views all around. You’ll go through Cashton (pop. 1,005), where you cross Highway 27. The cartoon strip Gasoline Alley, which has been around since 1918, was created by Frank King; he was born in Cashton and grew up in nearby Tomah.

Juusto Cheese at Pasture Pride along Highway 27 in Cashton, just south of Highway 33Cashton is also home to Pasture Pride Cheese (608-654-7444), just south 33 along Highway 27 – you can see it from the roundabout. They offer a variety of cheeses using milk from the nearby Amish farmers, going all grass-fed for their cows and goats. Pasture Pride is also home of that “Juusto” Cheese, the baked Finnish style of cheese that looks baked and is extra buttery in flavor – that’s what the judges who shower them with awards generally say.

Just past Portland you cross into La Crosse County, the second-most populated county on Highway 33 after Washington. Some of the best views have yet to come; at Middle Ridge, feel free to play the Who’s song “I Can See For Miles”… because you can.

Coulees, coulees everywhere
Not to be confused with “cooties”, which I was accused of having back in second grade, “coulees” are ravines with deep, steep sides. They’re formed by erosion and often harbor little mini-worlds of plants that could otherwise not grow in the surrounding land. “Coulee” is derived from the French verb couler, meaning “to flow.” The things you learn on the State Trunk Tour…

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Sample view near Middle Ridge, in La Crosse County. Coulees are the prime geographical feature in these here parts.

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The Holy Family Grotto in the Town of St. Joseph was built in the late 1920s for the Franciscan Sisters at St. Joseph’s Ridge. It combines rocks, shells, glass, and mortar to form a beautiful monument to faith and patriotism.

La Crosse

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The drop into La Crosse gives you good perspective on the terrain lining the eastern side of the city; Highway 33 descends from St. Joseph’s Ridge into town as State Road, then Jackson Street.

Highway 33 continues along St. Joseph’s Ridge for the ride into the final destination, La Crosse (pop. 51,818). Situated on a rare piece of flat land amidst beautiful coulees and hills, La Crosse emerged as a Native American trading post due to its position at the confluence of the Black and Mississippi Rivers. La Crosse holds a number of “quality of life” accolades, often involving low crime or livable small city status; I note USA Today also named La Crosse one of the “Top Ten Places Worldwide to Toast Oktoberfest” (more on that in a second.) Long known as a brewery town, La Crosse was home to G. Heileman Brewing Company for almost 140 years, cranking out a variety of brands, most notably Old Style. Today, the sprawling brewery complex lies right along the north of Highway 33, just south of downtown La Crosse, where it continues to run as the City Brewery.

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

The World’s Largest Six Pack (obviously pictured above) is indicative of La Crosse’s fun style, and you can access it by following U.S. Highway 14/61’s northbound lanes for just a few blocks, then turning left one block and heading back south. Highway 33’s western end is one block south of the gigantic, John Blutarsky-pleasing sight.

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

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

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One of La Crosse’s most notable landforms, Granddad Bluff made an appearance in Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi, towers over 500 feet above the city and brilliantly reflects the afternoon sun. It makes the whole city prettier; this shot was taken from a K-mart parking lot.

Highway 33 descends into La Crosse as State Road, then as Jackson Street, to the point where you might find your ears popping. Just north of Highway 33 as you enter town is Grandad’s Bluff, the most notable landform in the area – next to the Mississippi River, of course. You basically enter the city on the south side of town, crossing Highway 35 and then ending at U.S. 14 & 61, right at the City Brewery, formerly the Heileman Brewing Company. It’s still a large complex!

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Highway 33 comes to an end just a few blocks shy of the Mississippi River at U.S. Highways 14 and 61, less than a mile from where those two roads cross into Minnesota. Downtown La Crosse and City Brewery are visible to the north at the intersection ahead.

