A grand secret on Lake Michigan's shore
Your tour guide: Helene Capizzi, Mead Public Library
People who live in Sheboygan sometimes feel they are part of a grand secret. Why, if everyone else knew about all the interesting things to see and do, the great restaurants and specialty stores, and the beautiful location on Lake Michigan, well, we might all have to move someplace quieter!
You can see a lot here in a day. Spend a good part of your trip downtown near the lake in the area called Harbor Centre. If you don't mind walking a bit, you can get around this area easily without using your car. All of these suggestions are kid-friendly, but adults will enjoy these attractions too.
Start at Mead Public Library, which has interesting things to see outside and throughout the building. Outdoors are four sculptures and a magnificent 25-foot clocktower with four brass reliefs. Inside, don't miss the Commedia dell'Arte mural by artist Mollie Eckardt, the Schuttey paperweight collection, the Rocca bookmark collection, the beautifully restored 1909 Cameron murals that hang in the Quiet Study Room, and the Ruben Vega watercolors of historic Sheboygan. Before you leave, check out the Art-o-mat, one of just a handful in Wisconsin. It's a vending machine that dispenses original works of art for $5.
If you have kids in tow, you may want to make your next stop the Above and Beyond Children's Museum, a block north of the library. (On the way, you'll pass the restored Sheboygan Theatre, a 1920s Spanish-style movie palace. It's open only for performances, though.) Above and Beyond offers lots of hands-on opportunities for kids of all agesand adults who love big toys, too! Kids can climb, make stuff and explore. If you're a circus buff, be sure to catch the Siegl Circus exhibit too. (If you visit on a Wednesday or Saturday in summer or fall, walk another block north to the Fountain Park farmer's market.)
Next up, a few blocks east, is the spectacular John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC), which offers over 100,000 square feet dedicated to the visual and performing arts. The building includes the original 1882 Italianate home built by the founder of the Kohler Co.
In a traditional town like Sheboygan, the JMKAC stands out as a world-class contemporary art museum. Many of its changing exhibits would seem much more comfortable in New York City, instead of New York Ave. in Sheboygan. "Outsider" art is a specialty and the JMKAC has one of the largest collections of work by self-taught artists anywhere. And, whether you need to or not, go into the restrooms, which are also works of art. (The Travel Channel named them among the three best in the world!) Finally, if you need a break, there's a lovely indoor/outdoor cafe.
Walk a few blocks south, then east on Pennsylvania Avenue and you'll be at the marina and lakefront beach area. There you'll also find the remains of the "Lottie Cooper," a schooner that went down in an 1894 storm. It was found during survey work for the marina and was reassembled and put on display, a memorial to lost Great Lakes seamen. The nearby Sheboygan River boardwalk offers many dining and shopping opportunities. Across the river are more stores and eating options, bike and kayak rentals and also the Blue Harbor Resort. It has great indoor waterpark for kids, and day passes are available.
Then get in your car for a ride south to Indian Mound Park (located on Ninth St. and Panther Ave.). The park is the site of 18 Native American effigy burial mounds in deer, panther, conical and linear shapes. If you have an interest in mounds, don't miss this site. If you're not an effigy buff, you'll still enjoy a pleasant, cool and quiet stroll through the park and nature trail.
Before you leave Sheboygan, stop at the Sheboygan County Historical Museum complex at 3110 Erie Ave. The centerpiece is a stately building that was the home of Judge David Taylor in the 1850s (the only building originally located on the grounds). Other structures include an 1864 log house that illustrates the farm living experience, an 1890s barn and an 1867 cheese factory. Many local history items are on display in the recently built carriage barn addition and underground exhibit space. There you'll find exhibits depicting Sheboygan's history, as varied as Native Americans, a Sheboygan circus and a very vintage drugstore. The museum is open seasonally with many changing exhibitions. Around the holidays, for example, you'll see a department store animation display and the Taylor home in seasonal decor.