Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Cave of the Mounds
2975 Cave of the Mounds Road, Blue Mounds, Wis., (608) 437-3038, caveofthemounds.com
If you’re looking for an unusual day trip destination with national prestige, it’s hard to beat this geological wonder touted as “the jewel box of America’s major show caves.” Winter weather is no obstacle, since the cave remains a constant 50-degree temperature year-round.
The U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service designated this beautiful cave as a National Natural Landmark in 1987 because it’s a stunning example of our region’s geologic features.
Hourly walking tours take place daily and cave pathways are lighted and easy for all ages to traverse. Various formations are specially lighted for dramatic impact.
This limestone cave began forming more than 1 million years ago and was discovered in 1939 by quarry workers who were blasting in the area. Early settler and lead miner Ebenezer Brigham lived out his life farming atop the cave, never knowing it existed below his feet.
There’s much to learn here not only about geology and local history, but also about the power of time. The cave’s stalactites and stalagmites “grew” at a speed of one inch per 100 to 150 years.
Many special programs and events are offered, like Heated Fossil Digs, Crystal Quest and Caroling in the Cave. Self-guided trails near the cave offer views of sinkholes, savanna woodlands and other features of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area – a landscape untouched by the glacial drift that flattened most of the Midwest.
Admission with tour is $18.95 for adults and $10.95 for children ages 4-12.
Winter Hours: Weekdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with tours every hour on the hour.
Beloit, Wis. & Freeport, Ill., ClassicCinemas.com
Winter is an ideal time to take in big-screen movies and this family-owned theater company makes the experience more special than most.
Classic Cinemas breathed new life into Freeport’s 1922 Lindo Theatre in 1984 and is now doing the same for the only theater in Beloit, Schubert’s Luxury 10, 2799 Cranston Road. After a brief closing to address high-priority repairs, it re-opened in November and 2020 will see more improvements phased in, like the installation of heated recliner seats and an exterior facelift.
Classic Cinemas offers the newest, first-run films but also shows classic, documentary and foreign films plus occasional series built around particular actors or themes. Lindo Theatre shows classic films on the first Wednesday of every month at 1 and 7 p.m.; historians Ed Finch and Alan Wenzel lead film discussions.
The company operates 14 theaters in Illinois and the Beloit property is its first in Wisconsin.
Lindo Theatre opened in 1922 and the community chose its name, a nod to Freeport’s famous 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate.
Owners Willis and Shirley Johnson, with son Chris, now CEO, earned the Landmark Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards for Stewardship in 2011.
880 S. Lake Shore Dr., Lake Geneva
As the largest building watching over Geneva Lake, this 40,000-square-foot mansion was built by Chicago businessman Otto Young in 1899. He built his fortune in the aftermath of the 1871 Chicago Fire, having invested in property that’s now in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood.
Young’s original lake home included 50 rooms, with a 100-seat dining hall and billiard and music rooms. There was a swimming pool on the roof, a three-lane bowling alley in the basement and a jewelry vault.
Young enjoyed the mansion briefly; he died in 1906. The home remained in his family until 1939, when his granddaughter donated the property to a local church, which used it as a private school for girls. The school lasted only a few years and the property fell into despair.
In the early 1960s, Walworth County seized the property for unpaid taxes and auctioned it off to a developer who converted the main floor into an elegant restaurant and the second floor into spacious condominiums. The restaurant closed in 1978, but the condominiums remained.
A California buyer recently purchased the estate with plans to transform it into a summer vacation destination for her family.