22

STH-022“Seed Spitting, ATV’ing & Copper Culture”

WisMap22Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 22 is one of several state highways that meander a bit while changing direction. Running right up the center of Wisconsin at first, Highway 22 winds through a number of central and northeastern Wisconsin towns, providing access to lakes and rivers that offer some of the state’s best fishing, eventually providing access to the waters of Green Bay at Oconto.

** NOTE **
The stretch of Highway 22 between Oconto Falls and U.S. 141 will be closed for reconstruction until early August. Check this link from DOT for the latest detour and project information.

Wisconsin Highway 22 Road Trip

The Drive (South To North, then East): Highway 22 starts out at a rural crossroads where U.S. 51 veers away from its journey due north of Madison and cuts towards Portage; the east-west crossroad is the “coast-to-coast” Highway 60.

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Highway 22 begins in a nondescript way as U.S. 51 veers westerly at Highway 60 about 20 minutes north of the Madison area.

The first ten miles of Highway 22 take you through wide-open spaces – for Wisconsin – and a series of “Ethanol YES!” signs, indicative of corn and politically active farmers in the area. Highway 22’s southern section traverses the Central Sand Hills, an ecological landscape influenced heavily by glaciers. Within close range of this area, you have the Dells are to the west and a close passing of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers nearby. Sandy soils, abundant small lakes and many streams created an environment favorable for good fishing and crop-raising.

Some good-sized hills emerge a few miles further north of where Highway 22 begins, including a pretty scenic one as you cross Rocky Run. The first town you enter is Wyocena (pop. 768), where Highway 16 crosses. They built an interchange for a “U.S. 16 bypass” decades ago, and the “old” 16 just north of it shows just how tiny some of the major routes used to be. Try following it; it’s a small side street that, prior to the 1950s, was the main route for Milwaukee-Minneapolis traffic. Makes one appreciate expanded bypasses sometimes!

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Just north of where Highway 22 crosses Highway 16 today is the marker showing the origin of Wyocena, founded by Major Elbert Dickason in 1843. His wife was named Obedience, which has sort of fallen off the “popular baby names for girls” list over the last century or two.

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For an area thought of as fairly flat, this part of central Wisconsin sports some sizable hills and nice views as you cruise. When the glaciers came down across the state many millennia ago, they formed ridges in this area that helped form lakes and rivers that provide great fishing today..

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Three miles later lies Pardeeville (pop. 1,995) and yes, it’s pronounced “partyville”. Not that it’s known for parties… or is it? You’ll have to find that out on your own. In the middle of a Saturday, things were pretty calm. Pardeeville was named for John Pardee, a Milwaukee merchant who owned the land here and sent agents to develop it. And develop it they did – at least to an extent. The town’s location along the Fox River gave it strategic importance, especially back when the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway system was considered the possible main boat route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River – though that ended up not happening.

Highway 22 at Highway 44, Pardeeville

Where Highways 22 & 44 meet in Pardeeville. This is, technically, the downtown crossroads.

Pardeeville’s downtown strip runs for only a few blocks; Highway 44 begins its run towards Oshkosh at this point, and 22 jogs past Park Lake and over the Fox River, the first of many crossings over that river.

Highway 22 serves as Pardeeville’s main street. While looking for a pardee of some sort, I came across an Everbrite factory that caught my eye because gas prices were even more shocking than usual. This wasn’t as a gas station, however; Everbite makes some of those digital signs that show prices at gas stations, and the examples they had out there weren’t pretty. If you want to see what $6 gas looks like, just check out the picture:

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Thankfully, those aren’t real prices (at least as of press time). Everbrite’s facility in Pardeeville makes some of the digital price signs gas stations use. It scared the heck out of me for a second.

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When a business uses the road number in its name, we include a shot of it on the State Trunk Tour!

Watermelon Seed-Spitting and Curling. Pardeeville is big on watermelons in summer and curling in winter. Every year, Pardeeville hosts the U.S. Watermelon Eating and Seed-Spitting Competition. One edition was visited by the State Trunk Tour, and featured here is Colton Ketter of Lomira. Spitters from all over came to Pardeeville for the chance to take home glory – and a ribbon. Creative decorations with watermelons, like the flower basket and the one puking here to the left, are also potential contest-winners.Pardeeville also has a very active curling club that has been at it since 1875; they’re just off the intersection of Highway 22 and 44 downtown. Curling Olympian Debbie McCormick hails from Pardeeville and still serves as the organization’s vice president.

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Watermelon art. Including one throwing up. Creative, if not appetizing.

Between Pardeeville and Montello, County F provides access to John Muir County Park, which boasts a broad array of diverse and rare plant species, lakes and wetlands. This area was the boyhood home of Sierra Club founder John Muir (hence the county park’s name) and also features a trail and boardwalk around 30-acre Ennis Lake.

Continuing along Highway 22, one notices many antique stores… and you gotta love the ones that, in addition to “classic” antiques, also sell a wide variety of live bait. The bait is popular, though, because there’s tons of good fishing in the area. Dotting Highway 22 are side roads to Fox River and area lake fishing and recreational trails. Marquette County alone has 60+ lakes and 15 trout streams, most of which have good public access.

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From the “You’ll Never Know What You’ll Find on the State Trunk Tour” department: lawn jockeys in their Packer gear, lighting the way in for these Green-and-Gold-worshiping residents.

This area is also home to a significant Amish population. Use caution in case you share the road with them, since their horsepower amount is usually one or two.

When you reach Montello (pop. 1,495), you’re about 35 miles from the southern end of Highway 22. Montello’s downtown spreads along Highways 22 and 23, and the aforementioned Amish sell many a craft in stores along the route. At the intersection with Highway 23, beautiful, rocky waterfalls greet you, all part of a transformed former granite quarry. Montello claims Wisconsin’s largest tree in front of Le Maison Granit, a historic mansion (oui, a French one at that) on Underwood Avenue, which requires just a short jog on adjacent Highway 23. Wedged between Montello Lake and Buffalo Lake, the city of Montello is very water- and water sports-oriented.

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Montello’s main crossroads at Highway 22 & 23 offer a nice waterfall.

The countryside meanders north of Montello; few towns or points of interest lie between in and Wautoma (pop. 1,998), which you reach about 56 miles north of Highway 22’s starting point. Wautoma features antique stores a’plenty and a nice shopping strip on the main street, which is along Highway 21 just after 22 turns back north to head out of town. Highway 73 also intersects here.

