Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On the Prairie: A Visit to Old World Wisconsin


OK, so Wisconsin is not the land of "Little House on the Prairie" but it is the state where Laura Ingalls Wilder set her first novel "Little House in the Big Woods" on her family's way to the land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesota.  In fact, Barnes & Noble has named "Little House in the Big Woods" as the book that names Wisconsin as its most famous setting.  About 40 miles west of Milwaukee, there is a huge museum dedicated to the early years of my state's history called Old World Wisconsin, and my friend, Megan, and I visited last Sunday for the first time since grade school.

Old World Wisconsin is a favorite field-trip destination for school classes and features many buildings that formed the infant days of our state, which became part of the Union in 1848.  The grounds are broken up by the nationalities of its earliest settlers, with the Village featuring its Irish immigrants, along with a German area, a Norweigan/Scandinavian/Finish area, and even an African American area which focused on the trials of escaped slaves before and during the Civil War.

Many of the building at the museum are original and were painstakingly taken apart, catalogued and re-built on the museum's grounds.  The photo below is of the state's first church, originally located in Milwaukee.


Other buildings highlight the state's industry including wagon-making, textiles, iron works, and agriculture.





The museum is known for its raspberry-colored one-room schoolhouse.  One thing we did learn while at the museum was teachers were not allowed to keep working once they were married.  However, they were not allowed to live alone, and boarded with families within the town, so marriage was freedom to them.  Some teachers even married their male students since they were so close in age.



The oxen in the German area reminded me of Ferdinand the bull from the children's books, so I had to take a photo of one of them sleeping in the sun.


This homestead used both wooden planks and what's known as "Cream City" bricks as the foundation for their home.  I had never seen such a combination, but I'm sure it made for a very sturdy home.


And this building was part of the African-American area.  It's a church without a cross at its apex - I'm sure that was a deliberate decision to keep former slave-owners off their trail.


I don't know why I waited so long to re-visit Old World Wisconsin, but its a great place to spend the day, not just as a photographer but as someone who loves history.  If you have a museum similar to this in your home state, I encourage you to visit.  It's a really fun way to spend a weekend day!

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