From the end of Highway 33, head north on U.S. 14/61 into downtown La Crosse, where you can enjoy Historic Pearl Street. It’s filled with Civil War-era buildings, specialty shops, a microbrewery, galleries, antique shops, coffee houses and, at night, college students doing what they do best when they’re not studying. The Pearl Street Brewery, once located on Pearl Street, now sits nearby on the north side of town in a former Rubber Mills Boot factory. On the east side of downtown along 9th Street, the Swarthout Museum features changing exhibits from prehistoric to Victorian; over on 5th Street, the Children’s Museum of La Crosse has exhibits for our future leaders on three floors, along with a climbing wall for all ages. All of this can be reached by your car, or you can hop the La Crosse Trolley in the warm weather months for a little “no need for the gas pedal” tour.

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

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

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

rudys800Car shows and “Cruise Nights” happen regularly throughout the summer. You can find Rudy’s two blocks west of Highway 35 along Highway 16 (La Crosse Street).Highway 35 basically bypasses downtown La Crosse, instead going right through neighborhoods. You have good access to downtown via U.S. 14/61 or Highway 16.

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Along with I-90 to the north, the two main bridges spanning the Mississippi River and connecting La Crosse with La Crescent, Minnesota are collectively called, creatively enough, the “Mississippi River Bridge.” Yeah. Individually, the nearer one in the picture is the Cameron Avenue Bridge, which opened in 2004; the other is the Cass Street Bridge. Opened in 1940, the Cass Street Bridge originally carried both directions of traffic; today, each bridge carries one-way.

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

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

So there you have it! Highway 33, 200 miles from the Great Lake to the Great River, with some great towns and great scenery along the way. Enjoy!

CONNECTIONS
East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 32
Can connect nearby to: Highway 57, about 2 miles west; Interstate 43, about 2 miles west; Highway 60, about 4 miles southwest

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 14, U.S. 61
Can connect nearby to: Highway 16, about 1/2 mile north; U.S. 53, about 1/2 mile north; Highway 35, about 3/4 mile east; Interstate 90, about 5 miles north

Highway 23 looking at the Wyoming Valley

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STH-023“Lead Mines. Water Parks. Houses on Rocks. Dells. Muk Luks. Waterfalls. Brats. Championship Golf. Let’s Go!”

WisMap23Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 23 connects a veritable plethora of sights in Wisconsin. From the beautiful hills and history of the Lead Mining Region and the Driftless Area to Frank Lloyd Wright (and Frank Looyd Wright revenge-inspired) architectural sites; from the Dells and lakes of central Wisconsin to the booming golf and resort areas of Sheboygan, Highway 23 provides plenty of things to see and do along its route.

Wisconsin Highway 23 Road Trip

The Drive (North To East): You start in a relatively remote area: at the intersection with Highway 11 near Shullsburg in southwestern Wisconsin. This is an area of rich minig history and incredible beauty. A good start is actually just west of Highway 23: check out Shullsburg (pop. 1,226) itself, an old lead mining town that has preserved its older buildings well. The Badger Mine and Museum (279 W. Estey Street, 608-965-4860) features exhibits on lead mining, cheesemaking and lets you tour a more recent mine. The Brewster Hotel sign is an interesting artifact: check out the bullet holes from a 1927 robbery by Chicago mobsters. Plenty of food, stores, scenery, history and quaintness await in Shullsburg.

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Looking down Water Street in Shullsburg, now a National Historic Landmark. Filled with antique shops, boutiques, historic guest rooms and places to imbibe in food and beverage, this is a good place to start before heading east on Highway 11 for about six miles and hitting Highway 23.

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The beginning of Highway 23, looking north from Highway 11. A lot awaits you on this tour…

Once on Highway 23, you can begin with a stop at Roelli Cheese Haus, a longtime staple of the area (100 years +) that has moved deftly into the artisan cheese world over the past decade and has been walking away with plenty of national and international awards as a result. They have a retail store attached to their cheese plant, and you can pick up some serious specialties on the road with you.

Northward on Highway 23, you make your way north through Lafayette County toward its county seat. After hooking up for a spell with Highway 81, Highway 23 enters Darlington (pop. 2,418), which calls itself the “Pearl of the Pecatonica River.” The “pearl” part harkens back to the time when people harvested clams out of the river, apparently to produce pearl button blanks. The whole area is drained by the Pecatonica River and its many tributaries, which carve out the beautiful hills and valleys characteristic of Lafayette County. Author Sylvan Muldoon, who was big on writing about out-of-body experiences, hailed from Darlington.

