Vintage baseball brought me to Wade House, but history and nature reeled me in.
Located in tiny Greenbush, 19 miles due west of Sheboygan, Wade House is a Wisconsin historical site that is managed by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Built by Sylvanus Wade in 1850 as an inn and ticket office along the stagecoach line that ran between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac, Wade House was more or less put out of business by the arrival of the railroad about a decade later.
But thanks to a series of interested owners and patrons, like Marie Christine Kohler and her sister-in-law, Ruth De Young Kohler, the house has been preserved. These days, it's set on a sprawling site that also includes a blacksmith shop, a sawmill powered by the Mullet River, a ball field on which teams play baseball according to the rules of the 1860s and the Wesley Jung Carriage Museum.
The grounds are wooded and perfect for a stroll between buildings on a nice day. A horse-drawn carriage shuttles between the buildings and the ride itself is a big hit with kids. Also popular with the little ones (and big ones): watching the water-powered sawmill in action, slicing boards out of a giant tree trunk.
Two years ago, Wade House completed a $77 million fundraising campaign and celebrated the opening of a brand spankin’ new $12 million visitor center – designed by Milwaukee’s Uihlein/Wilson architects – that now houses the carriage museum, as well as a gift shop, a cafe and more.
There is a classroom for school groups, administrative office space and a rentable room for private and public events. My favorite part is the lower-level diorama offering a birds-eye view of the entire Wade House property.
The 38,000-square foot center is located off Highway 23, providing a higher-profile frontage for the Wade House complex. The historic house itself sits on the less-traveled Plank Road that intersects with 23 a bit east of the center.
The green-focus of the project is noticeable the moment you pull into the parking lot, where there are spots reserved for hybrid cars and other touches.
At the center itself, a ground source heat pump system cuts the building’s annual energy draw and a dedicated outside air unit with an energy recovery ventilator slashes the need for cooling in the summer and heating in the winter. Increased roof, wall and window insulation boosts the building’s R-value and LED lighting also conserves energy.
Wade House is one of nine Wisconsin Historical Society sites celebrating their inaugural season as Travel Green Wisconsin destinations.
The Wade House improvements – which totaled $13.8 million if you include signage, marketing and new carriage wagons – were funded in a public-private partnership between the State of Wisconsin and donors. Private contributions paid 45 percent of the cost of the project.
"The public and private sector cooperation we've seen throughout the course of this project has been outstanding," said WHS director Ellsworth Brown.
"We are grateful to everyone who worked to make this vision a reality, and we know that this facility will be a great benefit to the community of Greenbush, Sheboygan and Fond du Lac counties, the citizens of Wisconsin, and visitors from across the nation."
The new visitors center was officially launched in June 2013, two days after the 60th anniversary of the dedication of Wade House as an historic site in 1953.
"This is a day to cherish and to celebrate a six-decades-long partnership among families, organizations, communities, the State and the Wisconsin Historical Society – all working together to ensure that our heritage is shared with each succeeding generation," said Ruth DeYoung Kohler at the event.
Complete details on visiting and getting to Wade House – as well as a schedule of events, including vintage baseball matches – can be found at wadehouse.org.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.