by Jennifer Smith, PortalWisconsin.org
A visit to the Wisconsin Historical Society's Wade House historic site in Greenbush is like seeing threeor even fourmuseums in one. While the Wade House, an 1860s stagecoach inn, is billed as the main attraction, one can also marvel at the vintage wagons and carriages in the Wesley Jung Carriage Museum, watch a demonstration at the Herrling sawmill and chat with a blacksmith as he plies his craft in the blacksmith's shop.
Wade House, a large Greek Revival structure built in 1850, harks back to a time when its proprietors thought their new hometown of Greenbush would become a bustling mecca. Greenbush sat on the plank road between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac, attracting travelers who needed a place to grab a meal and hang their hats for a night. Owners Sylvanus and Betsey Wade, Yankee transplants to the upper Midwest, expected Greenbush to grow rapidly. Unfortunately for them, when railroad tracks reached that part of Wisconsin, they traveled through Glenbeulah, just northeast of Greenbush, causing the village's fortune to decline.
During its heyday, the 27-room Wade House offered the amenities of the more "civilized" East. Visitors today are shown around by guides in period costumes. The inn was restored in the early 1950s by Ruth DeYoung Kohler, through efforts supported by the Kohler Foundation, which deeded to property to the Wisconsin Historical Society. The year 2003 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the site's operation as a state historic site. (View a virtual tour of the tavern/meeting room in Wade House.)
Just a brief stroll from Wade House lies the blacksmith's shop, and just beyond that, the Herrling Sawmill. This water-powered mill cuts boards and planks from logs and replicates the one owned by Theodor Herrling, who immigrated to Wisconsin from Leipzig, Germany. Herrling's original sawmill operated in the same spot from 1854 to 1910. The new mill, which opened to the public in 2001, is one of a very few working, water-powered sawmills of its type in North America. (View a virtual tour of the Herrling Sawmill.)
The Wesley Jung Carriage Museum also recognizes the contribution of a German immigrant to Wisconsin. In 1855, carriage maker Jacob Jung left his native country to settle in Sheboygan. The family carriage and wagon business he began in his adopted home operated until 1917, when the automobile's rise spelled the end of a traditional way of transportation. Jung's grandson, Wesley Jung, wanted to preserve these horse- and hand-drawn vehicles that were once so common on American streets. In 1968, his collection of vintage vehicles opened as a museum on the grounds of Wade House.
The wagons and carriages are splendid and almost startling in their variety: a circus calliope, sleighs, children's wagons, fire wagons, hearses and much more fill the large building. Their designs are as varied as the purposes they were made to serve. (Take a virtual tour of the Wesley Jung Carriage Museum.)
The 2006 season for Wade House runs until October 15 (the annual season runs from mid-May to mid-October). Its hours through the remainder of the season are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Civil War buffs will particularly enjoy the weekend of Sept. 23-24, Wade House's Civil War Weekend.
The event is one of the largest encampments and battle reenactments in the Midwest. In addition to the battles at 2 p.m. each dayinvolving hundreds of Union and Confederate "soldiers"other offerings focus on the experience of women and civilians, field-hospital surgery, life in soldier camps, military drills and even period edibles. Civil War Weekend activities are included in the regular admission charge for Wade House. For more about this event, search PortalWisconsin.org or visit the Wade House pages of the Wisconsin Historical Society Web site.
By visiting just one place, visitors can learn a lot about Wisconsin historyall of it accessible through just a short stroll or a horse-drawn wagon ride. Wade House, the Jung Carriage Museum, and the Herrling Sawmill offer a vivid glimpse of how people from Wisconsin's past lived, worked and traveled.