Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On to Michigan and the Fayette Historic Town Site

After dodging some bad weather leaving Wisconsin, we made our way to Rapid River Michigan and several days of seeing Stonington Peninsula, along with some other great Michigan treasures, like Fayette Historic Town Site.

This 19th Century, well preserved town, was most industrious.  They manufactured charcoal pig iron here from 1867 to 1891, along with lime.   Now in a State Historic Park, visitors can take a walking tour among 20 original structures, including eleven buildings with museum displays and plenty of scenic views of this harbor town of yesterday.

Located on the southern side of the Upper Peninsula on Big Bay de Noc, Lake Michigan, Fayette was at its peak the most productive iron smelting operation in the area. Shortly after the Civil War, this company town grew up around two very large blast furnaces, charcoal kilns, a lime kiln, and a large dock.

About 500 residents lived here, and during its peak in population, half were children. The laborers and skilled tradesman produced over 225,000 tons of pig iron during its 24 years of activity, all splitting up just over $5,000 in payroll each month, They used hardwood from the forest for fuel, and quarried limestone from the bluffs in the harbor to purify the iron ore.  It would be short lived due to the exhaustion of hardwoods, and the Jackson Iron Company closed its Fayette smelting operations in 1891 when the market declined. Although some residents stayed and farmed, many left Fayette.

In 1882 the company announced it would build a lime kiln to manufacture lime used in mortar for masonry, chinking for log houses and plaster for interior walls. The excess was sold to Escanaba, which was a two day trip by stage, or 3 hours by boat across Big Bay de Noc.  In the winter, when the lake froze, residents could ride a stage sled across to Escanaba.

Fayette's central business district separated the have from have nots. Trademen and Supervisors along with their families lived in comfortable frame houses, while simple log homes were taken along the hill, road and shoreline by the unskilled laboring class on the other side of town.

Take a walk on Slag Beach, which was an industrial dump site, where glass like slag, or cinder, mixed with iron can still be found. The Jackson Iron Company used the furnace waste product as a road base and fill material. The beach also served local residents as the landfill, and Fayette was known for not being a "tidy" town.

We found the walking tour great!  You'll want to allow for a couple of hours to see the entire town and its surroundings.  Along the tour you'll find a reconstructed Charcoal Kiln that was used to make fuel for the large furnaces still standing. By the mid 1880's there were over eighty charcoal kilns in the area run by the company.

You'll also see the ruins of the company store, which like many others, was described by one resident as a "pluck me".  The store was destroyed by fire in the 1900's, but it's limestone frame remains tall on the shore of the harbor.

We found this historic park well worth the price of admission to see a bit of history at your own leisure. They've done a great job of maintaining and reconstructing the buildings that are left, with plenty of information to give you a real sense of what life was like here.  For more information see their official website HERE.

See our stay in this area, including our experience with Monarch Butterflies at Peninsula Point Lighthouse, the ghost town of Stonington Point and more via our Photo Blog HERE.

While in this area we stayed at Vagabond Resort just outside of Rapid River, MI.  This is an older RV Park, and though it looks a little run down, we found the management and WIFI to be excellent!  Very helpful and friendly atmosphere, although we probably wouldn't choose this park without the Passport rate.  (Around $27 normal, $13 Passport).




Thursday, September 04, 2014

Fond du Lac to Milwaukee

On our way from Fond du Lac to Milwaukee, we stopped at the Dheinsville Settlement just outside Germantown.  It's an historic 1850's original German settlement with several of the older buildings still standing, including the 1862 Christ Church, an 1854 Hotel, along with a few others. The settlement dates back to 1842, and it was a good stop for a quick fix of history.

Another quick stop found us in Menomonee Falls. A suburb of Milwaukee, it was
established in 1892 on the Menomonee River, which the city has damned creating a water fall. The downtown area has kept it's historic charm despite the influx of population from the city over the years.