Once out of Wautoma, open spaces greet you for a while. You go through small burgs like Wild Rose, where you can sit atop the upper level balcony at the Duck Blind or enjoy coffee or tiramisu at Pumphouse on the Mill (430 Main St./Highway 22, 920-744-8499), a gastropub located in an old gas station along the mill pond in town. Just north of Wild Rose, Highway 22 enters Portage County and cuts the southeastern corner for literally about a mile and a half before heading into Waupaca County. At this point, you’re making a beeline for Waupaca itself; and yes, it sounds like Wautoma, but it’s Waupaca. You’d think they’d come up with a wider variety of name styles back in the 1800s when all these towns were founded (there’s a Waushara too, don’t get us started.)

Waupaca

Waupaca (pop. 5,750) is the central town in an area known as the Chain O’ Lakes. Waupaca’s name is also familar because of the former Waupaca Foundry – now known as ThyssenKrupp Waupaca – and its foundry locations in Waupaca and Marinette, with one each in Indiana and Tennessee. The Waupaca location melts over 9,500 tons of gray, ductile and compacted graphite iron castings. Actress Annie Burgstede, who played Willow Stark in Days of Our Lives and has also had roles in CSI, Smallville, Charmed, and Without A Trace, grew up in Waupaca.

*** BYPASS ALERT ***
Now, officially Highway 22 goes around Waupaca on the same bypass that carries the U.S. Highway 10 expressway. You can join it and go around town, but what’s the point in that?? It’s worth the trip on the “Old” 22, past the bypass interchange on County Highway K into town. A leisurely drive past South Park (not to be confused with the TV show) on a nice summer day reveals local residents enjoying the beach nearby on Shadow Lake. You can’t see this on the bypass:

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Waupaca hosts a number of events throughout the year. One popular summertime treat is Strawberry Fest, which I could only assume celebrates strawberries. On a day when I visited, downtown was loaded up with berry, berry happy festival goers (sorry, I couldn’t resist), bands playing the park, and stores eager to serve the people visiting from other places. Being the county seat of Waupaca County and the largest town for about 20 miles, Waupaca bustles quite a bit for a city its size.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Clay Perry, the caver who first coined the term “spelunker”, was born in Waupaca.
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The Rosa Theater and part of Main Street in downtown Waupaca, which features a lot of places to shop, eat and yes, drink.

Following Highway 54 and/or Highway 49 east through the rest of Waupaca will bring you back to Highway 22 for the trip on northeastward – if that’s a word. Highways 22 and 54 combine for a while before 54 heads east toward New London. At this point, Highway 22 joins Highway 110 and heads for rodeo country in the form of Manawa.

Yes, it’s east-central Wisconsin, and I said rodeo country! Manawa (pop. 1,330) is home to the annual Manawa Midwestern Rodeo, which has been active for over 55 years – bring your boots. In winter, you can use the rodeo grounds to access the network of snowmobile trails, of which there are 165 miles in Waupaca County. There are 21 snowmobile clubs in just the county maintaining these trails.

After departing Manawa and the combo with Highway 110, Highway 22 heads east again. Dropping into a nice little valley over the Wolf River and through the town of Symco, I knew I was away from it all when the dominant station on my radio was called “Moose Country” – it’s AM 960, for all you country buffs.

Highway 22 reaches U.S. Highway 45 at a junction with Highway 76, which continues east. We head north with U.S. 45 for several miles into Clintonville (pop. 4,559), which is named after first settler Norman Clinton as opposed to the former president. This small city is home to Seagrave Fire Apparatus, the longest-running fire apparatus manufacturer in the nation. Its airport, Clintonville Municipal (CLI), is historically recognized as the birthplace of Wisconsin Central Airlines, which eventually became North Central and then Republic Airlines, which in 1986 was purchased by Northwest Orient Airlines. Today, it’s all part of Delta Air Lines. Clintonville is also a water city: along with recreation and fishing on Pigeon Lake and along the Pigeon River, Clintonville won the “Best Tasting Water in Wisconsin” contest in 2005, as sponsored by the WWA.

22embras_smShortly after Clintonville is a town many have heard of when commercials or shows are pointing out interesting American place names: Embarrass, Wisconsin. Embarrass (pop. 487) is a small village, named after the river that flows through it. And they’re not ashamed to say it!

Shawano (pop. 8,298) is the county seat of Shawano County and is the largest town on Highway 22. Abutting Shawano Lake, it’s also the largest town between Green Bay and Wausau along Highway 29 and is a major point along the Mountain-Bay Trail, a great 83-mile rail-to-trail bike route that connects Rib Mountain in Wausau with the shore of Green Bay.

Highway 22 doesn’t exactly traverse tons of major cities, so Shawano seemed like a metropolis compared to most towns on the route. The cheapest gas on the route is here, as well as restaurants and hotels. The stretch of Green Bay Avenue lasts for several miles and combines State Trunk Tour Highways 22, 47, 55 and the old – now Business – 29. The mainline Highway 29 now runs south of town on a freeway bypass. At the junction of these highways downtown, this attractive statue illustrates the farming history – and hard work put in – of the area surrounding the city.

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This statue marks the downtown crossroads in Shawano.

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Four State Trunk Highways converge and go through Shawano’s main drag: 22, 47, 55, and “Business” 29, which was the mainline 29 until they built the bypass.

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From the “You Never Know What You’ll See on a State Trunk Tour” Dept: a camel grazes in the front yard of a home along the main drag downtown. The Shawano County Fair was in town at the moment – we can only assume there was a connection there.

shawanolk_lgShawano is considered by many to be “up north”, but its Native American name is actually “to the south.” At 6,100 acres, Shawano Lake was big enough to mark the southern border of Chippewa tribal territory. Highway 22 runs for over seven miles along the lake’s southern shore, passing a historical marker (pictured below) that tells you more. Meanwhile, you run into Cecil (perhaps a Shawano suburb? Maybe?) and make your way towards the highway’s final easterly push.

Past Cecil, you begin to weave over and past the Oconto River, a key stretch of running water that 22 will follow towards its terminus. Rolling hills line sections along the river, and evidence of the “old” 22 abounds:

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Rolling hills make the ride fun as Highway 22 crosses, and then parallels, the Oconto River…

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…and paralleling much of the way is the Old Highway 22, making us thankful for modern engineering.

