July 22, 2024

Highway 19

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‘Trek’ From Mazo To Watertown

Click here for a map overview

Eastern terminus: Jefferson County, at Highway 16 on the east end of Watertown

Western terminus: Dane County, at Highway 78 & U.S. Highway 14 near Mazomanie

Mileage: about 60 miles

Counties along the way: Dane, Dodge, Jefferson

Sample towns along the way: Waunakee, Sun Prairie, Marshall, Waterloo, Watertown

Bypass alternates at: none

Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 19 skims the northern side of Madison’s metro area and connects to Watertown. Before 1926, Highway 19 once continued all the way west to Prairie du Chien and before 1947, all the way east to downtown Milwaukee. Today, Highway 19 serves as a key connector, part of which could serve as Madison’s north beltine sometime in the not-too-distant future. You travel through the only Waunakee in the world, check out the sun and the prairies around Sun Prairie, hit the HQ of TREK bikes, and more.

The Drive (West to East): Highway 19 begins along U.S. Highway 14 where Highway 78 turns off, just east of Mazomanie (pop. 1,578). It’s a good idea to start by checking out Mazomanie, a lovely little burg that was recently voted one of “America’s Coolest Small Towns” by Budget Travel magazine.

Highway 19’s start takes place right at a remarkable little sports bar called Rookies, which deserves its own little photo collage. Popular with baseball players, bikers, drivers and craft beer aficianados, Rookies is what most other sports bars strive to be. Memorabilia is here in incredible abundance. Check this out:
Upper deck: Highway 19 basically starts right at Rookies; this view is from their parking lot. Turn around, and you see an authentic regulation whiffle ball field with a great ballpark look and a rather nice view behind it. Lower deck: The bar is in the front, the restaurant (pictured) is in the back and the men’s bathroom (right) could keep you in there for hours, for the right reasons. I was going to check out the women’s restroom but was blocked.
After running with Highway 78 for a brief spell, Highway 19 heads east on its own and winds through a beautiful rural setting which, considering Dane County’s growth, may change over the next decade or so. Farms and hills – and a fairly narrow, twisty road at times – define this part of Highway 19. Eventually near Springfield Corners, you join U.S. Highway 12 and its new four-lane expressway for a little over a mile before heading east again. From here, Highway 19 sort of serves as an unofficial “northern bypass” of Madison.

The first town is Waunakee (pop. 8,995). the “only Waunankee in the world”, as they like to point out. It was founded as Leicester in 1870; the following year, two early settlers persuaded the St. Paul Railroad, via cash and land, to relocate through their property instead of the original intended location two miles north. A post office and other buildings sprouted up, and the village incorporated as Waunakee (one Native American meaning: “the fair and pleasant valley”) in 1893. For about three miles, Highway 113 joins with 19 before heading south to Madison. Highway 19, meanwhile, continues east and meets up with a fast-growing crossroads on the south end of Windsor, crossing both I-39/90/94 and U.S. Highway 51 within a mile of each other.

The development boom coming in from Madison is very evident along this stretch, passing U.S. Highway 151 (now an expressway from Madison all the way to Fond du Lac) and going into the heart of Sun Prairie (pop. 34,661), one of the fastest-growing cities in Wisconsin. Forget Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania: Sun Prairie holds the official title of “Groundhog Capital of the World”, as noted in the Congressional Record. Jimmy the Groundhog makes his annual prediction in Sun Prairie on February 2nd. Why February 2nd, you might ask? Well, apparently it’s because that’s a “cross-quarter day”, normally the midway point between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.

Left: During the Sweet Corn Festival, Sun Prairie residents and visitors take in the town square area, which combines historical buildings with new condo development rapidly working to strength the city’s downtown. Right: As Georgia O’Keeffe’s birthplace and childhood home, Sun Prairie notes her history right along Highway 19 (click on picture for a larger view).

Along with Groundhog Day, Sun Prairie is known for being the native hometown of Georgia O’Keeffe, whose famous paintings continue to inspire and influence artists worldwide. Her parents’ names were Francis Calyxtus O’Keeffe and Ida Totto O’Keeffe, in case you were worried that Wisconsin dairy farmers who sire famous artistic offspring don’t have unique enough names.

Jimmy the Groundhog does his annual duty. On February 2, Jimmy whispered the prognosis into Sun Prairie mayor Joe Chase’s ear (he’s in the top hat.) Jimmy is being held by Jerry Hahn, who provides Jimmy’s care during the year; State Representative Gary Hebl is to the left. (Photo courtesy of the Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce.)

Sun Prairie is a racing town, too. Angell Park Speedway is a 1/3-mile dirt track hosting midget races from mid-May through Labor Day weekend. Drivers like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon have hauled around this track, which also hosts the National Midget Racing Hall of Fame. Open during the racing season, the Hall salutes drivers like A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Ron “Sleepy” Tripp, who got his nickname because he would often fall asleep in the cockpit of his racer waiting for the next race to begin.

Angell Park Speedway, home to the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Noise that would scare a Who concertgoer, cars whipping around and dirt flying at over 100 mph: yes, midget races are fun to check out!
Past Sun Prairie, countryside takes over for the ride to Marshall. You come across some interesting stuff along the road sides. Left: Is it a robot or a version of the Tin Man? Either way, it caught my attention. Right: It took a few double-takes, but this is a pig carrying its young by the neck, carved out of the tree stump. Why? Who knows? But it’s interesting and one of the reasons it’s fun to go State Trunk Touring.