Cardinal in Darlington along Highway 23Shark in Darlington along Highway 23

Some notable animals in Darlington: a cardinal on the south end of town along Highway 23/81 and a shark emerging from a gas station both catch your attention right in the downtown area. Darlington’s school mascot is the “Redbirds”; not sure why the shark is there.

 

Highway 23 & 81 in Darlington

Highways 23 & 81 through downtown Darlington; the main street is a pleasant little boulevard with plenty of parking, good architecture and shops to see on both sides. Highway 81 joins briefly through town..

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The Barber Shop Hotel, apparently in a former barber shop, is an example of Darlington’s small, inviting buildings that are being refurbished with historical touches.

Darlington’s restored downtown is a great place to stop and just walk around. Highway 81 hooks up with 23 briefly and proceeds as a little boulevard going through town, crossing the Cheese Country Trail – watch for plenty of ATVers and bikers – and providing plenty of parking for the boutiques, taverns and other points of interest in town. Pecatonica River Trails Park offers riverside camping. Downtown Darlington’s Main Street – which is Highway 23 & 81 – is lined with historic buildings and it’s worth a stop just to explore.

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Being the county seat of Lafayette County, Darlington sports a beautiful courthouse with a Tiffany glass rotunda on the hill above downtown along Highway 23, just north of Highway 81 and Darlington’s downtown.

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This house was spotted just past old Fort Defiance north of Darlington… it just kind of screamed “Amityville Horror”…

Highway 81 hooks up with Highway 23 for the ride south out of Darlington; it’s hilly and beautiful and filled with old haunts. Between Darlington and Mineral Point is the former site of Fort Defiance, built in 1832 in the wake of the Black Hawk War. It was one of the last garrisoned stockade forts built in Wisconsin, measuring 80 feet wide, 120 feet long, and 18 feet high with two blockhouses – and yet no trace of it remains, other than a marker.

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Weaving through the terrain further north brings you to Mineral Point (pop. 2,617), another town chock full of history. In fact, it’s the first town in Wisconsin to be named to the National Register of Historic Places. As gold was to California and gambling is to Nevada, lead made the Mineral Point area of Wisconsin a sought-after destination in the ’30s and ’40s… and we’re talking 1830s and 40s.

Lead and zinc mining was grueling work, and those who endured the brutal winters became known as “badgers” because they burrowed into the ground like the furry creatures. Their influence lives on as the state’s nickname and, of course, the UW-Madison mascot. Mining was so important to the state that in 1848 when the state seal was established, one of the four images on the seal was that of a miner’s ax.

Mineral Point claims the title “where Wisconsin began,” and the handsome buildings along High Street attest to the new wealth and impressive designs of the day. The city lost by one vote to Madison when the state’s capital was selected. While he waited for the capitol building to be established in Madison, Wisconsin’s first governor, Henry Dodge (who also has a county named after him), maintained an office in Mineral Point’s courthouse.

Mineral Point has many small shops offering antiques, galleries and artisan crafts. Highway 23 goes right past the downtown area, which is best accessed via High Street. The handsome Mineral Point Opera House (139 High Street, 608-987-2516) was built in 1914. It started as a vaudeville and performing arts house and continues to feature live performances from theater groups and world cinema brought by the Mineral Point Film Society.

A big attraction in Mineral Point is Pendarvis (114 Shake Rag St). Owned and operated by the State Historical Society, it’s a complex that shows visitors what life was like during the 1830s, including the day-to-day tasks of miners and their families as well as superstitions and traditions that influenced them. The Mineral Point Depot (13 Commerce St.) is the oldest surviving railroad depot in the state. Originally built in 1856 and restored in 2004 by the Mineral Point Restoration Society, it now hosts a museum.

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The Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts & Crafts (18 Shake Rag Street, 608-987-3292) features displays, workshops and classes on a 2.5 acre campus featuring gardens, trees and brick pathways. Shake Rag Alley was the original business district of Mineral Point and contains log cabins and other buildings dating back to 1828. Local lore says “Shake Rag” got its name because women would “shake rags” to let the men know it was time to eat. They were quieter than dinner bells, I guess.

