Historic Attractions In Grant County: A Wisconsin Great River Road Itinerary
The Wisconsin Great River Road is a great Scenic Byway and All American Road that runs alongside the Mississippi River on Wisconsin’s southwest border, traveling from Pierce County all the way down to Grant County. These regions are characterized by abundant rivers and other natural resources that made them perfect locations for the early settlers to use to their advantage when establishing the early communities. Today, each Southwest Wisconsin county and the communities within have an interesting and unique history left behind by those early settlers, which can be explored through historical sites and attractions that have been preserved through time. One especially interesting county for historical sites and attractions is Grant County. Communities in Grant County are home to National Register of Historic Sites and State Historical Markers. These historical attractions range from museums and historic homes to state parks, monuments, and graves.
This itinerary highlights some of the historical attractions throughout Grant County, starting and ending on the Wisconsin Great River Road. There will also be recommendations for local establishments where travelers can stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner along the way. Traveling through a few of Grant County’s welcoming communities, this one day itinerary will help guide Wisconsin Great River Road travelers to some of the most popular historical attractions in the county before heading back on the River Road. You will visit historical places in Wyalusing, Boscobel, Fennimore, Platteville, and Potosi for a full day of destinations and stops in Grant County. Before you head out for your trip, be sure to check the opening and closing times for the sites you intend to visit and make sure the sites are open on the day you will be visiting.
With this itinerary starting on the Wisconsin Great River Road the first stop will be in Wyalusing, Wisconsin, located on the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers. Once a bustling river town, Wyalusing is now only a town of less than 10 permanent residents. However, it is home to historic Wyalusing State Park, which features Native American burial grounds and a marker commemorating the location where Marquette and Joliet entered the Mississippi River in 1673. A stop at Wyalusing State Park is a great way to start off your day of driving with a little bit of movement, as there are hiking trails with beautiful views of the two river valleys. To make sure you have time to hit all of the Grant County communities on this itinerary, you’ll want to get to the park earlier in the morning around 8 am or 9 am (park opens at 6 am year round) and be sure to leave within an hour or two.
After stopping in Wyalusing, the next historical attractions are found in Boscobel along the Wisconsin River. The fastest way to get to Boscobel from Wyalusing will take you out of Grant County on Highway 60, which you will take from Bridgeport, Wisconsin to Easter Rock, before crossing back in by turning right onto US 61 S. The drive will take just under forty minutes without traffic. If you haven’t eaten breakfast yet, or are feeling a little peckish after your morning hike at Wyalusing State Park, Boscobel has some great choices for breakfast. The Old 61 Diner and Timberland Coffee both come highly recommended.
Before the railroad arrived in Boscobel in 1856, the oak grove where the city now resides was only inhabited by two loggers. After the introduction of the railroad and commerce, the city thrived, leaving behind years of history leading up to the present day time. Some historical attractions that you can visit in Boscobel include the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Hall, Old Rock High School, Boscobel Hotel, and the Railroad Depot Museum. The GAR and the Railroad Depot Museum are both historical museums, while the Old Rock High School and the Boscobel Hotel are sites on the National Register of Historic Places. The Boscobel Hotel, Old Rock High School, and the GAR are open via tours by appointment, so be sure to schedule in advance.
From Boscobel, travelers will head south on Highway 61 toward their next destination, Fennimore, Wisconsin. Keep in mind that if you want to make it to the last destination of the day in Potosi, you will have to leave the Boscobel area by 12:00 pm. Fennimore has a pair of historical museums including the Fennimore Doll and Toy Museum and the Fennimore Railroad and Historical Society Museum. The former features an extensive collection of historical dolls and puppets, tractors, circus memorabilia, pedal cars, and more. While the latter has displays showcasing train memorabilia, a collection of antique farm tools and equipment, military uniforms and war memorabilia, and home appliances and tools from the 1900 era. Plus there is even a miniature train available for rides that the kids will love. Fennimore is also a great place to stop for lunch with some popular eateries like BD’s Eagles Nest, Friederick’s Family Restaurant, and The Lemon Door.
The next set of historical Grant County attractions is in Platteville, Wisconsin. The drive from Fennimore to Platteville will take around a half hour and will take you through another charming Grant County community, Lancaster, before arriving at your destination. Platteville was founded in 1827 and has a picturesque, historic downtown area that travelers may want to explore. The city also has a long list of historical attractions, but the two you should be sure to check out are the Mitchell-Rountree Stone Cottage and The Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums. The stone cottage was built in 1837 by Revolutionary War veteran, Rev. Samuel Mitchell and his son-in-law, John Rountree, one of the founders of Platteville. You can tour the historic cottage to see the Tidewater Virginia architecture and the original furnishings.
The second historical museum, the Mining and Rollo Jamison Museum highlights the heritage of Southwestern Wisconsin and the Tri-State Area. Visitors to the museum can ride in a 1931 mine train, tour the 1845 Bevans Lead-Zinc Mine, and discover the local history of mining in the Upper Mississippi Valley. There is also a gift shop where you can buy rocks and minerals from the area and other gifts related to regional history. Travelers may also enjoy stretching their legs in the outdoor greenspace, gardens, and picnic grounds, if time permits, before hopping back in the car to the next destination. By this time in the day, you will want to hit the road again by 2:30 pm at the latest to make it to the last destination on the itinerary.
The final Grant County historical itinerary destination can be found in Potosi, Wisconsin, a short 20 minute drive from Platteville. Being the final itinerary destination, this will bring you back to the Wisconsin Great River Road, so when you’re ready to head out you can travel on the historic byway. Potosi was home to Native Americans and French miners as early as 1690 with a prime location on the Mississippi River and eventually turned into a bustling mining town. Today the community has many historical attractions remnant of the people and days of the past. These historical places include Potosi Brewery, the Potosi Brewing Company Production Facility, the British Hollow Smelting Furnace, and the Passage Thru Time Museum.
If you plan on visiting all of these locations, be sure to go to the Passage Thru Time Museum first, as it closes at 4 pm. The Passage Thru Time Museum is a great place for casual history buffs and researchers alike, as it features the rich history of the area with an emphasis on mining, farming, the historic Potosi Brewery and the Mississippi River. There is also an extensive collection of photographs and historic records that can be interesting to look at and read. From the museum, you can make a quick stop at the British Hollow Smelting Furnace historical marker to see its 200 foot underground chimney which is the last remaining one in the lead region.
After visiting the first two historical attractions, travelers can head to the final location, the Potosi Brewery. The historic Potosi Brewery was founded in 1852, and today it is home to the brewery, a brewpub, The National Brewery Museum, the Potosi Brewing Company Transportation Museum and Gift Shop, and a Great River Road interpretive center. By this time it will be too late for a brewery tour, but the brewpub and the museum are open until 9 pm Monday – Saturday and until 8 pm on Sundays. Here you can learn all about the history of the brewing operation, including the importance of transportation in the brewing and marketing of the beer, and check out an outstanding collection of beer bottles and cans, glasses, trays, coasters, advertising materials, and various other breweriana collectibles. Of course, after your long day of traveling and visiting historical attractions, you can also enjoy a variety of the brewery’s craft beers and order some dinner to end your day on a high note.