First Kindergarten in Watertown

America’s First Kindergarten

Watertown is officially recognized as the site of America’s first kindergarten. In 1856, Watertown was Wisconsin’s second largest city, sitting at the western end of the famous Watertown Plank Road from Milwaukee. Watertown resident Margarethe Meyer Schurz, wife of the famous German-American statesman Carl Schurz, learned about children’s education in her native Hamburg, Germany. She opened a school known as a “children’s garden” – aka a “kindergarten” – for her kids and some relatives’ kids. When other area kids wanted to enroll, she expanded from their home on Church Street into a building on Second and Jones in downtown Watertown.

The Schurz’ left Watertown in 1858 for Milwaukee and eventually Washington DC, where Carl Schurz became minister to Spain and served in other roles in President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. He later became editor of the New York Post.

The building continued to host kindergarten classes for over four decades before becoming a cigar factory, then a fish store, and then a religious bookstore. In 1956, the building was moved to its current location behind another famous historic landmark, The Octagon House. Both are now operated by the Watertown Historical Society and are open for tours. The interior depicts a day when classes were in session.

You’ll find the site of America’s first kindergarten behind the Octagon House on Charles Street. It’s southeast of downtown Watertown, just south of Highway 19, Business Highway 16 and east of Business Highway 26.

Hours
11:00 to 3:00 from May 1st to Memorial Day
10:00am to 4:00pm daily from day after Memorial Day through Labor Day
11:00am to 3:00pm after Labor Day to October 31
Closed for the season Nov 1 to April 30
Tours are fully guided every hour on the hour

Admission
$9.00 for adults
$8.00 for senior citizens and AAA members
$5.00 for children 6 to 17 years of age

Address:
919 Charles Street
Watertown, WI 53094
(920) 261-2796
Website

Wisconsin July 4th Milwaukee Fireworks over Lake Michigan, 2016

Wisconsin July = Awesome!

July 4th Milwaukee Fireworks over Lake Michigan, 2016

A Wisconsin July can’t be beat (we caught these over Lake Michigan during Milwaukee’s US Bank Fireworks show during Summerfest on July 3rd!)

All across the state, there are plenty of events happening. Along the way, enjoy coverage of Wisconsin highways, or see articles like 6 Cool Stops Along I-94 Between Milwaukee and Madison or 10 Quirky Street Names We Found Across Wisconsin, too!

We recommend a ride along the Great River Road/Highway 35, hitting Door County and exploring the coasts along Highway 42 and 57, or riding the incredibly gorgeous Driftless Area of the state along Highways like 23, 33, 56, 82, 131, and more. It’s not like you can go wrong!

The State Trunk Tour is constantly expanding its coverage, too. Coming soon are Highways like 95 from Fountain City to Neillsville, the U.S. Highways in Wisconsin (2, 8, 10, 12, etc.) and even some coverage along the Interstates, since they’re handy for getting from road trip to road trip. Enjoy a Wisconsin July!




Paul & Babe at the Vilas County Historical Society Museum

Vilas County Historical Society Museum

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Billing itself as “The Northwoods the Way It Was,” the Vilas County Historical Society Museum on the south end of Sayner along Highway 155 chronicles the history of Vilas County and its communities. It’s pretty easy to find, with a large statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox out front.

The Vilas County Museum holds over 7,500 square feet of exhibits, displays, and artifacts. You’ll find a “Pioneer Room,” with antique housewares, stoves, clothes, and other sundry items that were part of early settlers’ days. There are also doll collections, native wildlife mounts, lures, boats, outboard motors, and Jim Froelich’s African Safari mounts.

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Carl Eliason’s original snowmobile, which started it all.




Sayner is where the snowmobile was invented. Along with an impressive collection of the sleds you can check out the original machine built by Carl Eliason in 1924 that secured the first official patent for the snowmobile.

The Vilas County Museum is open seasonally, generally Memorial Day through the end of September. From late May to mid-June, the hours are 10am – 2pm, seven days a week. From mid-June 16 through the end of September, the hours are 10am-4pm – also seven days a week.

Admission to the museum is $3 for persons aged 10 and up. Kids 9 and under are free.

The Vilas County Historical Society Museum is right along Highway 155, about six miles north of Highway 70 in St. Germain. The Snowmobile Hall of Fame & Museum is in nearby St. Germain along 70 if you want to make it a “two-fer” day.

Vilas County Historical Society Museum Address:

2889 Highway 155
Sayner, WI 54560
(715) 542-3388
Website




Highway 17 in Phelps on a State Trunk Tour

17

STH-017“Angling up through Snowmobile Country and the North Woods”

WisMap17Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 17 is a connector road between up North vacation and recreation hotspots, connecting U.S. 51 travelers to Rhinelander, Eagle River, and many of the myriad lakes in Vilas County. If you’ve ever camped, fished, snowmobiled or hung out in a lakeside vacation home in the North Woods, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve used Highway 17.

The Wisconsin Highway 17 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Although it starts on the outskirts of the town today at the interchange with U.S. 51 and Highway 64, prior to the late 1980s Highway 17 used to start in Merrill at the former U.S. 51 before the freeway was built. And since we don’t like to bypass towns on the State Trunk Tour unless we’re in a hurry, we’ll start at the former terminus.

Merrill

Highway 17’s historical beginning is at the junction of County Highways K (the original U.S. 51) and G (the original Highway 17, also known as 14th Street). This is just north of downtown Merrill (pop. 9,364), which you can check out by going south on County K (Center Ave.) to 1st Street (Highway 64). Merrill lies along the Wisconsin River, “the hardest working river in the world.”

Merrill was originally called Jenny Bull Falls when it was founded in 1843. It was changed to Merrill in 1881 in honor of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad’s general manager, S.S. Merrill (yes, it sounds more like a boat, but he actually managed the railroad.) During this decade of Merrill’s history, they became a leader in Wisconsin for the number of those newfangled telephones put into operation, named its first mayor, cranked out a boatload of lumber – 150 million board feet of lumber and 86 million shingles in 1892 alone – and even introduced some transit.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Merrill was one of the first cities in the U.S. to make use of electric streetcars, introducing them in 1890.

Downtown Merrill is accessed via County K or Highway 64; it’s worth checking out. A pair of one-way streets mark Highway 64’s run through the heart of town, which features two beautiful government buildings: the original Merrill City Hall and the Lincoln County Courthouse. Merrill City Hall sits where Highway 64 forks into one-way streets downtown; completed in 1889, this Queen Anne-style structure held city offices until 1977. Today, it’s one of the most beautiful apartment buildings in northern Wisconsin. The Lincoln County Courthouse by the river features a prominent clock tower.

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Merrill City Hall opened in 1889; in 1977, they became apartments. We hope since they’ve been updated to not include 70s decor, such as shag rugs.

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The Lincoln County Courthouse in downtown Merrill. The tall clock tower keeps people on time throughout the center of town.

Along Highways 64 on the west side of Merrill right at the junction with Highway 107, you’ll find a beautiful triple arch bridge crossing, constructed in 1904, crossing the Prairie River right before it merges with the Wisconsin. Several sights are here as part of a city park. First is the bridge itself, whose striking design must be appreciated from the river level below.

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Built in 1904, this stone arch bridge carries Highway 64 over the Prairie River in Merrill, right by Highway 107. This is on the west side of town; Highway 17 begins on the east side.

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Next is the T.B. Scott Free Library, which originally opened in 1889 inside City Hall but moved to its current “Prairie style” building in 1911. It was one of the first “traveling libraries” in the state and the first to offer English classes for immigrants, which they started back in 1905. In between the bridge and the library, a quirky statue known as the “River Rat” pays tribute to the loggers who rode logs and helped ensure the wood cut down in forests upstream made it safely to the mills downstream… often by riding on the logs themselves.

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The T.B. Scott Free Library moved into this Prairie-style structure in 1911, where it continues to serve Merrill and other north central Wisconsin residents.

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The “River Rat”, who spent all day riding logs down the river making sure as much lumber as possible made its way to the mills. Beavers were likely a natural enemy.

Commune with nature and get beautiful views of the Wisconsin River in Council Grounds State Park., on the northwest side of Merrill via Highway 107. This 508-acre park abuts the Wisconsin River on grounds that once held Native American encampments. The dense forests, hiking trails, fishing and hunting opportunities, and campgrounds offer a peaceful and fun place to hang out, along with some beautiful views of the Wisconsin River. In season, you can rent canoes to ply the river and Lake Alexander or launch your boat (just watch out for canoes.)

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Cirrus clouds reflect nicely in the gentle waters of the Wisconsin River at Council Grounds State Park, just north of Merrill along Highway 107. Highway 17 begins a few miles to the east in Merrill.

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Hectic day? Try this instead.

Okay – NOW we’re off on Highway 17!

 

From Merrill, Highway 17 makes a beeline northeast across the woods and farms of Lincoln County, past small hamlets like Gleason (where the 1983 horror flick The Devonsville Terror was filmed) and Parrish, part of a quick swing inside Langlade County before ducking into Oneida County for – in most cases – less than a minute. Then you’re in Lincoln County again, then back into Oneida County. You dizzy yet?

Finally, you reach the next city along Highway 17, which is all about the Hodag…and more.

Rhinelander

Of course, we’re talking about Rhinelander (pop. 7,798), the Oneida County seat and metropolitan center of everything north of Wausau. The two cities even split the television market up here, with WJFW-TV (Channel 12) serving as the NBC affiliate for northern Wisconsin. Rhinelander is where NFL player Jason Doering, five-time PGA golf champion Dan Forsman, playwright Dan Wasserman, entertainment reporter Steve Kmetko and 2002 Miss Teen USA winner Vanessa Semrow, the only Wisconsinite to win the pageant, all came from. College coaching legend John Heisman, namesake of the Heisman Trophy, is buried in Rhinelander – because that’s where his wife was born.

Highway 17’s Rhinelander Bypass vs. City Route

Highway 17 traditionally ran right through downtown Rhinelander. In 2004, the 3.25 mile “Rhinelander Bypass” opened, carrying Highway 17 officially around the city to the south and then east (U.S. 8 and Highway 47 were re-routed onto the bypass as well.) You can follow it, but that kind of defeats the purpose of checking out the towns along the way unless you want a tour of big-box store parking lots. On the State Trunk Tour, we try to follow the original city routes!

So how do you do that? When Highway 17 officially turns onto the bypass, go straight, which is Boyce Street. Follow that to Kemp (the former U.S. 8) and turn right. About 1/2 mile down, turn left onto Arbutus Street, which curves onto Pelham. At Rhinelander City Hall, angle onto Stevens Street, which takes you through downtown and leads you back to today’s Highway 17 on the northeast edge.

Rhinelander was originally called Pelican Rapids, but changed the name when the city was chartered to salute Frederic Rhinelander, who was president of the main railroad at the time. By 1882, the railroad was extended to the city from Monico (which Highway 47 touches on later) and lumber mills went crazy, exporting wood and wood products. Lumber today still plays a big role in Rhinelander’s economy.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
WJFW-TV, Rhinelander’s Channel 12, is the NBC affiliate for northern Wisconsin. When a plane crash took out its original tower in 1968, the rebuilt tower was the 7th tallest structure in the world and was the first in the U.S. built exclusively for color TV transmission. When it was sold in 1979 to Seaway Communications, it was the first VHF commercial TV station owned by minority interests.

An original Rhinelander beer label. Could it be brewed again soon in downtown Rhinelander?