Heading out of Mineral Point, Highway 23 heads north along what was also the “old” U.S. 151 highway for about two miles until it meets up with the “new” U.S. 151, an expressway that now runs complete from Dubuque, Iowa to Madison. This is the first of several segments where Highway 23 is four lanes and/or part of a freeway. This stretch multiplexed with U.S. 151 is quick, though: it only lasts about four miles. There are some cool rock cuts along the way, along with a mass of windmills to the west, part of a massive wind power generating farm.

U.S. 151 breaks off toward Madison and Highway 23 continues north into Dodgeville (pop. 4,220), the county seat of Iowa County and home to Lands’ End. In local lore, Dodgeville and Mineral Point went to “war” over which town should be the county seat, and supposedly some Mineral Point residents actually fired a canon toward Dodgeville. Either way, Dodgeville won the county seat and today has the oldest active county courthouse in Wisconsin; its cornerstone was laid in 1859. The Military Ridge State Trail, a popular recreational trail following an old military road dating back to 1855, starts in Dodgeville and runs 40 miles east to Fitchburg.

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Along Highway 23 in downtown Dodgeville is the Iowa County Courthouse, the oldest in the state of Wisconsin. Started in 1859, dedicated in 1861 and expanded or renovated four times since, the Galena limestone used in its construction was quarried just north of town.

Highway 23 runs through the heart of Dodgeville before crossing U.S. Highway 18 and approaching Governor Dodge State Park, one of the largest in the state at 5,270 acres (just to give you a sense of the size, one square mile is 640 acres). The whole area has many scenic bluffs, but Governor Dodge State Park is a great place to see quite a few of them. The Park also features two lakes, a waterfall, abundant wildlife, original spring houses built by early settlers, 267 campsites, 77 electric sites, winter camping, boat and canoe rental, programs, marked beaches, 2 miles of nature trails, 26.6 miles of hiking trails, 24.7 miles of horseback trails, 10.3 miles of off-road bicycle trails, 15 miles of snowmobile trails and 18.1 miles of cross-country ski trails. But that’s all.

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Above: This marker notes a former military crossing of the river during the Black Hawk War; the crew dismantled parts of a town to get the wood for raft-making. At right, a side road approaching Highway 23 tells you it’s U.S. 23 – which is wrong, because that road runs from Michigan to Florida.

springgreen_houseontherock01Just north of Governor Dodge State Park is the ever-famous House On The Rock. What is it? It’s a 200-acre complex with architectural wonders, electic art collections, gardens and yes, a Japanese-style house perched on what’s called Deer Shelter Rock, overlooking the Wyoming Valley. Its inspiration came from a feud between creater Alex Jordan Jr.’s father and the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright that dated back to the 1920s. Apparently, Frank Lloyd Wright has some less-than-flattering comments about Jordan Sr.’s architectural talents. IN 1945, Jordan Jr. began construction of the house on his favorite rock and by 1959, a stone marker placed along Highway 23 announced to travelers that The House On The Rock was open for viewing.

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The Infinity Room is quite a trip!

Financed by tour fees, a series of additions since then include 1968’s “Mill House”, which holds one of the world’s largest fireplaces; a “Streets of Yesterday” exhibit, introduced in 1971 and inspired by a similar exhibit in the Milwaukee Public Museum. The “World’s Largest Carousel” opened in 1981 and the “Infinity Room”, perhaps the most dramatic, came along in 1985. The Infinity Room literally projects 218 feet out over the valley; the walls are made of glass with reinforcements (3,264 windows in all), so visitors can walk out above the forest floor, which beckons 156 feet below. Quite visible from the surrounding area, it’s probably one of the more unique rooms in the world.

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House on the Rock includes several other buildings, centered around gardens, ponds, bridges, and walkways.

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Incredible art? Haunting vision? Psychedelic dream? The House of the Rock lets you view and interpret as you wish.

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The World’s Largest Carousel sits inside House on the Rock. It’s almost mesmerizing to watch.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The House of the Rock’s “World’s Largest Carousel” features over 20,000 lights, 269 animals, and – interestingly – 182 chandeliers. It’s 80 feet in diameter and weighs 36 tons.

