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Driftless Area Wisconsin

Today was going to be extra exciting because Brad and I planned a small day trip to the Driftless Area, in Southwestern Wisconsin. It is called this, because the glaciers did not reach this area, which means there is hillier land since the glaciers didn’t flatten it all out. It is said that the land is more like that in Kentucky, very hilly. We left the house at 9am and headed toward Mineral Point, a small historic town. Brad came to this area for a few of his classes, one to learn about soils in the region, and another to learn about the historical significance. This town was built around a mining operation. We first went to a field and saw a smoldering tower, where the minerals were once melted down. We then looked at the train depot station, and then to downtown for their shops and a few historic homes. Not much was going on since everything was closed on Labor Day.

Train Depot now sits as a historical marker

A smoldering tower that was used to melt down minerals for shipment

A random windmill out by the smoldering tower

The Red Rooster Cafe was about the only thing open downtown!

Not even this cat had a thing to do on Labor Day except to watch visitors stroll along

I was surprised to see a small town to still have a nice looking Opera House!

A historic cabin in the Pendarvis Historic District, where the mining camp once operated

This is an area where miners found lead deposits.

On our way leaving Mineral Point, we stopped by the oldest house in Wisconsin. Brad learned a lot about this house because of some of his professor’s work with preserving this building. However, it is still in shambles and looks like it will fall down any minute.

For those interested, this house is a wonderful display of early 19th century vernacular architecture. It is used in the Art History 457 History of American Vernacular Architecture and Landscapes to talk about building techniques and styles. This is an old inn that was located on the lead trail – a road that wound through the Driftless region from Mineral Point to the Mississippi River to be shipped throughout the nation or abroad.  The inn doesn’t sit in it’s original location, but has been moved twice to save it from being torn down.  It now sits on WI 23 just about a mile from its original location just short of the Fort Defiance marker.  It isn’t open to the public, but it is worth seeing before a strong wind blows it over. 

We then stopped in Potosi for lunch at the Potosi Brewing Company Restaurant. I had a fish sandwich with salad, and Brad had a veggie wrap with sweet potato fries and beer cheese soup. The food was pretty good, but we both said the beer was alright.

Potosi Brewing Company Restaurant, Brewery, and Museum

The Potosi Brewery also has the National Brewery Museum located in it’s upper floors.  We were a bit pressed for time and didn’t get to go to the museum.  The brewery, however, did have a small collection of its own memorabilia on display.  We just glanced through it to walk off our lunch for a bit.

There was a crop of hops growing by the parking lot of the restaurant.

There wasn’t much around Potosi, so we headed to our main destination in Prairie du Chien, which sits on the Mississippi River. We headed across a channel to St. Feriole Island to the Villa Louis, a historic site/home of a fur trader back in the Victorian age. We toured around the home, which overlooks the Mississippi River and a railroad line.

Villa Louis Home

Refrigeration House

Canning & Preserving House

Railway that ran next to the Villa

Across the river from Prairie du Chien is Iowa. So we crossed the Mississippi and went to the Effigy Mounds State Park, which was our last stop. We followed a mulched trail (which was very nice!) up a short incline to the top of a hill area. Along this hill area were several mounds built by ancient peoples of the Americas. These were the ancestors of the Native Americans that we think of today. Most of these mounds were built into circle shapes, but several of them were formed into shapes of animals, like the big and little bears. Some of these mounds did have people buried inside. Not much is known about the burials, especially since many were pillaged over the years. After hiking for a couple of hours, we then headed back towards Madison, going through Spring Green, WI.

Mississippi River

Little Bear Effigy Mound

Great Bear Effigy Mound

A series of smaller round shape mounds

Steamboat on the Mississippi

Overall the trip took about twelve and a half hours, but the total time spent driving was about 5 hours, almost 270 miles.  We tried to stay on more scenic highways especially after making it to Mineral Point.  On the way home, we enjoyed listening to NPR while driving the WI-60 along the Wisconsin River – it is such a relaxing country drive.  This is such a nice day trip for those that love taking scenic tours and enjoying some historic sites.  We definitely didn’t get to see all that we wanted or spend as much time at each site where we stopped, but it was a nice survey of the region.

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