The city also became a brewery town back in 1882, when Rhinelander Beer was introduced. The brewery pioneered and patented the 7-ounce “shorty” bottle and grew to become one of the more influential local breweries in the country. They closed in 1967, but the brands continued to be brewed under contract in Monroe, where the Huber (now Minhas Brewery) kept cranking it out. In 2009, the brands were brought back to Rhinelander when Jyoti Auluck became president of the “new” Rhinelander Brewing Company. They are in the process of bringing back the original formulas and labels to their brands and plan to build a new brewery in Rhinelander. Some of the brands, including the original Rhinelander beer, are now available in various bar and store locations around Wisconsin and upper Michigan. We’ll definitely do more research on this!

Following the traditional Highway 17 through Rhinelander involves jogging a bit from Boyce to Kemp Street (the original U.S. 8) and then heading left on Arbutus, which becomes Pelham Street. At Rhinelander City Hall in a triangular intersection, angle left onto Stevens Street. That’s when you’re officially into the downtown area. As the Oneida County Seat, Rhinelander’s downtown includes the beautiful Oneida County Courthouse, with its Tiffany glass dome serving as a visible landmark through the town. A host of local shops, bars and restaurants and sporting goods stores are ready to serve the healthy numbers of tourists who hang out in Rhinelander; many use the city as a launching point for taking in the recreational opportunities that abound across all seasons.

The stately Oneida County Courthouse, with its Tiffany glass dome, dominates in downtown Rhinelander.

Here’s some history you probably didn’t know: the first comprehensive rural zoning ordinance in the U.S. took place right here in Oneida County. Adopted in 1933, we tried to read the rest of it but it was kind of snowy that day.

hodag2_300The Hodag.
Yes, you’ve probably heard, Rhinelander is Hodag Country. So what is a Hodag? According to folklore, the Hodag was first seen in 1893 and had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end.” Advanced by Eugene Shepard, who was known for pranks, the beast became something of legend when the “remains” of one was released to area newspapers. Later, he claimed to have overpowered a live Hodag using chloroform and brought it with him to the 1896 Oneida County Fair. Curious onlookers came from all over to examine the animal, which Shepard worked up and attached wires to, for the occasional tugging to make the creature move…sending audiences running. Apparently, it seemed pretty real: scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. announced they would be coming to Rhinelander to examine this Hodag creature…essentially forcing Shepard to admit it was a hoax.

Nevertheless, the Hodag came an indelible part of Rhinelander’s local lore. The Hodag is the high school mascot, the city’s official symbol, is commemorated with sculptures around town and even lends its name to the local country music festival, which draws some pretty big names (Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Neal McCoy, Kellie Pickler and, in its inception in 1978, good ol’ Freddy Fender. Anybody up for a round of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights“?)
You can find the biggest Hodag statue right next to the Rhinelander Visitors’ Center, along Kemp Street (the traditional U.S. 8) on the southwest side of town, just off the bypass.

Downtown Rhinelander is where the old Highway 17 (Stevens Street), U.S. 8 and Highway 47 all came together. The downtown area is still pretty vibrant, since Rhinelander is a major center for commerce and recreation in the North Woods. For shops, bars and restaurants, Brown Street is the main strip, one block west of Stevens in the downtown area. There’s even a 24-hour drive-through McDonald’s (rare for this part of the state) and plenty of sites to see, including:
– The Rhinelander Logging Museum (334 N. Pelham Street, 715-369-5004), a complex featuring a replica of an 1870s lumber camp, the original Soo Line Depot (built in 1892, in service until 1989), an extensive model railroad display in the basement and an outdoors display of early logging equipment, a narrow-gauge locomotive and steam-powered “snow snakes”. What’s a snow snake? Well, that’s why you have to road trip and discover stuff. For more, visit their website.
ArtStart! (68 S. Stevens Street) an arts and cultural center that established itself in 2011 inside the historic Federal Building – which they bought for $1 from the feds (no wonder the government is broke!). As of our last trip, they were still getting things together, so check out their Facebook page to keep up with the latest developments.
– For outdoor adventurers, Mel’s Trading Post (105 S. Brown Street, 715-362-5800) has been outfitting residents and visitors alike since 1946.
– If you need to catch the game or imbibe in some bar food and sandwiches, Bucketheads Sports Bar & Grill (46 N. Brown Street, 715-369-5333) is a good stop. Check out the sweet potato fries and brewery equipment in the front.
– For fancier fare, check out the White Stag Inn (7141 State Highway 17N, 715-272-1057), a little north of town via Highway 17, closer to Sugar Camp…look for the – creatively enough – white stag out front.
– Since the State Trunk Tour is a big fan of pasties, we have to recommend Joe’s Pasty Shop (123 Randall Avenue, 715-369-1224) . Opened in 2004, it’s a sister shop to the original Joe’s up in Ironwood, Michigan. Tasty!

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The ride on Highway 17 north from Rhinelander takes you through the best of Wisconsin’s North Woods on your way to Eagle River. The only settlement to speak of is the tiny burg of Sugar Camp, a town spread along Indian Lake that actually does host a number of camps. After a snowfall, the clingy snow that stays on the tree branches makes for a beautiful drive, especially when the sun emerges afterwards.

Eagle River

After Highway 17 comes in from Rhinelander and joins Highway 70, you get into Eagle River (pop. 1,443), one of Wisconsin’s most popular vacation towns. It’s nicknamed the “Snowmobiling Capital of the World“, and competitions are held here throughout the winter months. Extensive trails stretch for miles from the town and around the multitude of lakes in the area. In warmer months, boating is very popular on these lakes… so many area lakes (28), in fact, that the Eagle River/Three Lakes Chain compose the largest number of interconnected lakes in the world. These lakes are frozen a good chunk of the year, obviously, and on the weekend closest to New Years’, area firefighters and volunteers cut 3,000 foot-thick blocks of ice from nearby Silver Lake to build the Ice Palace. The Ice Palace has been constructed almost annually since the 1920s and usually stands about 20 feet high, lit up at night with a multitude of colors. Tourists are welcome to check it out and take pictures; just don’t build a fire nearby or chip off any ice for your beverage.

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In a five-day period, thousands of pounds of ice find their way from a nearby lake to become part of an annual tradition, the Eagle River Ice Castle. It often lasts for 60-90 days, depending on temperature, sunlight, and how many people breathe warm air onto it.

eagleriverwelcomewinter_800Snowmobiling Capital of the World

Okay, back to this snowmobiling thing. Home of the annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby, Eagle River’s Derby Track hosted its first race on February 9, 1964 – about 40 years after Carl Eliason of nearby Sayner invented the first model that was comparable to today’s snowmobiles (and, that evening, The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show). The races since have drawn participants and spectators from far and wide – tens of thousands, regardless of the weather. The races are held in mid-January, meaning it can be sunny and near 40, the typical cold of 6 above zero, or wind chills of -50 – as it was in 1994. There’s plenty of room to watch around the track, and luxury boxes are even available. Additional races and attractions have been added over the years; you can read a pretty comprehensive history right here. Eagle River averages 53 inches of snowfall each year – nothing too crazy, especially when areas closer to Lake Superior average over 100. But with hundreds of miles of trails and the invention of the snowmobile having taken place in the area, this is the epicenter of the sport. Bottom line, this is a place to road trip to in the midst of winter’s grasp!

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Racers line up for the oval. Straightaway speeds can reach 100mph. Are there are no seat belts.

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Snocross is awesome to watch, including at night. They can really get some air!

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The rarely-seen Derby Track in summer. A lot less action.

Highway 70 through town is also joined by U.S. 45 and Highway 32. Restaurants and motels line the route, and Wall Street – one block north through the heart of town – is where most of the action is. Lining the Wall are shops, confectioneries, bars, restaurants and the Vilas Theater, a five-screen cinema that dates back many decades.

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Along Wall Street, Eagle River’s main street.

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Two scoops from the Country Store in downtown Eagle River.

Just down is the Country Store, a confectionery with numerous fudge choices, candy, chocolates and ice cream where a “scoop” is half the size of Rhode Island. Plenty of other treats are available too, whether it’s 20 below or 95 above outside.

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The local fishing contingent features its own two cents on available t-shirts.

 

Eagle River is named after the – you guessed it – Eagle River, which flows out of the Chain O’Lakes and into the Wisconsin River. The Wisconsin’s source in Lac Vieux Desert is only about 15 miles north along the Wisconsin-Michigan border, and it’s still pretty small as it flows past Eagle River. Of course, it gains significant size and strength as it flows nearly 400 miles and drops over 1,000 feet on its way to the Mississippi!

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An eagle statue for Eagle River is right by the old railroad station at the west end of downtown. It looks cool during the day, but more soaring and dramatic with the light at night.

Heading north out of Eagle River, Highway 17 branches off from Highways 32 & 45 a few miles north of town. From there, Highway 17 dives deep into the forest, winding through Nicolet National Forest property and past more lakes before reaching tiny Phelps.

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CONNECTIONS
South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 51, Highway 64
Can connect nearby to: Highway 29, about 12 miles south; Highway 52, also about 12 miles south

North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Federal Forest Highway 16 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Can connect nearby to: County roads in Vilas County; also Highway 32 & U.S. 45, about 20 miles southwest

13

STH-013“From The State’s Largest Vacation Spot To The World’s Largest Freshwater Lake”

Southern terminus: Sauk County, at I-90/94’s Exit 87 in Wisconsin Dells

Northern terminus: Douglas County, at the U.S. 2/53 freeway near Superior

Mileage: about 340 miles

Counties along the way: Sauk, Columbia, Adams, Portage, Wood, Marathon, Clark, Taylor, Price, Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas

Sample towns along the way: Wisconsin Dells, Adams/Friendship, Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield, Abbotsford, Medford, Phillips, Park Falls, Ashland, Bayfield

Bypass alternates at: Marshfield

WisMap13Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 13 connects the Dells with Wisconsin’s rugged Lake Superior shores. Along the way, you hit touristy areas like the Dells and Bayfield, run through mid-size Wisconsin cities like “da Rapids” and Marshfield, wind through the North Woods, scoot just to the west of Wisconsin’s highest point, and then hit the state’s northernmost areas along the lake Gordon Lightfoot sang about – for better or worse.

Wisconsin Highway 13 Road Trip

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Highway 13 begins as a ramp off I-90/94 going past the Dells; it runs right through the heart of downtown before making its way north through the state.

The Drive (South To North): Highway 13 begins along a busy interchange with I-90/94 (Exit 87) as it whizzes past Wisconsin Dells, the “Water Park Capital of the World” and Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination. In fact, I caught the local “vacation station”, WDLS (AM 900, which since unfortunately flipped formats), playing “Holiday Road” by Lindsay Buckingham, which served as the opening theme to National Lampoon’s Vacation. It was the perfect accompaniment to rolling through the bustling main street strip filled with shoppers and tourists on a beautiful summer day.

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Almost immediately, Highway 13 intersects with all the main roads in the Dells area: Highways 16 and 23, and U.S. 12

Wisconsin Dells

Past roller coasters, mini golf courses, waterparks, and hopping over the Wisconsin River, you enter the energetic strip that marks downtown Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418), which actually is a city. However, 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 started 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 (46 Celsius.) five years later. But yes, it gets cold here, too – hence a lot of indoor waterparks. In fact, it’s the “Waterpark Capital of the World.” 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.

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.

