In our trip planning we chose a stop over in Portage, Wisconsin for two reasons: it was half way between Chicago and St Paul, MN and I liked the name, knowing it was often associated with settler travel. What we did not know was just how much this delightful town had seen of the evolving story of America. It had many claims to fame!
It started with the Native Americans who appreciated a good route when they found one. Prior to European settlement in the late 17th century, the shores of the Fox River and Green Bay were home to roughly half the estimated 25,000 Native Americans who lived in what is today Wisconsin. They used this important water route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi and this helped the first fur seeking Europeans to establish their trade routes to the Gulf of Mexico. Portage stands at a key watershed. It is the place where you unload and carry your stuff to the next stretch of water!
Some of the earliest ‘management of the Indian problem’ was carried out from forts and agency houses nearby. I will let the sign boards speak for themselves.
Here is the Native American’s perspective –
Portage was also home at different times to three men who became world renown for their contributions to the American story. Here I am, a humble student, outside the very home of Frederick Jackson Turner famous for his Frontier Thesis.
If, as Turner claimed, the ‘Frontier made America,’ John Muir spent his life campaigning to save its precious wilderness for future generations.
Widely regarded as the father of America’s National Park system, Muir emigrated from Scotland with his family in 1849 to a farm near Portage.
The third famous person I stumbled upon was Frank Lloyd Wright. Although his “Prairie Style” architecture does not feature here, Portage has developed a great town trail for visitors to view the Society Hill Historic District. The large and gracious homes reflect the wealth and high society living here between 1870 and 1910.
As you have guessed, we learnt so much of all this from the delightful Town Museum, located in the former home of Zona Gale.
It was the view from Zona Gales’ lovely lounge window that gave us the first portent of weather problems to come.
A warning about this had woken us up at 3.00am in our hotel room when my phone suddenly burst into life with a scary tornado message!
Before I regale you with the storm story which follows, I could not leave Portage without sharing a couple more of its joys:
And … seeing is believing, this is Portage library on a wild and wet Wednesday!
See you at the railroad station – westward ho!