An eclectic day in Monroe County
Your tour guide: Dr. Jim Brown, The Little Falls Railroad & Doll Museum, Ltd.
Whether you're in a car with five or a tour bus with fifty, within fifteen miles of the Sparta area in western Monroe County, you can spend a day enjoying interesting and exciting places.
Just nine miles north of Sparta, near the town of Cataract, is The Little Falls Railroad & Doll Museum. Set on a three-acre campus in a quiet rural setting, the Doll Museum houses over 2,000 dolls, ranging from German dolls of the 1800s to contemporary Barbies and others. Many famous doll artists have donated their work. The Railroad Museum houses memorabilia from the days when steam was king. A gallery of railroad art, with many original works, is also on exhibit, and a Milwaukee Bay window caboose is open for inspection. A picnic shelter, Garden Railroad and children's train ride are just a few of the other attractions at the Museum. New for 2010 is a display of Japanese dolls and an exhibit of the Wizard of Oz in the Doll Museum--and a large display of billboard refrigerator cars, all from Wisconsin breweries.
Just south of Cataract on Highway 27/71, you can visit the Wegner Grotto. This unique example of American folk or "outsider" art has many pieces constructed from 1928 to 1937 by Paul and Matilda Wegner, who emigrated from Germany. They collected broken bottles, crockery and other ceramic items to build not only a "Glass Church," but also a model of the steamship Bremen, a wedding cake and many other items representing events in their lives. The County maintains this most unusual setting.
In Sparta, you will find the Deke Slayton Memorial Space and Bicycle Museum. On the second floor of the historic Masonic Temple, the Museum houses many mementos of astronaut Deke Slayton's career, as well as bicycles from the earliest models to the latest. A new aviation exhibit featuring a Pietenpol airplane and a quarter-scale model of the original Wright Flyer are on display.
On the first floor of the Masonic Temple, you can visit the Monroe County Local History Room. Many interesting artifacts portray the early history of the County, the exhibits change frequently. The History Room also houses a remarkable number of genealogical records.
Just a few miles east of Sparta on Highway 21, you'll find Fort McCoy. On the grounds of this 68,000-acre military base is an impressive Commemorative Area. There are over 100 military vehicles on display, dating from World War I to the present. Of course, you'll need a picture ID to access the post.
While there are many places to stop for refreshments, Ginny's Cupboard, with its old-fashioned soda fountain, can provide not only ice cream delights, but also delicious soups and sandwiches. Ginny's Cupboard is located at 127 N. Water St., Sparta; its telephone number is 608-269-6669.
The Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce has developed an excellent DVD highlighting all of these attractions and more. You can obtain a loaner copy by calling 608-269-4123 or by e-mailing email@example.com.