Into Gillett (pop. 1,303), you meet up briefly with Highway 32. The town was named after Rodney Gillett, an early settler in the 1860s. Gillett is home of the Earthaven Museum, an earth sciences museum a few miles north of town up Highway 32 just down Valley Line Road. The Earthaven Museum features thousands of rocks, minerals and fossils with extensive collections of early human tools and artifacts. It’s a rockin’ time. Get it? Okay, we’ll move on…

Gillett ATV Capital along Highway 22

ATV Capital of the World

Gillett bills itself as the “ATV Capital of the World,” owning the trademark and everything. While a tall order to claim, Gillett backs it up with over 18 miles of maintained ATV trails just within their small city limits and the adjoining towns of Underhill and Maple Valley. A popular starting point is at Zippel Park, which is also home to the Oconto County Fair every summer.

From Gillett – via car, truck, motorcycle, or ATV – Highway 22 more or less follows the Oconto River into Oconto Falls (pop. 2,843), a lovely town where a dam expands the river into a more lake-like recreation setting. The dam, of course, replaced the “falls” part of Oconto Falls in 1883, but they chose to keep the original name. Built on sawmills and solidified on papermaking, Oconto Falls continues to be a source for tissue and other paper products that get shipped all over the world, some of which have to perform very unenviable tasks.

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Rising like a wooden dinner fork, this tree provided a nice foreground subject with the dammed (not damned, dammed) Oconto River in the background.

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A nice day at the riverside beach in Oconto Falls.

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Built in 1885, the Caldwell House hosted new workers and visitors to the pulping operations of the time. They came often by railroad, which came to Oconto Falls two years earlier.

Highway 22 dips into Oconto Falls’ downtown area and then heads back out, pushing east to the railroad – and now highway – stop at Stiles (not named after Julia, although I think of her every time I drive past), you cross U.S. Highway 141, a four-lane expressway letting travelers speed ever faster go get “up north.”

From Oconto Falls to Oconto – the end of the line
The last eight or so miles of Highway 22 is a pleasant, peaceful drive on the way to its eastern end. Right before it ends, though, you approach the outskirts of Oconto and some fascinating history at Copper Culture State Park. This park contains artifacts over 5,000 years old, is a former Native American burial ground – the oldest cemetery site in Wisconsin – and one of the oldest metal use archeological sites in North America. The park is free to visit, although you are encouraged to make a donation at the Werrenbroeck Museum, which takes care of the area and also chronicles the area’s extensive Belgian history. No, they do not make waffles.

Highway 22 comes to an end at the western edge of Oconto (pop. 4,513), which is now bypassed to the west by an expressway upgrade of U.S. 41. Highway 22 technically ends at the highway, but used to continue east to the “old” 41, where more of the activity is. Oconto is the seat of Oconto County and shares a similar history with Oconto Falls in that lumber, sawmills, and papermaking were all important industries.

Oconto

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Old-school beer drinkers may recall Oconto Beer, and signs sporting the brand are still up in various parts of town.

Oconto borders the waters of Green Bay, however, as serves as a port city between Green Bay and Marinette. Consequently, it’s where they build Cruisers Yachts, a luxury pleasure boat manufacturer established here in 1953. Oconto also has a long history of producing gloves – not surprisingly, considering the winter climate – and during the 1930s Oconto’s Holt Company was the largest producer of maple flooring in the United States. The city is the main town between Green Bay and Marinette, has a view of Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula across the bay, and it’s where we reach the eastern end of Highway 22 on the State Trunk Tour.

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For those who imbibe too much, the lovely Oconto County Courthouse is not far away.

 

South Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 60, U.S. Highway 51

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: U.S. Highway 41
Can connect nearby to: U.S. Highway 141, about 7 miles west

LaCrosse Brewery

16

STH-016

“La Crosse to Milwaukee the fun and historic way!”

WisMap16Quickie Summary: A former U.S. highway, State “Trunk” Highway 16 comes in from Minnesota at La Crosse and works its way toward Milwaukee through routes so popular they were supplanted by Interstates in most areas. Paralleling I-90 and/or I-94 much of the way, Highway 16 goes through many of the towns the interstate highways bypass. Highway 16 used to continue into downtown Milwaukee and across Lake Michigan on a ferry to Muskegon via the old Milwaukee Clipper, where it then ran all the way to downtown Detroit just short of the Canadian border, hey. Today, though, it ends at I-94 in Milwaukee’s western suburbs, but not before passing by a ton of interesting things along its almost 200-mile journey.

Wisconsin Highway 16 Road Trip

The Drive (West To East): Highway 16 in Wisconsin begins on, of all places, an island in the Mississippi River. You’re skipping over The Mighty Mississip. The Old Miss. The Old Man (just channeling my inner Clark W. Griswold.) Highway 16 here is multiplexed with U.S. Highways 14 & 61 and was the busiest bridge across the Mississippi River between Dubuque and St. Paul before I-90 was built just to the north in 1969.

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Highway 16, along with U.S. Highways 14 & 61, begins on an island in the Mississippi, right before the bridge that leapfrogs you into downtown La Crosse.

La Crosse

16_bridgetolcDowntown La Crosse lurks through the truss work of the 1939 bridge carrying eastbound Highway 16 back toward La Crecent, Minnesota. The hills framing La Crosse are clearly visible in the background (click on picture for larger view.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Highway 16 (along with US 14/61) enter and leave Wisconsin using each of these bridges, although the state line is several hundred yards to the west yet. This beach along the Mississippi River faces downtown La Crosse but is still in Wisconsin.

Highway 16’s bridges spanning the Mississippi River connect to La Crosse from La Crescent, Minnesota. The newer span is the Cameron Avenue Bridge, which opened in 2004; the other is the Cass Street Bridge. Opened in 1940, the Cass Street Bridge originally carried both directions of traffic; today, each bridge carries one-way.

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

La Crosse statue by its tallest building

The statue of Natives playing lacrosse is fitting for the city. The city’s tallest office building, the 126-foot, 10-story U.S. Bank Place.

Entering Wisconsin here means entering La Crosse (pop. 51,818). Situated on a rare piece of flat land amidst beautiful coulees and hills, La Crosse emerged as a Native American trading post due to its position at the confluence of the Black and Mississippi Rivers. La Crosse holds a number of “quality of life” accolades, often involving low crime or livable small city status; I note USA Today also named La Crosse one of the “Top Ten Places Worldwide to Toast Oktoberfest” (more on that in a second.)

Long known as a brewery town, La Crosse was home to G. Heileman Brewing Company for almost 140 years, cranking out a variety of brands, most notably Old Style. Today, the sprawling brewery complex lies just south of Highway 16 as it comes to the surface in downtown La Crosse and continues to run as the City Brewery. The World’s Largest Six Pack is indicative of La Crosse’s fun style, and you can access this gigantic, John Blutarsky-pleasing sight by following U.S. Highway 14/61 south less than a mile once you’ve crossed the bridge into the city.

