Colonial Cheese House


Situated where Highways 21 & 116 cross the Fox River in downtown Omro, the Colonial Cheese House specializes in aged cheeses, including “super aged cheddars,” and also features fruit cheddars (like cranberry cheddar), nut cheddars, curds, beef sticks, and a variety of sausages and cheese spreads.

It’s also a popular place for sandwiches, subs, and take-home pizzas (which they’ll bake you to enjoy in their place for an extra buck.)

But it’s the Wisconsin cheese and sausage selection that makes this a State Trunk Tour pick. Check it out if you’re heading through Omro!

Address:
230 W. Main Street (Highways 21 & 116)
Omro, WI 54963
(920) 685-6570
Website

HIghway 21 Tank Crossing

21

STH-021“Bikes To B’Gosh”

 

WisMap21Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 21 cuts across much of central Wisconsin, joining Sparta and Fort McCoy with Oshkosh and the Fox Cities. Used as a primary route for cross-state traffic, it’s the main street for several key towns and provides access to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, as well as both the Wisconsin River (which flows into the Mississippi) and Lake Winnebago (which flows into Green Bay to Lake Michigan and, eventually, the Atlantic Ocean.)

Wisconsin Highway 21 Road Trip

The Drive (West To East): Highway 21 begins in the Bicycling Capital of America, Sparta (pop. 9,522). Sparta is the western host of Fort McCoy, the eastern terminus of the La Crosse River Trail, and the northern terminus of the world-famous Elroy-Sparta Trail. It’s also childhood home of a famous astronaut and current home of the World’s Largest Bicyclist (more on that below.) I-90 and Highways 16, 27, and 71 also meet in Sparta.

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Sparta’s traditional downtown runs along Highway 21, with shops and bikers lining the street.

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Ben Biken, Sparta’s bicyclin’ mascot, looks over Highway 21’s western start. He was manufactured locally by FAST Corp., which we’ll get to in a second.

The town’s enthusiastic support of bicycling extends to street name signs that bear bike symbols. Numerous motels and B&B’s cater to the cycling crowd while downtown establishments offer supplies for your bike and sustenance for your tummy.

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The Sparta Depot serves as a trailhead for the La Crosse River and Elroy-Sparta Trails. Here, a group of bikers begin the 32-mile trek toward Elroy.

On top of bikes, Sparta has a number of attractions. Some kids who grow up in Sparta leave for big cities; Deke Slayton left for Earth’s upper atmosphere. The Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum honors the astronaut, native son, and head of NASA Operations from 1963 to 1972.

Deke Slayton Museum, Sparta

An out-of-this-world statue of Sparta son Deke Slayton adorns the Space & Bicycle Museum that bears his name.

So, you know that fiberglass hippo? The one whose mouth you putt golf balls into while playing mini-golf? Chances are it was made in Sparta at the FAST Corp. (FAST stands for Fiberglass Animals Shapes and Trademarks.) FAST does business all over the world, and few companies like it exist. A drive into their lot yields a sprawling field filled with fiberglass fun: large cows, alligators, elephants that double as childrens’ slides… the list goes on. You may traverse the field and marvel at their creations, as long as you behave and don’t climb on anything. Their lot can be found by following Highway 21 to the northeast edge of town, at the junction with County Highway Q. Look for giant fiberglass things.

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Fiberglass animals of all kinds, including this elephant hanging out in the pasture, dot FAST’s lot on the northeast side of Sparta. You are welcome to wander around and check out all the fascinating pieces, just be careful. Watch for wasps, which sometimes make nests inside the displays. Nobody needs somebody getting hurt, stung, or whining off to their lawyer. It is forbidden on the State Trunk Tour.

Highway 21 into Fort McCoy

Highway 21 crosses a stretch of Fort McCoy between Sparta and Tomah. They encourage you to just keep driving…

HIghway 21 Tank Crossing

Now HERE’S a “crossing” sign you don’t see that often…

Northeast out of Sparta, Highway 21 follows the La Crosse River and then beelines it across Fort McCoy, a military reservation in service since 1909. Amidst a beautiful setting with valleys, coulees and hills, about 100,000 members of the military are trained here every year.