The region around the confluence of three rivers, the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic, into Lake Michigan, was originally inhabited by several Native American tribes, including the Fox, Winnebago, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Sauk, Menominee and Mascouten. European missionaries and traders were passing through by the late 17th and early 18th century. French Canadian Alexis Laframboise established a trading post here in 1785.

The rivers saw the first official European settlements around 1818, with French Canadian explorer Solomon Juneau establishing Juneautown. It was in competition with two others that formed quickly after, Kilbourntown and Walkers Point.

Leading up to 1840 these settlements went through some intense rivalries that culminated in what is now known as the "Milwaukee Bridge War". Mainly between Juneautown on the east side of the Milwaukee River, and Kilbourntown on the west side, the trouble began when Kilbourntown tried to isolate Juneautown to make it more dependant on them. A planned bridge over the river threatened Kilbourntown's plans, and in 1845 Byron Kilbourn, founder of his settlement, destroyed part of the bridge under construction.  Two smaller bridges were destroyed by men of Juneautown in an attempt to cut off Kilbourn from the east and south side.  It was after this that they decided the best way forward would be to make better efforts to cooperate, and in 1846 the three settlements united into one city as Milwaukee.

The name Milwaukee comes from a Native word meaning "Gathering place by the water", and was known in the early days as Milwacky, Milwarck, Milwauki and even Melleorki.

German immigrants made up a large portion of Milwaukee's early growth. So much so that clubs and societies created here made a lasting impact on American life.  Did you know it was the Germans that created Kindergarten? They also incorpoated sports, music and art into regular school curriculums. By the turn of the 20th Century, Germans made up a third of Milwaukee's population.

Polish immigrants too had and impact on the city, especially in its churches, with steeples that dot the skyline providing some beautiful views with breathtaking architecture. Milwaukee boasts the fifth largest Polish population in the U.S. to this day (around 45,000), but it was as high as 100,000 in 1915.

Other nations' immigrants were also attracted to the city on Lake Michigan, and by 1910 Milwaukee was tied with New York City as having the largest percentage of foreign born residents in the U.S.

In 1960, with a population 91% white, the city was one of the largest in the United States at almost 800,000. However it's population began to decline by the late 1960's as many moved to the burbs, and by 1980 it only had around 630,000 residents.  With it's historic districts and rich immigrant history, the city survived and is on it's way back through re-vitalization and efforts to attract new business. The city saw a population increase over the past decade, it's first since 1960.

Today the city is home to the headquarters of six Fortune 500 companies including Harley-Davidson, Joy Global, Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls, Manpower, and Northwestern Mutual. Other companies based here including Briggs & Stratton, Master Lock, GE Healthcare and others.

Railroads helped shape the cities future as well, with Milwaukee becoming the largest shipper of wheat in the world in 1862. This of course brought the 'suds'.  Milwaukee was at one time the leading producer of beer in the world, home to four of the worlds largest breweries; Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller. It has since declined in this regard, but is still home to the major brewer Miller Brewing Company, the second largest in the U.S. Coors also has a brewery in Miller Valley, the oldest still-functioning major brewery in the country. You may recognize some of these brewery's as they were used as the backdrop in many scenes of the popular sitcoms Happy Days and Lavern and Shirley, which were set in Milwaukee.

We couldn't take a brewery tour at Miller Valley due to some electrical problems during our visit, however we especially enjoyed our time around the old Pabst Brewery with it's many buildings abandoned for years. It gave us a glimpse of the past we wouldn't have just months from now, as these old buildings appear to be slated for demolition soon.

There is a lot to see and do in this city, whether touring the famous brewery's, enjoying the many attractions downtown, or even a dip in Lake Michigan on one of the beaches. Oh, and of course there is baseball and the Brewers (I know, there are other sports here too).  Depending on your cup of tea, this could be a weekend long adventure, or you could just be a drive through history buff like us and spend a day taking in the architecture and sites. We don't normally do large cities and like to write about the smaller places in American History the most, but what ever your taste, there is something for everyone in Milwaukee.