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

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

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

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

Also at the intersection where Highway 16 meets the southern start of U.S. 53, which heads north a few blocks into the heart of downtown La Crosse where you can enjoy Historic Pearl Street. It’s filled with Civil War-era buildings, specialty shops, a microbrewery, galleries, antique shops, coffee houses and, at night, college students doing what they do best when they’re not studying. The Pearl Street Brewery, once located on Pearl Street, now sits nearby on the north side of town in a former Rubber Mills Boot factory. On the east side of downtown along 9th Street, the Swarthout Museum features changing exhibits from prehistoric to Victorian; over on 5th Street, the Children’s Museum of La Crosse has exhibits for our future leaders on three floors, along with a climbing wall for all ages. All of this can be reached by your car, or you can hop the La Crosse Trolley in the warm weather months for a little “no need for the gas pedal” tour.

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

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

 

 

 

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

rudys800Car shows and “Cruise Nights” happen regularly throughout the summer. You can find Rudy’s two blocks west of Highway 35 along Highway 16, which is La Crosse Street here. Highway 35 basically bypasses downtown La Crosse, instead going right through neighborhoods.

Past the downtown area, Highway 16 gets close to the bluffs that line eastern La Crosse and heads northeasterly as Losey Boulevard. Approaching I-90, you’re in the busy outskirts where all the big-box stores and chain restaurants are… it’s like the ‘burbs.

Past the junction with I-90 and beyond La Crosse, the coulees and ridges dominate the landscape on all sides as farmland emerges amidst the topography. The first town you reach is West Salem (pop. 4,738), home of Pulitzer-prize winning author Hamlin Garland, the La Crosse Fairgrounds and Speedway, and two octagon-shaped houses, one of which is Garland’s homestead. Past Lake Neshonoc and an intersection with Highway 108, Highway 16 follows the relatively flat area along the La Crosse River valley – not far off the La Crosse River Trail, great for biking – and the hills, bluffs and coulees surround you, often from a distance.

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From Highway 16, Highway 108 heads north, past an “old” section of Highway 16 featuring a bridge from 1926, and zigzags north a bit through La Crosse County along part of Eggins Coulee.

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We love these old bridges. Along Highway 108 just north of today’s Highway 16, the original 16 route is still marked, heading across a creek on a bridge constructed in 1926 – and left practically unchanged since. This is in New Salem.

Sparta

Shortly after entering Monroe County is the Bicycling Capital of America, Sparta (pop. 8,648). Sparta is the western host of Fort McCoy, the eastern terminus of the La Crosse River Trail, and the northern terminus of the world-famous Elroy-Sparta Trail. All of this hubub results in a commercial strip through town where you can get just about anything. Joining Highway 71, Highway 16 goes through this commercial strip as it also crosses Highway 21, which goes into Sparta’s main downtown area before heading towards Oshkosh, and Highway 27, a key north-south route through the coulee region.

The town’s enthusiastic support of bicycling extends to street name signs that bear bike symbols. Numerous motels and B&B’s cater to the cycling crowd while downtown establishments offer supplies for your bike and sustenance for your tummy. And speaking of your tummy, the “Ben Biken BBQ Bash”, named by Governor Doyle as the Official State Barbeque Championship of the State of Wisconsin, takes place every September. Coupled with typical September weather, it might be the best weekend of the year to go check out the area. You can eat brisket and burn it off biking.

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The Deke Slayton Museum, chock full of bikes and space exhibits.

On top of bikes, Sparta has a number of attractions. Some kids who grow up in Sparta leave for big cities; Deke Slayton left for Earth’s upper atmosphere. The Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum honors the astronaut, native son, and head of NASA Operations from 1963 to 1972. And that fiberglass hippo, whose mouth you putt golf balls into while playing mini-golf? Chances are, it was made in Sparta at the FAST Corp. (FAST stands for Fiberglass Animals Shapes and Trademarks.)

spartaphantFAST does business all over the world, and few companies like it exist. A drive into their lot yields a sprawling field filled with fiberglass fun: large cows, alligators, elephants that double as childrens’ slides… the list goes on. You may traverse the field and marvel at their creations, as long as you behave and don’t climb on anything. Their lot can be found by following Highway 21 to the northeast edge of town, at the junction with County Highway Q. Look for giant fiberglass things.

FAST’s work is particularly evident in its hometown. The statue of a man on a bicycle that announces your entrance into Sparta along Highway 71 and the Clydesdale outside of the local Budweiser distributor are just two of the many pieces you can find in the area.

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Made locally, “Ben Biken” greets you to the Bicycling Capital of America along Highway 71 & 16.

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Sparta’s high school nickname? The Spartans, of course! (This doesn’t encourage graduates to go to Michigan State, does it??)

Heading east from Sparta, Highway 16 crosses Interstate 90 and begins a straight shot through the Fort McCoy Military Reservation, often paralleling the interstate just a few hundred feet south. I felt like opening it up and maxing out the speedometer with such a nice straightaway, but something told me that military land but be an even worse place to break the law than a regular ol’ stretch of road. Oh, and turn your lights on for safety.

Tomah

Downtown Tomah along U.S. 12 just north of Highway 16

The Main Street boulevard through downtown Tomah, lined with historic buildings and shops. This is where all the heavy traffic between Madison and Minneapolis went before I-94.

Next up is the crossroads city of Tomah (pop. 8,419), which holds the Monroe County seat. Transportation has long been a hallmark of Tomah; it has an Amtrak station for the Empire Builder line and it’s where main highways tend to arrive and split. Pre-Interstate days, it’s where then-main roads U.S. Highways 12 and 16 split; when the interstates were built in the 1960’s, they decided to split Interstates 90 and 94 here as well. It’s considered a halfway point between Chicago and Minneapolis and definitely focuses on hospitality and logistics. Even shows of power congregate here: the Budweiser Dairyland Super National Truck & Tractor Pull is one of the largest in the country and takes place every June at the Monroe County Fairgrounds, right off Highway 16 on the western edge of town. You’ll find plenty of hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, truck stops, and stores to stock up for trips. Quite a few transport companies and distribution facilities are located here. In keeping with the transportation theme, Gasoline Alley comic strip creator Frank King grew up in Tomah.

