History Comes Alive at Wisconsin’s Heritage Sites

Learning the stories behind what makes Wisconsin so unique can transform a regular vacation into a memorable one. Luckily, Wisconsin has a ton of opportunities for travelers, from one-of-a-kind museums dedicated to iconic products such as beer, cranberries, canoes and Harleys, to others that feature the more obscure, like spinning tops, logic puzzles, bobbleheads and clowns.

For an even deeper dive, hundreds of local, regional and state heritage sites throughout Wisconsin preserve and share the accounts of native and immigrant peoples, where the intersection of cultural, spiritual, political and economic activities shaped our state — and nation. Stop in at some of these spots and discover the stories and experiences that bring Wisconsin’s history to life.

Deep-Rooted Traditions

The Oneida Nation is one of eleven Native American tribes located in Wisconsin, and they welcome visitors to come and learn about their culture. Nature trails, a gift-shop gallery, interactive exhibits and a peaceful garden comprise the Oneida Nation Museum in De Pere, where you can join a guided tour to gain insight into the Nation’s beliefs, customs and unique worldview. Explore the inside of a replica long house, a traditional home of the Oneida, as well as village life through other interactive displays.  Learn about the roles that the Oneida people played during the Revolutionary War and World War I. If you visit in the summer, be sure to drop by the Oneida Pow Wow, a spectacular three-day celebration of culture, dance and song, with talented performers in stunning beaded and feathered dress taking center stage.  

Ferry Over to the Island 

Gather your friends and jump on the ferry in Bayfield for a short jaunt to Madeline Island, one of the historic Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. Right off the boat, in La Pointe, the Madeline Island Museum highlights this ancient, spiritual center of the Ojibwe people that also became home to missionary efforts and an American Fur Company Post. As you stroll through the log- constructed museum, you can touch furs from the fur trade, read about immigrant life, and learn how the island evolved into a center for logging, fishing, boat building, mining and tourism. 

Last Stop on the Underground Railroad 

As the last, certified Underground Railroad Station that can be toured in the state, the 1844 Milton House Museum in Milton welcomed coach travelers to the inn’s rooms while freedom seekers escaping slavery gained entrance at a log cabin next door. Feel the adrenaline and raw emotion as you enter the trap door in the cabin and traverse a 45-foot tunnel below the inn, where asylum-seekers could rest and recharge before continuing north. This National Historic Landmark also tells of the town’s founding on progressive ideals and is a rare architectural example of a hexagonal grout building. Take a daytime or twilight tour with friends and feel the importance of this landmark to the history of Wisconsin and the whole country. 

Reenactors Bring History to Life 

Experience what life was like at an early 1800s Ojibwe village and two fur trade posts along the beautiful Yellow River at Forts Folle Avoine Historical Park in Danbury. Travel back in time as you watch Native Americans and fur trade reenactors in authentic garb exchange material goods and demonstrate cultural traditions as they unfolded more than 200 years ago. Stop by the blacksmith’s shop, the Quebec clay oven and a traditional wigwam and get a feel for the past that shaped the Wisconsin of today. 


Get a taste of the delicious side of Wisconsin’s history at the National Historic Cheesemaking Center in Monroe. First stop is the restored Imobersteg Farmstead Cheese Factory, founded by Swiss immigrants in the early 1890s. Say “cheese!” as you watch retired and master cheesemakers craft a 90-pound wheel of Swiss on century-old equipment. The museum spotlights this important state industry and its almost 10,000-year-old history and has a gift shop with tasty mementos to take home.

To try the antique equipment out for yourself, travel 20 minutes north to the New Glarus Swiss Historical Village Museum that includes 14 buildings that showcase nineteenth century life in this part of Wisconsin. Explore the old schoolhouse, log church, and other buildings and feel what it was really like to be a part of this unique culture.  

Ship’s Sailing! 

Three long and two short blasts from the S.S. Badger horn is the master’s salute on arrival in Manitowoc. This moving National Historic Landmark transports you through the waters of Lake Michigan to Ludington, Michigan, in mid-century maritime style. Put in service to move railcars in 1953 and renovated for passengers in 1992, the S.S. Badger is the only remaining coal-fired steamship in the nation. Lay back on a deck chaise and enjoy the fresh, open-air over the blue lake or a spectacular sunset in the evening.

Below deck, explore the ship’s historic interior, including a gift shop, board-gaming lounge and 40 staterooms, available for rent. Movies, bingo and food/beverage service are also available on deck for a unique family adventure you won’t soon forget. 

For more fun stops with a side of history, check out these buildings that shaped Wisconsin’s history and historic towns on the Great River Road.

This entry was posted in Museums & History