The presence of House On The Rock adds to a very cool Scenic Overlook area along Highway 23 just north of the attraction’s entrance. Each direction of the highway has its own side access to an overlook, which connects via a pedestrian bridge over the road. The view of the House’s Infinity Room, the Wyoming Valley and all the surrounding terrain makes for a great stop.

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A view of Wyoming Valley, behind the ridge where Highway 23 runs. House on the Rock is just to the left in this picture; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin is a few miles ahead.

This area is a haven for artists and architects; it certainly was for Frank Lloyd Wright, who was born in Spring Green in 1867. He started building his summer house, called Taliesin after a Welsh bard, in 1911. It took decades to develop, including recovery from a devastating attack in 1914 where a chamber boy set fire to the house and murdered seven people with an ax while the fire burned. Wright himself was in Chicago on a project at the time, but his lover (a former wife of one of his clients), her two children, a foreman, a draftsman, a landscape gardener and the son of a carpenter were all victims. The living quarters were rebuilt, yet destroyed again by fire in 1925. The third incarnation of Taliesin was survived intact since. Taliesin is where many of Wright’s most famous structures, including New York’s Guggenheim Museum, were designed. In a nod to snowbirds everywhere, Wright also established a Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. But since that’s nowhere near State Trunk Highway 23, it’s not part of the Tour.

springgreen_taliesinvisitorcenterThe Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center is located just off Highway 23 on County C, across the Wisconsin River’s southern bank. Taliesin itself is on the other side of 23, about half a mile south. You take a shuttle bus from the Visitor Center to access Taliesin’s property. Tours are available May 1 through October 31 seven days a week, and Friday through Sunday in April and November.

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The beauty of Taliesin and the surrounding landscape is definitely worth the price of admission.

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Crossing the river on Highway 23 brings you into Sauk County and Spring Green (pop. 1,444) itself. Along with the architectural wonders and natural scenic beauty, you can get Shakespearean in Spring Green at American Players Theatre, one of the most popular outdoor classical theaters in the U.S. Set in a natural amphitheater in the woods near the Wisconsin River, APT entertains audiences with rotating plays while working to educate students on theater in general. If you’re getting a way early start on a weekend jaunt, try hitting APT for “Skippeth-Out-Of-Work-Early” Thursday nights.

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A one-time gas station in Spring Green is indicative of the native stone and beautiful architecture of the area. This is right along Highway 23, just south of U.S. 14 and Highway 60.

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Wright’s influence in Spring Green is unmistakable. This is a bank in town.

Highway 23 comes to a junction with U.S. 14 and Highway 60 and hooks up with them briefly before, alas, the quickie is over and Highway 23 heads north by its lonesome again.

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North of Spring Green, it’s more of the Driftless Area’s beautiful bluffs and rolling hills. This is through Plain, on the way to Reedsburg.

The views are great as you zoom up and down hills and wind through valleys, past hamlets like Plain (pop. 792) and Loganville (pop. 276). Plain, interestingly, has been considering a name change since 1915, when a reader to the local newspaper wrote a letter to the editor. No rush, though.

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Further north, Highway 23 heads into Reedsburg (pop. 8,704), where it hooks up with Highway 33 for the ride through downtown. The Museum of Norman Rockwell Art (227 S. Park St.) features almost 4,000 of the famous artist’s works. Speaking of artists, famous comic artist and cartoonist Clare Briggs hailed from Reedsburg. It’s also the starting point for the “400” State Trail, which runs to Elroy as part of the state’s increasingly-extensive rail-trail system for bicycles, hikers, cross-country skiiers and snowmobilers.

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This marker almost marks the exact spot of the 90th meridian, the halfway point between the Prime Meridian and the International Date Line. The actual spot is within a few hundred yards – but why don’t they just put it right at that spot??

