Posts Tagged: Wisconsin

Driftless Region Museums: A Primer

Compiled by Inspire(d) Staff
Originally printed in the June/July 2010 issue of Inspire(d)

Sure, summer is all about festivals and swimming and canoeing and fairs, but what do you do when it’s raining? Or when it’s hot, humid, and sticky in a way that only the Midwest can be – like you’re trapped in a hot tub and there’s no time machine. Right?

Right. So in all our infinite wisdom, we hatched a plan: let’s learn more about some cultural, educational, fun, air conditioned museums in the Driftless Region. We asked each museum to submit a little entertaining information about what’s waiting within their walls for people like you and me. And boy did they deliver. Your kids can go rock climbing. You can see a clock someone once wanted to buy for $1 million dollars, a sailboat that actually crossed the Atlantic, and the place where the modern tractor was made. It’s all pretty cool. Literally and figuratively.

Check them out. Explore. If you’re a tourist, get the most of your stay. If you’re not – pretend you are!

Vesterheim Museum, 520 West Water Street, Decorah, Iowa
May – October open daily: 9 am – 5 pm, Thursdays ‘til 8 pm November – April: Tuesday – Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm, Thursdays ‘til 8 pm
Admission: $10/adult, $8/senior over 65, and $5/children age 7 –18 • 563-382-9681

With 24,000 artifacts and 16 historic buildings, this national treasure uses the Norwegian-American experience as a lens to explore the diversity of an immigrant nation. Step inside to discover stories of courage and beauty. You’ll find a cabin made from a single tree, a sailboat that crossed the Atlantic Ocean, elaborate costumes, colorful painting, silver wedding crowns, woven tapestries, and even intricately carved butter molds. The lives of the people who settled our nation were often as colorful as their folk art, and their stories speak through the objects they left behind. Come and see what they have to say. “USA Today” named Vesterheim one of “10 great places in the nation to admire American folk art.” Vesterheim also preserves living traditions through classes in Norwegian culture and folk art, events, tours to Norway, and educational programs for children and adults. Preserving a heritage. Connecting us all.

The Porter House, 401 West Broadway Street, Decorah
Hours:June – August open daily: 10 am – 4 pm, and Sundays 1 pm – 4 pm.
Admission: $5/adult, $4/seniors, $3/children age 6–16, Children 6 and under free 563-382-8465

Near the turn of the century, Grace Young fell in love with the “boy next door,” Adelbert (Bert) Field Porter, and married him in her parent’s music parlor in June 1904. They lived out their lives in the Italianate Villa that previously belonged to Grace’s parents – it now houses their personal furnishings, collections, artwork, photographs, and library. A.F. Porter’s collection of exotic butterflies, gathered over seven trips around the world, is the focal point of the museum, along with Grace’s piano in the music room, and her painted china collection. The museum grounds include a unique rock wall designed by Bert and built from his extensive collection of rocks and minerals. Fountains, birdbaths, planters, and a water garden enhance the gardens surrounding the house. In July of 1968, Bert conveyed the house and it’s contents for preservation as a public museum.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Burr Oak, Iowa (Off Highway 52, 12 miles north of Decorah or three miles south of the Minnesota state line)
Summer Hours: Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm, Sunday 12 – 4 pm
Admission: $7/adult, $5/children age 6-17, Family Rate $25 • 563-735-5916

Question: Who has 10 eyes, no income and was forced from their previous life by an invasion? Answer: The Charles Ingalls family when they moved to Iowa in 1876 and Laura was nine years old. Laura’s family left the Banks of Plum River in Minnesota, fleeing the horrible grasshopper plague, to find a better livelihood. In Burr Oak, they helped run the Master’s Hotel and they moved twice more during their year in the small village. The building where they first lived opened as a museum, 100 years after their move, in 1976. The third site where they lived was the birthplace of their fourth daughter, Grace. Knowledgeable guides – familiar with Laura through Burr Oak history, her widely-read books, or the popular television series – help guests from around the globe understand the Ingalls’ Iowa life and times. Come explore the story of one of our country’s most beloved authors.

Children’s Museum of La Crosse, 207 5th Avenue South in historic downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin
Hours:Tuesdays – Saturdays, 10 am – 5 pm; Sundays 12 – 5 pm (closed Mondays and major holidays)
Admission: $6/person (Sunday Savers: $1 off admission!) Infants and members FREE • 608-784-2652

Learning and fun…rolled into one, for the young and the young at heart! Spend some affordable, quality time with your kids at the Children’s Museum of La Crosse, where you’ll explore three floors of hands-on exhibits, a climbing wall, gift shop, and much more. Lots of new exhibits added in recent months, including the heart-pounding NEOS game, Whoosh, Toothy Tango, kid’s crane, and a two-story rescue center. Memberships include a full year of admission + other benefits, starting at only $50! The $120 Passport level membership includes admission to over 425 participating museums nationwide! Ask about birthday parties, field trips, summer camps and other programs: convenient and fun – and kids will even learn something!