South of Highway 13 into Lake Delton via U.S. 12/Highway 13 reveals 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 the stretch south of Highway 13 in Lake Delton via U.S. 12 and Highway 23, 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 U.S 12/Highway 23, just south of Highway 13. A ride passes through it; no word on if anything else is hiding inside. It could be a trick!

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

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 fields

And 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 13 where it goes through the heart of Wisconsin Dells. Highways 16 and 23 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 13 goes through the heart of the Dells with Highways 16 and 23 in tow. Wisconsin Dells is a great starting – or ending – point for any trip. You could spend a whole summer here and not run out of things to do. Since this is a road trip, it’s also about the journey. At least ’til we come back to the Dells.

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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.

So, onward!

Onward from the Dells

After the intersection where Highway 16 breaks southeast toward Columbus and Milwaukee and Highway 23 continues east toward Green Lake and Sheboygan, Highway 13 turns north. Northward from the Dells, Highway 13 is a pretty straight shot through the tree cutaways, past smaller lodging camps and some access points that lead you back to the Wisconsin River. Beyond the junction with Highway 82 and over the interestingly-named Risk Creek lie the twin towns of Adams-Friendship.

fmound2Adams (pop. 1,914) is the larger of the two, due to the railroad’s new depot location in 1910; its twin city Friendship (pop. 698) remains the county seat and sits under Friendship Mound, which dominates the north view as you drive through the towns.

It gets quite mound-y here. Just on the other side of Friendship Mound is Roche-A-Cri State Park, which features a steep mound of its own… called, interestingly enough, Roche-A-Cri. The mound is 300 feet high and can be scaled via a 303-step wooden stairway that offers interpretive signs and two rest stops on your way to a gorgeous view from the top.

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The top of a long, steep 300-foot climb has its rewards on Roche-A-Cri Mound.

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The rock formations and views from above or below are great in Roche-A-Cri. Birds overhead only add to the enjoyment of a hike, a picnic, or – perhaps – bird watching.

While there, I saw a guy who made me think that Carrot Top and Owen Wilson had a kid. And by the way, this stairway provides quite a workout. Note that this climb is equivalent to scaling almost halfway up Milwaukee’s tallest building and you’ll know why the sounds of huffing and puffing are audible at the lookout point.

Back to ground level, we see that even the early Native Americans wanted to carve their initials in something – some left rock carvings in the rocks called petroglyphs. They’re deep carvings, considering they’ve survived the weather and elements for all these years. In fact, the earliest decipherable markings date back to about 100 A.D. More recent carvings from European settlers date to the 19th century.

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It’s 19th century – and before – graffiti, well before the invention of spray paint.

Buttes like Roche-A-Cri, and nearby Rabbit Rock, were islands in a glacial lake that once covered the area Highway 13 goes through today. Continuing north past Highway 21, which to the west crosses the Wisconsin River at man/dam-made Petenwell Lake (Wisconsin’s 2nd largest), you enter the town of Rome, where “Picket Fences” was set – alas, no Lauren Holly sightings. Motorcycle enthusiasts, however, can find the Dyracuse Motorcycle Recreation Area (yes, like “Syracuse”, but with a D.) Named after Dyracuse Mound, another major Adams County landmark, DMRA offers eight miles of trails for motorcycles, motocross, ATVs and an Enduro Loop. Full facilities are offered in the recreation area, which is operated by both the Town of Rome and the Rapid Angels Motorcycle Club. So get your motor runnin’/ head out on the highw… well, you know the rest.

In the Lake Arrowhead area, a newer golf resort with its eye on big national things has emerged. Sand Valley Golf Resort opened its first course in 2017 with more under construction. Sand Valley was established to take advantage of the natural sand hills and dunes in this area of Adams County, once the bottom of a glacial lake. The sprawling complex covers over 1,700 acres and looks to become of the premier destinations for golf in the nation and beyond – stay tuned!

Continuing north into Wood County, Highway 13 junctions with Highway 73, which goes west to Nekoosa; we’ll see 73 again before too long. Next up is the Rapids.

Wisconsin Rapids

Wisconsin Rapids (pop. 18,435) isn’t a big city, but it is big enough to be its own “micropolitan” area, which has almost 50,000 people. “Da Rapids” – as some locals call it – used to be two cities on opposite sides of the Wisconsin River, Centralia and Grand Rapids; they merged in 1900. Then, in 1920 when locals were fed up with getting mail misdirected to Grand Rapids, Michigan, they changed the city’s name to Wisconsin Rapids. The “rapids” refers to a 45-foot drop this “hardest working river in the world” made at this point, which provided some good acceleration to boats and canoes. Dams have since changed this – there are five from Stevens Point down to Nekoosa – but this stretch of the river still provides hydroelectric power and makes it convenient to pound wood into pulp so we can eventually have something to write on.

Consequently, Wisconsin Rapids is a major hub for papermaking and also serves as the shipping point for a lot of cranberries you saw in the bogs getting here. Wisconsin grows more cranberries than any other state – over 300 million pounds per year – and Wood County (of which Wisconsin Rapids is the county seat) is pretty much the center of it all. It’s home to a major educational software company, Renaissance Learning, Grim Natwick, creator of Betty Boop (and to salute that, the city has an annual Betty Boop Festival) and the hometown of the driver with NASCAR’s coolest name ever, Dick Trickle – even though he’s technically from Rudolph, which we get to next!

Hey, tours aren’t just for highways, breweries and museums. Tour the Stora Enso North America papermaking plant at 4th Avenue and High Street (715-422-3789) or, if you want to see paper in its original form, check out the Griffith State Nursery (473 Griffith Avenue, 715-424-3700), the largest forest nursery in Wisconsin.

During the summer months, you can take in a baseball game at Witter Field, a nice old-school ballpark that hosts the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, a Northwoods League team that plays opponents from all over the Midwest. If you like BMX biking, check out the nearby Central Wisconsin BMX track (715-572-2075), which has competitive racing on a 1,075-foot sealed track surface built into a natural amphitheater. I’ve raced on it, and you’re off to a good start with the 10-foot start hill and some serious jumps you can make once you get going.

Highway 13 is clearly the main commercial strip as it heads into town at 8th Street South. At the junction with Highway 54, 13 jogs west and bypasses downtown to the south and west as the Riverview Expressway. If you’d like to head downtown, stay north on “Business” 13 (which is also today’s Highway 54) to Avon Street, then turn left. You’ll jog onto Jackson Street for the river crossing before re-joining Highway 13 and head north out of town.

On the west side of Wisconsin Rapids, Highway 73 breaks west; Highway 13 followed that route for decades but was recently re-routed north along Highway 34, which begins at the same intersection where 73 leaves. Around the north side of town, Highway 66 begins and heads towards Stevens Point; we continue north into little Rudolph (pop. 439), where thousands of holiday greetings are sent each year to the postmaster for a special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer postmark.

Rudolph is the actual town where racing legend Dick Trickle grew up, a huge part of Wisconsin’s legacy in racing. The state’s legacy in cheese is also well-represented in Rudolph: this is where Dairy State Cheese (715-435-3144) makes a variety of fantastic cheeses and curds, whey protein concentrates, and brings in ice cream so everyone has something to enjoy. It’s right along Highway 13/34 in town.

Grotto Alert.
Fans of the remarkable collections of stone, glass and rock that make up Wisconsin’s fascinating grottos will want to check out Rudolph Grotto & Wonder Cave, located about nine miles north of Wisconsin Rapids via Highway 34. Red gossan rocks dominate much of the grotto, ranging from pebble-sized to a 78-ton boulder. The Wonder Cave itself is something to see.

13caronsiloRight: Yep, you’ll never know what you’ll find on the State Trunk Tour. We found this near Marshfield along what WAS Highway 13 back in the day. Now it’s part of Highway 80. Not sure if it’s still there, but it sure was eye-catching when we went past!

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After the junction with U.S. Highway 10 freeway and heading west at expressway speeds for about 15 minutes, you reach Marshfield (pop. 19,201), which is perhaps best-known as a medical destination for patients from all over the world. That’s because it’s the headquarters of Marshfield Clinic, a sort of Wisconsin counterpart to Rochester, Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. Founded in 1916, the clinic has expanded across the state and into upper Michigan with satellite centers and remains at the forefront of medical research, technology, development and treatment.

The medical research may come in handy, given what people will eat in Wisconsin at events like the Central Wisconsin State Fair, also held annually in Marshfield (deep-fried Twinkie on a stick, anyone??). Another Marshfield claim to fame is on these fairgrounds: the World’s Largest Round Barn. Recognized in places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, this huge red superlative at 513 East 17th Street is 150 feet in diameter and holds up to 1,000 people for a variety of events, many of them livestock-related. Built in 1916 without the use of scaffolding, it is 70 feet high.

Marshfield, World's Largest Round Barn near Highway 13

The World’s Largest Round Barn in Marshfield. Built in 1916, it anchors the grounds of the Central Wisconsin State Fair; you can’t get much more central in Wisconsin than Marshfield.

The annual Dairyfest is also held here, as is a 10K road race called the Cheese Chase. They also have Hub City Days, a fun festival saluting the city’s original nickname. Marshfield was a major hub of early railroads and its location very close to the geographic center of Wisconsin made it a hub of transportation long before it became a hub for medical care.

With a large medical anchor and associated businesses, Marshfield ably supports a local orchestra, the Foxfire Botanical Gardens and the Wildwood Zoo (608 W. 17th Street, 715-384-4642), a beautiful and free zoo covering 60 acres. The zoo features everything from cougars and lynx to bison and prairie dogs. Of particular interest are Kodiak bears, unique in a city this size and a harkening back to the zoo’s 1904 origins, when city utility workers started caring for two black bears in town. Another nice break from your road trip at Wildwood Zoo is the Sensory Gardens, featuring a wide variety of flowering and non-flowering plants designed to enhance your senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch amidst a tranquil setting.

Marshfield, like many Wisconsin cities, also supports locally-brewed beer. The Blue Heron Brew Pub (108 W. 9th Street, 715-389-1868) boasts over 16 varieties of beer and ales that are quaffed all over Central Wisconsin. They’re located in Parkin Place, an old dairy processing plant with a history all its own. Getting a parking place at Parkin Place usually isn’t too much trouble, so stop in!

Hub City Days

How wide is Central Avenue in Marshfield? Wide enough to accommodate crowds like this during Hub City Days. This is Business Highway 13 through the city.

In Marshfield, “Business 13” follows 13’s original route: Central Avenue. Downtown offers a wide variety of shops that cater more to the city itself than tourists. When increasingly busy roads through cities cause congestion, the solution is often to build a bypass way around the city; not Marshfield. They built a “through-pass”, essentially an upgraded version of Highway 13 (known also here as Veterans Parkway) that also cuts right through town but kind of juts in from a different angle. It stays multi-lane all the way through Marshfield.

Out of Marshfield, you follow the CN (Canadian National) train line, often witnessing long trains carrying loads of lumber. The next town is Spencer (pop. 1,932), which is somewhat of a suburb for Marshfield.

colbymarkerShortly before going through Unity (pop. 368), Highway 13 begins straddling the Clark-Marathon County line and continues as the divider into the small town of Colby (pop. 1,616), which is famous for – you guessed it – the birthplace of Colby cheese! Colby is similar to cheddar cheese, but is milder and softer because it is produced though a washed-curd process. In fact, it takes more than one gallon of milk to produce just one pound of Colby cheese (I’m dying to try producing it with chocolate milk!) The 1885 development put Colby on the map, where it remains as a little dot.

