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Left: Smith Bros. Fish Shanty was famous for freshly-caught fish dinners for decades in Port Washington. The original restaurant has since closed; the name is retained in the coffee shop occupying part of the building. The rest will be part of a new Duluth Trading Company retail store and offices, scheduled for opening in late 2012. The landmark sign has been refurbished and towers over the view towards the lake from where Highway 33 begins heading westward and ends heading eastward. Highway 32 continues the ride east to the waterfront. Right: Port Washington's largest annual celebration is Fish Day, which takes place in July. Fireworks over the beautiful marina are just part of the event.
For biking enthusiasts, the Interurban Trail winds through town, and all of Ozaukee County, on a former rail line. A nice ride before or after traversing Highway 33, coupled with a refreshing beverage at the Harbor City Brewery, hits the spot at this, the eastern end of the tour. Harbor City Brewery (535 W. Grand Ave.) is a microbrewery, making beers like Mile Rock Amber Ale, Father Damien's Belgian Wit, Main Street Brown Ale, and the seasonal Raspberry Brown Ale. Fans of "Fat Tire" beer will be excited to know that Harbor City works closely with the New Belgium Brewery in Colorado in the crafting of its ales. (Disclaimer: I'm a big fan of Fat Tire beer!) Harbor City is open for tours on Saturdays from noon until 4pm (262-284-3118).
Highway 33 is actually one of the oldest roads in Wisconsin, tracing its roots to the 17th century as a trail connecting Horicon Marsh with the harbor on Lake Michigan in today's Port Washington.
Heading west from Port Washington and crossing I-43/Highway 57, you enter Saukville (pop. 4,068), which sits along the Milwaukee River and is one of the fastest-growing communities in the state. A number of upscale golf courses lie nearby, including The Bog, whose entrance abuts the highway. Entering Washington County at Newburg (pop. 1,119), you encounter a mixture of farmland, forests, and some marshland.
Before long, you hit West Bend (pop. 29,612), the second largest city on Highway 33. As Washington Street, Highway 33 dives right into town and shaves across the north end of West Bend's beautiful downtown district, which can be accessed directly via Main Street. Featuring a wide variety of shops, the West Bend Theater and a slew of 19th century brick architecture - several holding notable jewelry stores - it's a great place to spend a chunk of time shopping and just enjoying the day.
Art lovers will take note of the Museum of Wisconsin Art, (aka the "Artist" formerly known as the West Bend Art Museum) (300 S. 6th Ave., 262-334-9638). The museum holds a sizeable collection from Carl von Marr and a unbelieveable doll house - seriously. Walter Zinn, who had a malting company way back when, started building a doll house for his daughter Lenore in 1911 for her fifth birthday and just couldn't stop. By 1957, he had developed a 27-room mansion of a doll house that contains over 1,200 miniature items, including artifacts brought back from overseas trips. On the next block, the Washington County Historical Society (320 S. 5th Ave., 262-335-4678) offers museum fun in their 19th century courthouse and a jailhouse. The Society also operates the St. Agnes Historical Site nearby, which features homestead sites built between 1856 and 1878 that are well-preserved.
Appliance lovers will love the Regal Ware Museum (18 E. Washington Street), located right on Highway 33. Since 1911, West Bend and "suburb" Kewaskum have been meccas for the manufacture of small cooking appliances and utensils. The name "West Bend" has peered out to users of blenders, mixers, and utensil users everywhere for decades. In 2002, Regal Ware (which started in Kewaskum in 1919) took West Bend over and, despite being worldwide conglomerate, continues to manufacture items in the area. So what can be exhibited at such a place? How about the world's first whistling tea kettle? Or inventions that never quite made it to market, like the electric pizza cutter? Kitchenware products throughout the decades - reflecting everything from elegant styles to fashion eras some may wish to forget - are on display at this new and rather unique museum. Built inside a former credit union, the Regal Ware Museum is the only museum in the nation with an operable drive-thru window. Check out a YouTube video of the museum here, made by somebody we stumbled upon.
The west side of West Bend brings Highway 144 along for the ride and a freeway junction with U.S. Highway 45, which bypass the city. West Bend's growth continues along Highway 33 to the west, approaching Highway 144's turnoff southward toward Cedar Lake and Slinger, being part of the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive.
On the ridge right next to 144's turnoff, you cross the Subcontinental Divide, designated with a historical marker along the south side of the highway as the "Great Divide." At this point, you've climbed 600 feet in the 20 miles since the Port Washington harbor at Lake Michigan.
Further west, the junction with U.S. Highway 41 marks the entrance to Allenton; you swoop down into the (unincorporated) town, cross the Rock River and a railraod line, and head back up. On the climb, you have a nice view back east. Allenton is where former NASCAR driver and current General Manager of Roush Fenway Racing Robbie Reiser was born. His father John Reiser also raced throughout Wisconsin and the nation, founded Triton Trailers and managed the Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series race shops. He obviously lived there for a while too, so racing is tied in with Allenton's history - and yet, the speed limit on Highway 33 is pretty strictly enforced.