Tomah

After a 5-6 mile straightaway, Highway 21 winds past Tunnel City and across the northern end of Tomah (pop. 8,419), which holds the Monroe County seat. Tomah itself sits right where the Driftless Area gives way to cranberry bogs and forests. Transportation has long been a hallmark of Tomah; it holds an Amtrak station for the Empire Builder and is where roads going through Wisconsin from Illinois to Minnesota tend to split. Pre-Interstate days, it’s where then-main roads U.S. Highways 12 and 16 split; when the interstates were built in the 1960’s, they decided to split Interstates 90 and 94 here as well. Highway 131 also starts here and makes a trek south through Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, an incredibly beautiful drive. Even shows of power congregate here: the Budweiser Dairyland Super National Truck & Tractor Pull is one of the largest in the country and takes place every June at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. Not coincidentally, lots of hotels, truck stops, warehouses and transport companies are located here. In keeping with the transportation theme, Gasoline Alley comic strip creator Frank King grew up in Tomah. The city’s downtown is south of Highway 21; just follow U.S. 12 south and when you reach downtown, it’s a pretty cool main street boulevard. Meanwhile, along Highway 21,you’ll find a plethora of gas stations, restaurants, hotels, and more at the busy junction with I-94.

Tomah water towerIn addition to transportation, Tomah is known as one of America’s cranberry capitals. The world’s largest cranberry festival is held during late September in nearby Warrens, which also holds the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center. Warrens can be reached by heading north on I-94 to County E, about 8 miles north of Highway 21.

You can see cranberry bogs for yourself along Highway 21 just east of the intersections with U.S. 12 and I-94.

East of Tomah, it gets more forested. Just past the junction with Highway 173, an angled road that sends you up towards Nekoosa and Wisconsin Rapids, you enter a busy area – for wildlife.

The massive Necedah National Wildlife Refuge covers 43,696 acres in the largest wetland bog in Wisconsin. Established in 1939, the Necedah N.W.R. hosts many rare or endangered species; the Refuge played a key role in the reintroduction of the whooping crane and the gray wolf. Over 110 species of migratory birds and 44 species of butterflies (did you even know there were 44 species of butterflies??) along with a variety of reptiles, amphibians, and several threatened species like the Blanding’s turtle all get to hang out here. Hiking, fishing and berry-picking are just some of the activities one can participate in at Necedah.

Necedah Visitor Center sign

The Necedah National Wildlife Refuge can be accessed right off Highway 21.

Necedah NWR guide signs

Necedah is known as the “Land of the Yellow Water” due to the Yellow River flowing through (and no, it’s not a book by I.P. Daily.)

Further along Highway 21 at the southeast end of the National Wildlife Refuge is the village of Necedah (pop. 916). Founded as an early lumber town on the banks of the Yellow River near Petenwell Rock, a popular climbing bluff, Necedah hosts a number of visitors from the National Wildlife Refuge as well as water lovers wishing to recreate on nearby Petenwell Lake. Petenwell Lake is a wide area of the Wisconsin River formed by a dam in 1948; it’s now the second largest lake in Wisconsin. The dam itself is just east of town along Highway 21, just past the intersection with Highway 80 downtown. Despite Necedah being home to NASCAR drivers Jim, Jay, Johnny, Tim and Travis Sauter, remember to obey the local speed limits. For something slower and more reflective, the Necedah Shrine (W5703 Shrine Road, 608-565-2617) is a Marian shrine officially called the “Queen of the Holy Rosary Mediatrix Between God and Man Shrine.” They welcome visitors with free admission and an Information Center that is open from 10am-4pm daily.

While plying the beautiful farmland and forests that characterize much of the drive from Necedah eastward on Highway 21, you will cross the occasional curious landform such as Ship Rock, described by some as “an isolated pinnacle of Cambrian sandstone” and as a “cool rock formation” by others.

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Ship Rock, one of the most eastern outposts of Wisconsin’s “Driftless Area” and a fun place to go rock climbing.

It’s a beautiful outcropping, marred in places by graffiti for no good reason whatsoever. But check out the angles, because from many of them the rocks do resemble a “ship-shape.”

Coloma

Further east on Highway 21 we approach Wisconsin’s spine, the I-39/U.S. 51 highway. It tends to mark an unofficial boundary between the western and eastern halves of the state, and right where these two highways cross you’ll find little Coloma (pop. 450). Through history, Coloma has shifted to where the action is; it began four miles west of its present location where the stagecoach route once came through; when a railroad connecting Stevens Point to Portage was built in 1876, Coloma shifted over to where the rail was – its present downtown. U.S. 51’s original route came through on Main Street; today’s U.S. 51 & I-39 run through within a mile of Coloma’s main crossroads now, meaning the town could stay put. The original location four miles west is now known as “Coloma Corners.”

Glover Bluff Meteor Crater

A little-known, under-studied but significant feature on the landscape a few miles south of Coloma is the Glover Bluff Meteor Crater. This impact crater, estimated to be less than 500 million years old (you know – give or take), is five miles wide and is exposed at the surface. However, natural plant and tree growth coupled with quarrying for dolomite rock means the crater itself tends not to be uber-noticable. However, scientists and researchers are starting to recognize the need to study this crater in more detail, and we’ll keep you posted if becomes something where a visit will reveal something cool.

