Wisconsin Historic Destination: Old World Wisconsin

Last Updated on April 2, 2019 by Janet Frost

Every destination has a history behind it. Over time, the peoples and cultures that interact with an environment, shape its sense of place. Historic destinations are not just for grade school field trips. An understanding of what has gone before always helps us understand today, and what may come tomorrow. Immigration played a huge role in the history and culture of Wisconsin. The world’s largest museum dedicated to rural life is a Wisconsin historic destination, Old World Wisconsin. Let’s Go Learn Things at Old World Wisconsin….

Wisconsin Settlers

Wisconsin was originally inhabited by the Native American tribes of Winnebago and Menominee, they were joined by the Sauk, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Mesquakie, all refugee tribes from the east. As with much of the Great Lakes region, it was initially settled by European explorers seeking a passage through the vast land mass of the New World. French fur traders were the first to follow the St. Lawrence Seaway into Lakes Michigan and  Superior.

Western expansion from crowded eastern seaboard cities started the “reallocation” of Native American lands and pushed the tribes further west. The southern region of this wilderness, with plentiful water accessibility, was quickly settled by European immigrants. In the 15 years between 1835 and 1850 Wisconsin population grew from 10,000 to over 300,00. German, Norwegian, Irish and Danish settlers were the largest groups entering the territory.

I find it interesting that many of our Wisconsin place names reflect the Native American and French influences but the longstanding cultural impact was German and Scandinavian.

Interacting with History

At Old World Wisconsin they have recreated a 19th century Village, several German Farms, and various Scandinavian Homesteads. The installations range over a large part of the park giving each one an historically accurate feeling of remoteness.

To create this museum, researchers traveled throughout Wisconsin in search of authentic historic buildings hewn by generations of Wisconsin settlers. From Lake Superior to the Illinois border, and from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan, historians documented many old farmhouses, outbuildings, and small-town structures. Piece by piece, workers painstakingly dismantled the old structures. They numbered bricks, boards and logs, and moved them to the site of Old World Wisconsin.

The Farms raise livestock common to the era and the Homesteads cultivate heirloom gardens. There are re-enactors cooking in cottage kitchens, blacksmithing at the forge, harnessing horses to a buggy, or teaching in the one room schoolhouse.

Old World Wisconsin
Wisconsin historic destination
Old World Wisconsin map

Wisconsin Historic Destination Farms

The Farms represent the German immigrant’s lifestyle over the decades of  1860’s, 1870’s and 1880’s. The livestock, the daily chores and housework all give an authentic look at the pioneers of Wisconsin. All ages will enjoy this interactive experience. Every time I visit I want to sign up to be an actor! As I researched this post I discovered the actors are called Apprentices and they have several apprentice programs I could choose from.

Wisconsin historic destination
German farmer leads the horses to the buggy for a trip into town.
Old World Wisconsin
Hitched up and ready to go

To finish out the 19th century and move into the 20th there is a Polish Farm site from the 1900s.

Wisconsin historic destination
Kruza House on the Polish Farm

Scandinavian Homesteads

My husband’s maternal grandparents immigrated from Norway to Northern Iowa. Therefore, our family has a special interest in the Scandinavian Homesteads. Although this is a Wisconsin historic destination, I think many of the details are similar to what their experience might have been in Iowa.

Wisconsin historic destination
Norwegian Homestead

The Homesteads are Norwegian, Finnish, and Danish. This collection includes the Raspberry School house. My mother-in-law attended a school just like this with her eldest sister as the teacher.

Wisconsin historic destination
Raspberry Schoolhouse
Old World Wisconsin
Visiting “students” work on penmanship.

Crossroads Village

In the Crossroads Village visitors can interact with several residents of the diverse little community. The Shopkeeper in the General Store makes sure you don’t run off with his penny candy. The Smithy at his forge lets you try your skills on a horseshoe, while the horse munches on hay outside. A shoe shop, Town Hall, and Catholic church all round the image of a town straight from Little House in the Big Woods.

Historic Gatherings

In addition to the daily activities of Old World Wisconsin, there are many special events throughout the warm months of Wisconsin.

Obviously any Wisconsin historic destination has to include beer. Once a month  Old World Wisconsin brings to life 19th-century brews. The brewers use equipment and techniques from the late 1800’s, heirloom hops and barley grown on the premises.

Old World Wisconsin offers America’s pasttime with base ball in the styles, speech, rules and terminology of the 1870s game. It’s not only a competitive game, but also a re-enactment of baseball life.

The Clausing Barn was built in 1897 in Ozaukee County by German barn builder Ernst Clausing. The unusual octagonal style was once prevalent in Wisconsin but very few survive today. This beautiful example houses a casual dining Cafe and outdoor patio.  In addition, it is available for weddings and special events.

In front of the Clausing Barn, the young at heart frolic on the Commons with historically authentic toys and games.

My grandson wants to play baseball.

Visiting Details

There is nothing like a living history experience. Most notably it provides an opportunity to “walk in the shoes” of those who came before us. This gem is truly my favorite Wisconsin historic destination.

It is open weekends in May and then daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Admission Prices:
Adults (18-64) $19
Children (5-17)(children 4 and under are free) $10
Seniors (65 & older) $16
Parking is Free. Fees include an all-day tram transportation pass.

Old World Wisconsin
W372 S9727 Hwy 67
Eagle, WI 53119

See this post for other Historical Destination ideas.

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Wisconsin historic destination

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