In Unity, by the way, I saw a bar so shacky it made the Boar’s Nest in “The Dukes of Hazzard” look like Tavern On The Green in Central Park. I almost stopped in for a Blatz. I will next time.

Just north of Colby and the junction with the new expressway bypass of Highway 29 lies Abbotsford (pop. 2,000). Holding claim as “Wisconsin’s First City”, it’s “first” in terms of the alphabet, not in population or age (those distinctions go to Milwaukee and Green Bay, respectively).

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hawkeyecone_225hiHighway 13 goes right through town and intersects with “Business” (read: Historical) Highway 29 at the main crossroads. This portion of 29 is also the old Yellowstone Trail, by the way.

Abbotsford features plenty of old-school businesses to check out, including Duke’s for Italian beef, antique shops and taverns. Right: Between Old 29 and Now 29 along Highway 13 is the Hawkeye Dairy, which features a wide variety of cheeses, sausages, and ice cream – it’s hard to miss the massive cone!

Crossing the 45th parallel (halfway point between the equator and the North Pole) at Dorchester, you end up in Taylor County. Going through Stetsonville (pop. 563), I noticed no Stetson hats; then the next place you reach you find people curiously asking you what you want on your tombstone.

Don’t worry, it’s just Medford (pop. 4,350), home to Tombstone Pizza (now owned by Kraft) and Pep’s Pizza. Basically, it’s the frozen pizza capital of Wisconsin, indirectly serving thousands of college students at 3am every night. Astrologer/psychic Jeane Dixon was born in Medford before moving to California and becoming a famous for her syndicated astrology column, predicting the Kennedy assassination and advising President Reagan’s wife Nancy during his term.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Tombstone Pizza started in 1962 as the bar pizza served at Medford’s own Tombstone Tap, a tavern whose name was inspired by the graveyard across the street.

After Medford and the junction with Highway 64, increasing evidence of the North Woods comes into play. Chequamegon National Forest is accessible on either side; you climb higher and higher, too, as Timm’s Hill, the highest point in the state, lurks just off Highway 13 about five miles east of Ogema, along Highway 86 and County C.

Timm’s Hill (elevation 1,951 feet) is a fairly low “high point” for a U.S. state, but standing atop the lookout tower, over 2,000 feet above sea level, you can easily tell it’s the highest point around. Many nearby hills are visible; all are clearly below you. If you want to do the Leonardo DiCaprio/Jack Dawson/Titanic “I’m king of the world!” shout from the top of the tower, well, that’s up to you.

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The views from Timms Hill, the highest natural point in Wisconsin, is remarkably expansive. You can truly tell you’re at the top!

Near Prentice lies an expressway junction with U.S. Highway 8, and then you reach the town of Phillips (pop. 1,675). County seat of Price County, Phillips offers several in-town lakes, a Wildlife Museum featuring a variety of wildlife mounts by taxidermist Martin Ribnicker, and Wisconsin Concrete Park, a crazy array of sculptures and folk art figurines using concrete, broken glass, shells and other materials. Some of them reflect both the relative dullness of concrete and the sparkle of multicolored glass, especially if it’s a sunny day.

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Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips, chock full of stone-based works of art.

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Highway 13 blazes right through downtown Phillips, county seat of Price County.

On the north side of town in the parking lot of the R Store gas station, see if Lola’s Lunchbox – one of our favorite food trucks – is parked and cooking up stuff. They grill up phenomenal burgers, tacos, and sandwiches with a unique menu. They also make puffed corn in a dizzying array of flavors, including Oreo, caramel, and much more. It makes for incredible road food!

Fifield (“a little town in northern WI with more cars than people”) provides a junction with Highway 70, one of the last main east-west highways left in the state as you head north; shortly thereafter, you cross the Flambeau River and enter Park Falls (pop. 2,793) Park Falls was originally called Muskellunge Falls, but it turns out “Park” was much easier to spell.

Park Falls boasts two stoplights, which is significant only in that they’re in the only two in Price County; the next set of stoplights is about 40 miles away in any direction. So yes, I’d say you’re officially “away from it all” by this point.

Fishing enthusiasts, of which there are many here, note Park Falls as the home of St. Croix Rod, known worldwide for its equipment. Along with a Pamida sighting, I took note that Park Falls is the “Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World”. Alas, I did not see any ruffed grouses on my way through town.

From Park Falls, Highway 13 forges northward through towns like Butternut (pop. 407), home of the “Best Tasting Water In Wisconsin.” (Water is supposed to be tasteless, though, right?) The high school team name is the Butternut “Mighty Midgets”, evoking thoughts that their offensive line doesn’t need to crouch at the line. The players are probably regular-sized, though. Another town is Glidden (no relation to the paint), the “Black Bear Capital of the World,” meaning it’s the place where you least likely want to go camping and leave food out.

77greatdivideHighway 77 joins in for ride, fresh off its route as the Great Divide National Scenic Highway. You do indeed cross the “Great Divide” (I call it the “subcontinental divide”), where south of the divide water flows southward toward the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico; north of it, water flows north and east into the Great Lakes and to the Atlantic Ocean. At this point, you’re 950 ft above Lake Superior, 1,550 feet above sea level. That means from there to Ashland, you’re dropping about 950 feet.

Mellen (pop. 935), Highway 77 heads away and shoots northeast towards Hurley. Mellen itself sports a charming city hall building, constructed the same year the largest tannery in North America opened here (1896). It would be seven more years before the telephone would come to town. Mellen peaked in population around 1920 when it had almost 2,000 people, but in 1922 the tannery closed and since then it’s been a small, pleasant burg that considers itself the Gateway to Copper Falls. Ernest Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man was filmed here in 1962, when the town welcomed the likes of Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy. Today, it welcomes recreational seekers of all kinds… but you can also catch a movie here if you want.

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Mellen City Hall, featuring a charming bell tower on its corner. This at the intersection of Highways 13 and 77.

Copper Falls State Park is accessible north of Mellen right off Highway 13 via Highway 169. Considered one of the most scenic of all Wisconsin’s state parks – a tall order, indeed – Copper Falls features ancient lava flows, deep gorges, and some serious waterfalls. Brownstone Falls is one of the best in the state, as is its namesake, Copper Falls. Campers have their choice of 54 sites, with additional group camping and backpack campsites. You’re in the midst of “snow country” here, with over 100 inches annually being the norm, so it’s generally safe in the winter months to assume the 8 miles of cross-country ski trails are maintained and ready.

Beyond Mellen and Highway 169, Highway 13 climbs to vistas where you can sense the coming of Lake Superior (especially in winter, when the lake effect snows can be relentless.) Past small towns like Highbridge and Marengo, The Big Lake They Call Gitchigumee (sometimes it’s hard to get Gordon Lightfoot songs out of your head) finally comes into your view as you drop down into Ashland.

Home to a shipping port, Northland College and a beautiful view of Chequamegon Bay, Ashland (pop. 8.620) serves as a gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (more on this later). A great place to stop and stretch after your long trek northward is the Northern Great Lakes Center, which offers interactive exhibits, displays, a boardwalk, an observation tower, and information about everything from historical events to best places to stay. It’s located west of Ashland along U.S. 2, just after the Highway 13 turnoff northward.

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It’s been a while since Highway 13 had boulevards and traffic lights; the drive into Ashland as Lake Superior becomes visible in the distance.

ashlandchBack in town, Ashland hugs the Bay and buildings for several blocks heading back from the shore offer nice views of the water. Highway 13 couples with U.S. Highway 2 here, but another, parallel route is Main Street, one block south. You pass a J.C. Penney Department store – one of the few times you won’t see one as a mall anchor store, the beautiful Ashland City Hall, the city’s main downtown shopping district and the South Shore Brewery before Main becomes just another side street in the neighborhoods.

One of the cool things to check out in Ashland comes from the increasing plethora of artists residing in these parts. On the sides of a number of downtown buildings, formerly drab brick facades have given way to vibrant, colorful murals depicting everything from streetscapes to people to simple extensions of how each building looks on its more “detailed” sides. You’ll find one on the north-facing side of the building along Highway 13 and Main as you approach U.S. 2; others lie along Main and its side streets downtown. Check out 4th, 5th, and others for evidence of these murals.

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After that, check off another brewery tour and imbibe in a cold one at the South Shore Brewery. Makers of the popular South Shore Honey Pils, the South Shore Brewery also brews up a Nut Brown Ale, a Pale Ale, and the new Rhoades’ Scholar Stout, their first “named” beer. South Shore Brewery offers tours, some on a regular basis and some by appointment. Bo Belanger, the head brewer, will happily show you around and let you sample a variety of brews.

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It’s probably the most hoppin’ place in town, no pun intended. The brewery is connected to the Deep Waters Grille and a bar so you can enjoy their freshly-brewed products with a variety of food, sports, and conversation with locals and visitors; there’s also a view of Lake Superior out of the front window. What else do you need? You know it’s a small, interconnected world when fresh grilled mahi-mahi with mango-tomatillo sauce is the special in a restaurant in Ashland, Wisconsin. It’s not like they pull mahi-mahi out of Lake Superior.

To be a good Sconnie, I partook in the Walleye fish fry, which ironically enough was not beer-battered. It was really good, though, as was the interesting combination of “cream of wild rice, ham and mushroom soup.” For my beers, the Brewers’ Choice was the Blonde Bitter (which I’ve dated a few), and was terrific. Others in my sampler included the Golden Lager, Nut Brown Ale, Rhoades’ Scholar Stout, the Cream Ale and the South Shore Honey Pils, a personal favorite of mine back in Milwaukee. Since I spent the whole evening there, dessert consisted of pizza. Bar manager Merri, who originally hails from Colorado, was managing that night. Since I wasn’t hungry enough for a whole pizza, we split one – chorizo with four cheeses (five if you count the parmesan sprinkled on top.) Everyone there was fun and interesting to talk with, and I was hardly the only out-of-towner in the place. Lots of Northland College students work there, and they come from all over the country.

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Ashland’s waterfront features a marina and the railroad pier, once used for exporting lumber and iron ore at a breakneck pace. In 1899, Ashland was the second largest iron shipping port on the Great Lakes. The Soo Line Iron Ore dock, pictured here, was the largest in the world until it was demolished in 2011.

Ashland features an array of lodging, since it’s the largest city between Duluth-Superior and the Ironwood-Hurley “microplex”. Of the notables, Best Western The Hotel Chequamegon is the most gracious, and a recent addition to the Best Western family. Victorian-style rooms overlooking the city or the water beckon to the days of the classic 19th century hotels that once served cities coast to coast.

Just west of Ashland into Bayfield County, Highway 13 veers off U.S. 2 and begins its final push into Wisconsin’s northernmost territory.

Bayfield’s county seat of Washburn (pop. 2,285) is the first town that greets you. Located along the Bay, Ashland is visible across the water. Highway 13 is the main downtown street and shops line the road. Several places that specialize in quilting adorn Washburn, as does Chequamegon Books, a great bookstore featuring stacks upon stacks of new and used books – and wireless Internet. I had a nice chat in the bookstore with proprietor Carol Avol, who reminded me that “Chequamegon” is pronounced without the “Q”.

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The Washburn Historical Museum and Cultural Center. Which also offers quilting essentials; the obelisk to the right is a memorial to Washburn’s nickname, “The Monolith City.”