After traveling up the lakeside for a while we headed back making a stop in historic Cedarburg. Founded in the early 1840's by Irish and German settlers on Cedar Creek, they have carefully preserved the city's original structures and the downtown looks much as it did over a hundred years ago. In fact, more than 200 buildings of historical significance remain in the town, and remain in use as shops, homes, museums and more.

Industries here included a woolen mill, lumber and flour mills, a nail factory and a brewery, all which prospered after the railroad arrived in 1870. Although it's area population is around 11,000, Cedarburg has kept it's old world charm and we could tell it was a favorite stop for tourists which crowded the shops downtown during our Labor Day weekend visit.

See our visit to the Milwaukee area in images and read more about the history, including that of the famous breweries, in each photo's description via our Photo Blog HERE.

While in this area we stayed at Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds in one of their 18 full hookup sites. $20 a night, and only a few other campers there.  Not a place if you are into scenery, but was great for our purposes.  No wifi, but we had excellent AT&T data here (4Glte).  Fond du Lac has a lot to see and is fairly large compared to what we typically do.  The downtown has a market on certain days, and there's lots of history in this area.  Appears it is sometimes difficult to get into a spot at this fairground. As of this writing you really need to arrive when they are in the office.  If not, you may be without a key to unlock electric and water. We were lucky as there is Donny, a great RV'er that stays there a lot and actually was given the key to help others with.  He had to leave though for the weekend and we saw more than one camper pull up and leave shortly after.  We were told in the office that they are considering upgrading their on-line reservation system and campground next year with new procedures that will eliminate this problem.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Old World Wisconsin Worth the Price of Admission +

While staying in the area around Kettle Moraine State Park, our primary destination was Old World Wisconsin.  This is an attraction run by the Wisconsin State Historical Society that was worth the admission price and then some.

To create this outdoor museum, researchers traveled throughout the state looking for authentic buildings representing generations of Wisconsin settlers. Opening in 1976, over 60 historic buildings from around the state have been painstakingly moved here piece by piece, literally numbering boards, bricks and logs to reconstruct them on site. These pieces become "villages and farms" that represent various times in 19th and 20th century Wisconsin. They even have a couple of re-created grave sites that have the exact inscriptions as the originals.

You experience 1915 at the Finish village, then turn back the clock more to 1839 at the Norwegian area. Each area has its own reenactor's showing what life was like, some even cooking food from the time.  There was a squirrel in the pot along with fresh turnips from the garden at the Norwegian village, while they had a little more modern goodies at the Finish place. These are only a couple of examples of life you can see while in here, as Old World Wisconsin is the world's largest museum dedicated to the history of rural life.

One of our top favorites now, we regretted that we had only 3 hours to tour Old World before it closed for the day.  Most definitely allow for at least 4 hours if not the day.  Spread over a large area, you can walk from exhibit to exhibit, or catch one of several trams that will drop you off.  From General Stores to shoe shops, and barns; wheel makers to bread bakers and historic breeds of animals, even baseball.  This museum has something for the entire family to enjoy.

All of it was great, but some of our personal favorites were the 1870's Crossroads Village where you'll find costumed interpreters telling about life as an Irish laundress, Welsh shopkeeper, Bohemian shoemaker, and more. During our visit they were also recreating some of Wisconsin's role in the Civil War, and they had Union troops camped here in the village displaying everyday life during the war.

Another favorite was the Raspberry One Room School House brought down from around Lake Superior. Representing the late 19th century, the "teacher" will tell you how it was quite hard to keep an instructor there for more than just a few months, and how short lived the school was.

Of course Kathy's favorite was the barns throughout.  Beautiful structures of a time past that have been brought here to be kept intact as they were when originally built. We both loved the Civil War reenactors, and what's great about this place is that different months have different themes.  So if we were to be here in October we would experience something new.

Open early May through end of October, Old World Wisconsin should go on your list as a must see.  Plan accordingly and check out the various themes and special events via their website HERE.

