By Amy Bayer
From the Mighty Mississippi to the rolling hills of the Driftless Region, some of the greatest assets for southwest Wisconsin include natural beauty that has influenced the infrastructure, historic sites and folk art that pepper the countryside and riverfronts.
Here are seven man-made wonders from southwest Wisconsin that are open year-round and represent a range of regional assets including agri-tourism, folk art and everything in between.
This man-made wonder was constructed by a catholic priest in the late 1920s. He used stone, mortar and brightly colored objects to create shrines dedicated to his two passions: the love of God and love of country.
Formed without blueprints, these amazing pieces of folk art are located in a park-like setting and are free and available to tour year-round. Walk the grounds and witness the devotion and artistic expression captured in stone.
The Wisconsin section of this man-made wonder traverses 250 miles through eight counties and 33 towns along the Mississippi River. Recognized as an asset to culture, history, nature, recreation and scenic beauty, this roadway will provide everything from bluff-top views to small-town charm.
In the late 1960s, six large storage tanks were constructed at the G. Heileman Brewery and then painted to resemble cans of Old Style Lager. They were dubbed the “World’s Largest Six Pack.”
It’s been calculated that the structure's volume would fill more than seven million twelve-ounce cans, enough for a six-pack a day for 3,351 years.
In 2003, the six-pack received a makeover under new ownership and became home to some giant La Crosse Lagers. This iconic landmark is a whimsical photo opportunity representative of a state with a proud beer brewing history.
Constructed in 1902, the Grant County Courthouse was made with red sandstone and adorned with a visually stunning glass and copper dome. With this iconic centerpiece in the heart of historic downtown shopping district, Lancaster is known as the “City of the Dome.”
In addition, located just outside on the northeast corner of the town square is Wisconsin’s first monument dedicated to the memory of Civil War soldiers.
A lake may seem like an odd choice for a man-made wonder, but not when you learn its history. It was once the site of the Jackson County Iron Mine Quarry, with massive pumps keeping it dry. However, when the mine closed in 1983, the pumps were turned off and the 355-foot quarry, including roads and a forest, were buried underwater.
It is the deepest lake in Wisconsin and considered one of the best scuba diving locations in the Midwest. Divers can follow the abandoned mining roads, swim through the underwater forest and explore a shipwreck.
Open year-round, Wazee Lake has crystal clear water and during the winter the visibility is up to 60 feet, which is better than any other time of year.
During the 1950s, a retired farmer named Herman Rusch built a museum of oddities – after all, where else can you see a washing machine powered by a goat on a treadmill?
Concerned that the land surrounding the museum was too barren, Rusch started to create concrete and stone sculptures. The cornerstone of his sculpture garden is a 260-foot arched fence that borders the north end of his property. His stonework was embellished with glass, seashells, and whatever colored objects he could find.
During the 1990s, the Kohler Foundation purchased the property as part of their mission to preserve significant art environments by self-taught artists, and eventually donated the land to the community as a year-round public space representative of Wisconsin’s cultural art history.
Head to Vernon County for the highest concentration of round barns in the world. These structures have become rare over time, but were once highly promoted during the late 1800s because they were easier to construct, more efficient and wind resistant with the silo and hay chute in the center of the structure.
With the age of electricity, the round barns became a thing of the past and a hindrance to modern milking systems. Now only 10 remain in Vernon County, and the Vernon County Museum can assist you with a book about the history of the barns and a map for a self-guided tour to view these unique pieces of agricultural history in Wisconsin.
The scenic drive will take you through the beautiful hills and valleys of the Driftless Region.
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.