Lighthouses are noble structures, guiding sea-faring vessels to safety along a dangerous coastline. Back in the day, many ships were saved during storms and fog by a lighthouse beam.
The first American lighthouse was built in Boston Harbor in 1716. But by the mid-1800s, the Great Lakes had become an extremely busy shipping region, and lighthouses were popping up along its shores, too. In this Great Lakes area, one of the best states to check out lighthouses is Michigan. They have more than any other state in the nation at 106. Michigan is surrounded by four of the Great Lakes (Superior, Huron, Erie, and Michigan) and has 3,100 miles of coastline, so it’s an obvious and excellent candidate for that honor.
These lighthouses were built in all shapes and sizes to fit the needs of their location. Here is a small sampling of what you can see:
In Mackinac City, Old Mackinac Point Light was constructed in 1892 of Cream City brick (made of clay found in the Milwaukee area) and Indiana limestone. It was a valuable lighthouse until 1957 when the Mackinac Bridge was completed. (The bridge lights turned out to be more helpful for navigation than the lighthouse beam.) In 1960, the lighthouse property was purchased by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. It’s now a maritime museum.
As you approach Mackinac Island on one of the ferry services, you’ll cruise by the Round Island Lighthouse. It’s currently under the care of the United States Forest Service. This lighthouse was completed in 1895 and operated for fifty-two years.
If you’re in Holland, Michigan, don’t miss the Holland Harbor Lighthouse, popularly known as “Big Red.” The present structure dates from 1907. Its gabled roof reflects the Dutch culture of the area. When the Coast Guard recommended that the lighthouse be abandoned in 1970, citizens rallied to save it. Today “Big Red” is owned and maintained by the Holland Harbor Lighthouse Historical Commission.
Bonus stop: De Zwaan
Another hard-working structure that earns its keep is a windmill. In Holland, Michigan, stop by the Windmill Island Gardens where they have an authentic working windmill imported from the Netherlands. In 1963, the Dutch city of Vinkel and Holland, Michigan worked out a deal to bring a 1761 windmill named De Zwaan (The Swan) to the United States. The windmill is fully operational today, and a Dutch-certified miller grinds flour on a regular basis. You can purchase a bag of this stone-ground flour in their gift shop in the base.
Whether it’s lighthouses or windmills, Michigan has an interesting variety of landmark buildings and a rich history to go with them!
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright called this home “his little gem” and selected it for a book of his 38 most significant buildings. It’s not grand like many of his works – the modest, one-story home is 2,600 square feet. Yet the Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent House is unique among the 400 Wright-designed buildings still standing – it’s the only home the architect created for a person with physical disabilities.
In 1946, Kenneth Laurent became wheelchair bound as the result of complications from spinal surgery. He and his wife wanted a home that would accommodate his needs. After seeing an article in House Beautiful magazine about Frank Lloyd Wright and a house that he had designed with an open floor plan, they decided to contact the architect. After lengthy correspondence with Wright, plans were drawn up for a house, and it was completed in 1952.
In making the house handicap accessible, Wright was decades ahead of the ADA. He created the open floor plan the Laurents had wanted so Kenneth could move and turn around easily in each room. The bathroom was larger than usual. Door knobs and light switches were installed at wheelchair level. Cabinets were built with fold-down doors rather than pull-out drawers. And seating throughout the home was lowered so guests sat at eye level with Kenneth. (He did not have to feel like others were looking down at him, something people in wheelchairs often experience.) Kenneth later remarked that the house made him “realize his capabilities, not his disabilities.”
The house also contains the noted red tile. This ceramic square was a combination stamp of approval and mark of authenticity that Wright had installed on buildings he deemed worthy.
Wright always wanted to do a complete package for his clients – not only designing the house, but also the furniture, plus choosing colors and decorative elements, and even deciding the dishes in the kitchen. For their part, Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent totally embraced the Frank Lloyd Wright concept. Their home remained a model of Wright’s style throughout their decades of ownership. During our tour, we learned that daughter, Jean, wasn’t even allowed to put posters on her bedroom walls when she was a teenager.
