Adrift above Maiden Rock and Pepin in Western Uplands

This is a crazy story about what turned out to be a crazy excursion into the Western Uplands Geographic Region of Wisconsin, largely above Maiden Rock and Pepin. Briefly, on a previous trip to Stockholm, I was sure I spotted two small towns I would want to see again, but through a blinding rainstorm that. Therefore I was not sure where I was and kept on driving. So thjisd year I returned to the area to find them. I did not find them, to my great frustration. I drove around a large but manageable section of the Western Uplands above Maiden Rock and Pepin, searching. No luck. However, I did run across sights that I probably would never have seen had I not done this search. Many might find my definition of an interesting place mundane. I found most of them to be heartening. When I came home and did some research, I was surprised at what I learned about what I had seen.

May 24, 2018

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A year or so ago I visited Stockholm in Pepin County, on the Mississippi River. I then made my way back to Wausau passing through the north-central section of the Western Upland Geographic Region. As I left, I experienced cloudburst after cloudburst, sometimes difficult to see through the windshield. I traveled through the region not really knowing where I was until I meandered my way to Hwy 10. Stuck in my memory bank are two things I thought I saw: a small town built as a square with a large gravel parking lot in the middle; a very small town off to my left beating off the downpour. I did not stop at either location. This year I went back to the area to find these two memories. I staged out of the Maiden Rock Inn. I searched a block of territory roughly from Maiden Rock north to Plum City and above Hwy 10 for a short distance, east to Durand and south to Pepin. I drove back and forth, often coming back to locales through which I had already gone. I could not find my two towns. This would be an unusual experience which I will try to document here.

I was adrift to be sure as I drove up and down, back and forth. I took photos of things I found interesting, as well as places I found confusing. I focused on going from small village to small village as shown on my maps. I'll present what I saw and where I went over a two day period. Frankly, my travels were exhausting and frustrating, as I could not find for what I was looking. I'll note my visits to this region were made on March 25 and 26, 2018. For you southerners, this means no leaves on the trees yet!

The first thing I did when I left Maiden Rock was to go to Stockholm. I then tried to take what I thought would be the most likely route in the blinding rain back to Wausau, initially in search of Hwy 10.

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Once in Stockholm in this search mission, I pulled up to Stockholm Gardens. I bought an unusual hosta plant for my wife on the previous trip. That's when the rain started pouring down. As an aside, I took this photo in June 2016, during thy first trip.

I was on Hwy 35 so I chose to drive to the west a short way to Spring Street.

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I hung a right turn at Spring Street, the location of the Stockholm Pie and General Store. Spring Street is CH J. I was certain I would have taken this route to the north and northeast.

CH J has some twists and turns, heading north, then east, then north etc.

My first target was Lund, about six miles northeast of Stockholm. I was sure this was one of the places I was after. On my way to Lund, I came across the Sabylund Evangelical Lutheran Church on CH J out of Stockholm.

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It struck me because I spotted this marvelous steeple peering up through the evergreen fir trees in the distance. I pulled up in front and found the setting to most certainly be God's work. The parish has existed since 1856, which is the date Stockholm was officially formed.

Onward to Lund!

Lund resides on the county line between Pepin and Pierce counties. Lund is at the junction of CH J and CH CC. I believe CH J ends here. To my surprise, CH CC went left to the north and straight ahead to the east, a bit confusing I thought. However, if you take it to the east, or straight ahead, it abruptly turns to the south. Straight ahead then becomes CH SS.

There really was no town here, at least not anymore. There were some residents but not many.

These realities threw me off as I was now confronted with which way to go from here. I could tell immediately this was not the place. I decided to go straight ahead (east) on CH CC and then stay on CH SS, still to the east.

I did come upon a few interesting buildings, however, these first two on CH CC east.