Horicon and the Horicon Marsh
As you go into Horicon's downtown area, Highway 28 begins and heads back northeast, along the southern boundary of the Marsh. Meanwhile, Highway 33 heads right into downtown. John Deere has a large plant in the city that cranks out lawn and garden tractors, golf and turf reel mowers and utility vehicles. It's been there a long time, and will hopefully continue for a long time. Horicon also has access to the Wild Goose State Trail and naturally draws on the scenic beauty of the marsh and also maintains a nice park system, particularly along the Rock River, whose headwaters come out of the marsh. Oh, and the high school team nickname? The Marshmen.
Highway 33 cuts right through Horicon after a junction with Highway 28 and then ducks southwest out of town, pushing west past the Wild Goose Trail, a great rail-to-trail path connecting Clyman Junction and Fond du Lac while skirting the west edge of Horicon Marsh. The intersection with Highway 26 is known as Minnesota Junction. Note, however, that it looks nothing like Minnesota. There was a noticeable lack of Nordic blondes, snow and lutefisk on this particular day.
By the time you're about a quarter of the way to La Crosse, you pass the Dodge County Fairgrounds (I happened to catch the Fair on my trip) and the junction with U.S. Highway 151, now a freeway bypass of Dodge County's county seat, Beaver Dam.
Founded in 1841, Beaver Dam (pop. 15,169) is Dodge County’s county seat and the largest city between Madison and Fond du Lac. Bobby Hatfield, one of the Righteous Brothers, was born here and actor Fred MacMurray of the classic TV show My Three Sons - and many movies - grew up here. Beaver Dam is home to Wayland Academy, a college preparatory high school that was established in 1855 as a Baptist university. Graduates of Wayland include pro wrestler Ric Flair; Jensen Buchanan, formerly of Another World and General Hospital fame, Olympic speed skater Maddie Horn, and a series of congressional representatives, reporters and columnists and even a NASA rocket scientist (Andrew Mulder), although apparently you don't need to be a rocket scientist to go there. Highway 33 cuts right through the center of Wayland's 55-acre campus.
Hey, this is Wisconsin, the cheese capital of the nation - and perhaps the world. Do you like cream cheese? If so, know that Beaver Dam is home to one of the largest processing plants for Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese. In fact, Beaver Dam hosts the annual Midwest Cream Cheese Competition in salute of this distinction, so bring your best cream cheese-related recipe.
The downtown stretch of Highway 33 follows Business US 151 for a while before angling north to run parallel to Beaver Dam Lake, upon which the city sits. There were no actual beaver sightings during the Tour, however...maybe it was an off day.
Highway 33’s northern jaunt leads to nearby Fox Lake (pop. 1,454). The Depot Museum on Cordelia Street sits in a building constructed in 1861 just off Highway 33, which is known as Spring Street through town. Along with information, it features about one block of no-longer-used railroad track and an adjacent walking trail that winds through and describes the native vegetation. Adjacent is an historical marker noting Fox Lake as the birthplace of noted jazz musician "Bunny" Berigan, who played with Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, and Bing Crosby. Louie Armstrong was a big fan, too, as the marker indicates.
Fox Lake is about 62 miles from the starting point in Port Washington... or 100 kilometes for all you metric freaks. This is a longer trek across farmland and the approaching hills. You cross Highway 73 and see lots of rural things, like mailboxes with fish mouths for doors. Parts of "Old" Highway 33 are visible just west of the intersection with Highway 73, giving you an idea of what some of the roads were like way back when. Hints of landforms to come also become visible heading westbound, as some of the hills in the distance begin to show themselves and beckon.
After parading across some territory and crossing Highways 22 and 44, the next town in question is Portage (pop. 9,728), named for the Fox-Wisconsin waterway that quietly connects the two rivers, and by extension the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. What remains is now a small water pump and aeration flow system, although efforts are underway to restore the canal, the use of which by boats ended in 1951 when the dam and locks making its use possible were closed.
Portage is the county seat of Columbia County and considered by many where "up North" begins. Its strategic location, once defined by a connecting waterway and Fort Winnebago, is now defined by the I-39 and I-90/94 split and junction of Highways 16, and U.S. Highway 51, while Highway 33 goes through the heart of town as Cook Street. Still, Portage boasts a sizeable downtown that overlooks the waterway area, filled with shops and businesses catering to both tourists and residents from miles around. Writer Zona Gale hailed from Portage and used the area as a setting for her Pulitzer prize-winning play Miss Lulu Bett in 1921. It's home to Fort Winnebago, which protected the portage in the frontier days. Little remains of it today, but the old "Surgeon's Quarters" are still available to view. The Old Indian Agency House is another point of interest. In keeping with part of Portage's raison d'etre, Highway 33 crosses the Wisconsin River at this point.
