Follow the "paper trail" in the Fox Cities
Your tour guide: Pam Seidl, Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau
Houdini and Hearthstonea cultural voyage through Wisconsin's Fox Cities wouldn't be complete without them. In these 18 communities along the Fox River and Lake Winnebago, you'll find rich history and a vibrant vision for the future, urban style and small-town warmth.
In the early 1900s, it is said that Neenah boasted more millionaires per capita than any community west of Newport, Rhode Island. Today, you can see the mansions these paper barons built, most still privately owned and all impeccably maintained, on the Neenah Historic Walking tour. The walk through this historic neighborhood along the shores of Lake Winnebago is one of the most beautiful in the Fox Cities. Pick up a guide at the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau (3433 W. College Ave., Appleton, 800-2DO-MORE) or at the Future Neenah office (135 W. Wisconsin Ave.). The tour takes you along Wisconsin Avenue and the shores of Lake Winnebago to Neenah's Kimberly Point Lighthouse.
The only paper baron mansion open to the public houses the Bergstrom-Mahler Art Museum (165 N. Park Ave., Neenah). Given the area's history, it seems appropriate that the Bergstrom-Mahler houses the world's largest collection of glass paperweights, as well as many traveling exhibits. Entrance to the museum is free.
Continuing the Fox Cities "paper trail" in Appleton, the Paper Discovery Center (425 W. Water St.) explores the world of paper through hands-on experience. Learn how paper is made in area mills and even make your own paper. Located in the portion of Appleton known as the "flats," you can see how the early paper and power companies used the Fox River for transportation and power with the construction of several dams and a lock system that was used to ease travel from Lake Winnebago to Green Bay.
Perched on a bank above the river, the Hearthstone Historic House Museum (625 W. Prospect Ave., Appleton) is the world's first home to be lit with a central hydroelectric system using the Edison system. The restored 1882 home is open for tours and features changing exhibits and programs, including a not-to-be missed Victorian Christmas exhibit when the house is festooned in the splendor of the season.
The Hearthstone is just several blocks south of Downtown Appleton, the cultural heart of the Fox Cities. Here galleries, museums, performing arts and a variety of dining, nightlife and entertainment options are all within walking distance.
The life and illusions of legendary magician Harry Houdini, an Appleton native, are on display in "A.K.A. Houdini" at the History Museum at the Castle (330 E. College Ave., Appleton). Two shining stars for the performing arts bookend downtown Appleton: the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (or PAC, 400 W. College Ave.) and Lawrence University. The PAC features the latest Broadway touring companies as well as the Fox Valley Symphony and other local performing arts groups. Lawrence University is internationally known for its programs in music and drama. Students, faculty and numerous guest artists fill the on-campus performance calendar during the school year.
Several unique art galleries call downtown Appleton home. The Trout Museum of Art (111 W. College Ave.) features rotating exhibits of national, regional and local artists as well as many classes. The Wriston Art Center on the campus of Lawrence University showcases student, staff and travelling works. You can also see artists in action at Coventry Glassworks and Gallery (514 W. College Ave.) featuring extensive stained glass items. If you want to create your own work of art, The Fire offers the chance to paint potter, create mosaics and fused glass.
A wonderful highlight of Downtown Appleton is the The Building for Kids Children’s Museum (100 W. College Ave.). A place for kids of every age, the hands-on exhibits such as the Happy Baby Garden, Amazing Heart, Magnetic Crane and full-size fire engine will challenge the mind and tickle the fancy.
Just 1.5 hours north of Milwaukee or Madison, the Fox Cities provide a unique day trip experience or a wonderful weekend getaway. For more information, visit www.foxcities.org.