The Laurents and Wright enjoyed a lasting friendship. Each year Kenneth and Phyllis were invited to Taliesin for Wright’s birthday celebration, and they were also on the guest list for Wright’s funeral services when the architect passed away in 1959.
The Laurents sold their home to a foundation in 2012. After restoration, it was opened for tours in 2014. The house is truly “a little gem.” When I entered the living room, I was taken by how elegant yet comfortable and inviting everything looked. Cypress paneling throughout added a warm glow. The windows allowed for great views of the grounds and plenty of light inside.
Tours for the season begin in April so be sure to put the Laurent Home on your must-see list this year!
Bonus stop: Pettit Memorial Chapel
Guides at the Laurent House encourage you to also see the Pettit Memorial Chapel in near-by Belvidere. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1907. The day we were in Rockford it was sunny and pleasant, and we considered it worth the short drive to stop at Belvidere Cemetery and take a look. It’s the only structure Wright designed for a cemetery setting.
Bonus stop: Midway Village Museum
Not far from the Laurent House is the Midway Village Museum which has a campus of 148 acres. In the main building you’ll find a lot of information and exhibits on Rockford’s history. Elsewhere on the grounds is a village of 26 structures and gardens representing a rural community during the era of 1890-1910. It’s all self-guided so you can wonder around as you please.
One chapter of Rockford’s history they emphasize is the knitting industry and the famous Rockford Red Heel Socks. Today we’re all familiar with the monkeys that are made from these socks. Exhibits at the museum tell you about the Nelson Knitting Company that created the socks and how the monkeys came about.
And you can take a photo with Soxanne, the giant fiberglass monkey!
In the twilight of his career, noted architect Louis Sullivan designed a series of small yet visually stunning banks for eight rural communities in the Midwest. They were nicknamed “jewel box” banks because of their compact size and stained glass windows.
These banks were scattered across the Midwest, with three in Iowa, two in Ohio and one each in Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. They were built in the years 1908-1920.
Louis Sullivan grew up in Boston, but came to Chicago after the great fire of 1871. The city was rebuilding, and architects and contractors had plenty of work. Sullivan eventually became a business partner with Dankmar Adler. Together they made a legendary impact on Chicago and American architecture. Sullivan’s building concept of “form ever follows function” is often quoted.
Adler, who was the business head of the partnership, retired in 1895. Sullivan continued on his own but by the early 1900s, commissions had fallen off and finances were bad. The jewel box banks gave him a chance to rebound.
Sullivan preferred to have the banks located on a corner of a prominent spot on Main Street. He traveled to each location and thoroughly studied the site before designing his building.
In keeping with his philosophy of form follows function, the banks were functional yet artistic. Sullivan made sure they fit into the town’s landscape and were not too big. The completed buildings stood out on the ordinary Main Streets of these farming communities because of their beauty and design rather than their size.
A few years ago I decided to visit and photograph each of the eight banks. It was interesting to see how the buildings had fared over the years. Four are still operating as banks; two are Chamber of Commerce headquarters; one is a restaurant; and one is being restored. Most of the communities are embracing their famous work of architecture and using it to promote their town.
Here’s what I found:
National Farmers’ Bank, Owatonna, Minnesota (1908)
This was the first of the jewel box banks and the largest at 4,600 square feet. It’s still used as a bank and owned by Wells Fargo.
The interior features murals and ornamentation using over 240 shades of yellow, red-orange, and green. The murals pay homage to Owatonna’s dairy industry.
Other highlights include the four electroliers (electric chandeliers). They weigh 5,500 pounds each and were designed to resemble a blooming flower. The 1908 grand opening of the bank was held at night to showcase these fixtures.
Peoples Saving Bank, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1909)
This bank came under budget issues so it lacks Sullivan’s trademark ornamentation on the exterior, but there are still plenty of stained glass windows to enjoy. Formerly a Wells Fargo bank, today it’s a popular restaurant called Popoli.