Tomah, home to Gasoline Alley creator Frank King bannerPart of the reason for Tomah’s being a center for transportation is its location where the Driftless Area of western Wisconsin meets the forests and cranberry bogs of central Wisconsin. To the west, hills; to the east, flatter forested lands perfect for growing and harvesting cranberries. Tomah is known as one of America’s cranberry capitals, with the world’s largest cranberry festival taking place in late September in nearby Warrens, which also holds the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center. Heading south of out of Tomah via Highway 131, you immediately head into hills and an extensive part of Wisconsin’s Amish Country. And of course, Fort McCoy is just to the west.

Highway 16 comes into Tomah from the Fort McCoy grounds and goes right past Recreation Park, which holds the Monroe County Fairgrounds. Found just off Butts Avenue (heh-heh, heh-heh), events there include the annual Budweiser Dairyland Super National Truck & Tractor Pull, the second largest truck and tractor pull in the nation.

Highway 16 stays on the south side of town and hooks up with U.S. Highway 12 just south of downtown. Highway 131 begins here and heads south.

Continuing east from Tomah, U.S. 12 and Highway 16 two join together for the next 40-plus miles while paralleling I-90/94. This is only fitting since this was the interstate before they built the interstate. A string of towns you zoom past on the interstate become places you can check out with more care on this trip. Quaint burgs like Oakdale (pop. 297) and Camp Douglas (pop. 592) host facilities for Mill Bluff State Park, which is located right between the two.

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Landforms in this part of the state make for great state parks, including Mill Bluff, halfway between Oakdale and Camp Douglas on the Monroe-Juneau County line.

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This view from Highway 16 & U.S. 12, which closely parallels I-90/94 through Camp Douglas, shows Castle Rock. Once an island in a shallow sea, it towers above the landscape.

Camp Douglas also hosts Volk Field, which in turn hosts the Wisconsin National Guard Museum. Housed in a log lodge built in 1896, the museum contains exhibits, dioramas, video and slide programs, and a battlefield map. It also extensively covers the state’s famous 32nd Division, which Highway 32 was named after and the French regarded as Les Terribles, but they meant it in a good way for us – and them. The German Haus Restaurant offers a nice view of Castle Rock, spaetzle and bier along with parking and access the Omaha Trail, which bikers can take to Elroy.

Next up for drivers is New Lisbon (pop. 1,436), which calls itself “The Friendly City.” Highway 80 intersects here, as does the Burr Oak Winery in case you didn’t sample any German beer back in Camp Douglas.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
Kurtwood Smith (Red Forman in “That 70’s Show” is the only actor on that Wisconsin-based show who is actually from Wisconsin.

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Juneau County’s capital, Mauston, is a prime stop for stock-up items and a gateway to the rail-to-trails and scenery of the Driftless Area. Here, Highway 82 meets up with U.S. 12 & Highway 16 for a brief ride through downtown.

Next up is Mauston (pop. 4,256), which in some materials refers to itself as the “un-Dells”, referencing its close proximity to, but much more relaxed and homey approach than, nearby Wisconsin Dells. County seat of Juneau County and home to the area’s largest medical center, Mauston (rhymes with “Boston”) hosts five companies who are Fortune 500 members and is wedged between Decorah Lake to its north and One Mile Bluff to its south. Highway 82 provides access to I-90/94 to the east – as well as about twenty fast-food restaurants and tourist places featuring giant plastic things – and access to the more rugged hills toward Elroy to the west. Highway 58 heads north toward Necedah and south into the heart of the Driftless Area, too.

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Mauston’s St. Patrick Catholic Church at the end of Pine Street is one block off Highway 16, but visible around much of the town.

Through Mauston, Highway 82 goes past a slew of growing neighborhoods and several large schools, which serve communities for miles around. The larger, more rugged hills of the “Driftless Area” of Wisconsin beckon; before long, you start twisting around through valleys and past increasingly frequent rock cuts and bluffs. This is a main route for bicyclists and ATV’ers looking to take advantage of the rail-to-trail systems in southwestern Wisconsin.

After a long end-round past Sheep Pasture Bluff (no sign of sheep on this particular day), Highway 16 heads through little Lyndon Station (pop. 500) on the way towards the Dells.

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This area was once of the greatest hop-raising districts in the country, supplying breweries with a key ingredient. This marker in Lyndon Station recalls the days when an editorial in 1867 encouraged locals to “keep hopping, hoeing and hoping”, which could also be rap lyrics today.

Past Lyndon Station, I saw an interesting place: it just said “massage” and a phone number, which began with the “666” prefix. I do no further research. Shortly after that is the double-entendre named Cruisin’ Chubby’s, in which I believe dancing of some sort takes place. In between is the Dells Motor Speedway, which features a 1/3-mile semi-banked asphalt oval and hosts super late models and stock-car racing on Saturday nights. Lots of interesting places in just a few short miles.

us12us16signOnce you cross I-90/94, the Dells begin. First, you hit about two miles of thick forest; then suddenly, lights, action, and roller coaster rides begin to fill the view. Yes, you’ve reached the tourist mecca of Wisconsin Dells!

By the way, some old signs, like at left, still show 16 as a U.S. Highway, which it was from 1926 to 1978 in Wisconsin. Remember, before the Interstate this was THE way highway between Madison and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Imagine how much busier it was back in the day!

Once you cross I-90/94 at its Exit 85, the Dells area begins. First, you hit about two miles of thick forest that’s part of Rocky Arbor State Park, a 244-acre refuge from the bustling vacationland on the other side of the trees. Pine trees (which aren’t super common in the area otherwise), beautiful bluffs, hiking trails, camping, RV spaces, and more. Hunting and trapping are allowed – with a license – and the park is open in winter for winter hiking and snowshoeing. So any time of year, you can check out the 500 million year-old sandstone formations.

As you cross from Juneau into Sauk Columbia County past Rocky Arbor, one quick drop and suddenly lights, action, and roller coaster rides begin to fill the view. Yes, you’ve reached the tourist mecca of Wisconsin Dells!

Wisconsin Dells & Lake Delton

Ah, Wisconsin Dells, the “Water Park Capital of the World” and Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination. Highway 16 comes into the area and immediately, the architecture changes. The vibe changes. And the amount of traffic changes. When people refer to “Wisconsin Dells”, they usually mean the whole area, including Lake Delton and the region up and down the Wisconsin River, whose gorgeous ‘dells’ and gorges give the area its name. Wisconsin Dells itself started out as Kilbourn City in 1857. It was named after founder Byron Kilbourn, who also played a major role in getting Milwaukee started as a city one decade earlier. Renamed Wisconsin Dells in 1931, the city set the state’s high temperature record of 114 degrees Fahrenheit five years later. But indeed, it gets cold here, too, which explains why so many waterparks offer indoor facilities. It’s also chock full of foreign workers, many of whom are college age from Eastern Europe and South America. Time magazine actually named it one of the “Best Places for College Students to Work during the Summer” in 2004, proving there’s a list for nearly everything.

