Natural wonders and circus delights
Your tour guide: Kathy Schauf, Sauk County Arts, Humanities and Historic Preservation Committee
Sauk County has a rich cultural heritage that provides a unique sense of place to the towns, villages and rural countryside. This day trip begins in Baraboo, surrounded by the picturesque and historic Baraboo Range. Composed of Precambrian quartzite, the Baraboo Range is an international geological landmark. The Nature Conservancy has designated the Baraboo Range as one of the last great places on earth. The scenic beauty of the Baraboo Range can be enjoyed through the public access offered at Devil's Lake State Park.
Next is a trip to Baraboo's historic downtown for a short walk around the courthouse square. This square is lined with shops that offer everything cultural. You'll find original artworks at the Cornerstone Gallery, Helen's Daughters, and The Upper Level Shoppes of Corner on Wisconsin. If you have a literary bent, try The Village Booksmith.
The square also offers architectural marvels in both the Historic Courthouse and the Al. Ringling Theatre, both of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1905-1906 courthouse was built in the "classic" style with Indiana limestone, Ionic pilasters and a terracotta roof. It was a departure from the typical Midwestern courthouse in both appearance and manner of construction.
Dubbed the "Prettiest Playhouse in America," the Al. Ringling Theatre is a treasure of rare quality. Magnificent and richly designed in the style of grand French opera houses, the Theatre is a masterpiece of European-style architecture. Fine plasterwork, tasseled draperies, intricate ceiling frescos and decorative lighting create an atmosphere steeped in artistic pleasures both exuberant and serene. "The Al." offers tours, movie showings and periodic live performances.
Within walking distance from Baraboo's historic downtown lies the Van Orden Mansion, home of the Sauk County Historical Society, located at 531 Fourth Ave. The home, built in 1903, has been maintained as a house museum, with extensive collections indigenous to Sauk County.
Circus World Museum is another unique cultural and historical experience. Located at the site of the original Ringling Brothers winter quarters, Circus World offers delights for the entire family. Offerings include live Big Top performances and the KidsWorld Circus, circus wagon displays, exotic animal rides, a grand carousel and band organ concerts.
Moving to the perimeter of Baraboo, one can view one of the archeological wonders of the world. Located at Man Mound County Park, Greenfield Township, is one of many Indian mounds located in the county. Mounds in the human form are extremely rare, and though Man Mound is no longer intact, the majority of the figure can be seen by visiting the site in the county park, also named Man Mound.
A ride on the historic free car ferry in Merrimac concludes the day. The Merrimac Free Ferry traces its origins back to 1844, when Chester Mattson, the second settler on the site of the village of Merrimac, obtained charters to provide ferry service at this location. The ferry was operated long before the development of a regular roadway. Visit the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's website for a complete history of the Merrimac Free Ferry.