Last Sunday (Father’s Day) we took an one hour 15 minute drive to Eagle, Wisconsin, the home of Old World Wisconsin. This is an open-air museum that depicts the lives of 19th century settlers to Wisconsin. These settlers came from the eastern U.S. and from places all over the world but mostly from Germany, Poland, Britain, and Scandinavia. In addition, African-American settlers fled the south following the Mississippi River north to freedom. The things they had in common were the search for a better life, to provide for their families and to make a new home in America’s heartland.
Old World is the largest outdoor museum in the U.S. covering about 480 acres of wooded, rolling hills in southeastern Wisconsin. There are over 60 historic structures, houses, shops, rural outbuildings such as barns, granaries, smokehouses, and even a sauna! The buildings were moved from all parts of Wisconsin, some painstakingly dismantled and reassembled on this site. Old World is divided into themed areas to represent the typical settlements by various ethnicities such as the Finns, Norwegians, Danes, Germans, Poles, African-Americans, and Yankees. In a bit, I’ll take you on a little tour around the grounds.
The day of our visit, the Swedish American Historical Society of Wisconsin organized a Midsommar Celebration on the Old World grounds. This celebration is held around the time of the summer solstice to commemorate the beginning of summer after the long nordic winter but for early Christians it was also the feast of St. John the Baptist. Typical activities include decorating the Midsommar Pole with greens and flowers and the making of flower crowns worn mostly by women and girls. Then it’s customary to dance around the maypole and play games.
Here’s a little girl, already tired from the festivities, with her flower crown.
It wouldn’t be much of a celebration without some traditional foods. Old World Wisconsin offered a Swedish buffet consisting of meatballs in gravy, boiled potatoes, cucumber salad, pickled beets, rice custard, breads and lingonberry jam. It was very tasty and filling. I started eating before remembering to take a photo so here’s my half eaten plate!
This event took place in the Clausing Barn located on the Old World Wisconsin grounds.
After a delicious meal, it was time to walk off our dinner transversing the grounds. I must admit we didn’t walk the whole route, Old World provides trams for visitors to travel around the grounds. We did walk a lot since it was a very pleasant day to enjoy the outdoors.
Our first stop was the Yankee village with a church, houses, a general store, shoe shop, and a blacksmith shop. Here are some photos from this stop.
I was fascinated by the blacksmith shop run and operated on this day by a woman smithy. She was making a hook used to hang pots over a fire.
The next stop was at the Finnish farms. In the home the woman of the house was baking a cake, it was really hot in the kitchen! But we were told not as hot as the day before when the weather outside was in the upper 80’s and high humidity.
But it wasn’t nearly as hot as the small building that housed the sauna! We learned that the Finnish people took a sauna about twice a week or more often it they were working in the fields.
Then our walk along the road took us to the Danish immigrant farm and the Norwegian area. There we sampled a traditional butter cake baked in a wood stove.
During our visits to all the houses at Old World, Donna noticed the quilts and I noticed how uncomfortable the beds looked. I guess it was better than sleeping on the floor, it seems to me, but not by much!
A stop at the Raspberry School was very interesting as it was staff by a well-informed docent. In the top photo, she is pointing to Bayfield County in northern Wisconsin where this school originated. In the second photo, she’s explaining that the thicker the reader, the more advanced the student. Students at this school went to the 6th grade.
As we moved around the grounds, we saw a new born calf named Sunny and sheep located, well duh, in the sheep pasture! We also saw baby pigs, chickens, oxen, and a couple of Percheron draft horses.
We sampled some very good lefse at the Norwegian farm. Again, they were happy for a cooler day to do all that work inside.
The Polish farm house was very interesting. The house was made of short on end logs imbedded with grout or concrete. This made for an interesting design. On one side of the house was the living quarters and the other side was the livestock. And of course, out back was the outhouse!
The German farms were particularly well organized. We were especially impressed by the gardens at the two farms, so neat and, well, so German!
These young folks were demonstrating how our ancestors made flax straw into linen and other products. From what I could gather, one would beat the devil out of the straw then it was woven into cloth. Sounds like a lot of work to me! The second photo is of a fellow making wheel spokes by hand using a spoke knife. A visitor is giving it a try.
This woman was demonstrating how the settlers used greenery available to decorate their homes for the Midsummar celebration. Note the braided decoration over the door on the left of the photo.
In the African-American area is a chapel with a replica cemetery! In the early settler days, caucasians and blacks lived next to each other, worshipped together, were buried together and virtually did everything together. It was later when prejudice arrived and communities became segregated. We can learn something from that time!
These last photos are some scenes from around the grounds.
I hope you enjoyed your visit to Old World Wisconsin. It’s a day long adventure and there is a lot for the kids to do too. So come walk in the footsteps of our ancestors and explore the world they helped create.
Til next time, travel safe.