by Benson Gardner, PortalWisconsin.org
Nestled among southwestern Wisconsin's trademark rolling hills, not far from the Mighty Mississippi, and just across a not-so-well-traveled highway from Nelson Dewey State Park, is a large grouping of buildings that will give you a look into frontier life in Wisconsin in the 1890s and early 1900s. And nearby, just over a covered bridge, is one of the state's most impressive collections of historic farm equipment.
Greeting travelers at the front of the site is a grand edifice of light stone, with the word "Stonefield" emblazoned near the top. On the outside, this stately structure nearly overshadows a sizeable reddish-brown house across the street. But don't be fooled: the red one was Governor Dewey's house, and the light one his horse barn. (His original Gothic Revival home was much grander, but burned in 1873.) The admission price to Stonefield covers a tour of Dewey's "new" house as well.
The horse barn now plays the role of Stonefield's visitor center. It's modern inside, except for a storage area in the back filled with eye-poppingly old farm equipment.
Walking past this equipment brings you to the rest of the site. Exiting the building, you can go left, right, or straight ahead. In front of you is a farmhouse done up in authentic turn-of-the-century style. The white wood frame will remind you of Wisconsin's countryside even today, but peek inside to see how farmhouses have changed in the last hundred yearsand how they haven't.
To your right, you'll find the State Agricultural Museum, housing farm machinery that includes an example of the first tractor with rubber wheels and sales models of implements and machines from famed manufacturer Cyrus McCormick. Dioramas tell the story of how farming has changed over time.
To your left after leaving the visitor center is the village green, an open space dotted with small trees and a gazebo-like bandstand. Around the green sit a couple dozen historic buildings restored to resemble an 1890s Wisconsin town. More are hiding nearby, along other "streets." You can walk into a period bank that is utterly convincing in its patterned wallpaper, eagle emblems and brass bars and textured glass near the teller area.
There are many things to do at Stonefield; you can help manufacture brooms, buy candy, select a coffin at the furniture store/funeral parlor (a typical frontier combination), or pose for one of those new-fangled "photographs." If you like horses, there are three places for you to visit in the village: the livery stable, the harness and hardware store and the blacksmith shop. If the horses give you headaches, pick up your favorite remedy (or at least some goose grease labeled as your favorite remedy) at the vintage druggist's, complete with medicine-making equipment and a cornucopia of glass bottles. (Take a virtual tour of the drugstore.)
In summer, though, time travelers might be well advised to bring at least one artifact of modern civilization with thembug spray. Mosquitoes are perfectly willing to flock to the village greenalmost as if they know that insect repellents weren't invented yet in the 1890s.
If you go: Stonefield Historic Site is located in Cassville, in southwestern Wisconsin. Driving directions and other visitor information can be found at the official Stonefield Web site. The phone number is 608-725-5210.