The interior murals and other details are still in place. The present owners have done a good job of respecting the history of the building. Besides leaving many of the architectural elements intact, they created an attractive wall exhibit on Louis Sullivan and the building’s past.
Henry C. Adams Building, Algona, Iowa (1913)
The building was originally designed as a bank but failed to get a charter, so it opened as a real estate office in 1913. Over the years it suffered from neglect and remodeling, but a serious restoration in the early 2000s has the building looking fine again. Today you’ll find Algona’s Chamber of Commerce here.
Sullivan preferred tapestry brick and used it in all but one of the banks (Newark, Ohio was the exception). It’s produced by raking the individual brick surface so each is different in texture, hue, and color saturation. In this small building, tapestry bricks make the exterior more interesting.
Merchants National Bank, Grinell, Iowa (1915)
The entrance to this bank definitely has you thinking “jewel box.” Two golden winged lions stand guard at the front door while the elaborate terra cotta medallion and rose window dominate the facade. It’s not a typical building one sees on a rural American Main Street.
Like the Henry Adams building in Algona, this bank is now home for the Chamber of Commerce.
Purdue State Bank, West Lafayette, Indiana (1915)
Sullivan was required to fit the Purdue State Bank into a triangle-shaped lot. It’s the smallest of the jewel box banks, but still features handsome brick work and terra cotta ornament.
I liked this charming little building, but regretfully, present owner Chase Bank doesn’t seem too interested in their historic bank. An ATM machine has been shoved into the original front door, and the inside is devoid of Sullivan detail.
Home Building Association, Newark, Ohio (1915)
Sullivan stepped away from his usual m.o. when he designed “the Old Home” in Newark, Ohio. It is a two-story building (the only one of the eight with two floors), and covered with gray terra cotta instead of the usual reddish-brown tapestry brick.
The building is currently owned by the Licking County Foundation and is undergoing extensive restoration. When completed in 2019, it will be the location of Explore Licking County, a convention and visitors’ bureau.
It still operates under the same name as when it was built in 1918. The building has been wonderfully preserved, and employees are proud to show it off.
The grand front showcases a mosaic arch, elaborate terra cotta trim, and a pair of winged lions below the word, “thrift.” Towering stained glass windows on the west side add to the overall striking appearance. The community has labeled their bank “a Shelby County masterpiece.”
Even the drinking fountain has Sullivan-style ornamentation.
Farmers & Merchants Union Bank, Columbus, Wisconsin (1920)
Sullivan’s final bank has an impressive entrance and lots of detail. The band of stained glass windows on the side have rounded tops rather that the usual rectangles seen in Sullivan’s other banks.
There’s a museum on the balcony level with old photos, artifacts, and documents about the bank.
Business-wise, the Farmers & Merchants Union Bank is still just that, serving the community in its original purpose and name.
If you’re traveling near any of these Midwest towns that have a jewel box bank, be sure to stop and take a look. The buildings are memorable for their grand design and use of materials. Louis Sullivan is rightly honored for his contribution to America’s architecture.
It’s time for the annual escape-from-the-Midwest-frigid-temps, and this year I was going to recommend the U.S. Virgin Islands – St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. These territories are located in the Caribbean about forty miles east of Puerto Rico.
I had the opportunity to visit two of the islands, St. Thomas and St. John, a few years ago. Both truly seemed like paradise with their tropical climate, turquoise blue waters and white sand beaches.
Unfortunately, in September 2017, the islands suffered catastrophic damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria. Today there is still much work to be done as efforts continue toward recovery and rebuilding. We’ll keep the island people in our thoughts and prayers and look forward to the day when they all have electricity and dry homes, land is restored, and more businesses and resorts are open.
Below are a few pre-hurricane photos:
Wishing the U.S. Virgin Islands the best as they recover from the devastating storms.
We set our Sights for a weekend visit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city of brewing and historic neighborhoods. It’s on the west side of Lake Michigan and about ninety miles northwest of Chicago.