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I saw The Little House Store. I later learned Sarah Uthoff wrote about it, "Little House in Lund Closes" back in 2013. As it turns out, Lund, Wisconsin was named after Lund, Sweden. But more important, it was the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder was an American writer known for her Little House on the Prairie series of children's books released from 1932 to 1943. These books were based on her childhood in a settler and pioneer family. Her first book, Little House in the Big Woods was published in 1932 and was based on her memories growing up in the Lund area.

Returning to Sarah Uthoff's story, the store was a private store operated in summer and the weekends by Cynthia Johnson. Uthoff wrote:

"The store was really a labor of love and I found several unique things there that I use in my storytelling, a good price on postcards, and some really rare stuff. She also had stuff from the Caddie Woodlawn site outside of Eau Claire … (the store) offered a different take on Laura Ingalls Wilder collectibles."

Regrettably Cynthia passed away in about 2011, the family tried to keep the store alive, but had to give up.

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As an aside, had I decided to turn on CH CC when it turned south, I would have come across a replica of the Ingalls family home. This is not my photo. It was taken by Daniel Dillman. From looking at his photos it appears you can walk inside and look around. Unfortunately I did not know about it and therefore did not visit. It is called the "Little House Wayside Cabin."

Returning to Lund, directly across the street from the Little House Store were two white buildings that, to me, looked unused.

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The building to the left appeared to once have been a vehicle repair shop. About two-thirds are built with cinder blocks, while it appears an add-on was attached made of galvanized steel sheets. At some point in time someone hung curtains in the front window and placed some flowers there, which are still there but dried up.

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The second building is Shed's Outpost. It appears closed and out of business. My guess is it served as a feed mill and an outlet for all kinds of supplies and things needed in a rural area such as this.

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At the point where CH CC abruptly heads south and CH SS shoots east, I looked to the south and spotted a neat round barn. From a distance, she looked like she had been rehabilitated. After photographing that, I remained omg CH SS.

Having failed in Lund, I was now working in the dark and set Nerike as my next target. It is located off CH SS on Nerike Road which turns into 40th Ave. It is actually a community in the town of Maiden Rock, which should have told me right away that this was a non-starter. But to Nerike I went. Here's what I found in Nerike.

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From where I stood, this home was stunning.

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Across the street was this barn setting.

Well, that was the end of Nerike! Not what I was looking for but some neat photos and a nice ride.

I now back tracked back to CH SS and headed to Porcupine, in Pierce County. Still have not found what I wanted to find.

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I was now committed to CH SS east. The scenery out here is fabulous. I headed to the next target, Porcupine, but first took a shot of the highlands from CH SS. One of the fun aspects of touring Wisconsin before the foliage breaks out is you get to see more of the landscape, important here since I was traveling in the Western Uplands Geographic Province of the state.

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Nothing against Porcupine or its residents, but this was not the place I was after either. It is an unincorporated community in the town of Frankfort, Pepin County.

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My disappointment is growing by leaps and bounds. However, the country out here is wonderful.

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I had been on CH SS, but now pulled off onto CH D to take a look. I wish I had taken a better shot of this scene but I hope you get the idea. Then I popped back into the car and guess what? I am almost out of gas! Awe man, here I am at the intersection of CH SS and CH D in Porcupine, Wisconsin, I am surrounded by fabulous scenery, deep in the outback, and I have very little gas. It's called not paying attention to details. My gas meter said I had about 50 miles range.

Then God sent help. A young man happened to be riding by on his ATV. He circled around and came up to my car, and asked, "Can I help you sir?" "You betcha. I'm almost out of gas. Where's the nearest gas station?" His response was , "Plum City." I would find out when I got home that Plum City was 13 miles from where I was "straight line," the way the crow flies, but I could not go that way! The young man allowed as how there was a short cut and he started to explain it: "Well, you go down SS a bit more, turn right on Gates Hill Rd, then another right Maple Rd, then a left on 170th Ave until you get to CH U. Then take a right on C H U. Its goes straight to Plum City."

