Imagine stepping into a world where people cooked the food they grew on wood stoves, made their own soap and sewed all of their clothes. Such an experience is available just 35 miles southwest of Milwaukee at Old World Wisconsin.
The country’s largest outdoor museum of rural life portrays what Midwestern life was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
"There are lots of hands-on opportunities to try the work and chores of the townsfolk and farmers, as they go about the daily lives of these immigrants to Wisconsin," says communications director Lisa McGovern.
Old World Wisconsin -- located in the Kettle Moraine State Forest on 600 acres of land -- features 65 historic structures and represents a variety of ethnic groups that were settlers at the time, including Danish, Finnish, German, Polish, "Yankee" and African-American.
The museum opened in 1976 to commemorate 200 years of American history. Researchers traveled throughout Wisconsin to find authentic historic buildings built by settlers and then painstakingly relocated the buildings to the museum site.
Highlights of Old World Wisconsin include the Raspberry School, a one-room schoolhouse built in 1886. "Kids are fascinated to try the slates and slate pencils and sit in the desks just like kids did over 100 years ago," says McGovern.
Crossroads Village and Blacksmith Shop allows visitors to observe a blacksmith work with white-hot metal in a village setting that also includes a general store, a shoe shop, an inn and a church.
The Heirloom Gardens are tended with tools from the time period and reflect the ethnicity of the different groups. Animal lovers will appreciate Teddy and Bear, on-site working oxen, as well as farmsteads featuring sheep, chickens, horses and pigs.
"These are the same breeds of animals that Wisconsin settlers owned in the late 1800s and early 1900s," says McGovern.
It takes about five or six hours to see all of Old World Wisconsin, especially if visitors want to enjoy the many easy-to-walk trails.
Old World Wisconsin employs 12 people all year, 100 more people during the spring and summer months and has 250 dedicated volunteers.
"There are so many people at Old World Wisconsin -- both staff and volunteers -- who love this place and go the extra mile to make visitors feel welcome. It truly is a labor of love for many," says McGovern.
Old World Wisconsin is open from June 15 to Oct. 31, 2009. From June 15 to Sept. 8, the hours are Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The hours change after Sept. 8 to weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. but the weekend hours remain the same. Old World Wisconsin is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Labor Day.
Admission to Old World Wisconsin is $16 for adults, $14 for students and seniors, $9 for kids 5-17 and free for kids under 5 years old. There is a special family rate of $43. Fees include an all-day tram transportation pass.
The site has many special events, including Old World Fourth of July, a "small town" celebration featuring a parade, a greased pole climb competition, watermelon seed-spitting contest and egg toss. For more information about this event and others, go to the Old World Wisconsin Web site.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.