The Pabst Mansion in the Avenue West neighborhood was decorated in grand style for the holidays. Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer founder Frederick Pabst and his wife, Maria, had this palatial home built in 1890. It was completed in 1892. The Flemish Renaissance Revival style of architecture reflects their German heritage.
Frederick Pabst was born in Saxony, Germany in 1836 and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1848. At the age of 14, he began work as a cabin boy on a Great Lakes steamer. He worked his way up to Captain within seven years. For the rest of his life, he retained the title of Captain. Pabst gave up the sea-faring life a couple of years after his marriage to Maria Best. He then bought a half-interest in his father-in-law’s brewery, the Phillip Best Brewing Company. The name was changed to the Pabst Brewing Company after the Captain became the sole owner.
An interesting structure attached to the side of the house of the Pabst Mansion is the former Beer Pavilion. It was originally built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago to display Pabst Brewing Company products. The Pavilion was admired at the fair for its “beauty of presentation.” After the exposition closed, Pabst had the structure dismantled and re-built at his Milwaukee residence. It was used as a conservatory and furnished with wicker furniture and tropical plants.
Back in the day, Captain Pabst spent time during duck hunting season in the Bureau/Putnam County area where I live. He was known as Freddie at the lodge where he stayed on the Illinois River. On the last day of his visit, he always asked the lodge cook to make a cream pie for him to take home to his family in Milwaukee.
The Third Ward is home to Milwaukee’s Public Market. It’s a fun, busy place that includes shops for cheese, wine, baked goods, and the Spice House. For lunch there, try a lobster roll at the St. Paul Fish Market.
Over on the east side of town is the architecturally stunning Milwaukee Art Museum. It sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and grabs your attention as you approach. Inside, there are collections of American and European art, photography, etc. And right now through January 28th, you can get a glimpse of Paris by visiting a special exhibit called: Degas to Picasso, Creating Modernism in France.
You’ll find a row of Frank Lloyd Wright American System-Built Homes in the 2700 block of West Burnham Street. In the early 1900s, Wright took an interest in designing affordable housing for moderate income families. He created a series of “system-built” homes that were similar to later pre-fab houses. The lumber and other materials were cut in a factory and then assembled at the building site. Wright figured this would save on materials and labor, a savings that would be passed on to the consumer. Six of these American System-Built Homes were constructed side-by-side on Milwaukee’s Burnham Street in 1915-1916.
Today the non-profit group, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burham Block, Inc., owns four of the six homes. The Model B1 has been restored, and you can tour it on open days. At the end of the block, the Model D is a work in progress, but also interesting to see. The restoration group is doing an excellent job, and if you’re a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast, this site should be included on your list.
Just outside Kewanee, Illinois is a unique Victorian house called Woodland Palace. It was built in 1889 by an eccentric guy named Fred Francis. He was something of a Renaissance man, in a Kewanee-sort-of-way. Among his talents were mathematics, engineering, poetry, painting, and woodcarving.
Kewanee is about thirty miles north of Peoria. Fred was born in that area on January 21, 1856. He was an excellent student and graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Fred met and married a widow named Jeanie Crowfoot in 1890. It was surely a case of opposites attracting – he was a vegetarian, she liked meat; he was an atheist, she was a devout Christian; he was a practicing nudist, she dressed in prim, Victorian style. But despite their obvious differences, they lived together for over thirty years, until Jeanie died of tuberculosis in 1921.
The home they shared was built by Fred using brick, stone, and native wood. It’s situated on sixty acres of wooded land. An interesting feature of the house is a dome that gives the building its “Woodland Palace” look.
Fred used his mechanical engineering skills to great effect throughout the house. He invented a way to air cool the rooms through a series of fans, have doors and windows that opened automatically, and enjoyed clean, running water – all this without the benefit of electricity. (He powered things by a windmill.)
When you enter inside, you’ll see a home that’s a rare combination of unusual, yet tasteful. The materials used throughout are high-end, and the craftsmanship is exceptional.
My favorite room is the Coach Room in the upper level of the house. It was built to resemble a railroad coach of the late 1800s. Each side of the “coach” had a bedroom.