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 800 Riverview Drive, Winona, Minnesota
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 am – 5 p, Sunday 11 am – 5 pm (Closed Mondays and Holidays)
Admission: $6/adult, $3/students age 5 – college, 4 and under free, $20 Family Rate • 507-474-6626

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum is not what you expect, or where you expect to find it. Next to a working Mississippi river port in the beautiful “historic island city” of Winona, the Museum houses one of the best collections of art inspired by water in the United States. A place where everyone is welcome (no art degree required!), the Museum is a year-round destination that hosts ongoing events and programs for kids, families, and adults including our popular Toddler Tuesdays and Family Fest.

Rochester Art Center, 40 Civic Center Drive SE, Rochester, Minnesota (on the Zumbro River)
Hours: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm; Thursday: 10 am – 9 pm; Sunday: 12 – 5 pm
Admission: $5/adult $3/senior (62 and over); Free to children, students, members & Olmsted County Resident • 507-282-8629

Then: Founded in 1946, the Rochester Art Center presented local and regional art for nearly 30 years. For the next 30, RAC became a national focus for arts and crafts, particularly ceramics. Now: Today, RAC is a venerable organization in cool new digs. In 2004, we built an ultra-modern building, presenting contemporary art. We’re famous for Free Family Day (1st Saturday/month), Total Arts Day Camp; 3rd Floor Emerging Artists Series; national and international artists; FLUX (late evening music/art/performance for young-adults), and as a top 10 place in Minnesota for weddings and receptions… the view’s that beautiful.

Bily Clocks Museum/Antonin Dvorak Exhibit, 323 S. Main Street, Spillville, Iowa (12 miles south of Decorah)
Hours: May – October: Monday-Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm, Sundays, 12 – 4 pm April – November: weekends only
Admission: $6/ adult, $5/senior 65 and over, $4/youth age 6-17, $16/Family • 563-562-3569

Why did Henry Ford in 1928, offer $1million for one of the Bily brothers clocks and why did they refuse the offer? Take a tour of the Bily clocks museum, located in the quaint village of Spillville, and you’ll find out! Experience for yourself this one-of-a-kind collection of 40 hand-carved clocks created by Frank and Joseph Bily (bee-lee), farmers by trade and carvers by night. And why did Antonin Dvorak, Czeck composer from Praque, find his way to Spillville? That answer is found on the second floor of the museum. You’ll just have to come to find out!

Froelich Tractor Iowa John Deere Museum, 24397 Froelich Rd., Froelich, Iowa (4 miles east of Monona on U.S. Highway 18)
Summer Hours: Open six days a week (closed Wednesdays): 11 am – 5 pm • 563-536-2841

The Froelich visitor experience includes an 1891 general store museum, an 1866 restored country school, a l903 dairy barn, a rebuilt railroad depot, a turn of the century blacksmith shop, and a mini-grain truck display (new in 2009). The highlight of the summer is the Froelich half-scale model tractor display and video of its historic development. In 1892, in this tiny village, John Froelich invented the first farm tractor powered by a gasoline engine that operated in forward and reverse. It became the Waterloo Boy and the current John Deere tractor division in Waterloo, Iowa. Historians credit Froelich, Iowa, as the birthplace of the modern farm tractor. (Photo by Danny Eilers)

Villa Louis, 521 North Villa Louis Road, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Hours:Open May 1 – Oct 31: 9:30 am – 5 pm. Guided tours on the hour from 10 am to 4 pm
Admission: $9/adults, $7.75/seniors, $4.50/youth 5-17, $24/family • 608-326-2721

The Villa Louis, also known as Dousman Mansion, is located on St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Today the site is restored to its late-19th century grandeur, when it was the estate of the prominent H. Louis Dousman family. At the center of the estate is the elegant Villa Louis mansion, designed by E. Townsend Mix and built in 1871. Earlier it had been home to Louis’s father Hercules L. Dousman, and before that the land was occupied by Fort Crawford. Prior to this, in 1814, the Siege of Prairie du Chien was fought at the site by American and British troops hoping to control Fort Shelby during the War of 1812. Still farther back, the site was of importance to American Indian tribes, especially the Mound Builders. Today the Villa Louis is the finest example of a British Arts and Crafts interior in a rural setting in the United States.

