By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Sep 28, 2008 at 5:25 AM
As you approach the small city of Lancaster in Grant County, you'll notice a dome that gleams for miles.

It sits on top of the Grant County Courthouse and has led to Lancaster's nickname, The City of the Dome. Architect Armand Koch designed the courthouse, which was built in 1905.

The impressive brownstone building features octagonal glass and the copper dome. Inside the courthouse dome are four breathtaking murals painted by Franz Edward Rohrbeck.

A tour of the Courthouse is well worth it, but the building is not the only reason visiting Lancaster can make for a great trip.

Outside the courthouse stands a statue of Nelson Dewey, Wisconsin's first governor. Dewey made the town his home.

Another historic landmark is City Hall, which includes a movie theater. This striking building designed by architects Claude & Starck is an excellent example of prairie-style architecture.

The post office contains a Depression-era mural, painted under the Works Progress Administration program in the 1930s

Lancaster also has a wonderful array of homes and buildings with architectural styles that include contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Queen Anne. The Patrick Kinney house was designed by Wright.

Major G.M. Price, a land speculator, laid out the town in 1837. He was persuaded to name it Lancaster by a relative who emigrated from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It became a hub city of the area and as the Grant County seat remains so today.

While history is a big part of Lancaster's charm, the community does not only look back.

The city also is planning to expand the current library into a new community center. The community center would include an expanded public library, a history center, space for rotating art exhibits, a multi-purpose community room, a visitor's center and an outdoor performance venue.

Lancaster also landed a plant from Woolwich Dairy, a goat cheese producer based in Ontario, Canada. The facility went online earlier this year. Local farmers are supplying much of the goat's milk for the cheese. Several other businesses are doing well in the town.

If you visit Lancaster, you'll also want to tour outside the city limits and take in many of the rural areas of Grant County. The county has some of Wisconsin's best outdoor recreation. Untouched by glaciers, the rural area offers some of the most scenic landscapes with trout stream valleys, bluffs, and ridges.

The Wisconsin River runs through Grant County and the Mississippi borders it on the west. It is one of the best places in the Midwest for eagle watching.

In addition to Lancaster, history also abounds throughout the county. At Pleasant Ridge, near Lancaster, one of the first African-American communities in Wisconsin was founded by the Shepard family in 1849 and settled in the 1850s.

Cassville has the Nelson Dewey home museum and Stonefield Village State Historic Site. Fennimore, Boscobel and other communities have museums that document railroading, farming and Civil War history.

The Doll and Toy Museum in Fennimore is a unique facility. It's owned by the City of Fennimore and was established in 1991 to showcase a private collection. It has expanded to include collections from all over the world. These items have been donated or loaned to the museum. The oldest item is a Paper Maché Doll from 1810. The collections range from 1800s through 2000.

Mining was once very big in Grant County. The Mining Museum and Rollo Jamison Museum are located side by side at the eastern end of Platteville's Downtown Historic District. The museums include an underground tour of the 1845 Bevans Lead Mine, a ride in a 1931 mine train above ground, and exhibits on Platteville and area history.

Jamison was a longtime resident of Grant County who become and huge collector and started a museum to house his treasures.

Recently, the National Brewery Museum has been added to the list of historic spots in Potosi. That facility was profiled in this column a couple weeks ago.

You can easily lose track of time while rambling around the rural roads and small communities in Grant County. So take adequate time to really explore the county. The roads are winding and take additional time to navigate safely, but each turn reveals scenic beauty and some great tidbits of history and rural life.

At the center of your touring is Lancaster. You'll find lodging there, ranging from a Best Western motel to bed and breakfast accommodations, and places to eat and shop.

It's known as The City of the Dome, but offers much more for the tourist who wants to take in a great part of the state.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.