Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 28 begins in Horicon and passes by Horicon Marsh, a National Wildlife Refuge and a huge haven for all kinds of migrating birds. From there, it meanders generally northeast, heading through towns like Mayville, Theresa (home to Widmer’s Cheese) and Kewaskum before ducking through Kettle Moraine. Highway 28 offers access to Sheboygan Falls, Kohler, and even the nation’s tallest flagpole before heading into Sheboygan. In Sheboygan, you can enjoy breweries, brats served the traditional way, a vibrant downtown with museums, shops, and events at City Green, and the beautiful harbor and beaches along the city surfers call the “Malibu of the Midwest.” Along the way, Highway 28 crosses a number of major State Trunk Tour routes and allows one to see a lot of eastern Wisconsin in a relatively short trip.
The Wisconsin Highway 28 Road Trip
The Drive (West To East): Highway 28 begins at Highway 33 on the east side of Horicon (pop. 3,775), known as the “City On The Marsh”. The marsh, of course, being Horicon Marsh, which we’ll cover in a minute.
An old war relic sits in a park in Horicon, overlooking the Rock River and the John Deere plant behind it. Horicon cranks out a LOT of tractors, snow blowers and other sundry, handy machinery. Meanwhile, Highway 28 starts on the east side of Horicon, right off Highway 33. After a cruise through some neighborhoods, Horicon Marsh is just around the corner.
Horicon has access to the Wild Goose State Trail and naturally draws on the scenic beauty of the marsh and also maintains a nice park system, particularly along the Rock River, whose headwaters come out of the marsh. Oh, and the high school team nickname? The Marshmen.
Highway 28 skims the southeastern corner of the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, both a State Wildlife Area and a National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a pretty unmistakeable feature as you drive by: it’s a vast expanse of flat land that looks like a lake had been drained there. And that’s pretty close to how things got to be this way. When the glaciers that once covered this part of the state retreated, a moraine was formed that worked like a dam and created a large lake. The Rock River, which uses the Marsh as its source, gradually drained the natural lake and turned it, well, marshy. People tried manipulating it again twice: from 1846 to 1896, a dam re-created the glacial lake; after it became a marsh again, there was an attempt to drain it from 1910 to 1914 and use the area for farmland. That didn’t quite work either, and today the Marsh is preserved and protected to serve as one of the world’s largest “rest stops” for migrating birds.
SPECIAL EXHIBIT NOTE FOR BIRD LOVERS
The Horicon Marsh International Education Center (N7725 Highway 28, 920-387-7860) has a temporary display right now featuring a rare passenger pigeon and will soon add more songbirds and waterfowl. Get details from this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here. The Horicon Marsh International Education Center can be found right along Highway 28 just outside of Horicon.
The Horicon Marsh covers about 50 square miles – equivalent to about half of the City of Milwaukee. The southern third of the marsh, around Horicon, is managed mostly by the state; the northern two-thirds (up by Highway 49) is under Federal control by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Over 290 species of our winged friends have been documented in the Marsh, making it a top birding area. It’s a favorite layover for over 200,000 migrating Canada geese as they make their way back and forth in spring and fall – think of it as a rest area on the bird migration highway. (Find out more about birding here.) Horicon Marsh draws nature lovers, bird watchers, hunters, scout groups and naturalists. It can draw mosquitoes too, so bring some repellent.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|The Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the U.S., and the area around Horicon Marsh has the highest concentration of drumlins in the world.|
Highway 28 skims along the southeastern edge of the Horicon Marsh for a few miles. On the east edge of the Marsh is a ridge that recently became a huge wind farm. The windier the day, the more action you’ll see on over 80 windmills that stretch north towards Brownsville.
Next up on Highway 28 is Mayville (pop. 4,902). Mayville started early; it incorporated as a city in 1845, three years before Wisconsin became a state. Big on manufacturing, Mayville is home to a number of industrial facilities and maintains a pretty steady employment base. One of the old manufacturing buildings, the former Hollenstein Wagon & Carriage Factory, is maintained by the local historical society and offers wagons on display in what is now a museum-like setting. Mayville also sports a very nice “Main Street” downtown; Highway 28 meets up with Highway 67 for the ride through it, past a variety of handsome old structures offering everything from antiques to food to collections of rural pictures in the White Limestone School, right on Main Street. Mayville has produced three members of Congress (all pre-1920), one Major League Baseball player (Bert Husting, who played from 1900 to 1902) and, more recently, actor, writer, producer, comic book creator and Primetime Emmy winner Rob Schrab.
Highway 28 joins 67 for the ride east into the village of Theresa (pop. 1,252). Theresa holds the distinction of being named after the mother of Solomon Juneau, who’d founded this other place called Milwaukee years earlier, moved out, established Theresa, and therefore was the first European settler to begin urban sprawl in Wisconsin.
