Best of the Best: “Riding the lines, a Wisconsin ramble”

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Cathy Best

Cathy Best

By Cathy Best

I was working in Belles Beaux & Gifts, in downtown Madison, this summer when a couple came in from Houston, Texas. “What brings you to Madison?” I inquired. “Madison,” they replied. Turns out, they read about Madison and decided a long weekend was in order; they had no other reason to be in the state. It’s fun to get out and see the countryside, and discover something new, even if it’s just riding along the lines in this column. Who knows? This may be just the nudge you need to visit Wisconsin.

R and I loaded the saddle packs and took Helga, our sturdy, but pretty, German motorcycle, on a two-day ramble through southwest Wisconsin. Our destination, historic Mineral Point, is about three back-road hours from our home in Beaver Dam. If we’d taken a straight shot down state highway 151 we could have made it in half the time. But the ramble afforded us the opportunity to discover, Cooksville, Edgerton and New Glarus. With the exception of New Glarus, these are places we didn’t know existed until we rolled through them.

Cooksville is actually a little hamlet within the town of Porter. Upon arrival, the early 19th century New England looking cottages fascinated me; they looked rather out of place in Wisconsin where the vernacular is a square four over four. I gave Richard the lets-circle-around signal to take a closer look. We found the state historical marker planted at Cooksville Community Center, a former one–room schoolhouse built in 1886. The marker confirmed my suspicions; “Cooksville was settled by people from New England, New York, the British Isles, and, later, Norway. Because of the post office’s location, the village was by-passed by railroads in the 1860’s, becoming “the town that time forgot.” It appears today much as it did when it was first settled in the 1840’s; I didn’t notice but a few architectural “intrusions,” non-historic homes, in this village of 65 residents. Not to be missed is the Cooksville General Store. Built in 1846, “it’s the oldest operating general store in Wisconsin.”

Continuing down county roads leading to Mineral Point, we discovered tobacco fields. Who knew tobacco grew in Wisconsin? Although tobacco growing, in the U.S., has declined, we witnessed fields being hand harvested in, and around, Edgerton and tall rectangular barns filled with drying tobacco. (At one time, Edgerton boasted more than forty tobacco warehouses. Known locally as Tobacco City U.S.A., and home to the annual Tobacco Days celebration, Edgerton still maintains its tobacco growing prominence in the region.)

For the pottery buffs out there, rare, and highly sought after, Pauline Jacobus pottery, manufactured under Paulina Pottery, relocated to Edgerton in 1888 from Chicago. The area’s high quality white clay was the drawing card. Paulina and her husband were in a pottery league of their own, “establishing the first artistic pottery in Chicago in the mid-1880s.” Edgerton continues celebrating its rich history in artistic pottery with a museum collection of over forty local pieces of historic art clays displayed in the former 1906 train depot.

Next week we head to New Glarus, home to New Glarus Brewery and the famed Spotted Cow beer. We will wind-up our adventure in downtown Mineral Point.

Best of the Best Website http://www.wisconsinhistory.org: Browse the online Pauline Pottery collection.

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