If you are looking for an excursion that is both fun and educational, East Troy, Fort Atkinson and the surrounding area is the perfect destination.
From millennia-old Native American effigy mounds, to Civil War-era artifacts, to trains and an ice cream shop evoking the early part of the 20th century, you’ll find plenty to ponder, long after you’ve returned back home to the here and now.
Hop A Train
HERE IN MILWAUKEE, we’re enjoying the joys of riding a streetcar with the newly-minted Hop. But a hundred years ago or so, electric trains were the norm for city and regional travel. The East Troy Railroad Museum (2002 Church St., East Troy) provides its 15,000 yearly patrons with a firsthand experience of how it used to be, offering a 10-mile excursion onboard its collection of vintage trains. Set aside a few hours so you can hop on and hop off at the various stops. And listen closely as volunteer conductors offer historical – and sometimes comical – perspectives on local landmarks.
➸ Before you board, spend a little time learning the history of electric trains at the museum. Then, enjoy the 5-mile ride north to The Elegant Farmer stop, where you can indulge in its famous brownbag apple pie.
➸ Interested in enjoying a meal on a train? The museum offers special dinners throughout the season, including a family pasta night on Aug. 17.
Did You know?
STARTING IN 1907 and into the 1940s, you could ride an electric train 36 miles from Milwaukee, through Hales Corners, to East Troy. Another line would carry you to Wauwatosa and on to Waukesha. Still others went to Sheboygan and Kenosha.
SOMETIMES MUSEUMS ARE best when they bring a little bit of everything, and that’s the approach in the quirky collection of historical artifacts, contemporary art and bovine memorabilia at Fort Atkinson’s Hoard Historical Museum (401 Whitewater Ave.).
➸ The National Dairy Shrine, a barn-shaped structure connected to the Hoard, serves up small-town charm by the gallon. It celebrates the history of dairy farming via life-size (and thumb-size) dioramas, as well as an interactive multimedia tour. The best part? A dairy library with everything from 1920s milking records to a comprehensive book of milk-mustachioed celebrities.
➸ A ledger of Fort Atkinson Civil War veterans across the hall from an exhibit on Native American effigy mounds. Abraham Lincoln’s original signature in the same room as a bronze bust of Sauk war leader Black Hawk. These diverse exhibits reflect the history of the area, piquing curiosity as to what stories and secrets this tiny burg off the Rock River holds.
➸ Sweeping vistas and sleepy pastorals are on display in the Jones Family Gallery at the Hoard, where you can contemplate and purchase the work of local painters. You’ll also find paintings depicting the harshness of the rural Wisconsin winter and the untamed glory of the American plains.
Where to Eat
2894 ON MAIN: This gem of a restaurant is not to be missed. Open daily for breakfast and lunch, plus dinner Tuesday through Saturday, the emphasis on local, organic ingredients helps make every dish sing. 2894 shares space with an organic grocery that sells handmade aprons and bags along with locally grown products. 2894 Main St., East Troy