Highway 21 entering WautomaContinuing east from Coloma on Highway 21, you angle through Marquette County into Waushara County, heading east-northeast through the “sand hills” into Waushara’s county seat, Wautoma (pop. 2,218). The city bills itself as the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World” due to a major tree-growing farm that established in Wautoma in the 1950s. Highways 22 and 73 also converge here; Highway 21 joining 73 for a brief ride north into the city’s downtown before angling southeast. A brief offshoot is Highway 152, which runs for seven miles to Mount Morris and the Nordic Mountain Ski Area.

** Drive-In Alert **
On the east side of town along Highways 21/73, Wautoma offers an old fashioned drive-in, the Milty Wilty. Open since 1947, the Milty Wilty (920-787-2300) is known for delicious old-school burgers, hearty yet light milkshakes, ice cream, and just all-around fun.

The rest of Highway 21 from Wautoma to Oshkosh is coming soon!

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 16, Highway 27Highway 71
Can connect nearby to: I-90, about 2 miles east via Highway 16

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: I-41, Highway 76, U.S. Highway 45
Can connect nearby to: Highway 26, about 4 miles southwest; Highway 44, about 3 miles southwest

Arrowhead in Winneconne

116

STH-116“Across the Fox and through the land of secession – and once to Berlin”

 

Quickie Summary: Highway 116 runs from the U.S. 45 freeway just northwest of Oshkosh by Lake Butte des Morts, across the Fox River into Winneconne – a town with an interesting history based on a state map snub! You then head south through Omro to Waukau, where the road ends but you can follow its historic route west into Berlin.

The Wisconsin Highway 116 Road Trip

The Drive (North to South): Highway 116 begins at the U.S. 45 freeway about six miles northwest of Oshkosh. County GG continues east to connect with Highway 76, but since we’re following 116, we go west.

Westbound Highway 116 beginning at U.S. 45

Highway 116 begins at the U.S. 45 freeway northwest of Oshkosh near Butte des Morts. Heading back east, County GG connects with Highway 76.

A side road – once Highway 110 – will take you to tiny Butte des Morts, which lies along the shore of its namesake, Lake Butte des Morts.  It’s part of the larger Winnebago Pool that features chains of lakes along the Fox and Wolf Rivers, eventually dumping into Lake Winnebago and then the Fox River out into Lake Michigan. And yes, if you can navigate a few locks, from this inland location you can get in a boat and make your way all the way to the Atlantic Ocean if you were so inclined. But we digress…

Lake Butte des Morts averages only 9 feet deep; its maximum depth is 15 feet. Popular for fishing, boating, water skiing, and trying to cross via I-41, the lake was named by early French settlers meaning “Hill of the Dead,” referencing a nearby Native American burial mound.

Highway 116 heads west from U.S. 45 and Butte des Morts for about three miles into Winneconne (pop. 2,383), which is squeezed into the Wolf River’s passage between Lake Poygan and Lake Butte des Morts. Highway 116 uses a drawbridge originally constructed in 1934 but has since been updated. This is a very popular crossing point, being is the only road crossing this Fox-Wolf-Wisconsin waterway system between I-41 in Oshkosh and the western end of the lakes system in Waushara County. This makes Winneconne a very popular boat launch spot, and summer days and nights are filled with boats and trailers towing them.

Winneconne welcome sign

The Well Drive-In, Winneconne** DRIVE-IN ALERT **

As Highway 116 enters Winneconne, you’ll find The Well Drive-In (705 E. Main, 920-582-7292). Open from March through September, The Well serves up the burgers, shakes, cones, and more you’d expect from a drive-in stand – but they also serve wings, fried cheese curds, and a Friday fish fry.

At the bridge, Highway 116 arrives in downtown Winneconne. Crossing the Wolf River here, Lakes Winneconne and Poygan are to your north, Lake Butte des Morts to your south. Along the shore, bars and restaurants – often with boat launch facilities – are ready to serve you.

116 bridge over the Wolf River

Highway 116 crosses the Wolf River. The first bridge, a floater, was constructed here in 1852.

One of them is a real “showboat” place – the Fin n’ Feather. A restaurant, bar, banquet hall, and launch point for riverboats that ply the Wolf River and adjoining lakes, the Fin n’ Feather dates back to 1922. With a design looking like a showboat of old, its location at the bridge along the water makes it an incredibly popular summer spot.