Fred didn’t own a car, but he had a bicycle for transportation. He modified the front so Jeanie could ride with him. He took her nearly five miles to church and waited patiently outside until the services were over.
In later years, after Jeanie died, Fred enjoyed visitors to his land for picnics and nature walks, but he had his rules. The welcome/code-of-conduct sign he posted in the front yard is still there:
“STOP – READ THIS”
“Grounds are free for all who do right and all such are welcome. Those who throw paper and rubbish on the ground, meddle with property, or let kids do so, are hereby cordially invited to stay away. Fred Francis”
Fred passed away in 1926 and bequeathed his property to the City of Kewanee. Today it is operated as Francis Park and Woodland Palace, where you can picnic, camp, hike and tour Fred’s beloved home.
Not far from Francis Park is the Ryan Round Barn. It’s the largest round barn in Illinois, measuring 80 feet tall and 85 feet in diameter. Dr. Laurence Ryan had it built in 1910. He was a brain surgeon with an international reputation in that field. He went to medical school at Chicago’s Loyola University in addition to studying in Vienna and Berlin. But he also had an interest in farming, having grown up in the Kewanee area.
Round barns were popular from the late 1800s to the 1920s. They withstood high winds better than rectangular structures. (No corners for the wind to catch on and do damage.) This type of barn was also efficient for housing cattle and horses.
One of the most striking features of the barn is the ceiling. The silo in the middle held about 400 tons of corn.
In the lower level, Dr. Ryan added some modern conveniences to his barn including a duel track and trolley system to deliver feed and remove waste.
Today the barn is open for tours and houses a museum of early agricultural implements. You’ll want to check the website for open times at: www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/PARKS/R1/JOHNSON.HTM.
In the summer of 2013, a group of artists and sign painters known as the Walldogs arrived in Kewanee and painted murals at fifteen different locations in the downtown area. Various organizations and businesses sponsored the murals. The scenes highlight Kewanee’s past, present, and future. The sampling below shows some of the Walldogs’ beautiful murals.
Late this summer, it was Cruzn with girlfriends Missy, Cele, and Kathy O. in the Fox River town of Geneva, Illinois about 36 miles west of Chicago. We decided to check out the Fabyan Villa Museum and Japanese Garden that sit amongst 235 acres of the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. It’s an inviting area with paths for walking and bicycling, along with the historic sites.
It all began around 1905 when millionaire George Fabyan and his wife, Nelle, bought a farmhouse and ten acres of land on the west bank of the Fox River. Over time they purchased more surrounding land until they had nearly 300 acres. They named their estate Riverbank. It featured a Japanese garden, private zoo, Roman-style swimming pool, greenhouse, gardens, wind mill, and a lighthouse.
In 1907, George and Nelle hired Frank Lloyd Wright to remodel their 1800s farmhouse. Wright added a south wing and other characteristic elements to make it a Prairie-style house. Today the home showcases the Fabyans’ collections of natural history and animal specimens, sculptures, and history and photos about the couple and their life.
George Fabyan was interested in research and built a private laboratory for various studies. He is credited with being a pioneer in the field of modern cryptography – his findings were helpful during World War I in breaking codes used by the Germans.
Located a short distance from the house is a working windmill. In 1914, the Fabyans purchased this windmill from a farm in nearby Elmhurst and had it re-constructed on their property. It was used to grind grain for the surrounding community during war-rationing. The windmill was originally built in 1851.
On the way to the windmill you also see other structures that the Fabyans had built, including a random column with an eagle at the top and a lighthouse.
The Japanese Garden was designed for the Fabyans by Taro Otsuka, a well-known landscape architect in the Chicago area. This type of garden was fashionable among the wealthy in the early 1900s. Some of the plantings seen today can be traced back to 1910 when the garden was originally installed.
George and Nelle Fabyan passed away in the 1930s. The Forest Preserve District of Kane County then bought 235 acres of the Riverbank estate and opened it to the public.