Reedsburg sits on the 90th Meridian, which marks the halfway point between the Prime Meridian (which runs through Greenwich and London, England) and the International Date Line, marking the exact center of the Western Hemisphere. A marker in the median of Highway 23 notes the meridian’s location – actually, for some reason, it sits 325 feet west of it. The city once hosted a World War II POW camp and pioneered both the first Ford dealership and the first sanctioned Little League in Wisconsin. On the way out just east of the city, the Pioneer Log Village and Museum provides a first-hand look at log buildings, antique furnishings and a glimpse of what life was like in the 19th century frontier days. Tours are available from 1-4pm on weekends during the summer. Also in summer, Reedsburg holds its annual Butter Fest.

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Downtown Reedsburg, which Highway 23 goes right through as the main street along with Highway 33, extends for a while with storefronts on either side. It’s a wide street compared to most smaller towns’ main streets, and the views – especially of the Baraboo Bluffs – show the beautiful topography that beckons.

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Built in 1906, the Reedsburg Train Depot served passenger traffic until 1963. Today, it’s a popular stop along the “400” Bicycle Trail, which runs on the railbed of the former train between St. Paul and Chicago.

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We spotted this on a trailer sitting by itself in Reedsburg. What’s it about? We don’t know, but being sign geeks we liked it!

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Colorful sunflowers added to the beauty of the drive along Highways 23 & 33 just east of Reedsburg,

For several miles east of Reedsburg, Highways 23 and 33 hang together until 23 breaks to the northeast for a weaving 6-mile jaunt through portions of Mirror Lake State Park and a junction with I-90/94. And right away, you enter it: the Dells.

Taking Highway 23 past the I-90/94 interchange and you immediately come upon Lake Delton (pop. 1,982), which pairs with the city of Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418) to make up the gargantuan land o’tourism known at the Dells.

wisdells_welcomesign01Wisconsin Dells Area

Ah, Wisconsin Dells, the “Water Park Capital of the World” and Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination. Highway 23 comes into the area and immediately, the architecture changes. The vibe changes. And the amount of traffic changes. When people refer to “Wisconsin Dells”, they usually mean the whole area, including Lake Delton and the region up and down the Wisconsin River, whose gorgeous ‘dells’ and gorges give the area its name. Wisconsin Dells itself started out as Kilbourn City in 1857. It was named after founder Byron Kilbourn, who also played a major role in getting Milwaukee started as a city one decade earlier. Renamed Wisconsin Dells in 1931, the city set the state’s high temperature record of 114 degrees Fahrenheit five years later. But indeed, it gets cold here, too, which explains why so many waterparks offer indoor facilities.It’s also chock full of foreign workers, many of whom are college age from Eastern Europe and South America. Time magazine actually named it one of the “Best Places for College Students to Work during the Summer” in 2004, proving there’s a list for nearly everything.

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Highway 23 crosses over Spring Creek, giving a peek towards Lake Delton.

Highway 23 meets up with U.S. 12 and joins it heading northbound into a vast array of sights: the Crystal Grand Theater, roller coasters, mini golf courses, ferris wheels, waterparks, upside-down White Houses (a place called “Top Secret”), plastic pink flamingos, motels, hotels, ski jumps in bodies of water… it’s all along this stretch. The world’s largest Trojan Horse can’t be missed. I mean, it’s right there.

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

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It’s hard to miss the World’s Largest Trojan Horse along Highway 23. A ride passes through it; no word on if anything else is hiding inside.

Meanwhile, Highway 23 joins up with Highways 13 and 16, breaking east to hop over the Wisconsin River and enter the energetic strip that marks downtown Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418).

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At the intersection coming up, U.S. 12 and Highways 13, 16, and 23 all converge. I-90/94 is less than a mile to the west via Highway 13.

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

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

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

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

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

wisdells-cyclesthru13-16-23Basically, Highway 23 goes through the Dells’ two main areas: through Lake Delton with U.S. 12 as Wisconsin Dells Parkway, and then with Highways 13 and 16 as Broadway on the main drag through Wisconsin Dells itself. This basically marks a change where Highway 23 stops bring a route through the Driftless Region on Wisconsin and becomes more of an east-west main road across east-central Wisconsin.

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

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Club 23 along Highway 23 just east of the Dells – we love places named after our highways!