Not a bad day to relax along the Wolf River in Winneconne.

Not a bad day to relax along the Wolf River in Winneconne.

Fin' n Feather Restaurant, Winneconne

The Fin n’ Feather, which has grown in stages since 1922. It looks like a showboat… and it’s not just a look. They actually launch boats and have tours of the waterways here.

Arrowhead in Winneconne

Downtown Winneconne buzzes with activity on warm summer days. The Arrowhead Restaurant gets props for having a cool older sign!

“Sovereign State” and the 1967 map mess-up

In 1967, somebody screwed up and accidentally left Winneconne off the official state map – leaving only the dot. Winneconne did not take kindly to this; they reacted Texas-style by declaring “secession” from Wisconsin.  They created officers of the “Sovereign State of Winneconne”, developed a flag, named the skunk their official state animal, poison ivy the state flower, and the dodo the state bird.

Secession began on July 21, 1967. Later that day, Governor Knowles called Winneconne officials. He promised the error would be fixed on the next map and gave Winneconne some love and recognition on highway signs over on U.S. 41 and (then) Highway 110, helping to point more people to their town. So Winneconne rejoined Wisconsin and has celebrated “Sovereign State Days” every year since then – and they’ve never been skipped on a Wisconsin road map again.

On Winneconne’s west side in Arthur Marble Park is the Winneconne Historical Museum, which features the town’s 1871 railroad depot, an original one-room schoolhouse from 1889, the Kay Wilde Doll Cottage, and a Steamboat Museum. It’s open Sundays from 1:30-4:30pm… so you have a narrow window to hit!

Winneconne Museum photo

The Winneconne Historical Museum, a campus of historic buildings in Arthur Marble Park along Highway 116. They’ll let you in if you hit a 3-hour window on Sundays during the summer.

 

omro_welcomesignSouth of Winneconne, Highway 116 heads straight south six miles into Omro (pop. 3,517). Here it meets a junction with Highway 21, a main east-west route from Oshkosh that goes all the way west to Sparta. Omro lies along the Fox River and was visited by French explorers as early as 1639; in the late 1800s it brimmed with mills, factories making glass and carriages, and machine shops – many of which headed to Oshkosh by 1900.

Omro serves as a center for western Winnebago County (south of the waterway system) and has been growing again, including as a bedroom community for workers in Oshkosh. Omro’s main street includes historic buildings – which can be further explored via their historic walking tour – and attractive parklands along the Fox River.

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Highway 116 meets up with Highway 21 for the ride across the Fox River into downtown – they actually have a “wrong way concurrency” through town, with eastbound 21 also being westbound 116 and vice-versa.

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In what looks like a former Fotomat, this kiosk welcomes you to Omro. A pay phone is in front of it, too. Maybe this should their de facto historical museum.

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Both car and pedestrian-only bridges span the Fox River in Omro. Nice parkland, including Miller Park abutting downtown, makes this a pleasant area.

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The Colonial Cheese House.

One favorite Omro stop is the Colonial Cheese House (800-985-6590), which specializes in aged cheeses as well as beef sticks, curds, spreads – and their homemade pizzas are very popular among locals. It’s places like this that help make a roadtrip fun and brings a Wisconsin experience.

As Highway 21 breaks east toward Oshkosh, Highway 116 meanders south-southwest through Winnebago County farmlands.

waukau_oldschoolsite

The former site of “Blue Bell School”, which closed in 1962, is commemorated here just southwest of Omro along 116 and County F. Not to be academic, but the bell itself here isn’t blue; it’s gold. Just an observation.

It’s an increasingly forested ride south, with a nice diversion for nature lovers via County K available in the form of the Waukau Creek Nature Preserve, which offers spring wildflowers, willows and marshes, and a great time for bird watchers.

Highway 116 ends up heading into the small settlement of Waukau (pop. 255), where it once turned west to head into Berlin, nine miles to the west in adjacent Green Lake County.

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We couldn’t find much history on this mill close to where Highway 116 ends in Waukau, but we do know when it operated.

Today, Highway 116 ends at Highway 91, which runs from Oshkosh to Berlin and took over for Highway 116’s original turn west from Waukau to Berlin when 91 was designated on this route in 1996.

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Highway 116 doesn’t go very far, but it’s a pleasant little drive with some nice stops in Omro, Winneconne, and along the way. Oshkosh is close too, always ten miles away or less. Enjoy!

CONNECTIONS
Western/Southern Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 91
Can connect nearby to: Highway 49, nine miles west; Highway 44, nine miles east

Eastern/Northern Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 45
Can connect nearby to: I-41, six miles southeast; U.S.10, seven miles north