After a visit to the Fabyan Villa, be sure to stop in downtown Geneva at Third Street for some more local history, lunch and shopping. The Geneva History Museum is a fine facility to learn about the community and the importance of the Fox River.
For a hidden treasure, walk across the street to the Kane County Courthouse and take a look at the murals on the second floor. They were painted in the early 1900s by Aurora artist Edward Holslag and depict scenes of early Kane County life.
My favorite place to shop in Geneva is the Little Traveler at the corner of Third and Fulton Streets. I’ve enjoyed going there for years with family and friends. It’s a Victorian era Italianate house that’s been added on to over the years and now contains 36 rooms. There’s everything from clothing to home décor, gourmet foods and local wines, and a tea shop for lunch.
The blocks around the Little Traveler have lots of historic homes and other buildings of note. For a small fee, the Geneva History Museum sells self-guided walking tour maps so you can stroll around the area and appreciate all the architecture.
Geneva has a lot to offer, and I would certainly agree with their description – “this charming hamlet, nestled on the banks of the Fox River, is truly a picture postcard.” It’s worth your time to visit.
If you’re among the population today who enjoys craft beers, you’ll want to head to New Glarus, Wisconsin and the New Glarus Brewing Company.
The craft beer industry in the United States has grown by leaps and bounds in the last several years. (In 2009 there were 1,596 breweries; in 2016 the number was up to 5,234.) New Glarus Brewing Company has managed to rise to the top in the Midwest. Their Spotted Cow farmhouse ale has a strong following, along with favorites Two Women and Moon Man.
(Even though I’m not a beer drinker, I enjoy the names that breweries choose for their various beers. I also admire the dedication, hard work, and the pride that brewers take in their finished product.)
New Glarus Brewing Company was established in 1993, so owners Deborah and Daniel Carey have been in the business for awhile. Their success allowed them to build a new facility in 2008. It’s located on a wooded hilltop at the edge of town. The buildings have a Swiss-inspired look about them to fit in with the town’s heritage. Inside the main building, it’s state-of-the-art and sparkling clean. Visitors on self-guided tours stroll the corridors with a brew in hand. It’s a happy place – everyone is in a good mood and having fun.
The beer garden is especially nice. Everywhere on the grounds are picnic tables and seating to enjoy a beer in the Wisconsin outdoors. You also get a commanding view of New Glarus and the farm land below.
“Only in Wisconsin” is a tag line for the New Glarus Brewing Company. That’s because their product is sold exclusively in Wisconsin. It somehow adds to the appeal for Spotted Cow and the companies’ other varieties. You’ll see customers loading up their SUVs with cases of beer to take home across state lines. We went back to Illinois with our fair share, including the seasonal Staghorn Octoberfest.
Back down in the valley and the town of New Glarus, you’ll discover a quaint Swiss heritage village of 2,200 residents. New Glarus was settled in 1845 by immigrants from the alpine community of Glarus, Switzerland. They had primarily worked in the textile industry in Switzerland and didn’t know much about farming when they arrived in America. It was learn-as-you-go for them, but pretty soon they were raising Brown Swiss cows, making cheese, and growing wheat.
Cheese and cows are still popular today in New Glaus. You’ll see painted fiberglass cows stationed throughout the community. The buildings in town also have an alpine look, much like Frankenmuth, Michigan that I wrote about in a post last month.
The retail area of town is small, but there’s several interesting shops. Stop in at the Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus for some excellent Wisconsin cheese. The butterkase was my favorite.
And be sure to check out Blumenladen, a home décor and flower shop. I would also highly recommend Hide & Hutch. They have a great inventory of clothing and unique items for your home.
Standing tall over the center of town is the Swiss United Church of Christ. It dates from 1900. All services were conducted in German until 1924. In front of the church is a monument honoring the original 27 families of Swiss settlers.
A good place to try Swiss cuisine is Glarner Stube. It has an Old World feel and the food is delicious. Our waitress encouraged us to try a traditional side dish called rosti – hash browns with melted cheese and onions inside. You won’t be disappointed.
