Desperately Seeking Serenity - in Southeast Wisconsin

By Lisa From

After weeks with the stresses of work, the holidays, work, house hunting and more work bogging us down, Que and I were in dire need of an escape. Some time spent away from computer monitors, cell phones and unruly housemates was well overdue.

Based on an idea we had last winter, and never got around to, we decided that a bed and breakfast would be the perfect place to repose.

A few years ago I had the chance to tour the Allyn Mansion B & B in Delavan. (Ed. note - the Allyn Mansion is currently for sale and not operating as a B&B, though we hope it does again in the future.) I couldn't conjure up many images of what it was like, but I remembered thinking one word: gorgeous. With that as our last stop, I began to mentally tick off quaint places we could visit. Places that would be quiet, peaceful and above all unique.

Early on a Friday morning we packed up the car and headed to our first destination: the Lincoln Tallman House in Janesville. I practically sprinted along the path, eager to get in out of the cold, while Que moseyed along, snapping photos and examining (in fine detail, I'm sure) the structural integrity of the house.

We were greeted by our tour guide, who turned out to be both friendly and knowledgeable. She led us inside and I, begrudgingly, put on the required paper booties, meant to simultaneously protect the carpets and make me look ridiculous. All was soon forgotten as I entered the main hall and skipped back to the 1850's.

Each room was carefully decorated and arranged. Small period items placed just-so on surfaces helped maintain the illusion that the house still could be lived in, if one abandoned the concept of real flush toilets. Though apparently the Tallmans were ahead of the technology game back then. They had a primitive plumbing and heating system that Que asked enough questions about to please the guide and make the other guests groan. While I found it interesting to hear about, and was relieved he was enjoying the tour, I'm afraid I promptly failed to remember all the specifications he discovered.

I didn't, however, forget the tale of Abraham Lincoln's stay, which caused quite a few smiles and chuckles amongst the group. Why? You'll have to visit to find out.

After the tour we continued through Janesville and on up to Milton. There, we stopped at the Campus Antiques Mall, located in the gym of the former Milton College. We wandered, wide-eyed, through aisles of display cases and booths showcasing everything from rhinestone jewelry to rifles. Not only was there variety, but the atmosphere was the antithesis of nearly every other shopping experience I've had. No crowds. No lines. No sales people came running over trying to get a big purchase out of us.

Still grinning, arms linked, we eventually left, a need for lunch steering us to Watertown.

On a side street of the downtown, we discovered The Market. From the outside it looked massive, but plain. Almost industrial. I'm glad I listened to the old adage "don't judge a book by its cover."

Again, I felt like I was no longer living in the 21st century. The floors were cobblestone, rich wooden beams lined the ceiling and the smell of fresh baked bread had our feet moving on autopilot towards The Upper Krust.

We were promptly seated and presented with a menu that not only taught us the origin of the phrase "upper crust" but assured us they can make over 100 varieties of pie from scratch. My kind of place.

Que, unable to pick just one dish, ordered pasta salad and a baked potato smothered in BBQ pork. I opted to have chicken potpie. It came in its own cute little foil pan with a scoop of cranberry sauce on the side. I ate the whole thing. Despite what my stomach was telling me, I insisted we order dessert. Our waitress brought us a generous slice of cheesecake that was drowning in raspberry sauce and topped off with a dollop of real whipped cream.

Thoroughly gorged and nearly rendered immobile (but very satisfied) we waddled out to explore the shops. Each one was chock-full of curios, knickknacks and specialties. The air was filled with the mingled scents of dried flowers, herbs and potpourri, making the experience pleasing to the senses. One-of-a-kind works of art and carefully woven rugs were on display both inside and outside the stores.

Finally, we strolled out on our way to the infamous I Love Funky's in Fort Atkinson. I'd been to Funky's once before and was eager to return. I know Que was a little apprehensive about this stop. I had described it only as "a furniture store with really weird stuff. It's cool."

Located in downtown Fort Atkinson, Funky's offers way more than couches. It's an experience. Nothing is normal in that place. In order to look at their selection of greeting cards you have to enter a man-sized cage. Their ceiling is covered in chandeliers and light fixtures for sale. Unable to restrain himself, Que petted the-once-alive-now-décor bear, mountain lion and moose. I just smiled and flipped through the pages of a pulp fiction picture book.

Eventually we made it out of there, sans mountain lion (much to someone's dismay), and took off for the Allyn Mansion. Remember when I said the Mansion was gorgeous? Let me change that to absolutely amazing. Seriously. There is no part of that house that hasn't been carefully arranged or decorated. No corner that doesn't look perfect, picturesque, decadent and yet welcoming.

Once we entered the tranquilly low-lit, relaxed atmosphere and met our hosts Joe and Ron, huge internal sighs were expelled. This was the place. The escape we were looking for. Instantly the tensions of the past few months began to dissipate as we were led upstairs to the incredible Mary E. room.

The centerpiece of our room, its crown jewel, was a nine-and-a-half-foot tall rosewood canopy bed dating back to 1820. My side of the bed even had a miniature staircase so short people like me could climb in and out easily. Our room was so beautiful. So detailed. After poking around for a minute, like children hunting for Easter eggs, we sprawled out on the carpet in front of the gas log fireplace.

In the morning we reluctantly climbed out of that amazing bed and got dressed to join everyone for breakfast. Fresh fruit, wonderfully strong coffee and just-squeezed orange juice were served, along with what our hosts called oven-puffed French toast. It was a kind of coffeecake-French toast hybrid, coated in melted brown sugar, cinnamon, nuts and about a billion other things that assaulted my senses. They even made a sauce with cherries from their own tree. Delicious. Really.

After breakfast we had a few hours left to explore the 12-bedroom mansion. As we peeked into each one Que kept saying "we're coming back here," "let's stay in this room next time" and "we're only staying at B & B's from now on." I definitely agreed with each of those statements.

When it was time to go, we reluctantly packed our bags, thanked our hosts and climbed into the car. Normally when I return home from a trip, I feel the stresses beginning to pick at me again, but this time I still felt utterly relaxed as the miles flew by. We had a great time, and I know we'll be back again sometime.

For now, since we don't have $1.6 million to purchase the Allyn Mansion (yes, it's for sale and worth every penny), we'll just have to keep visiting. At least until we win the lottery.

Lincoln Tallman House
(608) 756-4509
440 N. Jackson St
Janesville, WI 53548

Campus Antiques Mall
(608) 868-3324
609 Campus St.
Milton, WI 53563

The Upper Krust
1300 Memorial Drive
Watertown, WI 53098

The Market
(920) 262-2348
210 S. Water St
Watertown, WI 53094

I Love Funky's
(877) 257-9868
90 S. Main St
Fort Atkinson, WI 53538

The Allyn Mansion
(262) 728-9090
511 E. Walworth Ave
Delavan, WI 53115

Elizabeth's Café
(262) 728-3383
322 E. Walworth Ave
Delavan, WI 53115

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