WISCONSIN, the Badger State

What to see

Sturgeon Bay Belgian Roots...
Wisconsin Dells Touristic city
Spring Green the House on the Rock
Spring Green Taliesin and Frank Lloyd Wright
Interstate 90 from Wisconsin to Minnesota
Other pages other states | articles

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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: North East - Part 1

In the travel series View America, North East - Part 1 covers Michigan and Wisconsin. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 100 full-sized photos.

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WISCONSIN is also known as the Badger State, because the first settlers were miners, who lived underground in a mine or in an excavated hill. But it is also called the Cheese Capital, or America's Dairyland, because of its large butter and cheese production. The name Wisconsin comes from an Ojibwa word, that means "water through red stone", and probably refers to the Wisconsin Dells. Wisconsin joined the US in 1848 as the 30th state. Its capital is Madison, and the largest city is Milwaukee.

Wisconsin's surface is 170,000 km2, and originally the state was almost completely forested, of which about 46% remains. Its rivers belong to the Mississippi basin, and there are some 9,000 lakes, of which Lake Winnebago is the largest (534 km2). The population is approximately 5.5 million inhabitants, with a density of 38 per km2. The Milwaukee metropolitan area alone contains 1.7 million people.

The economy hinges on dairy production, the wood industry and tourism. The state leads in the number of dairy cows, and the milk production is second only to California. Milwaukee is also known as the Beer Capital of the Nation. The area around Monroe is known as the Cheese Center of the state, and Wisconsin actually produces one quarter of all American cheese.

Milwaukee and Racine present several architectural gems, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wisconsin Dells is a famous recreational resort, situated in splendid natural scenery. Finally, Spring Green presents the House on the Rock, which is sort of a museum, with a most remarkable collection of "stuff"... Wisconsin is the recreational state of choice, particularly with regard to fishing, hiking, biking and water sports. The scenery and nature parks are more than worthwhile, especially in the northern part.

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Sturgeon Bay

Sturgeon Bay's harbor is quite large, and among the many craft you'll also see a few larger commercial ships. There are quite a few shops, and cheese seems to be the local specialty.

In Brussels we visited the local grocery shop, which has the very Belgian name of Marchant's. They offer "the World's best Pies", which in their dictionary seem to be Belgian Pies...

Sturgeon Bay  1 Sturgeon Bay  2

Wisconsin Dells

Around 1910, twenty-seven hydroelectric dams were built to tame the Wisconsin river. Almost instantly, shortages of energy were a thing of the past. Tourism developed strongly and took advantage of the beautiful scenery along the river. Wisconsin Dells was named after the Wisconsin River and the old Dell Creek.

The banks of the river consist of fossilized sedimentary layers, that have been worn out by the river into various whimsical shapes, which provides a most picturesque view. The Lower and Upper Dells can be visited by boat, and the guided tour lasts about one hour. After the tour, you can get a souvenir photo. Gradually, a tourist village came into being in and around Wisconsin Dells, with theme parks, water fun, and a flood of hotels and restaurants.

Wisconsin Dells 1 Wisconsin Dells 2
Wisconsin Dells 3 Wisconsin Dells 4
Wisconsin Dells 5 Wisconsin Dells 6

Spring Green : the House on the Rock

The House

The House on the Rock is a conglomerate of 16 buildings, in which every year nearly 400,000 visitors grope through 2.5 miles (4 km) of narrow, dark and winding hallways, to gawk at the most peculiar assortment of collectibles.

Classic music and/or carnival sounds accompany (or stalk...) the visitor on his long walk through the maze. According to the documentation, "the poor lighting is specially designed to create an artistic atmosphere and to better enhance the exhibits"...

the House on the Rock 1 the House on the Rock 2
the House on the Rock 3 the House on the Rock 4

The Collection

• The House on the Rock (1947): The original house with fourteen rooms, built on a eighteen-meter-high cliff, the Deer Shelter Rock. It presents various mechanical orchestras with piano and string choir, beautiful Chinese cabinets, and several decadent looking couches, probably an inheritance from the early private parties...

• The Mill House (1968): This section contains one of the world’s largest fireplaces, and some special collections including dolls, suits of armor, antique guns, and mechanical banks.

• Streets of Yesterday (1971): An entire 1880 street with houses and small shops. Every interior is antique, and decorated with dolls in contemporary clothing. You'll see a carpenter, a shop with Chinese porcelain, a sheriff's office, a fire station, a pharmacy, a coach house, a barber, and even Grandma's house... We also discovered some exquisitely wrought iron stoves!