An unexpected treat in the downtown area was a demonstration of alphorns. The sound from these unusual instruments was beautiful. The two men who were playing instantly drew a crowd around them – everyone had their cell phones in hand, recording the music or taking a photo.
For lodging, we stayed at the Chalet Landhaus Inn. The building fits in nicely with the Swiss theme, and you can walk to the downtown area. They have a couple of the painted cows on their grounds, too.
To learn more of New Glarus’ history, visit the Swiss Historical Village and Museum. The park-like setting features fourteen historical buildings that showcase the town’s early years. The grounds and buildings are well-maintained and arranged in a circle, so it’s easy to take a self-guided tour.
Shop – Sip – Savor – Stay – Play! New Glarus is an exceptional place to visit.
Dubuque is a very old river town in the Midwest – in fact, it’s the oldest city in Iowa. Located on the mighty Mississippi River, on the eastern side of the state, the community was first settled in 1785 by a French Canadian named Julien Dubuque.
Today the Port of Dubuque is the center for river activity. The area was revitalized a few years ago and offers a variety of things to do. There’s a top-notch museum and aquarium, riverboat rides, and a paved walkway.
The views along the Mississippi Riverwalk are wonderful with an occasional barge or river boat passing by, making it a very enjoyable experience. There’s also various pieces of artwork along the path in an exhibit called Art on the River. These sculptures are another compliment to the walk.
At the north end of the Riverwalk is Stone Cliff Winery. You can do some wine tasting there, but it’s also an excellent place to have lunch. The winery is located in the historic Star Brewery building. You’ll want to take time and look at the interesting displays about the building’s past as a brewery.
A great little piece of history near the brewery is the Shot Tower. It dates from 1856 and is one of the last remaining structures of its type in the U.S. What’s a Shot Tower, I wondered? According to sources, they were used to make ammunition for muskets. Molten lead was hoisted to the top of the tower and poured through a grate. The droplets that fell from the grate were relatively uniform in size, and the fall provided enough time for the liquid-metal droplet to form into a sphere before landing in water below. The water cooled the lead to its solid state while keeping the round shape. The shot was then sorted and packed. In recent years, the Dubuque Shot Tower became part of the river front and its restoration plans.
A remarkable collection of Tiffany windows can be seen at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on Main Street. The church is open during the week, and guides stationed in the sanctuary are welcoming and informative.
At a distance, the light shining through the Tiffany windows makes the colors look rich and velvet-like. You can also walk right up to the windows and appreciate Tiffany’s work up close.
The window pictured on the left, titled The Good Shepard, had been exhibited in a chapel Louis Tiffany designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Later, after the Exposition closed, the family of Judge D.N. Cooley from Dubuque purchased the window for the church. It was installed during the original construction of 1896.
In addition to the Tiffany windows, visitors can see ornate brass work at the altar and a lovely frieze above the choir loft. The frieze is a replica of the “Singing Children” designed for the Cathedral of Florence, Italy.
The church building itself is worthy of Tiffany windows. It’s a splendid example of Romanesque architecture with its heavy stone walls and round arches. Upon completion, the congregation held a Feast of Dedication service in May of 1897.
While you’re in the downtown area, be sure to visit Cable Car Square and ride the Fourth Street Elevator. It’s been described as the world’s steepest, shortest scenic railway. Back in 1882, local businessman J.K. Graves was looking for a quicker way to get from his bank job at the bottom of the bluffs to the top where he lived. As it was, the trip took half an hour in his horse and buggy to go around the bluff and get from top to bottom or vice versa. Mr. Graves received permission from the City to build an incline railway like he had seen in Europe. A local engineer drew up a design, and the single cable car system was built.
Mr. Grave’s new work-day routine had the gardener letting him up or down the bluff in his cable car as needed, rather than the half-hour buggy ride. Soon his neighbors were meeting him at the elevator and asking for a ride, too. He decided to open the railway to the public and charged five cents a person.
