7 Man-Made Wonders of South Central Wisconsin

By Amy Bayer
Staff Writer

The south central region of Wisconsin abounds in historic sites, museums and family-fun destinations. There are also a multitude of capitals like the Waterpark Capital of the World, the Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA and the Troll Capital of the World … and that’s just to name a few!

With so many things to see, it’s no mystery why you should head to South central Wisconsin to explore man-made wonders galore! Here are seven to get started on your next visit.

1. State Capitol – Madison

State Capitol

Towering over Madison’s downtown, the capitol dome is 200 feet tall and is the only granite dome in the United States. The current building is actually the third state capitol on the site since the first was replaced by a larger building that was destroyed by a fire.

The current capitol was built between 1906 and 1917, and includes 43 varieties of stone from around the world, hand-carved furniture, historic paintings, beautiful glass mosaics and head-turning murals.

Stop by the information desk in the rotunda to sign up for a guided tour and explore this magnificent historic site that showcases Wisconsin’s heritage. During the summer visitors are able to walk out onto the observation deck around the dome to see panoramic views of the capital city’s isthmus.

2. Tommy Bartlett Exploratory – Wisconsin Dells

The Interactive Science Center is a classic example of family fun and hands-on education. There are more than 175 interactive displays that explore science, technology and space, including an original Russian Space Station MIR core module – the only one on display in the world.

One of the most popular exhibits at the exploratory is the Van De Graaff Generator – Bridge of Fire, which allows visitors to feel the interior power of a thundercloud for a great photo op with hair-raising results.

Head to Wisconsin Dells to explore a building filled with man-made wonders!

3. Beloit College Campus – Beloit

Visitors are always welcome at this historic college campus, and maps of walking, biking and hiking tours are readily available online. Founded in 1846, Beloit College is the oldest college in continuous service in Wisconsin, and four of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to its iconic red brick buildings, the campus is located on 40 wooded acres and includes 20 effigy mounds, shaped by Woodland Native Americans between 400 and 1200 A.D.

Not only is the campus abundant in historical and archeological significance, but there are several museums and a center for the arts that is open to the public.

4. Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts – Mineral Point

With a mission to inspire creativity and care for the historic homesteads along Federal Spring, Shake Rag Alley has blossomed into a unique arts community in the heart of Mineral Point. Located on 2.5 acres of beautiful gardens in nine historic buildings that once housed miners, this art destination became a thriving cultural center with children’s programs, a performance stage and adult art workshops.

Art and culture has become so integral to the area that there are 17 galleries within walking distance. Visitors are welcome to explore the grounds, and a walking tour brochure is located near the front of the destination.

5. Dodge County Historical Society – Beaver Dam

Dedicated to the preservation and advancement of Dodge County history since 1938, the society is housed in the former Williams Free Library in Beaver Dam. This incredible structure was first opened as a library on September 1, 1891, with 4,500 books.

Now the striking building is home to several permanent exhibits that highlight Dodge County’s history, including a one-room school house, which is one of the most popular on-site features. There are also several collections on display including vintage jewelry, an extensive rock collection and military memorabilia that dates back to the War of 1812.

Step back in time as you walk through the halls of this building constructed more than 100 years ago.

6. Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center – Madison

Frank Lloyd Wright originally proposed the design for the Monona Terrace in 1938 as a gathering place in downtown Madison. There was a long and controversial history before the doors of this man-made wonder along the shores of Lake Monona were finally opened in 1997.

Guided tours are provided at the convention center that will highlight the beautiful architecture of the curved building and breathtaking views of the lake. Be sure to explore the Frank Lloyd Wright gallery, where visitors can learn more about the history of creating Wright’s dream project and the labor of love it was for both the architect and community leaders.

7. Merrimac Ferry – Merrimac

The only free ferry in the state, the Merrimac Ferry operates 24 hours a day from the time the Wisconsin River is clear of ice (typically late March) to when it freezes again (end of November to mid-December).

The first ferry started in 1844 when ferrymen manually pulled a flatbed from shore to shore. Now, passengers board the Colsac III. The trip takes about 7 minutes, and the ferry can hold up to 15 vehicles.

In the 1960s, the Wisconsin Highway Department assumed that when an interstate bridge was created over the Wisconsin River 25 miles away, passengers would no longer want the ferry; however, it continues to be well used.

Drivers go out of their way to cross the river by ferry, especially in the thick of summer when up to 1,200 vehicles cross each day. This nostalgic man-made wonder is waiting for you to take a ride and see the incredible scenery of the Wisconsin River.


Check out Wisconsin's top man-made wonders statewide, and keep an eye on TravelWisconsin.com as we highlight more regions in this occasional series.

This entry was posted in History & Heritage Tours