Wisconsin Roadside Wonders

Interesting attractions for those who love the unusual and eccentric

There’s something in the water in Wisconsin that makes people want to follow their dreams, no matter how strange. Some of those dreams involve building museums and other exhibits that become fascinating roadside curiosities. Here are four of Wisconsin’s most original and refreshing attractions.

Visit the Stars!Visit Outer Space
Located just a few minutes outside Rhinelander, the Kovac Planetarium is one of Wisconsin’s greatest manmade wonders. It’s the only the fourth globe-style planetarium ever built, and it’s truly a sight to behold. Most incredibly, it is the work of one man — Frank Kovac — who designed and built it himself over the course of 10 years. The CBS Evening News recently did a feature on Mr. Kovac. See it here.

Visitors to the Kovac Planetarium will be treated to a 90-minute experience in which they’ll see the complete rotation of the night sky as it would appear through a 24-hour period. The planetarium is open year-round by reservation only, and accommodates up to 25 people. It’s a fascinating show.

Find more Oneida County attractions at www.oneidacountywi.com.

West Bend JailGo To Jail
In downtown West Bend, next door to the beautiful red brick courthouse—home of the excellent Old Courthouse Museum—you’ll find the Old Jailhouse Museum. The museum perfectly preserves a sheriff’s residence and jailhouse from the turn of the last century.

This free museum is located in one of the last remaining sheriff residence/jail combinations in the United States. Built in 1886 to be “escape proof,” this facility served as the county jail until 1962, when Washington County turned the use of the building over to the Washington County Historical Society. This museum is a favorite with young and old alike.

Learn more about attractions in West Bend by visiting www.wbachamber.org.

Seven BridgeesSee the Seven Bridges
The unusual steel bridges of the Van Loon Wildlife Area, known by locals in Onalaska as the McGilvray Bridges, are some of Wisconsin’s best kept secrets. The bridges are not simply beautiful, they are historically quite significant. The arch-truss design of the bridges dates to the late 1800s, and the McGilvray Bridges are some of the last examples of this design in existence.

The forest you will walk through is part of the floodplain of the Black River, which flows into the Mississippi River a few miles downstream from this area. The bottomland forest supports a number of species of birds and other animals that depend on the intermittent flooding for survival. The manmade bridges and the untouched forest make for an interesting contrast.

Find complete trip planning information for Onalaska at www.discoveronalaska.com.

Fort CrawfordThe Strange Frontier
In a region known for eclectic museums and roadside curiosities, the Fort Crawford Museum in Prairie du Chien along the Wisconsin Great River Road is in a class by itself. Equal parts frontier history and medical history, even the most experienced roadside oddity seeker will be impressed by this museum.

The combination of frontier artifacts and medical exhibits comes from the fact that the old Fort Crawford, which once protected this part of the American frontier, was home to Dr. William Beaumont. Dr. Beaumont was a medical pioneer. The museum not only showcases Dr. Beaumont’s revolutionary work, it also contains a series of exhibits that tell the story of the development of modern medicine. It’s a fascinating and very unusual museum that you won’t want to miss.

Get more information on the Fort Crawford Museum and other attractions along the Wisconsin Great River Road at www.wigreatriverroad.org.

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This entry was posted in Uncategorized on Friday, February 11, 2011.