After a series of events, including fires, the Fenelon Elevator Company was formed in 1893. Ten stockholders now owned the system. They installed a new motor to run the elevator and replaced the ropes that held the car with steel cables. Most importantly, they made the track three rails with a fourth bypass in the middle to allow for the operation of two cars. A second story was also added to the operator’s house so neighborhood men could smoke and play cards there without their wives bothering them. Hmm . . .
At the top of the elevator you’ll find a lookout area and some great views of the downtown business district and the Mississippi River. (The building with the gold dome is the 1891 Dubuque County Courthouse.)
It only costs $1.50 to ride the elevator one way. If you have a bicycle with you, it’s $2.00. There’s service eight months of the year, from April 1st through November 30th.
Dubuque offers an inviting blend of nature, history, architecture, and culture. It’s conveniently situated in the southwest corner of what is known as the Tri-State area. Illinois and Wisconsin are both just a few miles away. (Galena, Illinois is an easy 17-mile drive.) You’ll want to plan a visit soon!
In Frankenmuth, Michigan, they channel their German heritage to great advantage. The community embraced its roots and architecturally transformed itself to look like a Bavarian village. This started in the 1950s in a move to increase tourism. The result today is a town with the look and feel of a theme park, and it’s been successful. Frankenmuth now has over three million visitors annually.
To learn some background about the area, we started our visit at the Frankenmuth Historical Museum. It’s a small museum, but very nicely done. We left with a good understanding of the German immigration to Michigan.
The town’s original settlers came from Mittelfranken in the Franconia area of Germany (south-central part of the country). They arrived in the United States in August 1845, and named their colony Frankenmuth by combining the name of their home region, Franconia, with mut, the German word for courage. It was to be an exclusively German Lutheran area, loyal to the Mother Country, and speaking the German language
To make a living, many of the immigrants became farmers while others, who were businessmen and craftsmen in Germany, continued on with their same trades in flour, lumber, and woolen mills. They also produced cheese and sausage, and of course, beer. Today many of these products still drive the local economy.
Just down the street from the museum is the Bavarian Inn with its shops and restaurants. There’s a fine bakery in the lower level.
Be sure to catch one of the Glockenspiel shows in the bell tower on the south side of the building. Four times a day the thirty-five bell Glockenspiel plays German and American music. That’s followed by a performance of the Pied Piper with wooden figures on a track and stage, like a giant cuckoo clock.
While you’re at the Bavarian Inn, you can eat some hearty German fare at one of their three restaurants.
Or across the street is the well-known Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth. They can seat 1500 people and offer all-you-can-eat family style chicken.
In that neighborhood you’ll also find the Holtz Brucke (“wooden bridge” in German). It’s a 239-foot covered bridge that spans the Cass River. As expected, its architecture has a Bavarian twist. It’s relatively new as covered bridges go; the dedication ceremony was held in September 1980. You can drive or bicycle through or walk across on the pedestrian walkways on either side.
If you like festivals, you may want to visit during the annual Oktoberfest. In 1996, Frankenmuth’s Oktoberfest became the first to operate with the blessing of the original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. And for the first time in history, the famous Hofbrauhaus brewery in Munich exported their beer to the United States. Because of that connection, Frankenmuth’s Oktoberfest was moved to September to coincide with the opening of the Munich event. (In 2017, the Frankenmuth Oktoberfest will be held September 14-17th in Heritage Park.)
After the fall events, it’s time to think about Christmas. A popular business in town is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It’s considered the world’s largest Christmas store, and you know there’s serious square footage when they hand you a map as you walk in. The building is the size of five and a half football fields. Over 50,000 items fill the aisles, but ornaments are displayed in categories like santas, snowmen, cats, etc., so it’s actually fairly easy to find something.
St. Lorenz Lutheran Church is another reminder of the German heritage in Frankenmuth. This beautiful, historic church was constructed in 1880, and has a soaring, 167-foot spire. Tours are available during the week or attend a Sunday service. On the second Sunday of each month, a service is offered in the German language.
The Frankenmuth motto says: Built on Tradition, Made for Memories. You’ll enjoy visiting “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.”