I said to myself, "No way Jóse." He smiled a bit, he could tell I had no chance of remmed jerking all that, and then He said, "Well keep going on SS west to CH CC, take a right on it and then a right on CH U." I had my iPhone with Google Maps but it was going in and out since I was in the outback. I was able to get an image long enough to keep the route in my mind, so I took it, not really knowing the distance. This route took me back to Lund, which had no gas station, but by the grace of God I made it to Plum City and filled up. Moral of the story: Watch the old gas meter when out in the back forty!

Plum City was not what I was looking for either but it was very close to Hwy 10. Since my story at the outset began by saying I was in a bad rain storm looking for Hwy 10, that Plum City was so close to Hwy 10 told me something. I had been barking up the wrong tree. When I was looking for Hwy 10 before, I did not get on here, I drove much farther, on all kinds of different county roads, so I now figured I needed to search more to the east.

Nonetheless, let's take a quick look at Plum City; we're now back in Pierce County.

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Main Street

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Bittersweet Bakery and more, once the Plum City State Bank. The owners, Gwen and Todd Glass, opened it in 2004 and retired in 2016. Then an opportunity arose for them to buy it back, so they did. After some renovation, they opened on December 8, 2017. They did not want to see the business close down. I should have gone in there but I had more exploration to do and was running low on time to make it back to Maiden Rock for my brewski and dinner.

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The Pierce County Historical Association has written about this building, the Union House:

"This building once was a boarding house and hotel. The building is one of the oldest standing in the city. Pioneer and Swiss Immigrant John Moser built a log structure on the site in 1866 and called it the Linden House. He replaced it in 1875 with the New Linden House, the city’s first brick structure. It passed through several owners until Dan O’Connell bought it in 1899 and renamed it the Union House."

It does appear someone is trying to renovate it, having put in white doors/windows.

As an aside, the Moser family arrived in this area in 1856 and named the town Plum City. There was a profusion of plum trees. The family has remained a prominent one in the town and area.

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I have found evidence the Union House once served as a brewery, starting in the early 1900s, but have no more information than that.

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St. John Baptist Catholic Church.

I didn't hold out much hope for my next target, Devil's Corner, but going there would allow me to head back to the south of Hwy 10 and a bit to the east. The drive took me back to Pepin County.

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Of course I was right. This is all I found in Devil's Corner, a red building and a RV!

I am now getting aggravated, so I decided to simply ride around aimlessly and enjoy the scenery.

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As I drive through the rural sections of Wisconsin, I see quite a few old school houses and churches converted into home. I found this one on CH CC north of Pepin City.

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I was on Back Valley Rd. north of Pepin and spotted this fabulous looking home with a fabulous view and location at Balsam Lane. I figured boy, they have it made. Back Valley Rd. would take me directly into Pepin.

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As I continued on Back Valley Rd. heading south toward Pepin. I saw my second round barn of the day, on Balsam Lane. This is what is known as the Hidden Meadow and Barn. When I returned home and looked it up, I learned a few things. First, it is not a round barn; it is one of the Upper Midwest's largest octagonal barns. Second, it is used for weddings and other large social occasions.


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As an aside, here's a look at Back Valley Rd. Yes, southerners, it's Wisconsin and it's March!

Shortly after passing Hidden Meadow and Barn, I came upon something I found extraordinary, an old church and school house just after Beaver Rd.

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This is Little Plum Place, advertised as "The Ultimate DIY Project for 2018." Debra Fisher and Ricky Riggins bought the church and the school house. They intend to remodel an 1880's church and restore an 1880's school house. The setting in these Western Uplands for these two buildings is spectacular.

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The weather was not smashing, and it was late March and still little to no foliage, but the setting for this school house remains terrific. Keep your eyes on this project for sure.

While I loved this tour I was taking, I was frustrated I was not finding what I wanted. I decided to escape and evade back to the north and try to slide more eastward. I ended up back in Porcupine. Instead of staying on CH SS, I took CH D to the north, the location where I realized I had run out of gas! I then took a left onto Sunny Brook Road.

