All across the state there are places you’ve never heard of, stories you were never told and history you’ve yet to discover. There’s tons of great places like that, but here are just 15 stories that go beyond what you already knew and reveal some state secrets along the way:
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Camp Randall
Did you know our beloved home of the football Badgers is a former Civil War training ground? More than 70,000 recruits receiving training on what was 53 acres that were later deed to the University by the state. After it was a training ground, it also housed a hospital and a stockade for Confederate prisoners of war. Next time you head to a game, check out the park that now features a memorial arch, two Civil War cannons, and a stockade building.
2. Gray Brewing
This brewery and soda maker located in Janesville is actually nation's oldest family-owned beverage company. Recently revitalized, these folks have been making deliciousness since 1856!
3. Milwaukee's Oriental Theater Organ
Did you know there's an organ that rises out of the floor of the stage in Milwaukee's Oriental Theater? This Kimball Pipe Organ was built in 1927 and brought to Milwaukee in 1931. This awesome piece of history is the largest of its kind in a theatre in America, and the third largest in the world.
4. Washington Island's Stavkirke
This particular style of church dates back to Scandinavia in the middle ages. These so-called "stave churches" were made of wooden posts and pillars. Wisconsin's version was made in homage in the 1990's and now hosts a weekly service in the summer and can be used for weddings. It's a stunning example of the architecture. It was made with no blueprint and now sits among nature for people to enjoy.
5. Little Bohemia
This little vacation lodge and restaurant in Manitowish Waters was the scene of a botched FBI raid to capture John Dillinger in 1934. Looking much the same as it did back then, complete with bullet holes and memorabilia from the gun fight, it's an interesting relic of the mobster days when Wisconsin was a hideout and retreat for many of Chicago's kingpins.
6. Signature Wall at Safe House
Milwaukee's Safe House is infamous the world over for its secret entrance and spy theme. But part of the restaurant has been public for quite some time. Home of the Milwaukee Press Club, the Newsroom Pub is a treasure trove of history going back to 1885. There are relics from Wisconsin landmarks gone by and a signature wall with more than 300 celebrity John Hancocks, including those of multiple presidents. It's an awesome piece of nostalgia and interesting history.
7. The Badger Army Ammo Plant at Sauk Prairie Recreation Area
This now nearly empty prairie outside of Baraboo was once home to largest munitions factory in the world during World War II
which produced more than 1 billion pounds of rocket propellant, ball powder and smokeless powder. Originally more 10,000 acres in size with 1,400 buildings, in 2004 Badger consisted of just 7,275 acres of land. The state has worked to repurpose much of the area, nearly erased what was basically a full city from the map. The plant was active until 1975, creating ammo used in WWII, Korean and Vietnam Wars.
8. Graves at Bascom Hill
Bascom Hill offers some of the best views and certainly some of the best picture-taking opportunities in Madison, but most folks don't know that construction of the Lincoln Terrace in the early 1900's unearthed two graves. There are still two small markers noting the graves as the remains were left interred among the stonework. Stories say some can see the spirits of these two when staring at the statue of Abraham Lincoln. Others believe that their spirits are intertwined with the legends of Bascom Hill, saying that when you whisper into Abe's ear at your graduation, you're asking the spirits for help.
9. Economist Thorstein Veblen's Study Cabin
Thorstein Veblen was a famous economist and author of Theory of the Leisure Class known for his witty critiques of capitalism. Born in Cato to Norwegian immigrants, he spent much of his life in Minnesota but vacationed in Door County. His cabin is now housed ath the Jacobsen Museum on Little Lake on Washington Island.
10. Abandoned Antigo Air Force Station
In service for just 25 years, this site was commissioned by Air Defense Command as one of twenty-eight radar stations built as part of the second segment of the permanent radar surveillance network. The station initially had both a Ground-Control Intercept and early warning mission. Found to be redundant by the late 1970s, the base has been abandoned ever since.
11. The Basement of the Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee
Long before it became the go-to music event space in Milwaukee, the Eagles Ballroom was actually the Eagles Club, home to a fraternal order. The Eagles claim seven former Presidents among their members. The building was considered the finest Eagles Club in the country when it was completed in 1927. Part social club, part gym, the grand building had the biggest, most grand ballroom in the city. It's that history as a gentlemen's gym that gives the Eagles Ballroom so much panache. There's still much of the old bowling alley as well as the full pool in the venue's basement. The pool is actually right next to the dressing rooms, making it a bit infamous among musical acts.
12. Madison Geology Museum's "Oldest Piece of Earth."
It's a pretty inconspicuous and unassuming rock that wouldn't normally catch your eye, but if you look close enough you'll see a sign saying "The Oldest Piece of Earth." This rock from western Australia is known as the Jack Hills metaconglomerate. The piece itself dates back "only" three billion years, but it contains crystals of zircon that can be traced back even further - about 4.4 billion years. Seeing as the earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago, it's the closest thing we have to understanding what the Earth looked like when it started.
13. Fallout Shelters
An interesting relic of a time gone by, Cold War fallout shelters can be found in some pretty unsuspecting places. A Neenah family uncovered one in their back yard in 2013 and this picture of the now-shuttered George Watts Tea Shop in Milwaukee shows it too housed a shelter. You'd be surprised how often you look right past these signs in public.
14. Wisconsin Historical Society Cache
Did you know that the Wisconsin Historical Society is the largest North American heritage collection next to that held by the Library of Congress? There's are thousands of secrets for you to discover among the huge collection they've amassed, much of which is viewable online. From family records to shipwreck history and so, so much more, this place is a true gem that too many folks aren't aware of.
15. UW Aboretum Lost City
There's the remnants of a failed subdivision can be found if you know where to look at the UW Arboretum. A big idea in the 1910s was failed by the 1920s, with just some bits of porches and foundations left to show for it. The marshy lands here weren't conducive for building and what was once hailed as "The Venice of the North" is now just a lost city in Madison.