Sauk County ‘DTour’

October 11, 2011

Wayfinder, by Terrence Campagna.

Now through Oct. 16, as part of its 2nd Annual Fermentation Festival, Reedsburg is offering the Farm/Art DTour, a 50-mile circular excursion through rural Sauk County. The tour winds through the county’s less-traveled roads, past tidy farms and tiny towns, to flaunt the season’s explosive color. What makes this particular drive so exceptional, though, is more than two dozen farm-based art installations and other attractions–from Roadside Culture Stands selling local produce to music and theater performances in the fields along the way.

At its core, the Reedsburg Fermentation Festival is a showcase for fermented food and drink (beer, of course, plus cheeses, yogurts, sauerkrauts and more). But organizers have billed the fest as a “live culture convergence,” connecting culture of the microbial sort with cultivation of the earth and cultivation of the mind and soul. By embracing the roots of the word culture, or “the action of cultivating land” in 12th-century Anglo-Norman, the event helps clarify relationships among where we live, what we eat and what we grow–as well as what we create, and what we love.

Boots, by Christopher Lutter-Gardella of Puppet Farm Arts

To make the most of festival offerings, I recommend planning ahead; many events require registration. For example, if you’re a fan of  fermented cabbage, you can participate in Saturday’s ‘Powerkraut‘ workshop. Love kombucha? Find out how to make the fermented beverage at home from a Madison-based kombucha company, also scheduled for Saturday. Opportunities for less adventurous tasters include yeast breads, honey, yogurt, wine and beer presentations.

"Field Notes" installation interpreting a hayfield for tour takers.

If you take the Farm/Art DTour, try scheduling your trip around one of the pasture performances. On Saturday, Nath and Marnie Dresser present ‘Some Kind of Sign,’ a story told in poetry and song. And Sunday, the Madison-based band Graminy performs. Download a map and take a self-guided tour, as we did, or sign up for a guided bus tour on Sunday, Oct. 16, that includes a stop at Carr Valley Cheese Factory in LaValle.

As of today, the weekend forecast for the Reedsburg area calls for sunshine with highs in the 60s. Not quite the balmy weather we enjoyed for last Saturday’s drive (car windows wide open in October!)–but still, near perfect conditions for a fall day trip.

–Tammy Kempfert


Looking (and spelling) Backward

April 20, 2010

I recently stayed at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in downtown Fond du Lac. “Why does that matter?,” you may ask. Because it used to be the Retlaw.


The Retlaw in downtown Fond du Lac continues to operate as a hotel.

The Retlaw was one of seven hotels built across Wisconsin in the 1920s by Walter Schroeder, an insurance magnate, hotelier and philanthropist. He built the Schroeder Hotel (now a Hilton) in Milwaukee and the Retlaw in Fond du Lac. Among Schroeder’s other properties were the Astor in Milwaukee, the Northland in Green Bay, the Loraine in Madison, and the Wausau Hotel. Travel by train was still important in the ‘20s, so Schroeder’s hotels were built in the heart of town. By 1920 there were also 12 million automobiles in the U.S. which helped drive a boom in leisure travel.

Since I’m always interested in architects and their designs, it took just a little digging to learn that Herbert W. Tullgren had a hand in designing at least three of Schroeder’s hotels – the Retlaw, Loraine and Northland. All look back to historic styles for their design inspiration. They are solid masonry structures and well-proportioned. The lobby of the Retlaw (now a Ramada) is not very large, but opens to the second story to add a touch of grandness.


Walter Schroeder's Loraine Hotel in Madison has been converted to condominiums after having been a state office building for many years.

Tullgren practiced in Milwaukee and did some of the best Art Deco buildings in the city which are, to me, far more interesting that his traditional hotel designs. I’ve not explored Milwaukee for a while, but some of Tullgren’s work stands out when I think of Deco in the city: the Scottish Rite Masonic Center on Van Buren Street (Tullgren and Schroeder were members) that has fabulous carved figures, the apartment building at 1260 N. Prospect with its green-trimmed windows, and the Milwaukee Western Fuel Company building further north on Prospect. This last building is one of my favorites—a small, two-story rectangle with orange columns and terrific bas relief panels depicting men at work. It is now a Japanese restaurant.

But back to Walter Schroeder. The larger of his Milwaukee hotels bears his family name. The Loraine was named for his niece. And the Retlaw? That’s Walter backwards – a puzzle revealed to me by my father many years ago when driving through Fond du Lac, long before I had a chance to spend the night.

–Michael Bridgeman