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While on Sunnybrook Rd, I photographed this great scene of the Uplands.

Sunnybrook Rd. kind of parallels Porcupine Creek. My instinct said this is getting you nowhere pal, so I doubled back to CH SS, and headed east toward the Chippewa River.

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Once I arrived at CH N, massively frustrated by this time, I hooked a right and headed to Ella. The Chippewa River is quite wide near Ella and I took this shot. She is closing in on the Mississippi just a bit farther south.

It was now getting late for me so I headed back toward my staging base in Maiden Rock, having failed to find what I wanted to find. I would, however, come across two neat sights on may way back. Leaving Ella, I took as many back roads as I could to head back to Maiden Rock, hoping against hope I'd find my memories, which now look more like dreams. I ended up on Bogus Rd. running along Bogus Creek, northeast of Stockholm. Bogus Rd. would head south to hit Hwy 35, the Great River Rd.

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Mind you now, I have spent my day mostly in very rural areas of the Uplands, the outback as they say. So here I am on Bogus Rd. near Stockholm and out of nowhere jumps this colorful green house. I came to find out later it is the "Little Green Farmhouse" on Bogus Creek, "a great place to stay in the Lake Pepin area." Ha, incredible! You can rent it.

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I continued to escape and evade through the back roads and came across the Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery, on CH E north-northwest of Stockholm.

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It's March, no grapes yet, but large fields of vines.

As you can see, the weather was getting grim so I returned to the
Maiden Rock Inn, walked into town and had some brewskis and dinner, telling the old hands at the bar about my mission, getting only mystified looks from their faces. I described what I was after. Some probably thought me crazy, others gave it some thought but had no idea.

That ends Day 1 of my expedition. I can be stubborn so yes, there is a Day 2, and we'll proceed to that if I can hold your attention!

Day 2 of the Expedition through a sector of the Uplands

After Day 1, I was worn out so I won't submerge you so much in Day 2. While I hold to the memory of the things I am sure I saw on my 2016 trip, I did start to feel that perhaps it was a dream. In any event, let's show you what I saw on Day 2.

I started the day by heading west on Hwy 35, then took an abrupt right turn on CH A to the north.

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I did not know about the Rush River which runs along CH A for a short while. More important, I was not aware of the Rush River Delta State Natural Area, just a mile or two west of Maiden Rock, my staging base. This State Natural Area was so designated in 1986. The heavily wooded floodplain provides an ideal location for waterfowl. The river rises in St. Croix County to the north and flows for about 49 miles to the Mississippi.

About five miles up CH A I was surprised to see a group of what appeared to be ice sculptures.

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It was late March, and a thaw was already underway in Wisconsin, so these had started to melt. I later learned Roger Nelson of Ellsworth is the creator. He owns a former farmstead on the Rush River Valley. A plumber by trade, he is not sure why he started this about 17-20 years ago,. but he has been into it since. Karl Bremer, writing "The Magnificent Ice Sculptures of Wisconsin's Rush River Valley," published by Ripple in Stillwater, commented:

"Let your imagination go wild and they could be most anything. Many would be right at home in an underground cavern amidst the stalactites and stalagmites … The secret—besides subfreezing temperatures—is the artesian well that is the source for the ice. Artesian wells, common in this coulee country of western Wisconsin, are fed by aquifers whose sources lie in porous rock formations at higher elevations. The pressure in these rock layers allows the wells to flow freely when tapped into—a pumpless well."

Nelson said he starts in early December and observed, "Every week they're different."

I confess by now I had just about surrendered on finding my memories. I therefore just drove around haphazardly and decided to drift a bit north of Hwy 10 and then to the east, to Arkansaw and Durand and then down to Pepin and back to Maiden Rock for brewski time.

