As an important outlet to different waterways and trading routes, Wisconsin had a long history that dates back to before statehood and even before the Revolution. There are some wonderful towns in the Dairy State that not only have tons of interesting architecture and history, but have spent a lot of time ensuring those things are restored and preserved. Each little hamlet has a different story and a different piece of the big puzzle that came together to create the state we know and love now. Here are 12 historic towns in Wisconsin that helped shape our past and help education our future.
Wisconsin's third-oldest community, Shullsburg dates back to 1827 when it was settled by mostly Irish prospectors. The town does a great job of preserving the history and did massive restorations on town buildings, earning a National Historic Landmark designation for Water Street.
2. New Glarus
Wisconsin's Little Switzerland was settled by a group leaving their home country in the mid 1800's looking for a better life. The city embraces its roots and is home to North America's Swiss Heritage Center. New Glarus is a capsule of the immigrant culture that defines Wisconsin.
On the banks of the St. Croix River and part of the Croix National Scenic Riverway, this spot just over the border from Minnesota has roots in the fur trade and has numerous restored 1880's buildings, as well as Cascade Falls.
In 1854 a group of people opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act met and are credited with creating the Republican Party. The town founder's house still stands here as do many of the streets he laid out and named.
5. Prairie du Chien
Our state's second city, Prairie du Chien was established as a European settlement by French voyageurs in the late seventeenth century. The name comes from the Fox Indian chief who occupied the area the time. Located near the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, this was an important trading post. Their five National Historic Landmarks were the first designated in the state and their nine sites on the National Register of Historic Places show its significant history.
6. Mineral Point
Also settled in 1827, Mineral Point has a fascinating mining history as well as deep Cornish roots. The miners that came here had done the same job back in Cornwall and their cultural influence can be seen all over the city. Now a quaint and relaxing artists colony, Mineral Point embraces its past and has done much to ensure visitors can learn from it.
Thanks to its strategic position on the Fox River, Berlin was once a center for French fur traders and because of that, became something of a fur and leather capital. It also hosted the first cranberry operations in the state. They have numerous parks and a historic district, as well as streets of wonderfully maintained Victorian-era homes.
Maybe most well-known for the stunning architecture of the Green County Courthouse, Lancaster has actually done much to preserve the unique and gorgeous architecture in their city. Plan to make time for a walking tour of 31 different historical locations and visit the grave of Nelson Dewey, our first governor.
This little valley town right along the Mississippi and minutes from Iowa has seen a bit of a revitalization lately. The Potosi Brewery is a spectacularly restored and renovated spot making use of 100-year old brewing buildings and housing one of the best Breweriana museums you'll ever visit. Both the National Brewery Museum and the National Brewery Transportation Museum are worth your time, as is the interpretive center for the nearby Great River Road.
Perched at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers meet, you can actually see a clear difference in color of the waters as they start to come together. The location at this important trade and navigation route means Prescott has a long history.
The downtown area in Cambridge feels like a perfectly-preserved slice of Victorian life in Wisconsin. Home to Scottish and Norwegian immigrants, it was the birthplace of Arthur Davidison of Harley-Davidson. Cambridge embraces it's charm and history and does much to showcase all the revitalization that's happened here. Christmas in Cambridge is a particularly gorgeous time.
With three separate historic districts - Downtown, Ridge Avenue and Gale College - Galesville dates back to 1854. The folks here have worked hard to renovate and restore their town to it's former glory and you'll find plenty of interesting history and architecture here to keep you busy.