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Chequamegon Books, pronounced, please, without the “q”…

Proceeding north, Mount Ashwebay provides a tree-filled backdrop to your view while approaching Big Top Chautauqua, a 900-seat entertainment venue that manages to combine “state of the art” with “all canvas tent theater” in one sentence – and mean it. Located at the base of Mount Ashwabay between Washburn and Bayfield, artists including Willie Nelson, Keb’ Mo, John Hiatt, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Robert Cray have complimented the already bustling line-up of orchestras, singers and performance artists that cover over 60 dates every summer from mid-June through mid-September.

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Mount Ashwebay dominates the landscape between Washburn and Bayfield.

Popular Bayfield (pop. 611) is well-known to tony vacationers around North America. Its charming shops, picturesque, sweeping views of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands, access to the islands and interior recreation, and wide variety of B&B’s, hotels, motels and restaurants make this a popular destination for relaxers and adventurers alike. The Chicago Tribune called it the “Best Little Town in the Midwest” and numerous presidents and Hollywood stars have made Bayfield a regular stop on their “get away from it all” itineraries. It’s not rare to see autographed pictures of familiar people and historical figures adorn the walls of some shops and restaurants. Like Ashland and Washburn, Bayfield is a very popular place for artists to set up shop. whether just for the summer or all year ’round. Bayfield is noted as one of the “best 100 artist towns in the U.S.”, and you’ll find more galleries here than perhaps any other town with a population of 611 people. Bayfield is also the access point for cars wishing to visit Madeline Island and the Apostle Islands.

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Along Highway 13, a trio of flags wave in front of a hotel overlooking Chequamegon Bay, with Madeline Island in the distance.

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Highway 13 through downtown Bayfield.

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Boats and yachts a’plenty in the marina around Bayfield, prepping to navigate around the Apostle Islands.

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Cars boarding the ferry to Madeline Island, the only island in the Apostles with roads.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, designated in 1970, is a series of islands dotting Lake Superior, as well as a 12-mile slice of the shoreline itself – most if along Highway 13 from Bayfield north and west. Only one of the Apostle Islands – Madeline Island – is accessible by car. In Bayfield’s downtown, the Madeline Island Ferry is located right off Highway 13 and heads 2 1/2 miles from the mainland to the island. In the winter when the ice is thick enough, you can simply drive across to Madeline Island and its sole town of La Pointe, which receives both the ferry and the ice road on the island side. Madeline Island is the only inhabited one of the twenty-two Apostles and therefore the only island not part of the official National Lakeshore. Others include Stockton Island, the largest one at over 10,000 acres; Oak Island, which has the tallest elevations (almost 500 above the water); Sand Island, furthest to the west and the only island other than Madeline to once have enough settlement to warrant a post office; Raspberry Island, with a popular lighthouse now undergoing restoration; Devils Island, the northernmost one and therefore the one giving ships in the busy Lake Superior shipping lanes the most trouble; and two of the islands, Eagle and North Twin, the only two completely off-limits to campers, hikers and the like, because they are proetcted areas designated for preservation and study. Other islands are available for non-motorized recreation and camping… if you can get to them.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The Apostle Islands have the highest concentration of lighthouses anywhere in the United States (take that, Maine!) and its largest island, Stockton, has the highest concentration of black bears in the U.S. (don’t leave your food uncovered if you’re camping there.)

madelineismarker_500Madeline Island’s original name? Moningwunakauning. Meaning “Home of the golden-breasted woodpecker”, the island was renamed for the daughter of an Ojibway chief who married a French settler. This marker right along Highway 13 tells the story. Had the original name been kept, Moningwunakauning would have replaced Oconomowoc for the trickiest name in Wisconsin to pronounce on the first try.

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This curve over Saxon Creek is the northernmost point on Highway 13; Lake Superior is just to the north and the next paved road to your north is in Canada.

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The vista as you head west in the Bayfield Peninsula approaching Cornucopia.

Cornucopia is “Wisconsin’s Northernmost Village”… also, not coincidentally, with Wisconsin’s Northernmost Post Office. From the Latin Cornu Copiae, Cornucopia means “horn of plenty” or “harvest cone”; it’s actually the town’s symbol, clearly visible on signs as you drive through. With two marina facilities on Lake Superior and a beach called Corny Beach (I was wondering what kind of jokes beachgoers were telling on the sand), Cornucopia sports a large array of boat-oriented seasonal visitors, many of whom visit Ehler’s General Store, right next to the state’s northernmost post office. Ehler’s has been around since 1915 and is still operated by descendents of one of the original founders. Squaw Bay, just northeast of Cornucopia, features a series of sea caves that are quite a sight, especially if you can kayak. If you have a kayak or can rent one, definitely check out the bay; it’s accessible off Highway 13 via a series of small side roads, including Squaw Bay Road, Meyers Road and Squaw Point Road.

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Ehler’s is a good stop in Corncopia for supplies; and it’s always fun to mail something from Wisconsin’s “Northernmost Post Office.”

Herbster (part of the Town if Clover, and perhaps the only place that didn’t entirely hate Burger King’s “I’m Not Herb” campaign from the ‘80s), Port Wing had “Wisconsin’s largest fish boil” going on when I passed through.

Somewhere along here in the depths of winter, you can check out the Bayfield Sea & Ice Caves when conditions are right. You can kind of see them from hiking trails in the non-frigid months on land, but when Lake Superior freezes over enough you can walk out directly to them and check out the crazy works of Mother Nature when she’s cold. When are conditions right? This link will tell you, or you can call (715) 779-3397.

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This is how cool the ice caves can look. In places they look even cooler. Thanks to State Trunk Tourer Erin Uselman for this shot!

Side note: Now here’s the wild thing about Bayfield County: it’s the largest in the state by area, covering 2,042 square miles – larger than Rhode Island and only a little smaller than Delaware. It has 962 lakes, varies by almost 1,100 feet in elevation, contains a number of tourist sites and offers a ferry service to nearby Madeline Island; and yet, there isn’t a single traffic light in the whole county. Not one. Which in a way is good, because there’s no way you can get a ticket for running a red light; just a stop sign here and there.

In the distance, Minnesota is visible, usually about 40-50 miles away. Interestingly, a majority of the cars heading eastbound sported Minnesota plates, reiterating how popular these reaches are as a vacation spot for out-of-staters. You see, in the “south” (of Wisconsin), out-of-staters are usually Illinois people – going about 90 mph.

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Along with U.S. 2, Highway 13 carries the Lake Superior Circle Tour route through Wisconsin. The ride through the Brule River region is hilly and filled with forest.

13lsctsignJust inside Douglas County, Highway 13 stops hugging Lake Superior and heads straight south for a few miles. At County H, 13 turns west again (you can access Highway 27 by heading about 9 miles south on County H to Brule), heads through a narrow swath of the Brule River State Forest, and makes a beeline for the final stretch, a straight shot towards the final terminus just south of Superior in the Town of Parkland.

Just inside Douglas County, Highway 13 stops hugging Lake Superior and heads straight south for a few miles. At County H, 13 turns west again (you can access Highway 27 by heading about 9 miles south on County H to Brule), heads through a narrow swath of the Brule River State Forest, and makes a beeline for the final stretch, a straight shot towards the final terminus just south of Superior in the Town of Parkland.

Less than five minutes up U.S. 2 & 53 from Highway 13’s end is Superior (pop. 27,368), Wisconsin’s northwest corner and one of the Twin Port cities (the other, of course, being Duluth, Minnesota) that together have one of the busiest ports in the world. Superior basically runs along the western end of Lake Superior’s shore. The drive up U.S. 2 & 53 runs you right along Superior Bay, protected from the rough lake waters by Wisconsin Point and Minnesota Point. Native Americans settled here not only for its proxoimity to the lake, but portage access to the St. Croix River, just south of Superior near Solon Springs. Superior is the county seat of Douglas County (named for the Illinois senator famous for being the “D” side of the Lincoln-Douglas debates) and features the second largest municipal forest in the United States. The UW system has a Superior campus and counts bodybuilder, actor and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger among its alumni. The economy here has had its up and downs, as has the city itself; the population peaked at just over 46,000 back in the 1930s, more than currently live in all of Douglas County. Lately, though, things have been on the upswing; traffic at the Port is up, manufacturing and transportation business is growing again, and the city is drawing more tourists than ever before.

Superior offers a look at the “World’s Largest Whaleback” at the S.S. Meteor Museum. Originally named the Frank Rockefeller, it was one of only 44 whaleback ships ever built. It’s a 366-foot long vessel launched in 1896 as an iron ore carrier. In 1927, many many years before the TV show, it was renamed the South Park, where it carried automobiles and hauled sand and fill for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. During World War II it was sold and renamed the Meteor, where it continued service until running aground near Marquette, Michigan in 1969. It was retired and by 1973 became the museum it is today in Superior. Tours are available from mid-May to mid-October; admission prices vary: it’s free for kids under 6, $5 for students and seniors, and $6 for adults. The Richard I. Bong World War II Heritage Center (305 Harbor View Pkwy., 715-392-7151) salutes the United States’ highest-scoring air ace and Medal of Honor recipient. He’s the same Bong who has a Recreation Area in Racine County named after him – a place originally slated to be an Air Force base – as well as the namesake of one of the bridges from Superior to Duluth (the one carrying U.S. 2), a bridge in Townsville, Australia, an Air and Operations Center on Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and even a theatre in Misawa, Japan. The Heritage Center celebrates all who dealt with World War II, from frontline fighters to those who kept things running at home. It’s located right along Superior Bay.

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Superior’s harbor, well protected from Lake Superior’s waves by Minnesota Point and Wisconsin Point, offers a popular marina and anchoring place for not only large ships, but plenty of pleasure craft. The hills towering above Duluth, Minnesota across the way form a nice backdrop.

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The northern end of Highway 13 at the edge of Superior, more than 340 adventurous miles from the start in Wisconsin Dells.

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Looking back at the start of southbound Highway 13. It’s just as fun the second time around!

Alas, after 340+ miles, Highway 13 comes to an end. Just as Highway 13 begins at a freeway junction with I-90/94 in Wisconsin Dells, it ends at a freeway junction with U.S. Highways 2 & 53 on the southern outskirts of Superior.

Big Manitou Falls and some of the spectacular rock formations near it.

Beautiful Big Manitou Falls and the splendor of Pattison State Park, not far from the end of Highway 13.

Just Beyond, State Parks Edition: At the end of Highway 13, you can also head straight west on County Z, then south on County A and right on Weinstein Road to hook up with Highway 35, where you can head south and check out Big Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park. At 165 feet, it’s the highest waterfall in Wisconsin and the fourth highest east of the Rocky Mountains. The Park and waterfall is about 13 miles south of Superior and about 15 miles from the end of Highway 13.

Just Beyond, Food Edition: While Highway 13 ends at the U.S. 2/53 interchange, food lovers might want to head straight on County Z, hang a left on County E at Parkland, then right on County K a mile or so to Kounty Quarthouse (4119 S. County K, South Range, 715-398-5582), a self-proclaimed “Five-Star Dive Bar” which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. Also, straight north from 13 on U.S. 2/53 in Superior you’ll find Gronk’s Grill (4909 E. 2nd Street/U.S. 2 & 53, 715-398-0333), a souped-up log cabin dishing up bar-b-que and some excellent burgers, including their soon-to-be-famous “Upside Down” Gronk’s Burger… which is exactly like it sounds. Finally, Shorty’s Pizza & Smoked Meat (1015 Tower Avenue/Highway 35, 715-718-0889) was also featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, where Montreal-style smoked meats and specialty pizzas and sandwiches are the norm. You drove a long way – EAT!