The stretch of Highway 19 between Sun Prairie and Marshall was designated by the Wisconsin State Legislature as the “Georgia O’Keeffe Memorial Highway” in 2007.

After a few more miles, Highway 19 reaches Marshall (pop. 3,432), known in previous incarnations as Bird’s Ruins (after fire destroyed buildings during in 1838 as the village was getting established) and Medina. Located along the Maunesha River, Marshall is tucked into the northeastern corner of Dane County and is increasingly headed towards “suburban bedroom community” status. Downtown features a crossroads with Highway 73. For some fun reading, wade through the history of Marshall, where you can find out about locals like “Squig” Converse, the coming of rural electrification in the 1930s and the tension in town over the impending Y2K bug as 2000 approached. Marshall has a permanent seasonal amusement park known as Little A-Merrick-A, which features rides, a Moonwalk, a carousel, a small roller coaster, and even a mini-train ride called the Whiskey River Railway. It’s a fully operational 1/3-size railroad that rides along 3 miles of track on a tour.

Some eye-catching farms lie along Highway 19, including this attention-grabber just outside of Marshall. Does this lead to happier, more engaged cows? It certainly makes a drive more interesting.
On the east side of Marshall is Little A-Merrick-A, a mini amusement park that runs from May through Halloween. Here, you can see part of the roller coaster and the carousel behind it. There’s also a train ride on a 1/3-scale railroad, mini ferris wheel, a miniature golf course and a haunted house.

Past Marshall, Highway 19 ducks into Jefferson County and heads into ABBA’s favorite Wisconsin town, Waterloo (pop. 3,259). Like Marshall, Waterloo is on the Maunesha River in the far corner of a county: this time, it’s Jefferson. Waterloo is the home of Trek Bicycles, and you pass its headquarters coming into town on the west side. Waterloo is also the home of Van Holten’s Pickles, innovator of “pickle-in-a-pouch” and today the world’s largest producer of individually-wrapped pickles. Heading into downtown, you meet up with Highway 89, which joins Highway 19 through town before breaking away towards Lake Mills. Meanwhile, Highway 19 heads a but northeast into Dodge County and tiny little Portland, which has 3 more bars than the Town of Portland in Monroe County (thanks to State Trunk Tour reader Anthony from Waterloo for that one!), and from there Highway 19 cuts through Waterloo State Wildlife Area and the humble hamlet of Hubbleton, threading more or less along the Dodge-Jefferson County line.

TREK Bicycle Corporation, founded in Waterloo in 1976, is the largest U.S. manufacturer of bicycles and aftermarket products. Trek supplied bikes for three of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories and also outfits the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team for the USA. Its headquarters is along Highway 19 on the edge of town. And yes, the bike racks are closest to the front doors of the offices.

A special State Trunk Tour salute to Waterloo from ABBA

Okay, we couldn’t resist. When I think of Waterloo, I think of the song..and it’s a fun driving song anyway as long as nobody’s watching.So, straight from German television in 1974, courtesy of YouTube, enjoy this riveting performance of ABBA’s “Waterloo”, complete with sort-of dancing, lip-synching and fake instrument-playing to the song. And the outfits… well. Oh, and don’t forget the German host in an attempt to look like Napoleon introducing each member afterwards. You’ll see.

Watertown (pop. 21,598) is next up and Highway 19’s final city. Watertown 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.

Amid a typical Wisconsin middle-class neighborhood on the southeast side of Watertown lies the historic Octagon House, built in 1854 to fulfill a whipped guy’s promise.
This stretch is popular with motorcyclists, following Highway 19, which is also Business Hwy. 16, into Watertown.

Highway 19 is also Main Street in Watertown. After crossing Highway 26, you’re on both 19 and Business Hwy. 16. Watertown’s downtown is fairly extensive and features a number of shops, along with Mullen’s Dairy Bar, a great 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.

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.
Following Highway 19 (which is also Business 16, a former U.S. highway) through Watertown offers a nice Main Street and lots of opportunities for shopping, sundaes, beverages and walks across the Rock River.


Along the Rock River in Watertown – one of two crossings in town – the lovely Tennyson Park features a dam and a pedestrian bridge popular with walkers, fishermen and bikers.
Highway 19 comes to an end as it meets up with Highway 16’s bypass on the east end of town. Prior to 1947, Highway 19 continued east here all the way to Milwaukee. Highway 16, Ixonia and Oconomowoc lie ahead.

Highway 19 is a relatively brief and pleasant drive and makes for a good afternoon. You have good access to and from Madison, Milwaukee and points in between, as well as a series of other State Trunk Tour routes. Enjoy!

West Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 78
Can connect nearby to: U.S. 14, about 1.5 miles south; U.S. 12, about 7 miles north; Highway 60, about 8 miles north

East Terminus:
Can connect immediately to: Highway 16
Can connect nearby to: Highway 26, about 1 mile west

Upcoming events in places along Highway 19:
Sun Prairie, Groundhog Day Prognostication, February 2, 2013

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