This Dodge County gem reminds us of another small town.
Mayville is a community of 5,000 people on the Rock River, close to the Horicon Marsh. It’s an easy day trip from Milwaukee. I go to a lot of Wisconsin communities – 91 in all during the production of “Around the Corner with John McGivern.” I’m usually really good with names, of both people and places. But on the ride up the first day of shooting, my producer, Lois Maurer, described Mayville as Mayberry, and I had a hard time all week remembering the real name of this Dodge County gem. I called it Mayberry for a day, then corrected myself to say Merrytown, then Maytown, then Mayberg, and finally on day four I got around to Mayville, but I ended up back at Mayberry. I’ll explain why later.
Our first morning in town was in the middle of the Mayville Limestone quarry, with explosives experts. Although I had never stood in a valley of rock, outfitted with safety gear and waiting for a countdown to culminate in a blast to decimate a wall and bring down a layer of Wisconsin limestone, I was beyond thrilled. The anticipation of the big boom was just as exciting as the moment the wall of rock exploded and the plume of dust rose into the sky while tons of valuable mineral fell to earth. I wanted them to do it again, but Tony and Greg Smith explained that’s not how it works. I’ve decided if I ever give up being a TV host, I’m going to look into being a quarry explosive expert. No … really!
If you really want to experience the charm and character of Mayville, go on a Thursday evening and visit Bingo Night at the American Legion hall. It’s so much more than bingo. First of all, you need to go early for a low-cost, homemade dinner, including delicious desserts made by members of the Legion’s auxiliary. After you buy your game cards, make your way to a table with a lot of daubers. If you are a seasoned bingo player, you know about these larger-than-life highlighters/markers. I was a bingo virgin and was blown away by the extent of one dauber collection. I asked a beyond-middle-aged woman waiting for the first game if there was method to the dozen or so markers she had lined up. She gave me a look like I had just farted in church! But there is another kind of bingo player, and those women sit at the back bar. If you have the nerve, you could spend the entire night with these wild women who wield their lucky “male frog charms.” How one knows they are male frogs is something you will have to imagine and figure out on your own.
The American Legion hall is on the south end of Main Street, but go early and park on the north end. A stroll down the street is an architectural treat. This Mayberry lookalike is lined with late-1800s, Cream City and red brick buildings that proudly display the years they were built.
The buildings are not the only nod to history. Sweet Ginger Vintage is a resale/consignment/dressmaker shop owned by Jennifer Thoreson. Jennifer was wearing a dress from the 1940s, and while we were there she was finishing a gorgeous mid-century dress she’d been commissioned to make. This shop brought back vivid childhood memories of my mom, which started when I saw a mink stole on display. New Year’s Eve is my mom’s birthday, and that was the night every year that mom and dad would dress up. On special occasions she would wear her triple mink stole collar wrap. This fashion statement freaked me out when I was a kid. It was three minks with face, feet and claws, connected because they appeared to be biting each other. I never understood the appeal: The thing certainly didn’t keep Mom warm. I believe it was a way for a woman raising six kids in a three-bedroom, first-floor flat to feel like a level of wealth had been achieved. Jennifer at Sweet Ginger also had a counter of vintage McCall sewing pattern packages. I saw these and images of my Aunt LuAnn and her Singer sewing machine came flooding back. She made shift dresses for herself and my cousin Kathy. Sometimes they came to family events dressed exactly alike. … I love it when a place transports me to a specific time and place in my life.
Across Main Street from Sweet Ginger is a must-stop place called The Natural Way. It’s a natural foods grocery store and restaurant owned and operated by Patty and Earl Gesling. Patty is the nutritionist and Earl is the chef. We prepared an incredible locally sourced goat cheese salad served with a fresh vegetable barley soup that was simple and delicious.
Just down the block we found the nonprofit Open Door Coffeehouse. Here’s a concept worth celebrating. Amber Schraufnagel sells coffee and treats to fund mentorship and life skills development programs, which she then offers free to the community. As she says, why do life alone? I love that. Mayberrylike, right?
But the strongest reference to Mayberry came on the last afternoon we were filming. We were standing in front of the gorgeous Audubon Inn, a beautifully restored hotel built in 1896, and who drives up and parks the 1961 Ford Fairlane Town Sedan Mayberry Patrol Car but Barney Fife! Well, almost … It was Jerry Kemmel, who dresses up to resemble Barney from the old Mayberry shows, usually to entertain the town during parades and community functions and such. He was a perfect embodiment of what this community feels like, and he called Mayville
Mayberry until we left town.
I hope Mayville takes pride in being compared to Mayberry, because we all remember how we thought we knew Andy and Barney and Aunt Bee. We loved Floyd, Gomer, Goober, Otis, Helen and Howard. Heck, growing up, I wanted to be Opie and live in Mayberry. So, Mayville, if people like my producer and me confuse you with Mayberry, we mean it as a good thing – a very good thing! ◆