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Once again enjoying the beauty of the Western Uplands. CH A took me to Hwy 10, I took it to the east and then jumped on CH S to the north. A few miles to the north, near 330th Ave, I spotted this wonderful farm setting to the west, over by Plum Creek.

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I then doubled back, returned to Hwy 10E and went to Arkansaw. It's small, about 850 people, and is only three miles west of Durand.

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This is the Hartung Building, erected in 1931. The building now serves the Arkansaw Community Center and the Arkansaw Fur, Fish & Game organization. It is committed to wildlife conservation, habitat improvement, increased access to hunting and fishing and community enhancement. I'm guessing now for what the building was being used, based on the obituary of Dorothy M. Hartung, who passed away in 2014. She was an Arkansaw girl born in 1921 who married Harland Hartung in 1941. They lived in Milwaukee for a short time and returned to Arkansaw, where they owned and operated Hartung's Grocery Store. I can only wonder if it operated from this building.

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I have very little idea where I was when I took this shot, other than I knew I was northwest of Arkansaw, on CH Z, heading downhill, and there was a sign that told me Dunn Count was straight ahead in the distance. I found highway signs very confusing up here. I have scoured Google Maps trying to find this location, to no avail. Another dream? But captured by my camera?

My notes for these next two shots were awful. It took over an hour looking on Google Maps, but I finally found where I was. Why do I care so much about identifying where I was? Good question. I think I inherited that from my dad, who always had to know exactly where he was, and he did not have Google Maps!

I guess I now understand why I was getting confused. I was right on the county line between Pepin and Dunn Counties. Here's what I did.

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I apparently was on Hwy 10 just to the west of Arkansaw, which is in Pepin County. I came upon CH X and took it to the north. What was weird is CH X kept going straight but CH XX intersected and went to the west. I say weird because CH XX was in better shape than CH X. I stayed on CH X to the north, which only went a short distance. I then looked back and thought this to be a neat scenery shot. Keep that barn in the distance, left of center, in mind.

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After taking that barn photo, I kept on X to the north which abruptly turns to the right just less then one tenth of a mile south of the line with Dunn County. I went up a bit of a hill and saw this really neat storage house, northern-most Pepin County. In the gee whiz category, while playing with Google Earth's timeline, I saw this shed was being built in 2016. But look, see that barn to the lower right? That's the same barn I showed in the previous photo. By this time in my exploration, little things were lots of fun!

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I doubled back on CH X and then hooked a right on CH XX. After a very short drive, I came up to Pittman's Maple Syrup and Supplies in Pepin County a short distance northwest of Arkansaw.

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The company's website says this:

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"In 1945, William Pittman Sr. started boiling sap in a large cast iron kettle near the top of 'Little Arkansaw Valley.' He gathered sap from nearby maple trees producing only enough for his family. Soon after, he purchased a flat pan to boil for 100 taps. In 1948, his ambition and goals pushed him to purchase one of the old Arkansaw School wood sheds which was to it's current location in the 'Main Woods.' More taps were added and the next year a 2'x8' evaporator was purchased. After another good year we upgraded once more to a 40"x10' Leader Evaporator … In 1990 the equipment was moved to a larger building site on the farm known as the 'Sugar Bush.' We installed a 6'x18' evaporator alongside the previous 4'x14'. In 1995 our first reverse osmosis machine was purchased to help with increased sap totals and firewood consumption. Building expansion and new equipment have taken the business to where it is today and the possibilities are endless."

So it's a fifth generation company. I visited the
Adamski's Sugar Bush in Antigo, Langlade County back in 2006. The Adamski family allowed me to watch as they emptied the sap into big vats then delivered them to the house where Mr. Adamski made the brew. You might wish to browse through that story if interested in how this is done. Pittman's is a much larger operation.

For your sanity, and mine, I should stop here. In retrospect, I really had a great time on this excursion even though I was and remain frustrated by not finding what I thought I would find. So be it.