Traveling through the communities of Warrens, Hixton, Hatfield, Black River Falls and Osseo, in West Central Wisconsin, the trail follows Hwys. 12 and 95, I-94 and several side roads.
As you wind your way along through some of the most scenic countryside in the state, you can stop at 27 places that sell a variety of antiques. You also can take a virtual tour of the trail at www.antiquetrail.org.
The Web site was established through a 2004 state Department of Tourism grant, on the initiative of the Black River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tom and Yvonne O’Grady, who manage the Hixton School House Antique Center.
“We realized it was better for all of us to cooperate in promoting the area for antiquing,” Tom O’Grady said. “The Web site gives us a presence on the Internet, but we’re not selling our best stuff on eBay. You can find the best stuff in our stores, and that appeals to the ‘touchy feely’ part of antiquing. Many people want to actually touch and hold and examine what they are buying.”
The Department of Tourism distributed 10,000 maps of the trail around the state. “We still have people coming into the store carrying the maps,” O’Grady said.
The trail starts in Warrens, the home of the annual Cranfest. There you can find antiques at Simply Country and the Star Valley Orchard.
Just up the road to the north, you’ll come to the biggest community along the trail, Black River Falls.
The downtown offers superb shopping and antiquing. You can stop at the Antique Center, The Merchant General Store, Sampson Art Gallery, J.C. Clothing Center & More, Main Street Scrapbooks & More, The Consignment Shop & More, Black River Surplus & Furniture, Glass D’Lights Art Studio and Olde House Collectibles.
These shops go out of their way to give visitors an “old-fashioned” shopping experience, no matter what the age of the shopper. Consider the following pitch from The Merchant General Store’s promo material:
“Located in a historic 1912 store building, which was built originally as the Locken Shoe Store, visiting us is like a trip back to the simpler days when going to the General Store was depended upon for food, supplies, and neighborly news updates.
“Life's a little easier than it was back then, but the pleasure of a trip to the General Store remains. Whether you relax and enjoy a game of checkers next to the potbelly parlor stove or stroll around as your footsteps echo on the wooden floors, you will find a mix of extraordinary merchandise, antiques, and collectibles.”
Not far from the downtown area you will find more treasures at Village Expressions, Chippewa Valley Cheese, Wazee Sports Center, Deer Creek Trading Co. and Fiber Garden LLC.
Antiquing hits its peak in BRF on the first weekend in September, when the Treasure Seekers Market is held at the Jackson County Fairgrounds.
If you want to explore antiquity even further, go to Archaeology Days at Silver Mounds State Park in October.
Take a side trip to the northeast to find Hatfield. You might run into a real McCoy in antiques at the two Giant Flea Market and Craft Show or Hatfield Fun Days Flea Market, both in September.
Deer Camp Antiques, which actually is in nearby Merrillan, offers a variety of rustic antiques year around. Primitives and artwork, especially suitable for cabins or vacation homes, can be found at this shop.
Beginning in the early 1900’s. Hatfield was known as the favorite hunting grounds of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Today, Hatfield is a resort community and offers vacation accommodations including many water sport opportunities. ATV & snowmobile trail systems add to the year-round vacation opportunities.
This writer’s personal favorite along the trail is Hixton. Originally established in 1856, the community became one of the most important cities in the early years of Jackson County due to the G.B. & W. Railroad running through the township.
A few years ago, city fathers, trying to find a “brand” for the community, turned to antiques. You can spend hours browsing through Hixton School House Antiques.
Once the actual school for the community, antiques now are everywhere from the old gym and stage to what were classrooms and even the janitor’s closet.
“We have 97 vendors in the School House,” O’Grady said. “All told you probably have 200 dealers and 70,000 to 80,000 sq. ft. devoted to antiques.”
The Warehouse Antique Center also offers numerous vendors in Hixton while The Village Peddler, Tin Pig Antiques & Primitives and the Cobblestone Cottage are smaller stores that offer specialty items.
Before heading north, you might want to make side trips to Neillsville and Taylor, where there are additional shops. Stolp Pottery in Neillsville includes many types of stoneware. Taylor Toyland offers gifts for kids of all ages.
The trail’s northern most stop is in Osseo, where The Loft Store, Quilt Yard and Many Little Things can be found. The latter shop has a strong web presence at www.rubylane.com.
“This is a good area for antiquing and the trail Web site helps,” said Vicki Olson, owner of Many Little Things. “We’re linked with Ruby Lane which gives us additional web site exposure.”
One of the unique things about Many Little Things is that items are organized by categories -- glassware, books, etc. -- rather than by individual vendors. “I think it makes for a shopper friendly store,” Olson said.
While the Trail of Hidden Treasures offers some great antiques and collectibles, it by no means is the only area of Wisconsin that has clusters of such businesses for shoppers. Beyond Milwaukee will periodically take a tour of some.