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Cook preparing a 19th century German dish at Old World Wisconsin.

OLD WORLD WISCONSIN
Eagle, Wisconsin

getaway-chicago logo The Getaway Guys were scheduled to visit Old World Wisconsin (OWW), a “Must Do” destination suggested by several readers, in Eagle, Wisconsin, when a tornado struck this Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) site on June 21, 2010. Only a few structures were damaged, but the grounds suffered a severe loss of mature trees. Remarkably OWW was able to reopen on July 24, 2010, and Neil and Alan visited shortly afterward.

oww1On previous voyages of discovery, the Guys had visited three WHS sites, Pendarvis in Mineral Point, the H.H. Bennett Studio in Wisconsin Dells, and the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, so why not Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, which is closer to Chicago than the former three? Inspired by Richard W. E. Perrin’s (1909-?) idea of a living assemblage of historic Wisconsin structures collected from around the state and preserved in one place, OWW was established in 1976 and continues to grow as new acquisitions become available. Disassembled, moved and reassembled, many (if not most) were destined for destruction because of encroaching development or simply decay.

oww2By using these rescued structures, working farms and a village have been recreated at OWW. Befitting the Badger State’s ethnic and cultural composition, the village and farms represent seven 19th century immigrant groups arranged on 600+ acres just outside Eagle. The Guys were privileged to have a guided tour with Martin Perkins, Curator of Research, who has spent much of his professional career since 1976 directing the disassembly, reassembly and placement of the buildings, a not inconsiderable achievement. Although former rehabbers of personal dwellings, Neil and Alan felt like rank amateurs in Perkins' company, but they could understand/appreciate the oww3complexity of the undertaking. They were also impressed by the period clothing worn by the interpretive volunteers slaving over wood burning stoves while whipping up period foodstuffs. oww9Last, but not least, were the animals husbanded and gardens cultivated in keeping with 19th century rural Wisconsin life. Alan got into the cooking and the animals, but Neil thought it was too hot an August day for culinary inquisitiveness, the animals seemed to agree.

Six hundred-plus acres are not an inconsequential amount of land to traverse on foot, so the Getaway Guys took the tourist tram to get oriented, and after identifying particular points of interest, they hoofed it, an approach they recommend. Tram riders can get off and on at conveniently located stops.oww4

OWW's ethnic areas include African-American, German, Polish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish and Yankee. Before touring the farms, the Guys focused on the Crossroads Village where they found a general store (1878, Waterville), a shoe shop (1879, Slovan), a resurrected Catholic church (1839, Milwaukee), a wagon shop (1881, Whitewater) an impressive inn (1853, Horicon), a town hall (1876, Harmony) and two historic houses (1885, Hubbleton and 1875, Fort Atkinson). In each there were period-clad volunteers explaining the intricacies of 19th century work and living.

oww5It was a hot day, and Alan insisted they take a break for some iced tea and a snack in the site's Clausing Barn (1897) Restaurant. Neil (never hungry!) ate half of Alan's chocolate chip pumpkin bread. Afterward, the Guys visited the African- American, German, Finnish and Danish areas. Represented by two small structures, the African-American contribution consists of two diminutive churches, one (Pleasant Ridge, Wisconsin), is complete with a reconstituted graveyard containing fictitious, period tombstones. oww6Pleasant Ridge was one of the first integrated communities in rural Wisconsin. In the German area, there are three distinct farms: the Schultz (1860s, Herman), Schottler (1875, Germantown) and Koepsell (1880, Jackson). Neil thought the Koepsell vegetable garden interesting, especially with an outhouse adjacent. Alan liked the colorful wagon at the Schultz farm because it reminded him of his Peace Corps days in Costa Rica (odd observation).

oww7The Finnish area has the former Rankinen farmhouse from Oulu (1897) and the relocated (from Crossroads Village) blacksmith shop (1868). Alan was impressed with the smithy’s expertise. Neil was reminded of his blacksmithing days in rural Pennsylvania in the 1970s. Both felt sorry for the gentleman clothed in period attire in sweltering August heat and humidity (no spreading chestnut tree). In the nearby Danish area, the Pedersen farm (1890) is restored from Luck, Wisconsin. There a period clad staffer was cooking something she called bland, but which smelled delicious to one half of the Getaway team (Alan thought it divine). Neil thought it was high time (3:30 p.m.) for a 21st century lunch.

oww8The Norwegian, Polish and Yankee areas, as well as an authentic historic baseball field, would have to wait for another visit. Old World Wisconsin, America’s Heartland: a Guide to Our Past, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society, is an excellent guide for planning a visit or while on site. Also featured at OWW are extensive educational programs and special events. In 2010 there are baseball games, barn dances, farmhand buffets and a musical comedy about the Civilian Conservation Corps. The OWW also offers bird and wildflower tours and a Belgian Holiday Dinner in December.

(The Guys extend special thanks to Beverly Harrington of the Wisconsin Historical Society Board of Curators for her encouragement, Lisa McGovern for on-site arrangements and Martin Perkins for his time and insights.) September 2010

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