Driftless Day Trip: Viroqua, Wisconsin


By Inspire(d)

Viroqua, Wisconsin, is just one of those places – the kind you hear about and so want to visit, but getting there seems impossible – literally. We’re pretty sure it’s uphill both ways. But once you do get there, and you take in the views of valleys and bluffs, you wonder: “What took me so long?” And then, “I might never leave.”

That seems to be the case for a lot of people who call Viroqua home. Folks came for a variety of reasons – like those who settled there in the mid-1800s, it might simply be the beauty of the region pulled them in. Or more recently, the surge of organic farming – not to mention the headquarters of organic biz-moguls Organic Valley nestled one town over in La Farge. Maybe it was the Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School that drew one family to town, and the great food co-op recruited another.

Whatever brought these people together, they’re working hard – together – to make their little town of 5,000 special, sustainable, and a fun place to be.

Which, in turn, makes it a fun place to visit! We made our way on a sunny weekend to check out this little community big on cooperatives. The historic downtown is easily traveled on-foot and is filled with quirky stores, handmade shops, cafes, and boutiques. And behind every counter is a person recommending the place next door or just down the street. Calling these people friendly would be an understatement.

We’ve laid out just a few of our favorite spots to help you find your way – whether it’s packing out into the 8,000+ acre Kickapoo Valley Reserve, or hunkering down for a quiet romantic weekend, enjoy all the bounty of the Driftless Region!

Get Outside:

Kickapoo Valley Reserve. S3661 St H 131. La Farge, WI . 608-625-2960.
The “KVR” (as they say…) is one of the most impressive expanses of land in the entire Driftless Area. 8,500 acres between La Farge and Ontario, Wisconsin (just a few miles from Viroqua) cradle the Kickapoo River, offering up unlimited recreational opportunities. Originally pegged for a controversial damn dam project in the early 1960s, the project failed to ever be completed, leaving this treasure to eventually become a public reserve.

Snowflake Ski Club. Westby, WI.
Giant ski jump in a town of 2000 (just up the road from Viroqua)? Awesome. Make sure to mark your calendars for the 92nd (yes, you read that right!!) Annual Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament January 30 and 31. Fun!


Bluedog Cycles & Brewdog. 201 South Main Street. 608-637-6993.| Pete and Alycann Taylor have been holding things down at this unique bike shop since 2005. Not only do they offer great products and service, but they are great resources on getting outdoors near Viroqua. Stop in, tell them we sent you – and check it out before you get outside!


Check It Out:

Viroqua Public Market. 215 South Main Street. | The Viroqua Public Market is the center of many good things downtown. First, the market serves as an outlet for hundreds of vendors from across the region. The same building also houses Bramble Books and the Viva Gallery, as well as the occasional indoor farmers market. The building also houses the Rooted Spoon (more below).



Temple Theatre. 220 S. Main Street. 608-6637-8190 | Refurbishment was finished in 2002 on this anchor of downtown Viroqua. With nine murals, a full rehab of the 1922 Temple Theatre’s Wurlitzer organ, and the grand marquis, it’s a grand venue for events and performances.


The Ark. 401 E. Jefferson Street. 608-637-7824. | Viroqua’s community and regional arts center – offering classes, space, movement, and a home for the arts in the midst of the Driftless Region.

Viroqua Farmer’s Market. Saturdays 8:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., May – October – Location: Western Technical College Parking Lot | Rockin’ farmers market – amazing variety of local and Driftless Region products.

Driftless Folk School. | Ever wanted to learn more about practical, sustainable, lifelong skills? Do you like to work with your hands, create objects, or learn traditional crafts? Check out all of the classes at the school – from ‘Clay in a day’ and ‘Design your own small building,’ to ‘Fruit tree grafting’ – the possibilities are great, and ever changing. Check out the schedule online.

Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center. (Coon Valley) 608.452.3424. | Norskedalen or “Norwegian Valley” is a 400-acre site dedicated to preserving and interpreting “the natural environment and cultural heritage of the region”. Open daily for visiting, in addition to special events, a guest cabin, historical displays, and much more.

Eat / Drink:

Driftless Café. 118 W Court St. | “Seasonal menus – Locally Sourced – Written in Chalk” Seriously good local food. Really, these guys aren’t messing around. We mean it. Go now. Get a Wisco Pop with dinner, and don’t skip dessert.


