Episode Eight

River Travel Media/La Crosse Local

To find out more about the Wisconsin Great River Road please check out the website www.WiGRR.com. To find out about Stonefield Historic Site visit https://stonefield.wisconsinhistory.org/

Susan: You know, there is something about the Mississippi River that just makes such a connection with people from all over the world. And we do get visitors from all over the world. We are just like in the heart of this beautiful area. We love to be a part of the Great River Road, and we are happy that we are one of the Interpretive Centers on the highway.

Bob: The Wisconsin Great River Road Podcast. This time, [I’m] speaking with Susan Caya-Slusser. Susan is with the Wisconsin Historical Society. I visited the Stonefield historic site, and I’ll tell you what: That place was history alive. Susan, that place is amazing.

Susan: It is. Yes, Stonefield is one of 12 historic sites operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society. It’s kind of a hidden gem down in Cassville, Wisconsin. It’s located right on the Great River Road. If you want to get to Cassville, there are so many things to do. There is even a car ferry. Yes, we need to get more people down there because there’s so much to see and so much to do once you get in the area.

Bob: When we were walking through Stonefield – and there are a bunch of old farm implement in there – to be that close to some of that stuff and to look to see how big it was and to know what it does, that’s pretty cool. The little placard told me the story.

Susan: Yes. So how Stonefield came to be is, it started in 1948. There was a great renewal and interest in our farming history. Folks were moving off the farm [and] they were moving into the cities. We wanted to make sure we didn’t lose this rich history, so that was what started it all. And Stonefield opened up for the first time in 1953.

Bob: I couldn’t believe how cool the Stonefield site was. Was that the original Cassville where all the buildings are and the main street and you’re walking around the schoolhouses?

Susan: When you come into Stonefield, there are different components that you’ll get to go on tour. There the homestead of Nelson Dewey. There is an entrance into what was Governor Nelson Dewey’s barn – this large, beautiful stone barn. There’s the State Ag [Agricultural] Museum. There’s a 1901 progressive farmhouse. But then you walk through this beautiful covered bridge that was built in 1964, and it takes you into a recreated village. The cool thing about it is a lot of the buildings that you’re seeing are old schoolhouses from across Wisconsin that have been repurposed. To recreate a village, what would it have been like for a farmer in 1900? This is the recreation in the people’s minds of the Wisconsin Historical Society and UW Extension what a farming village would have been like in 1900. If you visited the schoolhouse, that was actually the Muddy Hollow schoolhouse that was just up the road from where we sit today.

Bob: I was thinking if my kids were in there, they’d be like. ‘How do you get Wi-Fi in here?’

Susan: We are thrilled and we are fortunate that we get school visitors from not just Wisconsin, but also Illinois and Iowa that come and visit us in Stonefield. It is wonderful to be able to compare and contrast how things have changed over time, even to the boys sitting on one side of classroom and girls sitting on the other, even to the point where the boys and girls have to use separate doors. It’s just a way to take the kids back and make them think, and also hopefully make them appreciate what they have today.

Bob: You mentioned just a minute ago about appreciating things that you have. I’m guessing anybody that walks through the State Agricultural Museum that looked at the old metal tires [and] the old iron tires, they would appreciate immediately the rubber tires we get to drive on today.

Susan: Oh, yes. You kind of see a progressive change over time as you move through the State Agricultural Museum, even to one of the first that we have, we have a 1932 Allis Chalmers tractor parked way back in the corner. If you look at it, it actually has tires from an airplane.

Bob: Is that why they’re bald?

Susan: Yes. That is why they are big and bald the way they are. One of our claims to fame is that we have America’s oldest tractor. We have the McCormick Auto-Mower. The tractor we have is one of two prototypes made to exhibit at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900.

Bob: Besides the beauty of seeing Stonefield in its natural state, I’m assuming you guys probably have different events going on through the year.

Susan: Yes. In June we do Agricultural Appreciation Day, tying in with June Dairy Month. In September we have our annual Great River Road Fall Fest. This one is a favorite of mine because it really brings the village to life – the sounds, the smell, the horse and tractors. It just really takes you back to a different time. One of our most popular events is in October, and that is what we call our “Safe and Spooky Event.” This is put on by the Friends of Stonefield and Nelson Dewey State Park – it’s our volunteer group. What happens is the whole village is transformed. Different volunteer groups come into the village, and all the buildings get transformed to be a little more spooky and eerie for Halloween. You will see everything and anyone at “Safe and Spooky Halloween.” All costumes are welcome.

Bob: Susan, how do people find out more about Stonefield, the Wisconsin Historic Site?

Susan: There are two ways I would recommend. The first is just our webpage, which is stonefield.wisconsinhistory.org. The second is we have a very active Facebook page, which is just Stonefield Historic Site. That’s where you can find out more information about our events. There’s something for everyone when you come and visit Stonefield.