Historic Houses

  • Chasing gangsters in Wisconsin

    In 1920, northern Wisconsin already was a playground for people from Chicago. And when Prohibition flung open the door to organized crime, its remote lakes and forests became even more attractive to a certain kind of Chicagoan.

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  • H.H. Bennett's Wisconsin Dells

    H.H. Bennett wanted tourists to come to the Wisconsin Dells, and thanks to him, they came. Boy, did they come. In Bennett’s day, they stayed for weeks, playing croquet and checkers and going on picnics, boat excursions on the Wisconsin River and perhaps to a magic-lantern show of stereoscope slides from Bennett’s studio.

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  • Ghosts of Galena

    In the northwest corner of Illinois, there's no more cheerful place than Galena. Eventually, demand for lead waned, and the river connecting Galena to the Mississippi filled with silt. The town went into a deep sleep until the 1960s, by which point it had become a virtual museum.

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  • Exploring Chippewa Falls

    In Chippewa Falls, people owe a debt to two kinds of folks: the bubbas and the geeks. The first came to harvest the lumber and stayed to drink the beer, or so claims the brewery: "It takes a special beer to attract 2,500 men to a town with no women,'' says Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing, founded in 1867 and now the oldest business in town.

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  • Ghosts on the prowl

    It's funny how, wherever there are tourists, there are ghosts.

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  • Duluth's grand mansion

    It took a servant a day and a half to polish one of their chandeliers. It took three Norwegian craftsmen three years to carve their woodwork. Still, it's hard to begrudge Chester and Clara Congdon their nice things, because apparently they were very nice people. Chester gave 11 miles of Lake Superior shoreline to the people of Duluth and made sure it was preserved for them in perpetuity. Clara donated her time and resources to the Methodist church; her servants ate the same meals she did and were paid twice as much as others.

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  • Hinckley's Fire Museum

    On a September day in 1894, Hinckley, Minn., was hell on earth. Small fires smoldered in the countryside, many started when hot cinders from trains landed in tinder-dry slashings — the crowns, stumps and branches left behind by logging crews.

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  • Barn storming

    There’s just something about barns. Many people like to drive around the countryside looking for them. But they're disappearing fast.

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  • Brigadoon in bluff country

    In Minnesota, people value their own history so much that the Minnesota Historical Society was founded nine years before the state itself. No wonder the state's living-history sites are among the best in the nation.

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  • West Branch's 'wonder boy'

    Poor Herbert Hoover. Orphaned at age 9, he spent his childhood picking potato bugs, weeding onions and cleaning barns. His first job after graduation from Stanford was shoveling ore.

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  • Prairie du Chien's past

    He was young and dashing, the son of Wisconsin's first millionaire, an Indian trader who became a country gentleman. The pair loved art, horses and books; after they met in St. Paul and married, they honeymooned in Europe, where they commissioned an artist to cast their handsome faces in bronze.

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  • In search of Christmas past

    Once, every child in America celebrated Christmas without battery-operated toys. Instead, they played flap jacks and dominos. They made paper ornaments for the tree. They got an orange brought all the way from Florida. That’s still what kids do during Christmas time at Old World Wisconsin, where it’s always the 19th century. Danish, Norwegian, German, Polish, Finnish and Yankee families toil there, trying to get ahead on the American frontier.

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  • Homes for the holidays

    Two centuries ago, Minnesota and Wisconsin were ripe for the picking. Iron ore lay under forests of tall white pine, fertile farmland lay under prairie grasses, and rivers teeming with beaver led to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

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  • Street of dreams

    Even tourists from the great European capitals are impressed by Summit Avenue. It's not just one mansion, but one after another, all the way from the Mississippi River to the massive Cathedral of St. Paul, overlooking downtown and the state Capitol.

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  • Welcome, darlings, to Ten Chimneys

    In a bucolic corner of southeast Wisconsin, a famous acting couple created a retreat unlike any other. They had so much star power they took only roles that allowed them to work together — and to spend summers at their beloved country house near the village of Genesee Depot.

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  • The artistic Gags of New Ulm

    New Ulm hasn't always understood the kind of people who color outside the lines. That describes the entire family of Anton Gág, a German-Bohemian artist whose work can be seen at New Ulm's Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and the brewery of August Schell, who was his patron and sent him to art school in Chicago for six months. All seven children were creative, spending their days drawing, telling stories and building sets for plays.

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  • Home of horsepower

    In Wisconsin, folks like to go fast when they're on vacation. That's why they invented the snowmobile (Sayner), the Harley-Davidson motorcycle (Milwaukee), the outboard motor (Cambridge) and the race car (Menomonie).

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