For Highway 16, it all starts at the junction with Highways 13 and 23, where a ride west on 13 leads you right to I-90/94. Here, U.S. 12 leaves Highway 16 and, coupled with 23 southbound, heads into Lake Delton. This section on the west side of the Wisconsin River is where the bustling and larger resorts generally are; you’ll find 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 – you can even see it from Highway 16 before it turns east!

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Motels, pedestrians and stray beach balls line this stretch in Lake Delton just south of Highway 16, 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 the junction with Highway 16. A ride passes through it; no word on if anything else is hiding inside.

So at the big intersection where U.S. 12 leaves and heads south, Highway 16 breaks east with Highways 13 and 23, hopping over the Wisconsin River and entering the energetic strip that marks downtown Wisconsin Dells (pop. 2,418).

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At the intersection coming up, U.S. 12 and Highways 13, 16, and 23 all converge. I-90/94 is less than a mile to the west via Highway 13. The Dells’ main “strip” is to the east, along 16.

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

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

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

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

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Plenty of sights to see along Broadway, the stretch of Highway 16 where it goes through the heart of Wisconsin Dells. Highways 13 and 23 run with 16 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 16 goes through the original Dells’ main strip as Broadway. This is a major crossroads in the state and marks a division for Highway 16, where it ceases to parallel Interstates for a while and begins its push into eastern Wisconsin.

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

At the east end of Wisconsin Dells, you’re suddenly in the countryside again. Highway 13 heads north towards Lake Superior (it’s a long road) and Highway 23 makes its way toward Green Lake and Sheboygan. Meanwhile, Highway 16 makes the plunge southeast and you have a long, fairly lonely ride (most traffic takes I-90/94, which parallels 16 on the other side of the Wisconsin River) towards the next town, with plenty of time to decompress from the activity in the Dells.

Portage

The next town in question is Portage (pop. 9,728), named for the Fox-Wisconsin waterway that quietly connects the two rivers, and by extension the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. What remains is now a small water pump and aeration flow system, although efforts are underway to restore the canal, whose use by boats ended in 1951 when the dam and locks making its use possible were closed.

Portage is the county seat of Columbia County and considered by many where “up North” begins. Its strategic location, once defined by a connecting waterway and Fort Winnebago, is now defined by the I-39 and I-90/94 split and junction of Highways 16, 33, and U.S. Highway 51. Still, Portage boasts a sizeable downtown that overlooks the waterway area, filled with shops and businesses catering to both tourists and residents from miles around. Writer Zona Gale hailed from Portage and used the area as a setting for her Pulitzer prize-winning play Miss Lulu Bett in 1921.

It’s home to Fort Winnebago, which protected the portage in the frontier days. Little remains of it today, but the old “Surgeon’s Quarters” are still available to view. The Old Indian Agency House is another point of interest. In keeping with part of Portage’s raison d’etre, Highway 33 crosses the Wisconsin River at this point.

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Portage includes some nice parks, like the lovely Pierre Pawquette Park, which I can only assume is named after a Frenchman.

Heading out of Portage, U.S. 51 hooks up with Highway 16 for the ride past the Swan Lake State Wildlife Area (no, this isn’t where the song came from). This is the second instance of the former U.S. highway hooking up with a current one. After a few miles, U.S. 51 departs southward for Poynette, Madison and eventually New Orleans. Highway 16 heads southeast again toward Wyocena (pop. 732), where it speeds under Highway 22 in a “Super 2”-style interchange. It may seem unnecessary, but Highway 16 once went through Wyocena and the bypass was built in the 1950s before the interstates displaced it as the main route between Milwaukee and destinations like Minneapolis and La Crosse.

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This road once carried Highway 16 through Wyocena. The highway’s role as a primary route between Milwaukee and Minnesota before the interstates necessitated a bypass in the 1950’s, which carries Highway 16 today. Other bypasses were since built at Watertown and, much more recently, Oconomowoc.

Highway 16 also ambles around the village of Rio (pop. 938), which is pronounced, please, “rhy-oh”. They had to do something to distinguish it from the Brazilian city. The lack of beaches, palm trees, Sugar Loaf Mountain and Portugese-speaking people do the same, as does the lack of crime and instability. Rio provides crossroads to access two state wildlife areas, Mud Lake and Grassy Lake (how creative can you get?)

The next actual city on Highway 16 greets you right as you hook up with Highway 60 and duck under the U.S. 151 bypass: Columbus (pop. 4,479). It’s one of 17 U.S. states that has a city named Columbus. Located on the Crawfish River and straddling Columbia and Dodge Counties, Columbus refers to itself as the “Red Bud City” and boasts largest antique mall in Wisconsin with the Columbus Antique Mall – 78,000 square feet filled with stuff across 444 booths under one roof. The Christopher Columbus Museum in the antique mall features souvenir memorabilia from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and as well as lithographs, china, tapestries, statues, and more. Columbus also has the closest Amtrak station to Madison, which is a fairly quick ride down U.S. 151 from here.

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Stretches of downtown Columbus feature an array of preserved architecture, shops and yes, a few watering holes.

Columbus has done a great job preserving architecturally significant buildings, with the entire downtown district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Architectural and photography students come to check out Jaeger’s Mill on the Crawfish River, or the Farmers & Merchants Union Bank Building (known as the “Jewel Box”), which was one of the last buildings designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan. Students of history may revel in the Sunday morning toll of the steeple bell from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, partially made up of pieces of French canon captured during the Franco-Prussian War and presented as a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (no comments were solicited from any area French residents.)

Downtown Columbus features a wide variety of shops and draws a good number of visitors on a nice day. Highway 16/60 intersects with Highway 73 right downtown. A short jaunt along 73 (aka Park Avenue) brings you past a nice part of town, to the original 1902 Kurth Brewery building (described and pictured below), and a connection with Highway 89.

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One of the last buildings designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan, the Farmers & Merchants Union Bank draws attention with its facade. City Hall is kitty corner.

Columbus, like many Wisconsin cities, has a brewing history. Started on Park Avenue (today’s Business U.S. 151/Highway 73 at the intersection with Highway 89) in 1859, the Kurth Brewery quenched thirsty Columbusinians (or however you’d say it – Columbans, maybe?) for most of the ninety years that followed. Prohibition originally shut it down in 1920, but the Kurth Brewery managed to bounce back for 16 years after it was repealed, churning out items like Banner Beer and Blue Mound Beer throughout the 30s and 40s until it finally closed for good in 1949.

