MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin’s lakes, resorts, outdoor sports, and supper clubs have long beckoned vacationing families. This summer, families who want to broaden their Wisconsin vacation experience should consider exploring some of the state’s historical and cultural sites located in large cities and small towns, and along rural roads and pastures.
For children and adults alike, learning the history behind their family’s cultural roots in different areas of the United States feeds curiosity and creates a stronger sense of cultural identity. It also makes understanding history fun, while often leading to the discovery of places you may not have planned to visit!
Here are five of Wisconsin’s African-American historic and cultural sites that families can consider visiting during their summer vacations. Most are close to major vacation destinations and are easy day trips. Don’t forget to explore nearby restaurants, shops and related events, too.
- Paramount Plaza & Walking Tour – Village of Grafton. Just 23 miles north of Milwaukee, Paramount Plaza, with its distinctive Walk of Fame sidewalk resembling a piano keyboard, recognizes the important role the Paramount Records recording studio and record pressing plant played in blues music history and the achievements of the primarily African-American musicians who recorded for the label. Close enough to the blues scene in Chicago, Paramount Records was the perfect place for the artists to come and launch their careers. You’ll find tributes to legendary blues artists like Ma Rainey, Louis Armstrong, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Charley Patton, who is often recognized as “the father of the Delta Blues.”
- Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum – Milwaukee. The mission of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum is to document and preserve the historical heritage of African descent in Wisconsin. The Museum exhibits, collects and disseminates materials depicting this heritage. Exhibits include a larger-than-life panorama of African-American history that offers a glimpse of modern life of African Americans in Milwaukee. Serving as a resource center for all people interested in Wisconsin’s rich, African American heritage, the Museum’s purpose is to encourage and promote family community and cultural activities.
- Milton House – Milton. The Milton House National Historic Landmark operated as a stop on the Underground Railroad (UGRR) from its construction in 1844 through the Civil War. It is still the only certified UGRR site in Wisconsin where visitors have the rare opportunity to walk the very pathways of freedom when visiting this unique structure. The guided, hour-long tour explores the 1844 Milton House Hexagon Stagecoach Inn, a 45-foot-long tunnel connecting to the 1837 Goodrich Pioneer Cabin, and much more.
- Cheyenne Valley Heritage Road Tour – Hillsboro. The Cheyenne Valley was Wisconsin’s largest rural African-American settlement in the 19th century. Nearly 150 African-American settlers traveled to Cheyenne Valley, with the assistance of the Quaker religious order, where they successfully farmed alongside Native American and immigrant neighbors to create a multi-racial community. One of the settlers, Alga Shivers, was a notable builder who designed and constructed many of area’s round barns in the early 20th century. A driving tour map highlights the round barns, former schools, the old town hall, cemeteries and settler farms. Descendants of Cheyenne Valley settlers have also formed the Cheyenne Settlers Heritage Society, which meets annually in July.
- Old World Wisconsin – Eagle. Old World Wisconsin is an outdoor museum featuring 60 historic structures ranging from ethnic farmsteads – including Pleasant Ridge Community, one of Wisconsin’s first African-American rural settlements – to the 1880s Village with its traditional small-town institutions. It is the world’s largest museum dedicated to the history of rural life. It includes interaction with live animals, period demonstrations, and many hands-on activities.
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