Our beloved Wisconsin celebrates 170 years of statehood this year. That’s a lot of history that has come and gone, but there are still some places across the state where you can go to learn about life in Wisconsin during a different time. These places preserve the past and do a great job of making sure we can learn and experience our history as much as possible. While some are straight museums, others are much more than that. You’ll walk in the shadows of those who have gone before to build our very favorite state and create the Wisconsin we know and love today.
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. Old World Wisconsin - Eagle
The quintessential Wisconsin history experience, Old World Wisconsin is living history, meaning you aren't just looking at display cases and stories on a wall. This is getting immersed in life from the start of our state through to the early 1900's. Located at W372 S9727 Wisconsin 67, Eagle, WI 53119.
2. Pendarvis - Mineral Point
This area was settled by men who came over from Cornwall in England with tin mining experience and worked in the lead mines. There are several cottages and the town has embraced the history. Nibble on pasties and enjoy what has become an artsy town. Located at 114 Shakerag St, Mineral Point, WI 53565.
3. Madeline Island Museum - LaPointe
Some of the first documented exchanges between French voyageurs and the native Ojibwe tribe were here, around 1659. The area has attracted Christian missionaries and just-summer visitors as well. The surroundings, still pristine today, have long been a lure. The rich natural resources made this an ideal place to trap furs. Seasonal cottages began to sprout in the 1890s, a tradition that continues today. On display at this state historic site are artifacts from the island and Chequamegon Bay, prehistoric to modern day. Located at 226 Colonel Woods Ave, La Pointe, WI 54850.
4. Fort Crawford - Prairie du Chien
Prairie du Chien is Wisconsin's second-oldest town and is absolutely chock full of things to see, do and learn from our past. Open from May through October, this is a former Fort, but also a Medical Museum. Fort Crawford was open from 1816-1856 and the hospital from 1829 through 1935. There's a recreated 1850's doctor's office, a 1900's dentists office, as well as a wide array of implements and displays on frontier medical treatment. Dr. William Beaumont, an army doctor stationed here, studied digestion and made huge scientific advancements on a patient who's stomach wound would not heal. Located at 717 S Beaumont Rd, Prairie du Chien, WI 53821.
5. Stonefield - Cassville
There are 2,000 acres here that originally belonged to the state's first governor, Nelson Dewey. This estate that sits near the Mississippi River and is surrounded by beautiful bluffs is now a living museum of what a rural Wisconsin village from the turn-of-the-century would have looked like. The State Agricultural Museum is also on this property. Located at 12195 Co Hwy VV, Cassville, WI 53806.
6. Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum - Pepin
Built on the site where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born, this museum recalls the early prairie time in which she lived. It's full of era-appropriate items, from furnishings to clothing and includes a replica of the cabin in which the family lived. It's a very interesting peek into that specific time. Located at 306 3rd St, Pepin, WI 54759.
7. H.H. Bennett Studio - Wisconsin Dells
The building itself is historical, built in 1875 by landscape photographer H.H. Bennett. But his importance to the state is much bigger. Without him, no one might ever have known the vast beauty of the Dells of the Wisconsin River. His stunning photos of the area made it a tourist destination and brought people from all over. His studio here is full of relics of a time gone by and it's a stunning homage to a post-Civil War Wisconsin. Located at 215 Broadway, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965.
8. Fur Trade Museum - Prairie du Chien
Located on the grounds of the Villa Louis Museum, itself an important part of the state's history, this building dating back to the early 1800s is really just one of many little fur-trading posts that would have been here along the water. The town was a neutral territory - no weapons allowed. The small island was an ideal spot for trading and exchanging goods. The Fur Trade Museum is located on St. Feriole Island, at Villa Louis State Historic Site, at the intersection of North Water Street and Bolvin Street, Prairie du Chein, Wisconsin 53821.
9. Milton House - Milton
Founded in 1838 by Joseph Goodrich, Milton sat at an important crossroads on the military road between Chicago and Madison as well as the road from Janesville to Fort Atkinson. Add in its proximity to the Rock River and this small town from the 1800s was far more important than you’d ever imagine a Wisconsin town of 5,000 people could be. It became an important stop on the Underground Railroad as fugitive slaves would follow the Rock River into Wisconsin before making their way to Racine where they could board a boat headed for Canada. Goodrich was an abolitionist and there is a hidden underground tunnel connecting the main house to an outer cabin and this tunnel was crucial for hiding people when necessary. Located at 18 S Janesville St, Milton, WI 53563.
10. Ten Chimneys - Waukesha
According to Wikipedia, Ten Chimneys was the home of Broadway actors Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt. During their careers, Fontanne and Lunt retreated to Ten Chimneys every summer for personal and artistic rejuvenation. A number of famous folks spent time there.
Upon retirement, the Lunts returned to Ten Chimneys and spent the rest of their lives at their beloved home in Genesee Depot. The estate takes its name from the number of chimneys on the grounds. Buildings include a large main house, a cottage, a Swedish log cabin studio, an L-shaped pool, pool house, creamery, greenhouse, barns, stables, and other outbuildings.
Located at S43 W31575 Depot Rd, Waukesha, WI 53189.
11. Wade House - Greenbush
Wade House Historic Site is a 240-acre open-air museum that offers a glimpse back to a horse-powered world. Visit the site to experience what it was like when travelers and horses rested in Greenbush for a time and when life and business in the area bustled as the new town grew and prospered. There's a stagecoach hotel, blacksmith, sawmill, a carriage house and more. Located at W7965 WI-23, Greenbush, WI 53026.
What’s your favorite spot to uncover a bit of Wisconsin history? Let us know about it in the comments.