There's no way this blog could do the museum justice, so we took over 800 photos of our visit and have picked 34 of our faves (may add more) to display in our Old World Wisconsin Photo Blog HERE.

While in this area we stayed at the Rome River Campground and RV Park. We could have stayed in the Kettle Moraine State Park, but they didn't have any spots with hookups left. This second choice was not bad though. Rome is a very small town with a simple General Store (for sale during our visit) right by the campground.  But there are larger towns nearby for more groceries, etc.  Management was great, wifi was good when it worked (they had some known issues while we were there with their router). AT&T data coverage, while shows solid on the coverage map, was spotty at the campground.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Prairie du Chien Via a Field of Dreams

After leaving Amana Colonies, Kathy and I made our way to Pikes Peak State Park, on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River. But first we had a quirky side trip to Dyersville and the nearby Field of Dreams Movie Site.

Surely most of you have seen the film? Kevin Costner, the corn field turned into a ball field to bring back a bunch of dead famous Baseball players. Great movie, I don't think I ever pass it up when scrolling through the TV Guide. What's really cool about this however, is what they had to go through getting this to work.

Director Phil Robinson came to the Dubuque area in early Spring 1988, to make a

decision on one of hundreds of farmsteads under consideration. While on his tour they came upon a farm owned by Don and Becky Lansing. According to information at the site, when Robinson spied it he immediately shouted "That's it! That's my farm!." So in no time they worked with Lansing, moved them to a camper on the other side of the house, and remodeled the home to accommodate filming. Everything going well, except for one major detail. Corn.

It was one of the driest years since the 1930's dust bowl, and they just couldn't get it to grow. Ingenuity paid off though, and after getting approval of local agencies, they dammed a creek that runs through the farm and irrigated the field. It worked so well that the corn grew higher than expected, forcing them to use a foot high platform for Costner to walk on while filming in the crop.

Building the ball field was also a large task. It would take seven semi-truck loads of sod, along with mixed up busted brick, dye and dirt to created the infield, but in just four days it was ready.

There were some interesting "Did You Know" facts on the billboard at the movie site. Like the fact that Moonlight Graham, played by Lancaster, was actually a real person, and holds the shortest major league career on record. And the identity of the "voice" in the movie is a closely guarded secret, listed in the credits as "himself".

The field is still just as green as in the movie, and you really get the thrill of being

there, sitting on the bench where the little girl falls and Burt Lancaster has to save her. Then standing on the mound where Costner first made his pitch to Ray Liotta. And of course having fun with a local star/extra, who played one of the ball players in the movie, Kathy doing her fade out into the corn with him. It was a great stop and one we recommend, especially this time of year. Corn looked just about ready to harvest, at least to this geek. The home and farm had been in the Lansing family since 1906, *until 2013 when it was sold to a group of investors "Go The Distance LLC", with plans on turning the area into a major ball park. We didn't see any construction during our visit, despite the fact that when announced in January 2013 the new ball fields were supposed to get started that Spring. Regardless, we may have been some of the last to see it as it was before the expansion.  This past June they celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the movies release with several of the stars returning for a trip down memory lane. (*corrected to reflect new ownership, hat tip to reader Albert Hall for bringing that to our attention)

On to our campground. 

Pikes Peak State Park sits at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi River on the
Iowa side and provides visitors and campers with a gorgeous overlook view of the river valley below. The campground for RV's and tent's is in the midst of pines, providing a forest experience nature lovers adore, complete with a hiking trail just beyond the river overlook to Bridal Falls.

For AT&T customers, this is no mans land. I don't mean just data either, as many times we didn't even have a connection for voice. So here we were truly disconnected. I know, many of you are thinking that's just the way it should be. But for this geek, it was a challenge not to constantly try to find a signal to at least attempt to see email. It was good for me though, and gave Kathy and I some extra time to just sit and enjoy each other's company instead of being glued to our work.