Just west of Portage are two major interstate junctions: I-39, which heads north toward Wausau and south along I-90 to Madison and Illinois, and the I-90/94 interchange about two miles later, the main route between Madison & Milwaukee and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Cascade Mountain, the well-known skiing area, lies just to the south of this interchange and hints at the topography to come... the Baraboo Range, which kicks off the western half of the Highway 33 Tour, undoubtedly the prettiest from a topography standpoint.
Named after the Range, Baraboo (pop. 11,550) hosts a number of organizations and was named one of the 20 best small towns to visit in the U.S. in 2013 by Smithsonian.com. It, similar to Delavan, is a circus town: Baraboo is home to the Circus World Museum, once the headquarters and winter home of the Ringling Brothers circus. Today, the living museum hosts the largest library of circus information in the U.S. Crane lovers probably know that Baraboo is home to the International Crane Foundation, the world's foremost organization dedicated to preserving and restoring crane species. Devil's Lake State Park, located south of Highway 33 as you enter Baraboo from the east, is Wisconsin's most visited and, at over 10,000 acres, there's plenty of room for nature lovers and adventurers of all kinds. Follow Highway 113 or U.S. 12 south to access the park.
Just south of Highway 33 along Highway 113 is part of the west side of Baraboo's beautiful town square, which frames the Sauk County Courthouse. Encircling the square are shops a'plenty, along with bars, restaurants and the impressive Al Ringling Theatre. Built in 1915, it's often known as "America's Prettiest Playhouse."
Baraboo's geography isn't just a pleasant treat for State Trunk Tourers; it's a hotbed for structual geology. University of Wisconsin researchers, including Charles Van Hise, used the area to advance the science and today the Baraboo Hills are designated one of the "Last Great Places" by Nature Conservancy due to the relatively unique plants, rocks and animals in the area.
Highway 33 skims the north side of Baraboo as 8th Street, where it intersects the northern end of Highway 113 (the route southward to the museum) and then joins up with U.S. 12, where hotels a'plenty greet you and the Ochsner Park & Zoo awaits for animals not currently involved in the circus. After a short stint with U.S. 12, which heads toward the Dells, Highway 33 breaks west again and eventually picks up Highway 23 for the ride into Reedsburg (pop. 8,704). Prior to entering the city, the Pioneer Log Village and Museum provides a first-hand look at log buildings, antique furnishings and a glimpse of what life was like in the 19th century frontier days. Tours are available from 1-4pm on weekends during the summer. The Museum of Norman Rockwell Art (227 S. Park St.) features almost 4,000 of the famous artist's works. Speaking of artists, famous comic artist and cartoonist Clare Briggs hailed from Reedsburg. It's also the starting point for the "400" State Trail, which runs to Elroy as part of the state's increasingly-extensive rail-trail system for bicycles, hikers, cross-country skiiers and snowmobilers.
Reedsburg sits on the 90th Meridian, which marks the halfway point between the Prime Meridian (which runs through Greenwich and London, England) and the International Date Line, marking the exact center of the Western Hemisphere. A marker in the median of Highway 33 notes the meridian's location (actually, for some reason, it sits 325 feet west of it), although I missed it somehow on the drive. (If you spot it, e-mail me a close-up picture!) The city once hosted a World War II POW camp and pioneered both the first Ford dealership and the first sanctioned Little League in Wisconsin.
After Highway 23 breaks away to head south, Highway 33 starts moving west and northwest, winding through and around the hills and valleys into places like La Valle (pop. 326 and, creatively enough, "La Valle" is French for "The Valley") and, crossing into Juneau County, Wonewoc.
In Wonewoc (pop. 834), Highway 33 is the main street and parallels the Baraboo River through downtown. Canoeing, a theme which will be visited again on this stretch of 33, is popular with both residents and tourists. The "400" Trail, which began back in Reedsburg, ends in Wonewoc, where it finds new trails to hook up with. The downtown area is quiet and small, but features a number of bars for some food, a beer, or spirits. And speaking of, the Wonewoc Spiritual Center covets spirits of a different kind. Founded as the Joint Stock Spiritualist Association in 1874 as known for a long time as the Western Wisconsin Spiritualist Camp, the Wonewoc Spiritual Center hosts a sizeable number of members every summer, who enjoy the serenity of hills surrounding the town and the area.
Past Wonewoc by a few miles is Union Center, where you intersect with Highways 80 and 82 and head west to Hillsboro (pop. 1,302). Known as the Czech Capital of Wisconsin, Hillsboro is the last town on Highway 33 with over 1,000 people until you get to La Crosse. It's home to annual Czech festivals and counts among its native sons B.J. Schumacher, who rides regularly with Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (also known as "PBR", but that gets confused with a different type of PBR in this state.)
