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. 

1 comment:

Gregory Hasman said...

Never been to Wisconsin or Iowa, but love to go...just not in the heart of January.

As for looking for service in remote locations I admit I hoped for a fast food chain, guess they are good for something.

Hope to keep up with your trip. Keep on truckin