It was raining the morning after we arrived, but we headed out of the park anyway to start exploring the area (to be honest, we were looking for a McDonalds with wifi). After leaving the park you come into historic McGregor, IA.  Founded as McGregor's Landing in 1847, the area was original settled by Alexander McGregor, a direct decedent of Rob Roy McGregor of Scotland. 

McGregor had already been operating a ferry across the Mississippi River to Prairie du Chien, WI for 10 years when he planned the new city. It was incorporated as McGregor in 1857, and it quickly became a major commercial center after the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad established a line to Prairie du Chien, connecting Lake Michigan to the mighty river by rail. Other railroads were built from McGregor west, with North McGregor (now Marquette) acting as the rail terminus.  When reaching McGregor from the west, trains were taken apart, ferried across the river, then put back together to make their way to Lake Michigan. 

During the city's peak, the population exploded to over 5,500 and was the busiest shipping port west of Chicago during the 1870's. However the city would decline just about as fast as it grew when a permanent pontoon bridge was built to connect McGregor and Prairie du Chien, eliminating the need to disassemble the trains, and thus many of the jobs.  Today, McGregor and Marquette (formally North McGregor) have kept their historic charm, but the city has a population of less than a thousand. 

You cross two bridges into Wisconsin, both over sections of the Mississippi River, into historic Prairie Du Chien, the oldest settlement on the Upper Mississippi River, and the second oldest city in the state of Wisconsin, with roots dating back to the late 1600's and the French-Canadian Fur Trade.

St. Feriole Island was the city's earliest hub of activity, and was also the site of the Battle of Prairie du Chien in 1814, Wisconsin's only battle in the War of 1812. After the war, the government built Fort Crawford here as part of a chain of forts to secure the U.S. Frontier, and it would become the site of many treaties with Native American's.

One of the big attractions on St. Feriole Island is Villa Louis, a Victorian country estate established in the 1840's by Hercules Dousman, a local fur trader and entrepreneur. The house that still stands here was built by his son Louis in 1870, and is open to the public for tours under the management of the Wisconsin Historical Society. With over 90 percent of its original furnishings, and a recent restoration to recreate its 1890's appearance, Villa Louis is one of the Midwest's great house museums (open early May through late October).

Other sites on the island include the Fur Trade Museum in the 1850 Stone Brisbois Store, the 1837 Brisbois House and the Dousman House Hotel. Plan a day here to see the sites and tour the historic buildings.

The on and off again rain, along with some major road construction in town, had Kathy and I heading back to the trailer across the river for a while, but we ventured out again in the afternoon, this time heading north on the Great River Road in Iowa. Along the way, just north of Marquette, you can visit the Effigy Mounds. Here you can see ancient Native American culture, and some pretty fantastic views of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately we didn't have time for a stop, but this historic site run by the National Park Service is likely worth the visit. Plan on a little hiking.

From there we stayed on the River Road heading toward Lansing Iowa. Here we took in parts of the city established in 1851, including the historic Old Stone School built in 1864, then over the 1931 Blackhawk Bridge into Wisconsin. It was a very scenic drive up to Lansing and back down to Praire du Chien, with the road following closely to the river in Wisconsin.

Lots of great history to see and plenty to do in this area of Iowa and Wisconsin. See our travel, including some not talked about in this blog entry, through images via our photo blog HERE

RV'ers, Pikes Peak State Park is a beautiful campground, but pretty small. We suggest making reservations, especially in peak travel times.  We had electric, but had to fill up the water tank on the way in.  Dump station on the way out.  There are pull throughs, but limited in number. If you want to be in the woods with beautiful surroundings you can't go wrong here. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Amana Colonies


Our first "primary" destination on this journey through the upper-midwest is Amana Colonies in Iowa.  Amana, which means "believe faithfully", was established by the religious group Community of True Inspiration, with origins in Germany.  These German speaking European settlers came to America for many of the same reasons others did, because they didn't agree with the religious experience the churches provided.

