Wisconsin is famous for its scenic views of lush prairies, sparkling lakes, tranquil forests, and dairy farms, plus it is one of the top beer producers in the United States. Whether it is watching a Packers game with an ice-cold brew, strolling through the Milwaukee Art Museum with a friend, visiting unique historical sites like the House on the Rock, or taking advantage of the endless supply of fresh air and clean water, there are plenty of exciting adventures that await. Let’s look at ten unique historic sites when traveling to Wisconsin!
- Taliesin – Spring Green
Taliesin Spring Green is a landmark of architectural significance in Spring Green, Wisconsin. It was built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1911. Initially, it served as his primary residence and studio, but today it is open to the public for tours and events.
The property is on a hillside surrounded by breathtaking natural landscapes, and the area served as a muse for many of Wright’s creations. As a result, the house features his signature organic style, as the structure is harmoniously built around the existing environment.
Taliesin also has a deep-rooted history beyond just architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright lived in the home with his family for over five decades, and many famous guests have visited the property, including writer Gertrude Stein and architect Louis Sullivan.
In addition to tours, Taliesin Spring Green hosts workshops, classes, and special events each year. It is also home to the “Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture,” where students can study and practice Lloyd’s architectural principles in the very place that often sparked Lloyd’s imagination and creativity.
Overall, Taliesin Spring Green is a must-visit destination for architecture enthusiasts, nature lovers, and anyone interested in experiencing the almost surreal property.
- Pabst Mansion – Milwaukee
The Pabst Mansion is a historic Italianate-style mansion located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was built in 1892 for Captain Frederick Pabst, the Pabst Brewing Company’s founder, and owner. The villa is known for its grand and ornate interior and details, including stained glass windows, marble fireplaces, and intricate woodwork.
The mansion has 20 rooms and 14,000 square feet of living space. Today, the Pabst Mansion is open to the public as a museum and a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can take guided tours of the historic mansion and learn about the Pabst family and their contributions to Milwaukee’s cultural and economic development.
- Milwaukee Art Museum – Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Art Museum is a museum located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The museum serves as an art museum and an architectural landmark with its unique structure, which can open and close its “wings” like a bird. The museum’s collection focuses on art from multiple regions and eras, including contemporary, modern, and American decorative art.
The Museum is home to over 30,000 works of art in various forms, such as paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, etc. In addition, the museum has an impressive collection of Wisconsin art and German Expressionist prints, with works by Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.
The museum strongly focuses on education and public programming, hosting various events and activities to connect guests to art, including lectures, workshops, and youth-centered programs. The museum also has a cafe and a gift shop with unique art and items to take home.
Overall, the Milwaukee Art Museum is a must-visit destination for art lovers and anyone interested in exploring the city of Milwaukee.
- Wisconsin State Capitol – Madison
The Wisconsin State Capitol, located in Madison, Wisconsin, was built between 1906 and 1917. It was designed by the architect George B. Post & Sons and Thomas E. Chamberlin, professor of geology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Capitol is an example of the Beaux-Arts style, famous in the United States during the late 19th-20th century.
The Wisconsin State Capitol was built to replace the previous state capitol, which a fire had damaged in 1904. The new structure was designed to be fireproof and was reinforced with concrete and steel. The building is 284 feet tall, with a 200-foot-tall dome.
The Wisconsin State Capitol was completed in 1917 and was dedicated on July 4th the same year. The building is home to the Wisconsin State Legislature and the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. It also houses several state agencies and departments.
The Wisconsin State Capitol has been the site of many important events in Wisconsin’s history.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the building was the primary site of protests against the Vietnam War, among other social issues. Today, the Wisconsin State Capitol is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. Visitors can take guided tours of the building, including a tour of the dome, which offers stunning views of Madison.
- Ten Chimneys – Genesee Depot
Ten Chimneys is a historic estate in the village of Genesee Depot, Waukesha County, Wisconsin. The estate was built in the 20th century and was a favorite retreat of Broadway stars Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The couple was regarded as one of the most prominent acting duos of the 20th century, and they often made themselves comfortable at Ten Chimneys.
The estate features many chimneys, hence its iconic name. Ten Chimneys has added a lot of cultural significance to the history of Wisconsin and became a national historic landmark in 2003. Today, Ten Chimneys is a museum open to the public, offering tours of the estate and its charming grounds. The estate is particularly notable for its theatrical memorabilia, decorations, and furnishings.
Visitors to Ten Chimneys can walk through the rooms where Lunt and Fontanne hosted parties and entertained their guests, including other stars such as Noel Coward and Helen Hayes. The estate also features a theater space named the Lunt-Fontanne Theater.
Overall, Ten Chimneys is a unique and exciting location to visit in Wisconsin, especially for theatrical arts fanatics.