• Music of Yesterday (1974): Classic music, performed by a gigantic mechanical symphony orchestra! In fact, Animated Music Machines were very popular in the late 1800's, when the Industrial Revolution suddenly seemed to make everything possible, and when a machine could be built for any purpose.

• The World's Largest Carousel (1981): You'll see the world's largest carousel, with a diameter of twenty-four meters, 20,000 lights, 182 candles and 269 fantastic animals. However, the entire carousel doesn't contain a single horse, for he had them removed and hung on the walls. The carousel runs at full speed on the rhythm of carnival music, and the only regret is that the animals don't move. The whole thing weighs 36 tons, it cost 4.8 million dollars, and its construction took 2.5 years...

• The Organ Room (1981): This hall contains several organs, some of which are real monsters, with fifteen keyboards, two foot-keyboards, and five foot pedals, in addition to literally hundreds of stops, that enable it to play various instruments. To further confuse the visitor, the same room also contains a large steam ship engine with an immense propeller, beautifully polished brass barrels from a brewery, ancient and very large electrical plants, old cannons, Gatling guns, etc...

• Doll Houses & Carousels (1984): This hall houses more than two hundred and fifty meticulously finished doll houses and miniatures, two doll-carousels, and literally hundreds of dolls. In addition, there is a colossal 60 foot long cannon (18 m), that shoots canon balls that weigh 3.5 tonnes a piece...

• The Infinity Room (1985): In 1985 Jordan came up with a new crazy architectural idea, the construction of a new room in the shape of an arrowhead. His concept was particularly exceptional in that he wanted this 350 foot long room (106 m) to hang in the air, without any support for almost 220 feet (66.40 m). His first plans were simply laughed away in the urbanization, but he persevered and went to the university. Eventually the engineers created a superb technical accomplishment, with anchored triangles that hang 157 feet (48m) above the ground. Most special!

• The Circus Room (1987): This room contains memorabilia about circuses, miniatures of circuses, and electrically operated and moving circus scenes. There is also a colossal circus wagon, on which a mechanical orchestra with forty dolls is seated. It also contains six giant elephants...

• The Weapons Exhibit (1987): An accumulation of old and ancient rifles, pistols and swords, but alas without any mention of origin or date!

• The Armor Collection (1987): A series of armor replicas, from King Arthur to the Samurai and Hannibal, and even a cuirass for a war-elephant.

• The Crown Jewel Collection (1987): Replicas of the British Crown Jewels, and tiaras and crowns from all over the world.

• Oriental Artifacts (1987): Chinese porcelain, vases, tea sets, and ivory figurines.

• The Heritage of the Sea (1990): This room is dominated by a giant whale, fighting a life and death battle with the Kraken, the enormous squid from the legend.

• The Transportation Building (1995): A tangle of haphazardly mingled air balloons, railroads, locomotives, cars (even one with a bathtub, and another one, tiled with mosaics)... There is also a collection of miniature elephants, and a Rube Goldberg machine. This American became famous because he concocted and built the most amazing and complicated machinery, just to make simple things difficult. For example, he could build a machine that was 10 feet high (3 m) and 20 feet long (6 m), just to fill a glass of water...

• The Spirit of Aviation (2002): A collection of model airplanes.

The Concept

A general assessment of this attraction is practically impossible to give, and merely grasping all of the contents in one visit is just as impossible. The architecture of the buildings is certainly very particular. It is laudable to try to deviate from the beaten track, but on the other hand, any construction is supposed to be functional, and these buildings most certainly are not.

The assortment of "collectibles" is pure kitsch, without any indication of origin, use, previous owner, or date. There is no single guide line throughout the whole exhibition. Nevertheless one does discover some gems among the collections, such as splendid wrought iron stoves, exquisite Chinese porcelain, nacre-finished lacquer cabinets, beautiful old cash registers, and superb miniature doll houses. In terms of "art", the entire content appears to be monstrously banal, absurd and completely chaotic. The collection in itself is painfully ordinary, but at the same time it is also extraordinarily extensive, and it covers such a grand scale, that it actually differs from the ordinary, and certainly distinguishes itself.

The entire theme-park of this attraction actually does rather well, and next to the exhibition buildings there is a luxury House on The Rock Inn, with four floors of rooms and suites, a House on the Rock Resort, with a special architecture and beautiful scenery, and a magnificent golf course with 27 holes. This attraction may be appreciated with mixed feelings, but nevertheless it is spectacular !

the House on the Rock 5 the House on the Rock 6
the House on the Rock 7 the House on the Rock 8
the House on the Rock 11 the House on the Rock 12

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