From the Dells to the southern outskirts of Superior, you encounter tourist towns, logging towns, paper- and cheese-producing villages, medical center cities, shoreline burgs, beachside hamlets and miles of forest. It’s a truly huge cross-section of Wisconsin and a great way to spend a few days road-tripping on one of the Wisconsin’s longest State Trunk Highways – a must route on the State Trunk Tour!

CONNECTIONS:
North Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 2, U.S. Highway 53
Can connect nearby to: Highway 35, about 4 miles west; Highway 105, about 5 miles west

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: I-90, I-94, Highway 16, Highway 23, U.S. Highway 12
Can connect nearby to: Highway 33, about 9 miles southwest via I-90/94 & Highway 23

11


STH-011

“Kringle by the Great Lake to Bluffs by the Great River”

 

WisMap11Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 11 is a key “coast to coast” highway across southern Wisconsin. From Racine’s impressive harbor on Lake Michigan to the bluffs overlooking Dubuque, Iowa across the Mississippi River, Highway 11 weaves through and around key towns and a variety of sights. Along the way you’ll find kringle in Racine, chocolate and yo-yos in Burlington, parks and activities in Janesville, circus history in Delavan, and tons of cheese around Monroe and Shullsburg. It’s a great cross-section of what far southern Wisconsin has to offer.

Wisconsin Highway 11 Road Trip

The Drive (East To West):

Racine

Highway 11 begins in Racine (pop. 78,860), just a few hundred yards from Lake Michigan at Highway 32. Racine calls itself the “Belle City” and is Wisconsin’s fifth-largest. The French may have named the city (Racine is French for “root”, after the Root River which flows into Lake Michigan here), but Danish immigrants left the tastiest mark. Racine is known as the “Kringle Capital of the World.” Famous locales like Lehmann’s, O&H, and the Larsen Bakery (located in an area known as Kringleville or Little Denmark) crank out millions of the tasty iced and filled pastries every year and ship them worldwide. You, however, can stop in for a fresh one right there. They’re best that way.

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Mmmm… Kringle.

Racine’s industrial and entrepreneurial history now spans three centuries. Home to major companies like J.I. Case and S.C. Johnson, it’s where the garbage disposal was invented in 1927; In-Sink-Erator still calls Racine home. It’s also where malted milk was invented in 1887 by William Horlick, who now has a high school named after him (they do not have a malted milk stand, however, according to my limited research.)

Many cities the size of Racine host minor-league baseball, but Racine hosts minor-league football. The Racine Raiders of the North American Football League are one of the most respected minor-league football organizations in the country and have been around for over 50 years; the won their last championship in 2012. The Raiders have sent players to the NFL over the years, although unfortunately many of them went to the Vikings. They play at Horlick Field, on the north side of town. Their season begins in June, so no frozen tundra talk here.

Racine Art Museum on Main Street

The acrylic panels on the Racine Art Museum are flooded with different colored lights most evenings, adding an intriguing glow to Main Street.

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The Civil War Monument that gives Racine’s Monument Square its name.

Downtown Racine and the Harbor area offer a wealth of sights and things to do. The Racine Art Museum (441 S. Main St.) houses a series of contemporary craft exhibits and street-level displays while the Racine Heritage Museum (701 Main St.) houses a bird collection and other features from Racine’s early days. Monument Square (500 S. Main Street, just off Highway 20’s eastern end) offers a look back – and up – with its 61-foot high Civil War Soldiers Memorial. The Memorial was dedicated in 1884 when it was called Haymarket Square, while also giving a nod to the future with Wi-Fi Internet Access for anyone in the square, perhaps imbibing in a beverage or meal from the surrounding stores. If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned diner experience and one of the best-rated burgers in the state, by the way, a visit to the Kewpee (520 Wisconsin Ave.) should satisfy you, as it has for Racine residents since the 1920’s.

Kewpee Burgers in Racine

Tasty little burgers at the Kewpee, an old-school crown jewel in downtown Racine.

Racine’s attention to the lakefront is among the most impressive in the state. Buildings lining downtown streets offer increasingly busy storefronts, but their upper floors also offer sweeping lake views, as do the condos springing up all over the place. The Reefpoint Marina, Festival Park and Pershing Park offer terrific parkland, access to the lake, and fun places to imbibe like the Reefpoint Brew House. Along Main Street (Highway 32 between 20 and 38) you’ll find the Racine Brewing Company, which established its Tap Room in a storefront in 2017.

Annual events include the Racine Boat Show, the Great Lakes Brew Fest,  and Salmon-A-Rama (which is fun to say, actually). From April – December, First Fridays bring extra fun, specials, music, displays, and more along the streets of downtown Racine on the first Friday of each month.

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Downtown Racine along 6th Street, where Highways 20 & 32 go past a series of shops, restaurants, galleries and cafes. Highway 11 is just to the south.

Johnson Wax Tower, just south of where Highway 38 beginsOther things to see in Racine include the Johnson Wax Golden Rondelle (1525 Howe Street) and the adjacent Johnson Wax Research Tower, both at the headquarters of S.C. Johnson. The Wind Point Lighthouse (4725 Lighthouse Drive, Wind Point), one of the oldest (1880) and tallest (108 feet) lighthouses on the Great Lakes; and the Racine Zoo (2131 N. Main Street, about 1.5 miles north of downtown), which offers an impressive array of over 75 species of animals – overlooks the lake and offers its “Animal Crackers Jazz Series” on Wednesday and Selected Sunday evenings.

 

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Highway 11 starts at this intersection with Highway 32 on Racine’s south side. Just past the train lines and a berm is Lake Michigan.

 

Highway 11 westbound begins in Racine.

Heading west on today’s start to Highway 11 means running through neighborhoods on Racine’s south side. Plenty of cool stuff lies ahead.

Real Racine Fall 2018

Meanwhile, as Durand Avenue, Highway 11 works its way west through Racine’s south side residential neighborhoods and heads for the western ‘burb of Sturtevant (pop. 6,970). Known for its key Amtrak stop along the Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago, which is north along Highway 20, Sturtevant is emerging from a crossroads town to a bigger city on the map, in large part now due to the new FoxConn development. That runs along Highway 11 for over a mile.

On the west side of Sturtevant – and the new FoxConn development campus – Highway 11 has an interchange (as Exit 335) with I-94/I-41, the main north-south freeway connecting Chicago and Milwaukee. You may see small-craft planes taking off or landing at nearby Sylvania Airport or head south slightly along the freeway’s east frontage road to the former campus of the University of Lawsonomy. Remember seeing the sign for it along the highway? Well, Lawsonomy is the outgrowth of the writings of William Alfred Lawson (1869-1954), whose philosophy, Lawsonomy, is “defined as the knowledge of life and everything pertaining hereto. Lawson was a professional baseball player, aviation pioneer and author of a slew of books. While his credibility has been called into question – or shredded – by many and the University only on the Internet now, it did have something akin to a campus just south of Highway 11 along I-94/I-41. Here’s what it looked like around 1994; any will remember that long “University of Lawsonomy” sign!

Past I-94/41, Highway 11 heads west through southern Racine County and some of the most fertile farm fields in the nation. Before long, we reach the town where the hyper, deep-voiced echoes of “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” beckon. That’s because it’s close to the widely-known “Great Lakes Dragaway, Union Grove, Wisconsin!”

Union Grove (pop. 4,915) is a pleasant little town along Highway 11, where U.S. 45 intersects. The Dragaway, due to all its hard-to-forget radio commercials over the years, is how many have become familiar with Union Grove over the years.

Union Grove hosts the annual Racine County Fair. It has an interesting history: the “Union” in its name comes from an early school that brought together students from a number of different schools; the “Grove” came early Wisconsin Governor Dodge who combined the school’s name with a nearby grove of burr oak trees. In 1919, the interestingly-named “Southern Wisconsin Home for the Feeble-Minded” opened. The town has been hit by tornadoes by 1954 and 2010 – when it hit in November, a true rarity.

The aforementioned Great Lakes Dragaway is a quarter mile dragstrip located just south of Highway 11 along County KR, the east-west road running the Kenosha-Racine County line (hence the county road letters.) Opened in 1955, it’s the oldest continuously operating dragstrip in the country, is open for more dates than any other track in the U.S., and was voted the “Most historically significant dragstrip in the United States” by readers of BangShift, a blog dedicated to drag racing. Even in winter months, you’ll find snowmobile drags.

Just off Highway 11:
Further west through Racine County, you pass about two miles north of the funniest-named park in Wisconsin, the Bong Recreation Area. Originally slated to be the Bong Air Force Base in the 1950s to protect Milwaukee and Chicago from attack by Soviet bombers, construction began in 1956 but was abandoned in 1959 when officials decided it wasn’t needed. A 12,900-foot runway was three days from being paved with concrete when construction was halted; its footprint remains today. The base sat in disuse for many years and it became a hotbed for gangs and criminal activity. By 1974, the State of Wisconsin bought the land and turned it into a massive state recreation area filled with options of things to do. Today, the Bong Recreation Area offers 16 miles of hiking trails, off-road biking trails, camping, hunting, cross-country skiing, sledding, and more. The presence of Wolf Lake means swimming and a 200-foot beach with a bath house, along with boating.

To get there, head south from Highway 11 via Highway 75 at the small crossroads of Kansasville, then access the park via Highway 142. For simplicity’s sake, you can just follow the soon-to-be-disappointed hippie vans misinterpreting what “Bong Recreation Area” means. The park-that-was-almost-an-air-force-base’s namesake is Richard Ira Bong (yes, “Dick Bong”), the United States’ highest-scoring air ace and Medal of Honor recipient during World War II. Along with the recreation area, Bong has one of the bridges in northwestern Wisconsin from Superior to Duluth (the one carrying U.S. 2) named after him, as well as a bridge in Townsville, Australia, an Air and Operations Center on Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and even a theatre in Misawa, Japan.

burlingtonsign_800The last main city in Racine County along Highway 11 is Burlington (pop. 10,485), known as “Chocolate City USA” for its Nestle plant. One motto, “The town with the tall tales”, reflects on its serving as home to the Burlington Liar’s Club. Highways 36, 83, and 142 intersect with or near Highway 11 here — much of it on the new bypass. But on the State Trunk Tour, we go INTO town.

Burlington is also not shy about pointing out it’s the hometown of All-Pro quarterback Tony Romo. He played for the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a broadcaster for the NFL. We remember, according to The Onion, when Jessica Simpson helped ensure that he wouldn’t stand in the way of the Packers’ (relative) success in the 2007 playoffs.

Burlington, true to its “Chocolate City USA” name, hosts a festival every Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the tasty cacao bean-based treat. Suggested reading prior to attending Chocolate Fest includes the Willy Wonka books and any diet book that suggests you can eat as much chocolate as you’d like. Originally named “Foxville” (perhaps because of the Fox River?) Burlington is big on firsts: it’s been home to the first World War II draftee to receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the first player to bat in the World Series…it’s even in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. It’s also the home of three-time World’s Strongest Man winner Bill Kazmaier, one of the few to earn the title without a name like “Magnus”.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit (+ “tall tale”)
Did you know the first person in Burlington to own an automobile was Leonard J. Smith in 1902?
He is also the first person to express road rage in 1903 by using a specific finger to gesture to a slow pedestrian.
The Top Museum in downtown Burlington.

