New Glarus, a "Little Switzerland" in southern Wisconsin

I am not usually a fan of "theme cities," but I am a fan of this one, New Glarus, Wisconsin. Settled in the mid-19th century by 108 Swiss immigrants from canton Glarus, Switzerland, these pioneers built their town to where it is a fun and relaxing place to visit, a town that brings back great memories of my many visits to Switzerland. Perhaps what I like the most are the many small businesses here hosted in old buildings that have retained their magnificent historic character. I'll give you a tour of the town and focus your attention on some of these businesses.

October 3, 2008


I must tell you at the outset that normally I am not enthusiastic over "theme towns." Too much fake for me. That does not apply to New Glarus, Wisconsin, in Green County, southern Wisconsin, advertised by the city fathers as "Little Switzerland." Yes, because of its long Swiss heritage, the town today serves to attract tourists. But many people also live here and run businesses here. I have seen some argue that the town is not authentic, but instead is traditional. Not sure what that means. I have been to Switzerland many times. The town is most surely remodeled and freshly painted, and there are tourist trappings. But it most certainly brought back many fond memories of my visits to Switzerland, and did so in very good taste.

The first piece of good news about New Glarus is that it is small. It is not overdone. The town has also done a nice job of blending some good old American architecture with some architecture that reminds one of that seen in Switzerland. I would not call New Glarus a "tourist trap," but instead, a fun and relaxing place to visit.

Briefly, the community was settled by some 108 immigrants from the canton (province) Glarus region of Switzerland in 1845. By 1883 some 4,000 people lived here. Back in the day, people called the town a colony. Only the Swiss dialect of German was spoken. They selected a region that was rough at the time. The people held fast to their customs and traditions. As a result, the town has a long tradition of holding and enjoying celebrations and festivals.

Brenda's Blumenladen, New Glarus

I am compelled to highlight as a first order of business Brenda's Blumenladen. "Blumenladen" translates to flower shop, and that most certainly hits the nail on the head. One of the most memorable experiences I've had in western Europe across the board is that people there have long worked hard to brighten up what might be drab weather or surroundings with bright flowers. Europeans, and especially Germans and Swiss, in whose countries I've spent a lot of time, do a fabulous job using the colors of flowers to liven one up. As you will see, Brenda's Blumenladen most certainly does that.


Her web site says describes the store's history this way:

"Brenda’s Blumenladen started out simple focusing on silk flowers and small gifts. Over the years the Blumenladen has blossomed into a unique store with a great selection of home décor, giftware, flowers, as well as a greenhouse and complete garden center."


See that building in the photo with the green striped awnings? I'll be back to it in a moment. It is a critical building.


You've only seen half of what lines the front of the building, and I did not go inside to take photos there, but I think you get the message --- B - E - utiful! It was sunny and warm on a late September day, so of course we were feeling great! Mission accomplished Brenda!

Let's take a quick look around the small town.


Remember the green awnings? This is Puempel's Olde Tavern. It was established in 1893. It used to be a boarding house with rooms and hot home-cooked meals. The interior of the bar is about the way it was at the turn of the century, featuring the 1912 Brunswick "back bar" with three large mirrors and cherry finish.


This is an interesting building across the street from Brenda's on Railroad Street. In the old days, it served as a farmers' mill. Farmers brought in their corn and oats and the mill ground them, either to return to the farmer, or store for sale. The mill also served as a feed and seed store for the community. Today, the remodeled mill serves others.


At one end is the Wilde Real Estate Service which deals with residential, farm, rental income, and commercial real estate in this area.


Next to Wilde Real Estate is Fat Cat Coffee Works, which of course, serves fresh coffee along with breakfast and sandwiches.


This is a close up of Fat Cat's. The smells were great, the look of the layout even better.


This is a look up (to the east) 6th Avenue, on the south side of the street.


This is the north side of 6th Avenue.


To the left is the Glarner Stube, fine dining and spirits, established 1901 and located in the Salomon Stuessy building of 1901. To the right is The Bramble Patch, which carries gourmet foods, both located on 1st Street.


Looking farther down 1st Street, the blue awning marks the New Glarus Bakery, in business since 1910. This building was erected in 1913 for the bakery and is a registered historical landmark. You can see how Swiss-looking buildings are mixed with old time American buildings.

I'm going to look at this same area after walking down 1st Street to the area behind where that motorcyclist is and the red van and the car parked behind it.


Here you see the rear of that red van and the car parked behind it. To the far right, behind the tree, is Ruef's Meat Market, a family market here for 35 years, in a building that opened in the early 1920s. This store was begun by Willy Ruef who had emigrated from Switzerland. Ruef's is located next to the New Glarus Bakery.


I've now swiveled to the right and, next to Ruef's, is a very Swiss-looking building hosting Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus, offering local cheeses and sausages, fine vines, homemade fudge, ice cream and homemade waffle cones.


Another look at this delightful building.


Looking back down the street, you see the Swiss United Church of Christ, whose roots trace back to 1850 when the first church was built. If you look closely in the lower left quadrant, you'll see a statue.


This is a monument honoring the first settlers. My photo is not all that smashing. Let me show you a better one.


First Settlers Monument in Front of Swiss Church, New Glarus. Photo credit: Don Davenport. Presented at theBubbler


This is the New Glarus Hotel, very authentic looking from the outside. It was built in 1853 and is located on the corner of 6th Avenue and 1st Street. The hotel has its own Alpine Restaurant on the balcony, offering among other things, Geschnetzeltes, cheese Fondue a' la Neuchatel, Beef Fondue Bourguignonne, homemade Swiss pastries, and all the essentials such as bratwurst and Wienerschnitzel. The hotel also hosts the Ticino Pizzeria at street level.


By my count, the hotel has four suites, two of which are family suites with as many as four beds, and two standard rooms.


This is the New Glarus railway station on Railroad Street. Today it serves as a stopping off point for Wisconsin's State Trails.

It is the starting point for the 23-mile long Sugar River Bike Trail. It houses a visitor center for those who go on the biking-hiking trail.


This is a storage facility for New Glarus Lumber, also on Railroad Street. This company traces its roots back to the original Lovejoy Lumber Co. founded in 1887. Since its present owners teamed up to buy New Glarus Lumber in 1999. They bought Monroe Lumber in 1999 enabling them to present a full range of lumber offerings, including floor systems, trusses, windows and doors, kitchen cabinets, counter tops and plumbing fixtures, plus flooring from carpet to ceramic tile. This storage facility is used mostly for windows and doors. The main office and yard are located on 3rd Ave.


Last, and arguably most important, is the New Glarus Brewing Co. The brewery, located just outside town on Hwy 69, produces seven beers year round, seasonal beers, and a selection of "surprises." It publishes a schedule to tell customers when each beer will be released. Spotted Cow is one I have seen a lot around Wausau. In 1995 and 1999 it was named one of the ten best breweries in the world. In 2005 and 2006 it was named the Midsize Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival. Dan Carey, its Diploma Master Brewer, was named Brewer of the Year in 2005 and 2006 as well. Its beers are available only in Wisconsin.


On the side of the brewery is this: "Hofen and Maltz, Gott erhalt's," which translates to "May God protect hops and malt." Yes indeed.


Keep 'em rollin' boys!