Called "True Inspirationists", the group was founded by J.F. Rock and E.L Gruber in 1700's Germany, with both maintaining that the Lutheran Church neglected the spiritual needs of the congregation by getting to into formalized worship and intellectual debate.  Desiring a return to the basics of Christianity, Rock and Gruber attracted many followers with several congregations established throughout Germany, but by the mid 18th Century the movement declined.

Devastated by war and famine in the early 1800's, Germans took comfort in religion and once again the True Inspirationist's began to grow.  Based on the belief that God still spoke through prophets, these new "prophets" were called Werkzeuge, or instruments.  As the group regained it's popularity, Christian Metz would become a Werkzeuge and a guiding force in bringing them to America.

In 1842 the True Inspirationists purchased 5,000 acres near Buffalo, New York, and established a settlement called Ebenezer.  The idea was that all property would be held in common, but then eventually divided among the people based on their contribution.  However the leaders quickly saw the flaw in that plan with disparities in wealth and skills, and with backing of Metz, they adopted a constitution in 1846 that established a permanent communal system.

Reaching a population of 1,200 by 1854, Ebenezer became six villages and thrived.  However, land prices around Buffalo were rising, and the community leaders felt that capitalist and worldly influences were enticing their followers toward materialism, so they decided it was time to move again.

Passing up sites in Kansas, the True Inspirationists settled on a location in the Iowa River valley west of Iowa City. Construction of Amana began in 1855, and as before, they retained the communal system of ownership. Everyone shared in its success, each family was provided what they needed. From goods at the General Store bought with an annual allowance, to free medical care.  In return, the Elders assigned each person a job in the community based on skills and needs.  Most women started working at 14 in the communal kitchens and gardens.  They also tended laundry and a few worked at the woolen mills.  The men had more opportunity in their assignments, working in craft shops, mills, farms, and some educated as doctors and pharmacists.

By the 1860s it had grown to over 20,000 acres with seven villages spaced just a few miles apart.  Known as the Amana Colony, the seven towns were named by their location; West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, East Amana, Middle Amana and the original village of Amana. They would also purchase the entire town of Homestead so they could take advantage of the new railroad line.

Amana's woolen and calico factories, among the first in Iowa, were known throughout the U.S. for superior quality. By the early 1900's the two woolen mills were producing a half million yards of fabric a year, and the calico factory 4,500 yards of cloth a day.  A couple of flour mills processed the community's grains, and crops of potatoes and onions were shipped to Midwest markets.  All the profits were used to purchase goods from outside the colony.

Of course, all this success worried the leaders that the same capitalist influences that brought them to Iowa would again threaten their followers, so they held church services 11 times a week. Every evening, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, and Sunday afternoon.

The last Werkzeug, Barbara Heinemann Landmann, died in 1883, but the elders functioned for nearly 50 years afterward without support of divine authority.  Amana became one of America's longest-lived communal societies until June 1, 1932 and what Amana residents call "the Great Change."  Beginning in 1931, social strains of communal living, the loss of the calico print works after World War I, and a fire the previous decade that extensively damaged the woolen and flour mill, along with the national economic depression, came to a head with many True Inspirationists finding the rules to be overly restrictive, and the communal ownership inadequate. So on that June day in 1932, members separated the church from the business enterprises, creating a joint-stock company, and abandoned communalism.  The Amana Society Inc still controls about 26,000 acres of land, and because the land was not divided up, the landscape still reflects its communal heritage.  Today, over 450 communal-era buildings stand in the seven villages, and attract visitors from all over.

We had a great time in Amana Colonies, parking our travel trailer at Amana Colonies RV Park just outside of Amana.  Wonderful set up, in the midst of corn fields, which we will review on RV Park Reviews HERE. In Amana you can enjoy many shops, stores and a museum, and of course some great German cuisine.  Other colonies have museums as well, and some general stores.  It's a good stop for history, and enough to see that you should plan for an entire day in the area at the least.  Depending on your pace, and your pallet, you may consider two.

You can see our adventure at Amana Colonies through images in our Photo Blog HERE.  Additional reading about Utopia's in America can be found HERE.