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Highway 60 snakes along the Rock River between Astico and Columbus. Highway 16 is along for the ride here, too.

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A couple enjoys the serene wayside along the Rock River just outside Columbus. The Rock eventually flows to the Quad Cities before meeting the Mississippi.

Highway 60 continues with 16 for the straight shot from Columbus to Clyman. At Clyman Junction (named for the railroad junction, not the road one), Highway 60 heads north and then east toward Hartford and Grafton. Meanwhile, we turn south and join Highway 26 for the ride south toward Watertown. It’s pretty much open land for this section, but it’s worth checking out Dickie Lee’s Whacky Shack (920-696-3563) for a bite or beverage and some good immature humor.

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Methinks there’s a double entendre in this business establishment’s name along Highway 16 near Clyman, but maybe it’s just me.

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Perhaps part of an old gas station, this charming little sight is just north of Watertown along Highway 16 while it’s joined with Highway 26 in Dodge County. It may have been moved since the expansion to four lanes, we’re checking.

Highway 16 technically runs as a bypass to the southeast that was built in 1962 and skirts the outer edge of Watertown (pop. 21,598), while Highway 26 leaves to bypass the city to the west on a new route opened in 2013. But for the true State Trunk Tour experience, follow Business 16 – the traditional city route – into town! Heading into downtown Watertown, crossing into Jefferson County, you reach an intersection with Highway 19, which you join eastbound because that’s also Business 16. Downtown is fairly extensive, featuring a number of shops and late 1800s-era buildings. A nice stop is Mullen’s Dairy Bar, a throwback malt shop-type place that opened in 1931. An aggressive Main Street program is paying off and walking around, back and forth over the Rock River, is a great way to stretch your legs as you check out everything from clothing stores to taverns and historic bank buildings.

octagonhousemarker_267hiWatertown was the second-largest city in the state back in 1855 and launched the first kindergarten in 1856. It can be found – and toured – on the grounds of the Octagon House, an 1854 structure built by one of the city’s founders, John Richards, to fulfill a promise to his sweetheart (he promised to built her the finest house in Wisconsin Territory if she would marry him. This was before the days of just using a stadium message board to ask.) The “water” in Watertown comes from the Rock River, which winds through the city. Twice.

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Amid a typical Wisconsin middle-class neighborhood on the southeast side of Watertown lies the historic Octagon House, built in 1854 to fulfill a guy’s promise.

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Up for a malt, ice cream or other sweet concoction from an old-fashioned, authentic soda fountain place? Mullen’s Dairy Bar in downtown Watertown offers items for your taste buds and cool items to look at from the store’s early days.

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The main drag in Watertown, which is Highway 19 – and was U.S. 16 until 1962. Today, this section is also “Business” Highway 16.

The first crossing of the Rock River is downtown where all the murals are; the second crossing is on east side of town at a park where walking trails, pedestrian bridges, and even fishing piers with carp-specific disposal bins are available(?)

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A nice summer day along the Rock River in Watertown. Water levels can vary greatly – we’ve seen this park submerged before.

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Highway 19/Business 16 ends as it merges into today’s Highway 16 east of Watertown, heading towards Oconomowoc. Highway 19 once continued with 16 all the way to Milwaukee; it was truncated back to Watertown in 1947.

Highway 16 continues east from Watertown and parallels the Canadian Pacific railroad through northeast Jefferson County. The road juts over the north end of Ixonia‘s (pop. 2,902) main crossroads. Technically still a town rather than a village or city (but probably not for long, given the recent growth), its name came from a little girl. As explained in the Ixonia Heritage Book Index, which illustrated the naming debate going on when the town first split from the Town of Union in 1846: “To satisfy all factions, it was agreed to put the letters of the alphabet on slips of paper and have young Mary Piper draw them until a word was formed that could be used as the town name. The result was Ixonia.”

It goes on to say that it’s the only Ixonia in the country. I’ll bet you’re just as shocked as I am by that revelation.

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The BP along Highway 16 in Ixonia salutes “crusin'” along the highway.

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In autumn, vast farm fields turn colors just as leaves on the trees do. This field between Watertown and Ixonia turns a brilliant yellow on a sunny September day.

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Wisconsin was the first governmental body to identify roads by number. The first actual markers went up along this section of Highway 16 (originally Highway 19) in 1917. Click on the picture to enlarge, and then you can read all the text!

East of Ixonia, a cozy little wayside at the Rock River crossing features the historical marker detailing Wisconsin’s status as the first governmental body in the world to number its roads.

History here is indicated not only by the route marker, but by evidence of the original U.S. Highway 16 and State Highway 19 from the 1920s, the remnants of which are still visible in broken-up pavement paralleling the new road just to the south by 100-200 feet between the Rock River crossing and the exit where Highway 16 either goes into, or bypasses, Oconomowoc.

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Part of the original U.S. 16 (which was actually WIS 19), a road dating back before it was numbered in 1917. Can you imagine this as a main road between Milwaukee and Minneapolis?

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Here’s that same stretch of 16 once things green up. The prettiness of the area cannot be debated.

Oconomowoc

**Bypass Alert**
Highway 16 – technically – now runs around the north and east ends of Oconomowoc on an expressway bypass that, although planned since 1960, opened in 2007. If you want to save about five minutes, follow the bypass. To see the town – which you should do – follow Wisconsin Avenue (now known as “Old” 16) at the exit simply marked “Oconomowoc”. Wisconsin Avenue re-joins Highway 16 automatically on the east end of the city.

Oconomowoc (pop. 12,382) is a ten-letter city, five of which are o’s. Native American for “gathering place of the beaver” (according to one translation), it’s probably also the only Oconomowoc in the world, too, just like Ixonia. And Waunakee. And a bunch of other Wisconsin places.

Oconomowoc, built around Lac La Belle, Fowler Lake and Oconomowoc Lake, is at the western edge of Waukesha County’s “Lake Country” and served as a resort town for wealthy Americans as far back as the 1870’s, earning it the nickname “Newport of the West.” A host of American presidents throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s visited Oconomowoc, and some of the mansions where they stayed can be seen on walking tours around town.

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The first premiere of Wizard of Oz was in Oconomowoc, at the Strand Theater on August 12, 1939, thirteen days before it opened nationwide. You can find the site of the Strand in front of today’s Oconomowoc City Hall, on Wisconsin Avenue – Historic Highway 16.
Brewfinity Brewing's Jorge jalapeno beer in a can

Brewfinity’s Jorge jalapeno beer, a State Trunk Tour favorite.