*** Cheese Factory Alert ***
Theresa is home to Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, which has been making brick, cheddar, and colby varieties in this location since 1922. They still use many of the original cheese vats and you can stop in and buy their cheese in their store, right from the source.
In Theresa, Highway 28 – as well as 67 – hooks up with Highway 175 and heads north out of town. Prior to 1954, this was also part of U.S. 41 before the four-lane variety was constructed nearby; it’s also part of the historic Yellowstone Trail, the “Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound” road that spent over 300 miles of its existence in Wisconsin, from Kenosha to Hudson. About one mile north of Theresa, Highway 28 breaks east; 67 & 175 stay together a few more miles northward to Lomira. Meanwhile, Highway 28 spans the Theresa State Wildlife Area and then has an interchange with I-41 before heading into Washington County.
Highway 28 meets up with U.S. 45 after a few miles and joins it southward briefly for the ride into Kewaskum (pop. 3,274). Like many communities in the Kettle Moraine vicinity, Kewaskum considers itself the “Gateway to the Kettle Moraine” – at least the Northern Unit – and this is indeed a great launching point for exploring everything from Sunburst Ski Hill (on the south end of town, along U.S. 45) to the multitude of hiking, biking, camping, fishing and more that the rolling hills of Kettle Moraine offer.
Highway 28 enters Kewaskum’s downtown and then leaves U.S. 45 to head east as Main Street. This is a great spot to take a break and do some for antique shopping, or grab a beer at John’s On Main (143 Main Street) or maybe even a hearty meal at Victoria’s Cornerstone Inn (109 Main Street, 262-626-2222). You can work it off walking, biking, or even snowmobiling on the new Eisenbahn State Trail, which runs from West Bend northward through downtown Kewaskum and up into Fond du Lac County before ending at Eden.
East from Kewaskum, Highway 28 goes right through Kettle Moraine – hey, the town says it’s the gateway to it – crossing the Ice Age Trail and eventually hooking up with Highway 144. At that point, Highway 28 breaks northeast with 144. The archaeologist in you might like a side jaunt, south on Highway 144 to Lizard Mound County Park. It’s a prime example of remaining effigy mounds in Wisconsin, built by Native Americans over 1,000 years ago… some date back about 10,000 years. Effigy mounds were typically built over burial pits and often shaped like mammals, birds or reptiles. Considered one of the best preservations of such ancient mounds – there are about 28 of them – Lizard Mound County Park can be accessed via County A, less than one mile east of Highway 144 and about four miles south of its junction with Highway 28.
Left: Strange but interesting mailbox along Highway 28 just north of Batavia. Apparently, the bird is the word. Right: A three-letter county highway in Sheboygan County apparently inspired by the sound a snake makes.
The two highways together go through Boltonville (no, it’s not named after Michael Bolton, it’s just a coincidence. Boltonville was named after Harlow Bolton, their first settler) and into Sheboygan County, where Highway 144 heads east toward Random Lake. Highway 28 continues through the countryside, along the eastern side of the Kettle Moraine area through tiny settlements like Batavia and Cascade.
Eventually you literally find Waldo (pop. 450), a small town that Highway 28 rolls through before hitting Highway 57. You follow 57 for less than half a mile, hopping over the Onion River, before Highway 28 heads northeast again toward the Sheboygan ‘burbs.
First up in the “Sheboygan ‘burbs” is Sheboygan Falls (pop. 6,772), which lies where the Onion and Mullet Rivers merge into the Sheboygan – a few small “falls” in the area helped the founders figure out a name. The downtown area is awesome for shopping, walking and marveling at the restored 19th century buildings, most of which are light colors of brick. Highway 28 skims the southern edge of Sheboygan Falls today, but you can access downtown by following the “old” route, which today is County Highway PPP on the west side and County EE on the east side. You can also run right up into town from the south via Highway 32, which intersects with Highway 28 at a roundabout.
Sheboygan Falls began as the Town of Rochester when the first sawmill went up in 1836. The name change came in 1850, and by then Sheboygan Falls had three sawmills, a tannery, flour mills and an iron foundry. Some of the original buildings housing these industries from that time have been beautifully restored and contribute to the character that makes this downtown very much worth a visit. Sheboygan Falls hosts some significant industries, too: it’s home to Bemis Manufacturing Company, furniture builder and yacht interior outfitter Richardson’s Lumber, and the famous, tasty Johnsonville Sausages. Events are plentiful too, including the “Ducktona 500”. It takes place every July, which includes 4,500 plastic ducks racing down the Sheboygan River. They don’t paddle or quack much, but they’re still fun to watch.