Rooted Spoon. 219 S. Main St. | Adjacent to The Viroqua Public Market, these fine folks host “219 Drinkery” every Friday, often with different themes, and an amazing brunch every Sunday. They also offer incredible monthly dinners and special events, but are not open for regular daily service. Plan ahead to hit one of their events – great space, good people, fun menus.


Tangled Hickory Wine Bar. 120 S. Main St. | Downtown wine bar with changing seasonal entrees, a wide and affordable wine list, and nice ambiance. Happy Hour specials on wine and appetizers everyday from 4-6pm.

Viroqua Coop. 609 N. Main St. | Cooperative awesomeness! Beyond the normal co-op grocery and bulk findings, offerings include a great deli/hot bar, coffee and bakery counter, fun gifts, and a fantastically selected beer cooler. You can even get Kickapoo Coffee or a WiscoPop!  Early or late-ish, this is a great stop for supplies!

WiscoPop! | If you didn’t already know it (perhaps you read the story here?), we love WiscoPop! Three Viroqua business partners making incredible craft brewed soda from nothing but great ingredients. Their product is currently available only on tap or by special order mini-kegs (bottling coming soon!). You can find them in Viroqua at the Coop, Driftless Café, and across the region.

Kickapoo Coffee Cafe. 302 S. Main. | Since 2005, Kickapoo has been sourcing and roasting incredible coffee beans from around the globe. We drink it here at Inspire(d) HQ every day! Co-owners TJ Semanchin and Caleb Nicholes don’t cut corners when it comes to finding the best coffee beans possible and coaxing out their incredible flavors. The Kickapoo Coffee Cafe in Viroqua is an amazing meeting spot in Viroqua, with exceptional beverages and offerings. Kickapoo Coffee also offers monthly tours and coffee cupping / tastings at their production facility– it’s a wildly educational (and caffeinating) experience! (Check website for details.)



Heritage Inn. 220 & 217 East Jefferson Street. 608-637-3306.  Beautifully restored historic Inn with private baths, cable, AC, etc. Just a block off of Downtown Viroqua, leaving you easily on foot for in-town adventures!

Natures Nook Retreat. S4878 Cty. Rd. S. 608-637-3928. | Rural Kickapoo Valley cabin rentals meant for relaxing – there’s the Little Barn, Cabin-in-a-barn, and Kinship Place gathering space. The west fork of the Kickapoo River runs through the 95-acre property, including access to brown trout, kayaking, and hiking trails.

Kickapoo Valley Reserve. 608-625-2960. | If you really want to get out there and enjoy the woods, this is your place to throw down a tent and watch the stars. 25 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis with minimal fees. Remember to pack necessities as the KVR is a little ways away from civilization – which is all the more of a reason to visit!

Driftless Wisconsin Portal.
This portal is a fantastic guide to all things in the Viroqua area. Take a look and plan your own adventure!

Community Powered Radio – WDRT 91.9FM. Also listen online:
Viroqua’s community powered radio station. You’ll hear an eclectic mix of music, shows, and events broadcast from their downtown studio!

Wisco Pop!


Story by Aryn Henning Nichols . Photos by Komifoto

It’s no big surprise that it was a bit of a treasure hunt to find great soda with all-natural ingredients.

“If you think you’re in the wrong place, you’re probably in the right place,” says Hallie Ashley, one of the three founders of Wisco Pop, Wisconsin’s Holy Grail of soda.

WiscoPop kitchen headquarters can be found in a non-descript, former cash register factory on the north side of Viroqua, Wisconsin. From the outside, it appears that there’s very little happening there, but things are really – and literally – cooking inside.

The Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA) has turned this 100,000 square foot building – with the help of a $2 million grant – into a Food Enterprise Center. It’s an incubator for businesses that are involved in local food production, processing, marketing, and distribution, and the just-added element: exercise and movement.

Keewaydin Farms, Just Local Foods, LuSa Organics, Fifth Season Cooperative, Sole Expressions Dance Studio Cooperative, Kickapoo Coffee, and – of course – Wisco Pop all currently or will soon utilize the space in one way or another.

The day Inspire(d) made the trip to Viroqua, Wisco Pop’s Austin Ashley (married to Hallie) and Zac Mathes were in the center’s commercial kitchen cooking up a 60-gallon steam kettle of ginger for their popular ginger soda. Bits of ginger peel and spent lemons, juiced one-at-a-time, marked the start of their 125-gallon Monday production. The two self-proclaimed “cosmic brothers” obviously work well together, as conversation easily flows from the Food Enterprise Center to Viroqua to the Driftless Region and even pizza farms. A reporter could easily get off track!