*** Brewery Alert ***
On the way into Oconomowoc on the city/”old” Highway 16 route you can reach Brewfinity, a craft brewery that originally opened as the Sweet Mullets Brewing Company in 2014. Brewfinity offers a variety of beers, including an unusually good and flavorful jalapeno beer called Jorge, which does a great job offering up the flavor of a jalapeno pepper without the heat. How do they do that? Something about not using the inner ribbing of the pepper. Regardless, it’s good. If you’re eastbound on Highway 16, just follow the Oconomowoc exit to “old” Highway 16/Wisconsin Avenue. About one mile down, follow Division Street south to Industrial Road. It’s a residential area going into a light industrial area, just follow the signs – because nobody “happens” across the building where Brewfinity is located. But inside, you’ll find a great Tap Room with a food menu and a good variety of craft beers.

Oconomowoc does a lot of things, including baking bread that goes all over the country: the Brownberry Ovens plant, home to delicious baking bread smells since Catherine Clark opened her first bakery there in 1946, can create some nice smells near downtown. Brownberry Ovens is now a subsidiary of Canadian conglomerate George Weston Limited, the same company that provides Entenmann’s, Thomas’ muffins and Boboli pizza crust. You can buy it at the source in the store along Summit Avenue right in front of the factory.

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Once the city’s main connection to the rest of the world, Oconomowoc’s old depot on Collins Street is now a restaurant and bar featuring a nice array of railroad memorabilia.

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In the spring breeze, a pier into Lac La Belle offers views and access to one of the area’s most beautiful lakes.

Along Wisconsin Avenue into town, you cross Main Street, the old Highway 67. The headquarters of five-state pizza chain Rocky Rococo is also at this intersection, though you have to go down to 1075 Summit Avenue to imbibe in their deep-dish slices. The main shopping district for the city is east along Wisconsin and further north along Main, where you’ll find old timers like Boelter’s Shoes. Plenty of boutique shops, antique stores, bars, restaurants, and more flank both sides of Wisconsin Avenue; Lac La Belle and then Fowler Lake are just to the north by a block or so.

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A roundabout now circulates traffic heading into the Main Street strip in Oconomowoc. You’ll encounter it following 16’s “city” route. The city’s “five O’s” make for a nice centerpiece, especially at night when they use a variety of colored lights.

Continuing east as Wisconsin Avenue, Highway 16’s mainline re-joins on the east side of town and begins its stretch as a freeway, which it stays as until it terminates. But the historic route offers some great things to check out along the way!

*** Drive-In Alert ***
The Kiltie (262-567-2648), along old 16 just south of the Highway 16/County P interchange, dates back to 1946 and serves up great burgers, sides, malts and more on the old fashioned window tray. As a resident of Oconomowoc during my toddler years, I believe the burger I ever ate was at the Kiltie. There have been many, many more since.

The Kiltie, one of our classic Wisconsin drive-ins

At the exit for the Kiltie (Highway P/Brown Street), you can follow the old, old original Highway 16 through Okauchee, a nice little burg nestled within the multiple arms of Okauchee Lake. Go just north of the freeway along P, turn right along Wisconsin Avenue and follow it through town; you’ll be able to hook back up with the freeway on the east side of town. While Okauchee doesn’t have anything “touristy”, there are a lot of beautiful views on the streets around and plenty of good places for food and drink. Highly recommended for a nice dinner is the Golden Mast (1270 N. Lacy’s Lane, 262-567-7047), which has been there for over five decades and offers beautiful lake views and tasty German fare, brunches, and fish fries. Other great stops include Bertrand’s Point Comfort Place (N52W35002 Lake Drive, 262-569-9700), Foolery’s Liquid Therapy (N52W35091 Lake Drive, 262-912-6777), which can get wild at night and offers deck seating along the lake), and a slew of other bars and restaurants in the area.

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Okauchee has been a solid settlement since the 1840s. Its namesake lake is extremely popular with boaters and a variety of homes, restaurants and bars line the lakeshore, as well as the main street through town. A clock tower in the roundabout is where you can follow Wisconsin Avenue back towards the freeway; the historic marker gives you some interesting details about Okauchee’s past.

Since the mid-1970s, the rest of Highway 16 has been a four-lane freeway. The original road went through Okauchee, Nashotah and Hartland, charming lake villages and towns winding past Waukesha County’s Lake Country. This area combines hills common to the Kettle Moraine area with lakes that surround the towns. Jumping off Highway 16 along this stretch, including past the interchange with Highway 83, makes for a series of pleasant rides. County C, which runs north to Chenequa and Stone Bank and south to Delafield, is part of the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. The exit at County E, which takes you into Hartland, is also part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Eventually, Highway 16 turns south for the final stretch to I-94. Way back when, Highway 16 followed Capitol Drive (now Highway 190) all the way into Milwaukee. Later, it followed Blue Mound Road (now U.S. 18) into Milwaukee and followed a car ferry across Lake Michigan to Muskegon, then as part of the Grand River Road across Michigan into downtown Detroit. Today, it ends at I-94 on the Pewaukee/Waukesha boundary in the heart of a booming area with plenty of things to do.

Pewaukee (pop. 13,195) surrounds the eastern end of seven-mile long Pewaukee Lake. It can be accessed from the Ryan Drive exit to follow the old 16 road, or via the Highway 190/Capitol Drive exit (Exit #187) – heading west from the interchange will lead you to the lake. The main street fronting the lake was recently rebuilt with a series of storefronts that feature everything from a bike shop to a sub shop to salons and a blend of restaurants. The beach bustles with swimmers and sunbathers all summer, and lake homes – both new and old – stretch along the north and south shores of the lake. The boating theme is appropriate; Pewaukee holds the world headquarters of Harken, Inc., a leading manufacturer of sailboat hardware and accessories.

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Next to the beach, across from stores and restaurants, a pier juts out into Pewaukee Lake. Plenty of people enjoy fishing on this particular summer day. Extending east from this area is Capitol Drive, where Highway 190 begins just west of the freeway junction with today’s Highway 16. This stretch is where the original Highway 16 came through.

Today’s Highway 16 bends around the north and east sides of Pewaukee as a freeway. It’s bypassed Pewaukee since the 1940s, when this stretch was built as a 2-lane road bypass before the freeway upgrade in the 1970s. After junctions with 190/Capitol and County JJ, which connects to Waukesha County Technical College and a major complex for GE Healthcare, Highway 16 ends on a flyover ramp on its way to join eastbound I-94 for the ride into Milwaukee.