Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
1005 Wisconsin Ave., Boscobel, Wis., (608) 375-4714
Every old building has a story to tell and this one is more interesting than most. Prussian immigrant Adam Bobel was a weaver who settled with his new bride in Boscobel in 1861. He served the Union Army’s 20th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry for 18 months as a sutler.
After the war, Bobel used his earnings to build a two-story saloon for $5,000. By 1873, he added a third story to the saloon and extended it much further to form the large three-story limestone building we see today. He opened a well-respected hotel in it, but in January 1881, a fire gutted the building leaving only the walls. Bobel immediately rebuilt and re-opened four months later.
Some 17 years later, a traveling salesman from Janesville named John H. Nicholson would share a room in the bustling hotel with Samuel E. Hill of Beloit. The men would strike up a conversation about the need for an organization of commercial travelers that could provide “mutual help and recognition for Christian travelers.” Their friendship led to the formation of the Gideons. To date, Gideons International has delivered more than 2 billion Bibles in 95 languages to 200 countries. You’ve probably seen one in your hotel room.
Central House is on the National Register of Historic Places and is now a privately owned bar open Monday through Saturday.
Stephenson County Historical Society & Arboretum
1440 S. Carroll Ave., Freeport, 815) 232-8419, Stephcohs.org
There was a time when some of the best-known toy companies in the nation thrived in our region, including Arcade, which produced cast iron toys in Freeport that are prized by collectors today. Production ended in 1941 as U.S. involvement in World War II heated up, and Arcade donated its office collection to the Stephenson County Historical Society (SCHS) in 1947.
That Arcade collection has grown to more than 600 toys. Visitors have enjoyed it so much during the past seven decades that the SCHS board decided last year to begin displaying toys from Structo, Freidag, Realistic and Freeport Toy Company, too. If you have an Arcade toy that you’d like to donate or loan, call the museum.
Toys aside, the 3-acre museum property donated by the Taylor family in 1944 also features a log cabin, a schoolhouse and the Taylor family’s lovely 1857 limestone Victorian home.
Oscar Taylor was a prominent lawyer, banker, real estate agent and insurance salesman who strongly opposed slavery; his home is rumored to have been a stop on the underground railroad. Jane Addams was a frequent guest of the family and some of her artifacts are on display.
Many of the trees and shrubs the Taylors planted are still growing today.
Admission is $8 for adults and $4 for children ages 6 to 12. Hours: Wed.-Sun. noon to 4 p.m. and by appointment, except holidays.
Wisconsin Great River Road
Western Wisconsin, WIGRR.com
One of the most important scenic byways in the nation runs right through our region. The 3,000-mile Great River Road National Scenic Byway hugs the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, passing through 10 states, including Wisconsin and Illinois. It takes about 36 hours to drive it straight through, but a good alternative is to take your time driving only the 250-mile Wisconsin stretch along State Highway 35, stopping at picturesque old river towns along the way. Wisconsin Great River Road signs guide you, and you’ll discover natural, cultural and historical delights, including small-town shops, diners, historical points and many quirky attractions.
Some of the oldest towns in Wisconsin are on this route – a few even dating back to the 1600s. Native Americans lived in the river corridor for thousands of years; reminders of Oneota, Hopewell and other ancient people are found in the burial and effigy mounds along the route.
Wetlands and river-bottom forests run along more than two-thirds of the Wisconsin Great River Road, thanks to a 1924 Act of Congress that established the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge. Stop in at places like the Fountain City Historical Museum or the Historic Hixon House in La Crosse to unlock secrets about those who came here before us.