“Let me get out my list of questions so I don’t forget anything,” I say, pulling my notebook out of my bag just as Hallie arrives.

“That’s funny,” Austin says. “We have a list of questions for you too! Is your first one, ‘Why are we so good looking?’ ‘Cause we just can’t explain it.”


Jokes aside (even though they are a dapper crew), what they can explain is their quest for really delicious soda.

It all started with Austin. He was making ginger beer and kombucha at home, and wishing there were more options for natural and even organic sodas.

“I was sitting on the idea for a long time,” he says. “Hallie kept saying to me, ‘Just start it. Just do it.’”

And so they did. Wisco Pop launched just over a year ago at the Kickapoo Country Fair in Viroqua. The response has been amazing, and rightly so.

“People at first are all, ‘Craft brewed soda?’,” Austin says. “But then they taste it and are like, ‘Oh! We get it now! Craft brewed soda!’”

“This is what soda is supposed to be. It’s the way it used to be,” Zac continues. “No chemicals, just good ingredients.”

They stand by their motto: “Keepin’ it real. No processed corn, no artificial flavors. Just fresh fruit juice, pure honey, genuine spices and herbs for a real brew.”

Take their Cherry Bomb soda, for example. They whisked me across the kitchen to take a whiff of the kettle brewing for this batch. (Below, much lower-quality photos, by Aryn Henning Nichols


“You really have to get your face in there,” Austin says as I lean in for a sniff. “Can you guess what’s in it?”
“Hmmm…something I cook with,” I muse.
“You’re on the right track,” sings Hallie.
“I can’t quite place it…”
“It’s probably the vanilla.” Zac interjects.
“No, that’s not it…”

Each flavor – they currently have three: ginger, cherry bomb, and root beer – is filled with complex flavors that keep you guessing, “What’s in there?”

“Comparing it to craft beer is a good analogy,” Zac says. “We spend a lot of time making sure it’s just right.”

The root beer was recently released and is Austin’s Sistine Chapel, although like an artist, he’s his own biggest critic.

“Ask Austin how long it took him to ‘perfect’ the root beer,” Zac says with a smile.

“A while,” Austin replies. “I don’t know if it will ever be perfect.”

It’s pretty darn delicious though. Not too sweet, with hints of maple syrup – local, of course. That is just one of the ingredients keeping the root beer subtly different with each batch. If the syrup’s different, so’s the soda. Same goes for the local honey in the oh-so-delicious ginger brew. Following that ever-changing notion, in the future Wisco Pop hopes to release special seasonal brews that will highlight special flavors or fruits.

Even though they’re obviously a happy little a Wisco Pop family, they’re business partners as well. Austin is the head crafter and develops those new brews – they’re working on a cola recipe now! – then Zac and Austin head up production together. Zac follows through on details such as ordering supplies and building useful things. “He’s our mathematician,” Austin jokes. And Hallie is the manager, bookkeeper, and customer contact person. All three work together on sales.

On top of that, Hallie works at Kickapoo Coffee and Zac runs Heartbeet Family Farm – along with a brick-oven-on-wheels pizza business called Homegrown Pizza – with his wife, Sara, and four-year-old daughter, Noa. Austin holds down the Wisco Pop and daddy front – he and Hallie have three kids: 11-year-old Alden, two-year-old Fern, and newborn Otis.

It’s this combination of family, business, community and good taste that brings it all together. In a time when soda gets a bad rap – commercial soda is filled with high fructose corn syrup and preservatives – Wisco Pop is out to bring back the charm and integrity what was once a very real craft. As they like to say: “Wisco Pop makes it okay to drink soda again. So welcome back old friend, welcome to…craft brewed soda.”


Aryn Henning Nichols is amazed she failed to use any bubble puns in the story. Guess she’ll have to save them for the story on carbonation! She wants to be part of the Wisco Pop! family ‘cause they’re so fun, and also because she’d like to have a lifetime supply of ginger soda. Yum.

Luckily, Wisco Pop! is making the great soda search a whole lot easier for the rest of us. You can find it in the Driftless Region here:

Driftless Cafe
Brew Dog
Rooted Spoon
The Root Note (La Crosse)
Viroqua Food Co-op

Plus multiple locations in Madison and Milwaukee. See or Wisco Pop! on Facebook for details.

Update: Wisco Pop held a Kickstarter fundraiser in December of 2013 to move on to bottling their delicious brews for the masses. They’ll be available EVEN MORE locations soon. Hooray!