Burlington’s Top Museum is one of several unique places to visit downtown. “Business” Highway 11 goes through here.

Burlington features some interesting attractions, including the the Logic Puzzle Museum offers a wild array of hands-on puzzles, brain teasers, and more. Next door, the Spinning Top & Yo-Yo Museum offers yo-yos, gyroscopes, spin toys, and plenty of hands-on science exhibits…. over 2,000 in all! Call first and get tickets, though; they are by appointment only.  And, since it’s “Chocolate City USA”, check out the Chocolate Experience Museum (113 E. Chestnut Street, 262-763-6044), which houses exhibits that survive the annual Chocolate Fest, and other chocolate sculptures… even one that replicates the brick road from the Wizard of Oz – only this one is chocolate instead of yellow. Hurry, before somebody eats it!

Speaking of eating, Fred’s (596 N. Pine Street/Highway 11 at the corner of Highways 36 & 83, ignoring the bypass, 262-763-8370) claims to have the “World’s Best Burgers.” That’s a tall order and we can’t definitively say for sure – but they’re pretty close. You have to order at the bar, and along with tasty burgers they have a good selection of appetizers, beers, and they even have a Tony Romo jersey from the Dallas Cowboys; he worked at Fred’s in his teenage years. They like to spice up their burgers, and the recommended one is the “cheese-sauced” burger. Even in Chicago, they’re saying it’s worth the drive to Burlington… who are we to argue, even though they’re probably Bears fans?

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Fred’s in Burlington, famous for their burgers. They play up the Tony Romo thing, too.

West of Burlington, the bypass merges back with the original route and Highway 11 heads across the countryside as a two-lane beeline through farm fields. The only real place to have to stop is a 4-way stop at the junction with Highway 120 in Springfield Corners. To the north is East Troy and Alpine Valley; to the south you can access Lake Geneva. But here on Highway 11, we continue west to the Walworth county seat, which continues below.



Elkhorn

That seat is Elkhorn (pop. 7,305), named during the founding years by Colonel Sam Phoenix when he spied some elk antlers in a tree. Ten years later by 1846, Elkhorn was designated the Walworth county seat; five years later, it started hosting the Walworth County Fair, one of the largest and oldest in the state (the grounds host a popular flea market four times a year too, which draws over 500 vendors.) The historic Webster House Museum, just south of downtown, showcases the home of the famous 19th century composer Joseph Webster and offers a great look at life and original items from the mid-1800s.

U.S. 12 skirts the east and northern sides of Elkhorn as a freeway before merging into Highway 67, which is the main north-south route through town. Highway 11 is the main east-west street; it ducks under U.S. 12 but meets up with Highway 67 in a lovely town square.

First National Bank in Elkhorn

The First National Bank building in Elkhorn. It’s doesn’t go very deep.

Highway 11 ducks south and west around the Walworth County Courthouse and past a series of downtown buildings, including the facade of the First National Bank. Yes, it’s just the facade; the bank itself is gone, but you’re free to step through the doorway into the grassy little park. It would be funny, however, if some pens were chained to a park bench in there somewhere for that true bank feel.

Downtown Elkhorn

Highway 11 heads around Courthouse Square in Elkhorn. Plenty of shops, restaurants and bars, and theatre, and more help make the town bustle.

Highway 11 goes through Delavan, home to Andes Candies and those incredible mints

Highway 11 goes through Delavan, home to Andes Candies and those incredible mints.

The proximity of I-43 means for a brief stretch Highway 11 is less of a main road from Elkhorn west to Delavan (pop. 7,956), so enjoy the ride. Now, a key theme along Highway 11 might be chocolate: not only is Burlington “Chocolate City USA”, but in Delavan they make those delicious Andes Candies.

Delavan is the native home of Gary Berghoff (Radar O’Reilly on M*A*S*H) and historically a circus town: it’s the original home to P.T. Barnum’s “Greatest Show On Earth” (P.T. stood for Phineas Taylor, in case you were curious) and from 1847-1895 about 26 circus companies made their headquarters here. A 12-year-old runaway named Harry Houdini stayed in a livery stable in Delavan’s Park Hotel, along Highway 11 on the west side of town. Also on the west side of Delavan lies the site for Wisconsin’s first School for the Deaf, the marker for which is right on Highway 11 just past County X, the former Highway 15 route.

From Delavan, Highway 11 traverses some forested areas before hitting the relatively wide-open farmland past the junction with Highway 89 – where U.S. 14 joins 11 for the ride west – and into Rock County. You’ll pass, as I noticed, a farm called Happy Holstein Heaven, which claims to be the home of “happy cows”, a claim Californians will want to debate using their cheese commercials. But who cares what they think?

Janesville

It’s a fast ride to Janesville (pop. 60,483), the “City of Parks.” Major companies founded in Janesville include Parker Pen and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, neither of which are headquartered in the city anymore. Janesville does host playground equipment maker Swing N Slide, now a subsidiary of Playcore, Inc., Blain’s Farm & Fleet (a store you see many times on the State Trunk Tour), and Gray’s Brewing Company, of which more will be divulged shortly. Well before you reach the city, the U.S. Highway 14 route leaves, as it’s ducked around the north and east sides of Janesville since 1952. Highway 11 then turns west to meet I-39/90 and technically winds south of town on a bypass.

***BYPASS ALERT***

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The solid line is Highway 11’s original City route; the dashed line is today’s bypass. Go through the city! (Click on the map for a live Google map version.)

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Highway 11’s city route into Janesville – as Racine Street, in salute of the road’s eastern origin – goes past a number of lovely parks and it descends toward the Rock River and downtown.

Highway 11 traditionally went through the heart of Janesville. Today, officially Highway 11 heads around the south end of Janesville by following I-39/90 south about two miles and then runs around the southwest side of town, meeting up with the traditional Highway 11 just west of the city. It saves a good 5-10 minutes, so if time is a factor, by all means, use it. If you want the full Janesville experience, read on below:

Following Highway 11’s traditional route through Janesville, stay on the route past the I-39/90 interchange into town. You come in on Racine Street, past Palmer Park and into the downtown area. After crossing the Rock River, the “traditional” Highway 11 turns northwest on Franklin Street, along what was also former U.S. Highway 14, as indicated by “City” U.S. 14 signs that have been up since the 1950s

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This old U.S. 14 sign has been up since the 1940s, even though they built a bypass for U.S. 14 around Janesville in the early 1950s. We hope they keep it posted!

At Court Street, you jog to the right briefly into the main downtown area (demarcated by actual multi-story buildings) before jogging back west (doing a U-turn) along Milwaukee Street for the ride westerly out of town. For a little while, streets are one-way. After crossing U.S. Highway 51, the former Highway 11 is a two-way street as Court Street.

Janesville Statue

Janesville is the home of former Senator Russ Feingold, Representative and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (not exactly two peas in a pod), race car driver Stan Fox, even WNBA Houston Comets player Mistie Williams, daughter of Chubby Checker. Janesville hosted Wisconsin’s first state fair in 1851 on a site just south of downtown, which still holds a series of impressive, expansive older homes. Janesville is the county seat of Rock County and the largest on the Rock River, with the exception of Rockford, Illinois. Janesville’s a bit of a brewing town, too: on the west side lies the aforementioned Gray’s Brewing, crafter of numerous award-winning brews. They’ve even been making cream sodas since 1856. The brewery offers tours on Saturdays and samples in their Tasting Room, located at 2424 W. Court Street/City Highway 11.

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Gray’s has been crafting beer and a variety of cream sodas in Janesville since 1856.

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Janesville hosted the first Wisconsin State Fair in 1851. No word on how much cream puffs cost back then.

Janesville’s “skyline” – to put it fairly loosely – looms along the river to the south and a series of city streets lined with historic buildings await, especially in the Courthouse District. Homes like Lovejoy Mansion (pictured below) and the Merrill-Nowlan House are registered historic places; the Lovejoy Mansion held the local YMCA’s offices for a while.

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Nearby St. Lawrence Avenue, which parallels the river and runs through the Courthouse District, overlooks downtown; lovely old mansions line the street for a good distance.

Once Highway 11’s new, bypass route and the original route come together again west of Janesville, it becomes the primary highway along the southern tier of Wisconsin. The land starts to have more hills and a series of towns come along… some of which Highway 11 skirts, others it’s the main street through. For example, 11 skims the edge of Footville (pop. 788), which bills itself as “Friendly Footville”.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Footville holds the distinction of being the first community in the United States to have a lighted baseball diamond, which it built in 1931. It would be four more years before the first night game was played in Major League Baseball.
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As you can see in many towns where railroads once dominated, tracks can sometimes simply disappear as they approach former train and freight stations. An active line still serves Orfordville, but many of the spurs are no longer used.

Continuing the “ville” theme – after Janesville and Footville – Highway 11 reaches Orfordville (pop. 1,442). where the town center is just south along Highway 213, once part of Highway 13 from Beloit to Superior prior to 1961.

The town was originally called just “Orford” after a New Hampshire town, but it kept getting confused with Oxford, a town about 100 miles north. So, they made it “Orfordville.” You’ll see some cool old original buildings, from the old train depot to an original 1930s gas station to the charming little Orfordville Public Library, which looks more like a house. And we’re okay with that.

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This rather nice throwback scene features a 1930s-era Studebaker pickup in a typical ’30s setting – a gas station. Today, the building is a pottery studio; no word on whether the pickup runs or if the gas is still a 1930s-era 15 cents per gallon.

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The Orfordville Public Library, along the small downtown strip on Highway 213, just blocks south of Highway 11.

Past Orfordville, Highway 11 enters Green County and runs through the heart of Brodhead (pop. 3,293). At this point you’re about halfway between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, as indicated by an old Native American historic marker on what’s called Half-Way Tree. What is now Highway 11 was once part of a long, “coast-to-coast” foot trail going back many hundreds of years. Another, current trail, begins in Brodhead: the Sugar River Trail is a limestone-surfaced rail-to-trail conversion that runs from Brodhead to New Glarus, 23 miles away. Designated as a National Recreation Trail by the National Park Service, the Sugar River features replicas of covered bridges, plenty of cool rock outcroppings to look at, and abundant wildlife, including over 100 species of birds. The Sugar River itself has proved quite an asset to the community over time: around 1900, “pearling” in the Sugar River proved lucrative as dealers bought and sold thousands of dollars’ worth of pearls from the river. The river’s flow also allowed Brodhead to be one of the first towns in the nation to generate electricity from water power.

Brodhead has a nicely developed town for a city its size and offers a look back in its Historical Depot Museum, which features a caboose and locomotive on display as well as sundry artifacts of the old days. Located in the old Wells Fargo Depot, the adjacent rail line remains active through town. If you want to stop and enjoy some go-karting, the Sugar River Raceway just might be the place for you. Opened in 1959, it’s a half-mile asphalt course with plenty of turns – some of which have a 15-degree banking!

** Quick Cheesy Side Trip: Decatur Dairy **

Just west of Broadhead via County F off Highway 11, a great side trip for cheese is at Decatur Dairy (W1668 County Road F, Brodhead, 608-897-8661), one of the great stops in Green County for fresh cheese, made at the source. Decatur is a combination cheese factory and store, making many traditional cheese varieties you know and love while also developing some unique signature cheeses of their own. Operating since the 1940s, Decatur Dairy sells its fresh cheeses and will cook you up a killer grilled cheese sandwich there, too. Decatur Dairy has won quite a few awards at the U.S. and World Cheese Contests and always makes a splash at the Wisconsin State Fair. Definitely a good cheese stop! You can double back on F to Brodhead to reach Highway 11, or follow County OK west and south to meet up with Highway 11 a few miles further west.

