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Two Rivers, Wisconsin

getaway-chicago logo A community of 11,807, just north of Manitowoc, Two Rivers, Wisconsin is the legendary birthplace of the ice cream sundae in 1881 (a claim hotly disputed by Evanston [1890] and Ithaca, NY [1892]). Regardless, ice cream buffs needn’t go all the way to Two Rivers to indulge in this American concoction, but the Getaway Guys did that and more.

Neil had zoomed through Two Rivers numerous times en-route to Door County without much thought. Alan, adverse to almost anything near Door County, had never heard of Two Rivers until the Getaway Guys investigated Manitowoc and its submarine legacy in April 2010.tworivers2

For a community of its small size, Two Rivers has an inordinately large number of historical sites to explore. It can also boast of a pro-active, community-wide effort to preserve its past. Like many Lake Michigan settlements of the 1830-40s, it prospered from the exploitation of timber resources. When the timber was exhausted, Two Rivers turned first to Lake Michigan fishing to sustain growth and then later to manufacturing, a story repeated from Chicago to Door County on the west side of the lake and from Michigan City to Muskegon on the east side.

During their last Manitowoc visit, Neil and Alan foraged further north (seven miles) to Two Rivers and discovered the Hamilton Wood Type Museum and the Washington House Museum. Located in the sprawling late nineteenth-early twentieth century Hamilton manufacturing complex on Jefferson Street, the former is a graphic designer’s mind blower. tworivers3Preserved and presently used to advance the art of wood type printing, this museum-workshop is truly unique and very visitor-user friendly. Loaded with thousands of wood type samples and the original machinery used to cut and shape them, the Hamilton Museum must be seen to be believed.

Directly across Jefferson Street is the Washington House Museum, a nineteenth century hotel dedicated to the preservation of artifacts and ephemera associated with life in Two Rivers from c1860 to c1960. Its collections are some of best seen by the Getaway Guys in a small town museum during their travels. And, on a follow up trip to Two Rivers, Neil and Alan explored the Historic Farm Museum on 12th Street, the Two Rivers Historical Society on Jefferson Street and the West of the Lake Gardens just north of Manitowoc.

tworivers4Although located on busy Route 42, Neil (along with thousands of other Peninsula visitors) had passed the Gardens unaware of their existence. In 1932 John and Ruth West (Manitowoc Ship Building-Manitowoc Crane Company) built a modest, modernist dwelling on 6-½ acres of lakefront property and surrounded it with annuals and perennials. In addition to other philanthropic endeavors, Ruth West bequeathed this estate/garden to the West of the Lake Foundation. While not the largest garden the Guys have seen but, West of the Lake is one of the most tranquil and dramatically sited. Entry is free of charge.

tworivers5Next on their list, the Guys explored the Two Rivers History Museum in a former convent one block north of Washington House on Jefferson Street. Compared to the cornucopia preserved by the latter, its collection is modest and somewhat redundant, but eclectic and informative. Of particular interest to the Guys was its religious artifacts associated with its former occupants, the Teaching Sisters of St. Agnes.

From the Spartan environs of a Catholic convent, the Guys visited the Farm Museum on 12th Street where they encountered an array of late nineteenth and twentieth century farm implements. Neither come from a farm background, so both Guys were stumped when speculating about usage. Aside from the obvious (a nice assortment of vintage tractors), the ancient baling (?) and threshing (?) machines were complicated steel contraptions looking scary to use and thoroughly unpersuasive about the charms of farming.tworivers6

Not far away on Hawthorne Avenue (Route 310) is the Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve, a 1,200 acre site devoted to preservation and education. Consisting of diverse trails (Cattail, Willow, Conifer, Yellow Birch, Trillium, etc.), Woodland Dunes could easily require a day to investigate. The Guys checked out the Cattail Trail and to their later, retroactive chagrin failed to explore others because they wanted to visit the Rogers Street Fishing Village on the other side of town before returning to Chicago. As Yogi Bera famously said, “we shoulda stood in bed.” Very much a work in progress, Rogers Street has a ways to go, but improvements are moving along.

Missed was the Bernard Schwartz House, a circa 1938 Frank Lloyd Wright built for Bernard and Fern Schwartz and inspired by a Life Magazine article called “Eight Houses for Modern Living” (Wright being a contributing architect eager to promote his ideas about the ideal American dwelling). Aside from obvious FLW design influences, the Guys saw this structure earlier in 2010, not knowing it was a genuine FLW article. Privately owed, it is available for short term rentals to enthusiasts, and open periodically for tours.tworivers8

The Getaway Guys have visited innumerable small museums and historic structures that are staffed by older volunteers. Generally retirees interested in history, they are avid about their responsibilities. In Two Rivers, Wisconsin, as in Morris, Illinois, South Haven, Michigan and Dubuque, Iowa, these earnest and engaging folks are the unsung heros of historic preservation. August 2010


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