Left: The Amish population is significant between Wonewoc and Cashton on Highway 33, especially near this market parking area in Hillsboro. Just like guys driving Corvettes like to park at the remote area of the lot, the Amish horse & buggy riders often do, too. Both vehicles can leave stains on the pavement, just very different kinds. Center: Announcing the Country Market along Highway 33 (coupled with 80 and 82 here) is a large mouse holding groceries, which is better than a large mouse in your groceries, I suppose. Right: Just a short distance later, another huge fiberglass mouse tells you about more available cheese. There should be no calcium deficiencies in this area.
Hillsboro and the Cheyenne Valley... Diversity before diversity was cool
Past Ontario, Highway 33 enters Monroe County and works westerly across ridges and coulees, providing a twisty turny drive (if you have a directional compass in your vehicle, it'll be spinning like a top) and great views all around. You'll go through Cashton (pop. 1,005), where you cross Highway 27. The cartoon strip Gasoline Alley, which has been around since 1918, was created by Frank King, who was born in Cashton (he grew up in nearby Tomah.) Just past Portland you cross into La Crosse County, the second-most populated county on Highway 33, after Washington. Some of the best views have yet to come; at Middle Ridge, feel free to play the Who's song "I Can See For Miles", because you can.
Coulees, coulees everywhere
Highway 33 continues along the St. Joseph Ridge for the ride into the final destination, La Crosse (pop. 51,818). Situated on a rare piece of flat land amidst beautiful coulees and hills, La Crosse emerged as a Native American trading post due to its position at the confluence of the Black and Mississippi Rivers. La Crosse holds a number of "quality of life" accolades, often involving low crime or livable small city status; I note USA Today also named La Crosse one of the "Top Ten Places Worldwide to Toast Oktoberfest" (more on that in a second.) Long known as a brewery town, La Crosse was home to G. Heileman Brewing Company for almost 140 years, cranking out a variety of brands, most notably Old Style. Today, the sprawling brewery complex lies right along the north of Highway 33, just south of downtown La Crosse, where it continues to run as the City Brewery. The World's Largest Six Pack (pictured below) is indicative of La Crosse's fun style, and you can access it by following U.S. Highway 14/61's northbound lanes for just a few blocks, then turning left one block and heading back south. Highway 33's western end is one block south of the gigantic, John Blutarsky-pleasing sight.
La Crosse is Wisconsin's largest city on the Mississippi River and holds the corporate headquarters of the Trane air conditioning company and FirstLogic. It's also a college town, home to Viterbo University, Western Wisconsin Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. In keeping with the spirit of the World's Largest Six Pack, La Crosse also hosts one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States, perhaps the world, and has been doing so every year since 1961. For true animal behavior, La Crosse also has the Myrick Park Zoo, accessible right off 16 across from UW-La Crosse. Several miles of hiking and nature trails are also accessible from the zoo. Other things to check out in town include Historic Pearl Street, filled with Civil War-era buildings, specialty shops, a microbrewery, galleries, antique shops, coffee houses and, at night, college students doing what they do best when they're not studying. The Swarthout Museum (800 Main St.) features changing exhibits from prehistoric to Victorian and the Children's Museum of La Crosse (207 Fifth Avenue S.) has exhibits for our future leaders on three floors. All of this can be reached by your car, or you can hop the La Crosse Trolley in the warm weather months for a little "no need for the gas pedal" tour.
Highway 33 descends into La Crosse as State Road, then as Jackson Street, to the point where you might find your ears popping. Just north of Highway 33 as you enter town is Grandad's Bluff, the most notable landform in the area - next to the Mississippi River, of course. You basically enter the city on the south side of town, crossing Highway 35 and then ending at U.S. 14 & 61, right at the City Brewery (remember, you started in Port Washington at the Harbor City Brewery.)
Drive-In Watch: Rudy's Drive-In is one of the great ones in Wisconsin. Built in 1966, Rudy's features roller-skating carhops and a sheltered carport where you can pull up and order your probably-unhealthy-but-delicious food from the menu sitting right out your window. Car shows and "Cruise Nights" happen regularly throughout the summer. (10th & La Crosse, just northeast of Highway 33)
So there you have it! Highway 33, 200 miles from the Great Lake to the Great River, with some great towns and great scenery along the way. Enjoy!
Upcoming events in places along Highway 33:
Checking out Baraboo's downtown and Circus World Museum
Thanks for our friends at Best Western and the Best Western Baraboo Inn in West Baraboo (right along U.S. 12 & Highway 33), we checked out the Sauk County Courthouse square - including a surprise chess match taking place, the Al. Ringling Theatre, the Circus World Museum and more in the beautiful city of Baraboo, nestled in the Baraboo Hills.