By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Oct 12, 2008 at 5:31 AM

This weekend and next mark the peak of autumn color season in many places in Wisconsin.

There are numerous wonderful places around the state where you can take in the fall colors and have some fun at an autumn event. One unique place, especially if you're a history buff, is Wade House in Greenbush.

The Autumn Celebration at Wade House will be held next weekend, Oct. 18-19. According to the Wade House Web site, you can "learn about the origins of American Halloween customs, play seasonal games of the period, enjoy hot cider in the stagecoach inn, take a two-mile open-air, horse-drawn wagon ride, carve pumpkins and turnips, and listen to classic renditions of scary (but family-friendly) stories in the candlelit sawmill."

If you've never been to Wade House, the event offers a great reason to go. Even if you've been there before, the fall festival gives you a real feel for how the facility, a one-time stage stop, might have looked, and functioned, around this time of the year.

Wade House was established by Sylvanus and Betsy Wade and their family. At that time in the 1840s, Wisconsin was a frontier territory. The land between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan was a wilderness of virtually uninterrupted forest.

Years later, Betsy Wade would tell her children that the forest was so dense that, even on a clear night, she "could hold in her apron all the stars she could see."

The Wades were the first permanent settlers in Greenbush. They came to the remote area to establish a village on the developing frontier. They bought several sections of land in the area.

By the time Wisconsin became a state in 1848, Greenbush was a booming little village with two stores, a school, a sawmill, a wagon shop, a blacksmith and a doctor. The trail between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac had been improved by the territorial government. There were plans for further improvements by building a plank road.

The Wades kept a tavern in their log house. As the years passed and business grew, they twice expanded the structure. By 1848 Wade's "Half Way House" was a regular stop for the stagecoach lines operating between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac.

The new Wade House stagecoach inn opened to the public in 1850. Its three-story Greek Revival-style reflected the architectural fashion of the "civilized" east. The inn was the scene of cotillions, business meetings, political caucuses and circuit court sessions. It became THE gathering place for the entire region of the state.

Construction of the Sheboygan and Fond du Lac Plank Road began in 1851. It led to a decade of success for the Wade House.

But, then the railroad started to transplant stages, and it by-passed Greenbush. For the next 80 years, three generations of Wades lived in the building. It continued to function as an inn until around 1910, but never was the bustling gathering place it was during the height of the stagecoach runs.

In fact, the structure went down hill and by the 1940s was in disrepair. Marie Christine Kohler and Ruth De Young Kohler then stepped in. It was the vision of Marie Kohler, daughter of Kohler Company founder John Michael Kohler, to restore the historic stagecoach inn to its 1850s heyday.

Marie Kohler passed away before she could set her vision in motion. Ruth De Young Kohler enthusiastically took up her mother's cause. The Kohler family and the Kohler Foundation purchased Wade House in 1950 and began restoration.

In 1953, Wade House was deeded to the Wisconsin Historical Society. It became the society's second historic site. Famed poet Carl Sandburg was part of its dedication. Sadly, Ruth did not live to see the fruit of her mother's and her labors. She died away three months before the grand opening.

Since its dedication, the Wade House site has been improved and expanded. In 1963, the Wisconsin Legislature voted to create a permanent home for the carriage collection of Wesley W. Jung, grandson of a Sheboygan carriage maker, at the Wade House site. In 1968, the Wesley Jung Carriage Museum opened to the public.

Restoration continued in 1999 when the Kohler Trust for Preservation pledged a $1.8 million gift to rebuild the Herrling Sawmill on its original site. The mill, which had stood in Greenbush throughout the second half of the 19th century, opened to the public on June 16, 2001.

You can tour all these great attractions on the Autumn Celebration weekend. If you can't make that event, Wade House will host two Hearthside Dinner events on Oct. 25 and Nov. 1. Guests participate in a special program, as they work together to prepare a meal in the kitchens of the Wade House stagecoach inn.

The meal features squash soup, pork loin, turnips, red cabbage and other traditional foods of the period when Wade House was the gathering place of the area.

December 6-7 is the Wade House Christmas weekend. Other big events include a Trades Weekend and Civil War Weekend held during the summer.

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.