- Villa Louis – Prairie du Chien
Villa Louis is a historic mansion in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, nestled along the Mississippi River. It was built in 1870 and was the residence of the Dousman family, prominent fur traders, and land speculators of that time.
Today, the mansion is a museum that showcases the lifestyle and history of the Dousman family and Prairie du Chien from a 19th-century view. Visitors can tour the mansion’s ample space and remarkable 21 rooms that transport you back in time, including the grand ballroom, library, and dining room.
In addition to the mansion, the museum has several surrounding buildings featuring exhibits on local industries and crafts, such as blacksmithing and carpentry. In addition, the spectacular gardens on the property proudly display the Dousman family’s passion for horticulture.
Villa Louis is open for public tours from May to October. In addition, it hosts several special events annually, including an old-world Victorian Holiday Dinner and even a Civil War Reenactment.
- Circus World Museum – Baraboo
Circus World Museum is located in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It’s dedicated to the history and preservation of the American circus. The museum was founded in the 1950s and fills a complex of old structures in downtown Baraboo.
The museum features exhibits on the history of the American circus, including exhibits on famous circus performers such as P.T. Barnum and the Ringling brothers. Visitors can also see a collection of antique circus wagons, costumes, and other circus memorabilia.
In addition to its displays, Circus World Museum offers live performances by circus performers during the summer months. Visitors can watch aerialists, clowns, and other performers in action and participate in circus workshops and other activities.
The museum also operates a conservation center where antique circus wagons and other artifacts are restored and preserved for future generations.
Circus World Museum is open seasonally from May to September and attracts thousands of visitors annually. It is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the history and culture of the American circus.
- Old World Wisconsin – Eagle
Old World Wisconsin is a living museum in Eagle, Wisconsin, that showcases the daily life and traditions of early settlers in the state. The museum consists of over 60 historic structures, moved from different parts of Wisconsin, representing the lifestyles of various ethnic groups that settled in the area in the 1800s.
Visitors to Old World Wisconsin can explore the interactive exhibits, watch traditional crafts and skills demonstrations, and participate in hands-on activities such as cooking, gardening, and weaving. In addition, the museum offers a variety of special events throughout the year, including historical reenactments, holiday celebrations, and educational workshops.
Some ethnic groups represented at Old World Wisconsin include German, Polish, Norwegian, and African American communities. The museum preserves these groups’ unique cultural traditions and histories, providing a valuable educational experience for visitors of all ages.
- The House on the Rock – Spring Green
In the 1940S, Alex Jordan saw a 60-foot chimney of rock as the golden opportunity to build the weekend getaway of his dreams. He decided to build a house on the sandstone formation called Deer Shelter Rock.
Jordan built The House on the Rock as a weekend retreat and never planned on the home becoming the famous tourist attraction it is today. However, people couldn’t resist the urge to see the architectural wonder they had heard about with their own eyes. Jordan eventually began requesting 50-cent donations to tour the home. The 14-room house is the main structure and consists of many buildings, exhibits, and garden displays.
It takes hours to walk through the House on the Rock, and it’s nearly impossible to see it all in one day. Among the home’s many unique collections is the world’s largest carousel, boasting 269 carousel animals, 182 lanterns, more than 20,000 lights, and hundreds of mannequin angels hanging from the ceiling.
In December of 1988, Alex sold The House on the Rock to longtime associate Art Donaldson, a collector and a businessman who shared his unusual interests. Jordan remained at The House on the Rock as Artistic Director until his death on November 6, 1989. Art Donaldson continued to own and operate The House on the Rock until he passed away in 2018. The property has remained in the family since then.
The “House” and surrounding buildings take several hours to walk through, even if you’re trying to rush through it quickly. Unlike a museum, there aren’t clear markers or indications to help guide you into sections you may be interested in. If you are sensitive to dust or musty conditions, you should prepare yourself if you are planning to visit the House on the Rock.
- Bascom Hill – Madison
Bascom Hill is the iconic main quadrangle that forms the historic core of the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus. It is located on the opposite end of State Street from the Wisconsin State Capitol and is named after John Bascom, former president of the University of Wisconsin.
Bascom Hall, the main administration building for the campus, crowns the hill. Near the main entrance to Bascom Hall sits a statue of President Abraham Lincoln. The first university building, North Hall, was constructed on Bascom Hill in 1851 and is still used by the Department of Political Science today. The second building, South Hall, was built in 1855 and is now used by the University of Wisconsin College of Letters and Science administration.
In 1974 the area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Bascom Hill Historic District. In addition to the main quadrangle, the district includes historic buildings, such as the Red Gym, The Wisconsin Historical Society, and The Carillon Tower. The NRHP nomination considers this district “the most historic cluster of institutional buildings in Wisconsin.”