With Kohler next door and Whistling Straits within the county, Sheboygan Falls is part of this golf mecca. Between Sheboygan Falls and Sheboygan itself is Black Wolf Run, a Pete Dye-designed course which Highway 28 skims…and yes, watch for golf carts crossing.
Just on the other side of all the golf, you hit I-43 and a bevy of shops and chain restaurants. Bikers will like a stop at Route 43 Harley-Davidson, where you can get gear, relax, do whatever.
A quick drive up Taylor Drive will also give you a close-up look at the headquarters of Acuity Insurance, which hosts the nation’s tallest flagpole. The building itself is interesting, including the lobby.
Sheboygan (pop. 50,792) is the Bratwurst Capital of the World. They make toilets too; it’s the circle of life. Large enough to have “suburbs” like aforementioned Kohler and the Sheboygan Falls, the area is home to a number of major companies, including Kohler, Acuity Insurance and the aforementioned Johnsonville Sausage and Bemis. Comedian Jackie Mason, basketball coach Rick Majerus, and the Chordettes (the ’50s group that sang “Lollipop”) all hail from Sheboygan. The city was referenced in the classic 1959 film Some Like It Hot when Daphne & Josephine (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) claimed to Marilyn Monroe they had studied music at the “Sheboygan Conservatory.” The movies Home Alone, A Kid in Aladdin’s Place, World Trade Center and Surf’s Up all reference the city. There was even a board game in 1979 called The Creature That Ate Sheboygan – who no doubt consumed a lot of bratwurst during that meal. Mattel even claims that the iconic Barbie, their signature doll’s character, hails from the fictitious Willows, Wisconsin – a city claimed by many to be based on Sheboygan. The city even had an NBA team called the Sheboygan Redskins back in the ’40s. It’s also consistently named one of the best places to raise a family and, interestingly enough, one of the best places to retire, in the U.S.
Points of interest are quite plentiful considering the city’s size. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center (608 New York Avenue, 920-458-6144) hosts galleries chock full of innovative explorations in the arts. Rather than only showing historical artistic pieces, the center works to foster new concepts and forms of artistic creation. It’s definitely worth a stop.
Golfing and Surfing in Sheboygan
One of the reasons Sheboygan is considered a good place to retire is the plethora of golf courses. Incredible courses like Whistling Straits bring worldwide acclaim and establish Sheboygan as a premier place for golf. Nestled along a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan north of the city along County LS, Whistling Straits reminds most golfers of the classic olde links in Scotland and Ireland. Whistling Straits hosted PGA Championships in 2004, 2010, and 2015, and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020.
Surf’s Up! Sheboygan’s Lake Michigan “surf” is considered among the best in the country. The Dairyland Surf Classic ran for many years and helped established Sheboygan as the “Malibu of the Midwest.” Yes, dudes from California even come in for it. From Kohler-Andrae State Park north past downtown to the Whistling Straits course area, Sheboygan makes good use of its lakefront.
|State Trunk Tour Tidbit:|
|Sheboygan’s Dairyland Surf Classic was the largest freshwater surfing competition in the world until it ceased in 2013.
A popular annual event is Brat Days, which takes place the first weekend in August. During its 2006 celebration, the city hosted the International Federation of Competitive Eating and Takeru Kobayashi broke the world bratwurst-eating record by downing 58 brats in 10 minutes against heavy competition, live on ESPN. Sales of antacids were massive in town that night.
Highway 28 enters the south side of Sheboygan as Washington Avenue. Ahead are the dominant chimney stacks of the Edgewater Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant that was commissioned back in 1931. Eventually, Highway 28 heads north along Business Drive into the city; this stretch, which is County Highway OK leading south, was part of the old U.S. 141, which was the main route between Milwaukee and Green Bay prior to I-43. This was also the main north-south route through Sheboygan until the U.S. 141 bypass – which is where I-43 is today – was constructed in the late 1960s.
Highway 28 comes to an end just west of downtown Sheboygan as Business Drive becomes 14th Street. It’s actually where three State Trunks come together and end: Highway 23, which runs west from here to Kohler and Fond du Lac and eventually all the way to southwestern Wisconsin near Shullsburg, and Highway 42, which runs north to the tip of Door County. And of course we have the route you just took, Highway 28, which started back in Mayville. Stop and enjoy Sheboygan, or to get moving on Highway 23 or 42 for more fun ‘n adventure!
Just past the end of Highway 28… literally a few blocks further north via Highway 42, lies the Hops Haven Brew Haus (1327 N. 14th Street, 920-457-HOPS). Once home to the Port Washington Brewing Company and also the 3 Sheeps Brewing Company, you’re sure to find good brews and food here. The new HQ for 3 Sheeps Brewing Company is just a little further north; follow Highway 42 to North Avenue, and then head east a few blocks to their new Tap Room. Heck, you’re done with the drive. Might as well stop in!