Old World Wisconsin


This was going to be a post about my visit to Madison, Wisconsin, but my day at the living history site Old World Wisconsin was the star of the show! What is Old World Wisconsin? It is an open-air museum on more than 500 acres of land, that portrays the lives of immigrants in 19th century Wisconsin. The buildings are grouped into ethnic areas, based on the immigrant populations that came to Wisconsin, such as Germans and Scandinavians. And in most of the houses there are costumed interpreters, learning to do things like use a loom, make wool into yarn, harvest crops, and make bread in an outdoor oven.

The best thing about the experience was not just having the place to ourselves for much of the day (the benefit of Tuesday museum visits!), but the fact that staff were genuinely excited to talk and show you things of interest. When staff are excited, it makes visitors excited! You are learning how to use a spinning wheel, and do I want to watch? Absolutely! Check out the park map below…

A map of Old World Wisconsin shows how truly big it is.

A map of Old World Wisconsin shows how truly big it is.

It is hard to imagine, but the 60+ historic structures at Old World Wisconsin were brought to the site from all across the state, before the museum opened in the 1970’s. A schoolhouse from Raspberry Bay far north on Lake Superior, to a one-room chapel from an African-American community in the southwest corner of Wisconsin. How did they get the buildings here? Well, I honestly can’t imagine.

In front of the Schulz house in the German area.

In front of the Schulz house in the German area.

This place has a lot going for it, including excellent staff and interpreters, hands-on interaction and more than enough to keep you busy for a full day. We stayed for a solid 6 hours, and commented that we could see ourselves coming back again. Perhaps celebrating the summer solstice Scandinavian style, or an old world Fourth of July parade…

Women in bonnets diligently working the garden!

Women in bonnets diligently working the garden!

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Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: 22 mile hike


So, of course with the new year, there have to be new adventures! I decided that if I were to make any new years resolutions that they would have to be simple: if I can make 2013 even half as exciting as last year, I will have succeeded. And another thing! I have been here before, that is, the place of unemployed or underemployed, and it tends to make me rather tense. I vow not to live like I’m waiting, waiting for life to sort itself out. I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in a few months time, but that’s no reason to live like I’m waiting. Enough said.

This month I decided to join the ‘Chicago Hiking, Outdoor, and Social Group’ on Meetup.com, and sign up for a hike. I’ve done a lot of hiking in the past year, and a walk around Lake Geneva in Wisconsin sounded like just the thing on a bright, cold Saturday in January. I didn’t think much about the 22 miles part of it, but the sign pictured below gives a vague idea of the historic nature of the route. As a group of about 15, we started from the public library, heading counter-clockwise.

The beginning of our epic 22 mile hike around the lake.

The beginning of our epic 22 mile hike around the lake.

Perhaps some of the most impressive houses on the lake were the ones we passed in the first two hours. We had to keep a very brisk pace in order to make it all the way around before dark, but one must always find time to take pictures! I haven’t figured out if the house below belonged to some famous Chicago family, but I would think so. You don’t see these kinds of places everyday.

One of the most impressive houses on the lake.

One of the most impressive houses on the lake.

Take a walk off the end of the pier, why don't ya!

Take a walk off the end of the pier, why don’t ya!

At about two thirds of the way through our hike, we stopped for a water break outside the lovely house pictured below. Just when you think you’ve seen all the pretty houses, there are more. It is a strange sensation to be walking through so many people’s backyards, especially when some were out in their yards or on their decks. All the wooden posts for the piers were strewn on the lawns, and across the path, and I wonder what the hike would be like in warmer weather. By this time I was also beginning to be in quite a bit of pain… 22 miles is no easy thing. And it would be getting dark soon!

We had lunch sitting in their "backyard".

We had lunch sitting in their “backyard”.

Already dark as we finished up our hike in downtown Lake Geneva.

Already dark as we finished up our hike in downtown Lake Geneva.

In the end, we did not make it back into town before it turned dark, and quite windy. Some of the last houses we passed would have been astounding if we had seen them in the light. But the hike ended up taking us about seven hours to complete. And as a reward for finishing, we had dinner at a Lake Geneva favorite, Popeye’s, pictured below. I imagine Popeye’s would be a heaving place in summer-time, but for us it was the perfect end to a long day. And for what it’s worth, I was sore for two days after.

And the end of our story, at Popeye's Restaurant!

And the end of our story, at Popeye’s Restaurant!