Just past Brodhead, Highway 81 comes in from Beloit and joins Highway 11 for an increasingly hilly and scenic ride.  Another great cheese shop in Green County, the Maple Leaf Cheese Store, is right along Highway 11/81 in Juda, a small unincorporated community that formed along the railroad tracks that cross here.

Continuing west, Highway 11/81 begins to widen into a 4-lane expressway as you approach Green County’s seat, Monroe.

Monroe

*** BYPASS ALERT ***
At Monroe, Highway 11 bypasses the city on a short freeway stretch that opened back in 1981; but if you want this to be an actual fun experience, get off at the first exit (Highway 59) and follow it as 6th Street into downtown Monroe. On the west side of town you can join Highway 69 northbound for a few blocks to re-join Highway 11 on the western end of the bypass.

Monroe (pop. 10,843) is the hub of Green County and the “Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA.” Monroe High School’s team nickname is the Cheesemakers, after all. The Swiss influence is everywhere, from the flags dotting the surrounding landscape to the architecture downtown to the fact that The Swiss Colony is headquartered here. Monroe also features medical center The Monroe Clinic and truck customization company Monroe Truck Equipment, which did a project for the movie The Transformers a few years back. It serves as the trailhead city for the popular Cheese Country Trail, which runs 47 miles from Monroe to Mineral Point. It’s also a major stop along the Badger State Trail, which runs from Madison through Monroe to Freeport, Illinois – which means it’s not all in the Badger State.

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The Green County Courthouse in Monroe, surrounded by a bustling town square. Highway 81 used to come straight through town with Highway 11; it now angles around on the freeway bypass and heads northwest from the city. But you should definitely check out downtown.

Downtown Monroe offers a charming and rather bustling downtown square. Surrounding the impressive, Romanesque Green County Courthouse, are shops offering everything from boutique clothing to electronics. A stop in Baumgartner’s on the Square (1023 16th Ave., 608-325-6157) lets you sample more cheese and beer products made in the area, including a Limburger with mustard and onion served on rye bread. In the name of humanity, the dish is served with a mint on the side.

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bceiling_800Baumgartner’s is a cheese and sausage shop in the front, tavern and sandwich shop in the back. On the high ceiling above, check out the dollar bills hanging from the ceiling – which almost look like hibernating bats if you’re not looking closely! If you give them a dollar, they’ll use their special technique to “throw” it into the ceiling, where they’ll stick until Cheese Days every other year, when they take the bills down and donate them to a chosen charitable organization in the area. It’s worth the buck to watch it happen!

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Monroe is the only place in North America where limburger cheese is currently produced. Wisconsin law makes it tough: it’s actually illegal to produce this cheese without a master cheesemaker’s certification.

Another good stop is the Minhas Craft Brewery, (1208 14th Ave., 608-325-3191), located just south and west of the town center. For a long time known as the Huber Brewery, it’s the second oldest continuously operating brewery in the U.S, brewing beer in one form or another since 1845 – three years before Wisconsin entered statehood. They were purchased by Mountain Crest Brewing Company, a Canadian outfit planning that expanded the Monroe facility (read about it in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story here). As it stands now, the brewery continues to brew Huber’s traditional beers: Premium (which won the Bronze in the 2002 World Beer Championships) Bock and Light, as well as a great old non-Huber-but-totally-Wisconsin throwback: Rhinelander Beer. Although Rhinelander’s original brewery shut down in 1967, Minhas has continued its recipe and now brews the beer in Monroe. The popular Canadian beer Mountain Creek is now brewed here – a result of the Mountain Crest investment – as are a few malt liquors. Tours are available at 11am, 1pm and 3pm Thursday through Saturday.

Downstairs, the Herb & Helen Haydock World of Beer Memorabilia Museum features historic and modern beer brand memorabilia from all over the country; it’s definitely worth dropping in! There’s also a gift shop and they’ve kept historical pictures to browse, along with other memorabilia highlighting the area’s brewing history.

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Monroe is also the home headquarters of the famous mail-order company (and prime source of cheese, meats, nuts and more) The Swiss Colony, which started here in 1926. The main building is right along Highway 69 on the south side on Monroe.

Out of downtown, heading south briefly via Highway 69 from 11 brings you to the Monroe Depot Welcome Center, part of Monroe’s original train depot. Outside, you’ll find the charm of a train station, a fiberglass cow and some large copper kettles. Inside, you’ll find visitor information, the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which has plenty of old tools cheesemakers used dating back to the 19th century, and original train depot materials, including old schedules, an original bench, photos and more.

Cows and kettles dot the landscape in front of the National Historic Cheesemaking Center.monroedepot2_500

At lower left, an original typewriter and schedule from the days way back when the trains roared through here as part of the Depot Welcome Center; at lower right, some of the cheesemaking equipment in the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which is part of the Depot. Plenty of vats, weights, wringers, presses and old packaging that held cheeses made back in the 1800s.

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From Monroe, you can jump back on today’s Highway 11. Highway 81 breaks away northwest towards Argyle and Darlington.

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The rest of Highway 11 west of Monroe features a lot of rolling hills, exposed rock formations and historic mining towns.

Meanwhile, Highway 11 barrels through rural Green County, past the Browntown-Cadiz Springs Recreation Area and a funny little street called Smock Valley Road past Browntown (pop. 252) and into Lafayette County.

Just inside Lafayette County, the Pecatonica River runs along Highway 11 for a while – as does the Cheese Country Trail – into South Wayne (pop. 484). They originally called the town “Collins” but changed after realizing another Collins, Wisconsin existed. They then wanted use “Wayne” in honor of Revolutionary War Hero “Mad” Anthony Wayne, but since there was a community already called “Wayne” in northeastern Wisconsin the town changed its named to “South Wayne”. Ironically, the township surrounding is called “Wayne” (complicated, no?)

Next up is Gratiot (pop. 252), where you briefly look up with Highway 78. For bikers, hikers, ATV riders and snowmobilers, this is where the Cheese Country Trail stops paralleling Highway 11 and starts heading northwest to Mineral Point. Several bars and establishments and a nice park serve those recreational riders and State Trunk Tourers. A brief but good diversion to the south can be found in the form of Pecatonica Beer Company, which has its offices right there in Gratiot but its Tap Room a few miles south via Highway 78, just over the border in Warren, Illinois. We declare it worth it!

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Abner Frank Dalrymple, the first Major League Baseball player to get an intentional walk with the bases loaded (1881 with the Chicago White Stockings), was born in Gratiot in 1857.

cheesecountrytr1_800The Cheese Country Trail (left) parallels Highway 11 pretty closely from Monroe to Gratiot. Features include railroad trestles (somewhat visible in this shot) and abundant wildlife, along with the occasional sound of trucks rumbling by on the nearby highway.

 

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Gratiot, where 236 residents and several watering holes host Cheese Country Trail recreationalists and State Trunk Tourers using Highway 78 and/or 11. This view is northbound on 78 looking toward the intersection with Highway 11.

A wider, flatter stretch greets you west of Gratiot, although the area’s hilly topography is visible on either side for miles. On a clear day, Platteville Mound (which features a massive “M” – in fact, the world’s largest – on its southwest slope) can be seen… and it’s at least 15 miles away. Here, you intersect with the southern start of Highway 23, which runs north through the Driftless Area up to the Dells and then east to Sheboygan. Two major State Trunk Tour routes intersect in what is essentially the middle of nowhere. But, it doesn’t stay that way for long.

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Just outside Shullsburg, some moos chill out in a stream and enjoy some soft, tender grasses. They didn’t mind getting their picture taken, although I did feel bad when I had my burger later on…

Shullsburg Interactive Map

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The next town up is Shullsburg (pop. 1,246), 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 awaits.

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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.

shullsburgalley_600A dense cluster of downtown buildings and some narrow streets and pathways give Shullsburg a cozy feel, especially with the surrounding hills. Highway 11 grazes past Shullsburg, which is why turning off at County U or Water Street is a good idea. The Shullsburg Creamery is right along Water Street; also recommended is Frank’s Place, in salute of Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. Elsewhere in the state, you’ll see trucks hauling Shullsburg Cheese products all over.

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Shullsburg’s old high school is an attractive stone building and an excellent example of why their high school team name is the “Miners.”

leadregion_500The area around Shullsburg along this stretch of Highway 11 is the heart of Wisconsin’s Lead Mining Region, which is probably why the state chose to put the commemoration marker here.

Evidence of the lead mining past is notable not just on highway markers, but in place names. Remember this as you go through the Town of New Diggings and the village of Lead Mine. Next up is Benton (pop. 998), which bills itself as the “Mining Capital of Wisconsin.” Highly respected pioneer priest Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, who came to the area from Italy in the 1830s, is buried in Benton. He was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II in 1993, and possible Sainthood is pending, which would make his gravesite in Benton a national shrine. Benton was originally called Cottonwood Hill in salute of the dominant local tree.

11mmound_250hiOn a clear day, Platteville Mound is visible to the north, on the horizon past the farm fields. It’s 15-20 miles away. (Click on the picture at left for a larger view).

Right into Grant County, Highway 11 meets up with Highway 80 and heads south into Hazel Green (pop. 1,183), which calls itself the “Point of Beginning.” Hazel Green hosts a number of bed & breakfasts and antique stores and served, in the 1800s, as lodging for land surveyors. In downtown Hazel Green, Highway 11 breaks west, with Sinsinawa Mound, a dominant local landform, visible just to the south.

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Sinsinawa (not to be confused with how a little kid – or Gilda Radner’s SNL impression of Barbara Walters from the 1970s – pronounces “Cincinnati”) Mound.

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High bluffs and steep hills as you approach the Mississippi River means some cool, dramatic rock cuts, like this one on Highway 11 just east of its western terminus near Dubuque.

You can sense the approaching Mississippi River as the landforms get increasingly hilly. Highway 11 comes to end as it crosses Highway 35 and then intersects with U.S. Highway 61 & 151, fresh into Wisconsin from Dubuque. Highway 11 officially ends as a Wisconsin Welcome Area rest stop, which is not a bad place to stop and rest (the view of Dubuque, Iowa from the hill is quite nice) before heading elsewhere.

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Highway 11 ends as it approaches U.S. 61 & 151, just in from Dubuque, Iowa. A rest stop is ahead; Dubuque and the Ole Miss are less than one mile south on the freeway. Highways 35, 61 and 151 offer much adventure heading northbound.

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Where you’ve been: looking back east along Highway 11’s western start towards Hazel Green, with Sinsinawa Mound visible in the distance.

Highway 11 is a great southern tier coast-to-coast tour of far southern Wisconsin. From Racine’s Lake Michigan coast, kringle, and busy downtown to the beautiful bluffs overlooking Dubuque, Iowa from Wisconsin’s Mississippi River shore, you can enjoy tiny burgs, charming town squares, breweries, cheese factories, historic buildings and sites, beautiful landscapes, and more. And Illinois stays just far enough away (we kid, we kid!)

CONNECTIONS:
Eastern Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 32
Can connect nearby to: Highway 20, about one mile north; Highway 38, about two miles north; Highway 31, about 4 miles west.

Western Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 35, U.S. 61/151
Can connect nearby to: Highway 80, about 5 miles east

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.

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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!

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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.

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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