At the east end of Wisconsin Dells, you’re suddenly in the countryside again. Highway 16 breaks off southeast towards Columbus and Milwaukee; Highway 13 heads north toward Wisconsin Rapids and Ashland; and Highway 23 meanders east. This stretch deals with a lot of county corners; in about a 14-mile stretch, you go from Sauk County back in the Dells, to Columbia County on its east side, to a southeastern sliver of Adams County to the far southwestern corner of Marquette County. There, you reach the little town of Briggsville which, while unincorporated, is still the largest settlement between the Dells area and the freeway that lies ahead.

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Highway 23, going gently through the quiet town of Briggsville.

23at39-51Eventually, Highway 23 joins the “backbone” of Wisconsin, the I-39/U.S. 51 freeway. The highway heads north on it for about six miles. One exit brings to you little Packwaukee, which lies on Buffalo Lake, an elongated stretch of the Fox River as it heads up to Lake Winnebago. This is prime fishing and hunting country in the heart of Marquette County. At Exit 106 from I-39/US 51, Highway 82 begins to the west and goes all the way to DeSoto and the Mississippi River; meanwhile, Highway 23 continues east away from the freeway for the next leg, now as a more major artery across the eastern half of the state.

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Remember the Buffalo Lake we just mentioned? It parallels Highway 23 to the south; both end up in Montello (pop. 1,397), a very water recreation-oriented town considering its Fox River location wedged between Buffalo Lake and Montello Lake. There’s even a nice waterfall right at the main intersection downtown where Highway 23 meets up with Highway 22; it’s part of a larger park with exposed stone and multiple waterfalls developed from a granite quarry

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Highways 23 and 22 come together in downtown Montello, with rock formations and waterfalls making things much more interesting.

Speaking of granite, La Maison Granite (“Granite Mansion” in English) is an historic mansion at 55 Underwood Street just off Highway 23, built in 1912 from locally-quarried granite – the quarry where the waterfall-adorned park now sits. In the home’s front yard is Wisconsin’s largest tree, a cottonwood towering 140 feet with a 23-foot circumference… we shall dub it the “Cottonwood on Underwood.” Both are seen here:

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Montello’s downtown area, which runs along Highway 23 (and 22, since for about a half mile they’re combined) offers crafts from local artists and the numerous Amish communities in close vicinity of the town.

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Highway 22 breaks north for Waupaca, and we continue east on Highway 23 for the short ride to another shopping and antique destination, Princeton (pop. 1,214). Highway 73 joins in for the ride through town, where Highway 23 serves as Main Street. Much of the shopping action is a block south along Water Street, east of the Fox River crossing in a district called the Shops of Water Street. Both along Water Street and throughout town in “off-the-beaten path” areas, you’ll find boutiques and – amidst such a rural region – a number of urban flair shops with offerings from clever coffees to hand-blown glass, vintage arts, accessories, and antiques. Two larger antique malls are also in town – there’s likely something to find for everyone, no matter their taste. The Princeton Flea Market is the largest weekly outdoor flea market in Wisconsin, held April through October on Saturdays in City Park. Admission and parking is free and not only are the items for sale a lesson in interesting variety, so is the food offered by vendors – it goes beyond the typical fare.

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Muk Luks, baby!!

Along the Shops of Water Street, fans of comfy footwear might want to check out the Muk Luks Museum, an homage to the famous brand that originated in Princeton. A variety of the styles, artifacts, tools, shipping materials, and more from back in the day can be found. It’s open Saturdays, the peak shopping day in town.

While named after a town in Massachusetts as opposed to the prestigious university, don’t forget you can always come here, do some unique shopping, and then tell people you “went to Princeton.”

A few miles east of Princeton, Highway 73 breaks away and heads south through a gap between Puckaway Lake to the west and Green Lake to the east. Green Lake is Wisconsin’s deepest inland natural lake; it averages 100 feet deep (compared with 15 feet for Lake Winnebago, for example) and a maximum depth of 237 feet. Green Lake isn’t only deep, it’s pretty big… 11.5 square miles. It’s one of the last lakes around to freeze in water and thaw in spring but it’s one of the best in the state for fishing. Joe Gotz pulled a 35-pound trout out this in lake in 1957 and everything from northern pike and walleye to crappier and perch can be found here. The lake has featured numerous resorts and hotels since the 1800s, although many of the early ones burned down – as hotels often did in the late 19th century. Golf courses have remained and thrived, with Tuscumbia dating back to 1896 and nationally-ranked Golf Courses of Lawsonia offering its Links and Woodlands courses that include lakeshore panoramic views.

The epicenter of the area’s vacation and recreation activities focus on the city of Green Lake (pop. 960), the seat of Green Lake County. Highway 23 skims the northern edge of town today but “Business” 23 brings you towards the center of town, and it’s worth exploring. Green Lake is home to resorts like the famous Heidel House, which lies on the eastern banks of the lake southeast of the town center, and the Green Lake Conference Center, founded in 1943 by American Baptists. Its Judson Tower carillon provides some chimes for golfers on the Lawsonia courses, since they’re located on the same large grounds just west of town. Downtown Green Lake offers shops, bars, and restaurants, and lakeside parks that cater to vacationers and recreational visitors. Also downtown on Mill Street, the historic Thrasher Opera House opened in 1910 and hosted everything from vaudeville performances to (very) early movies into the mid-20th century before – as most performance venues did back in the day – close and fall into disrepair. A restoration brought Thrasher back to life, and today it’s once again a hub for activity in Green Lake. Many theatrical, comedy, and musical performers come through here now, including many national acts – not much opera, though. But in our minds, that’s perfectly fine; we’d be thinking about Adam Sandler as “Opera Man” on SNL anyway.

At Green Lake, Highway 49 joins in from the north and Berlin (pronounced BER-lin) for the ride with Highway 23 east six miles into Ripon (pop. 7,733), a college town with a history of debate and cookies. Ripon was named after the English cathedral city of Ripon, North Yorkshire, in 1849 when it was first settled. The 1850s were busy for Ripon; in 1851 city founder David Mapes founded Brockway College, which evolved into Ripon College. Three years later, the Republican Party was founded in Ripon’s “Little White Schoolhouse” – which happens to be located right along today’s Highway 23/49. It’s all part of Ripon’s downtown, where Highway 23/49 wraps around the northeast side of the downtown square.

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The “Little White Schoolhouse”, where the Republican Party was founded on an anti-slavery platform in 1854.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Ripon influenced the Golden State when former Ripon, Wisconsin resident Amplias B. Crooks (names were rather interesting back then) moved to Stanislaus City, California and started a store. Unhappy with the town’s name, he had it changed to Ripon, California in 1874.

Ripon was also home of the NFL for many decades. Really! We’re talking the National Forensic League, an organization dedicated to training students in communication and debate skills. Founded in 1925, it’s the nation’s oldest and largest debate and speech honor society. Alums of this NFL include President Lyndon Johnson, Senators Russ Feingold and Bill Frist, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, Kelsey Grammar, Shelley Long, Jane Pauley, CSPAN founder Brian Lamb, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and more. They changed their name to the National Speech & Debate Association (less cool, but easier to interpret) in 2013. Either way, if you stop in town and get into a debate with someone, be prepared. There could be a speech and debate expert that’ll mop up on any topic.

Cookies & College in Ripon
Ripon College counts among its graduates and students people like actors Spencer Tracy and Harrison Ford, singer Al Jarreau and more recently Brittany “McKey” Sullivan, a recent winner on America’s Next Top Model. Ripon College students, like other area residents, generally revel in the fact that the town is home to Rippin’ Good cookies (now owned by ConAgra Foods, which is reducing production ) Ever had the Mint Creme Cookies? If not, you have yet to live to the fullest extent. The Rippin’ Good Cookie Outlet can be found just north and east of downtown Ripon, at 420 E. Oshkosh Street, which is also Highway 44 (920-748-0293 if you want to call ahead). It is generally open Monday-Friday 8am-4:30pm and Saturday from 8am to 1pm. Prepare for sugar and goodness.

Fond du Lac, Plymouth, Kohler, Sheboygan and everything in between has been toured and will be posted shortly!

CONNECTIONS

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 11
Can connect nearby to: Highway 78, about 6 miles east

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 28, Highway 42
Can connect nearby to: Highway 32, about 6 miles west; I-43, about 3 miles west