Washington County Attractions
Shaped by the last great glacier, Washington County’s landscape is richly endowed with wooded hills, clear lakes, sparkling streams, lush valleys, meandering rivers, burgeoning wetlands, and fertile farmland. Here visitors will discover culturally diverse communities, rural parks, historic sites and tranquil retreats located in a landscape full of wildlife and wonder. It is no wonder it is also the fastest growing county in Wisconsin.
Washington County communities proudly display their historic past and cultural heritage. The entire county lies spread out below the towers of the National Shrine of Mary – Help of Christians, an impressive Romanesque cathedral built between 1879 and 1881 atop Holy Hill, the highest point in the county. Homes, churches and commercial buildings built by 19th century German and Irish pioneers have been preserved, remain in use and are on view in historical districts found throughout the county. Area museums provide fascinating displays, and provide special programs that bring the county’s past to life. The West Bend Art Museum displays the works of important area painters; and, West Bend’s Sculpture Walk displays more than a dozen large-scale works along the Riverfront Parkway.
Washington County’s parks, the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, and the Ice Age Trail offer a variety of recreational opportunities; hiking, bicycling, cross-country skiing, boating, fishing, swimming, hunting, camping, picnicking, and nature study. Extensive wildlife areas and nature centers provide guided and self-guided interpretive tours, displays and special educational programs geared toward the entire family; and, Lizard Mound County Park offers self-guided tours of one of the state’s largest and most diverse groups of Native American effigy mounds.
Campers can choose from hundreds of campsites available in Washington County, at four private campgrounds and Pike Lake State Park. Bicyclists enjoy riding the lightly traveled roads found in the southern part of the county, and in the north, on-and off-road biking is available in the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
Both cross-country and downhill skiers head for Washington County at snowtime. The Kettle Moraine State Forest, Pike Lake State Park and Washington County parks offer miles of well-groomed cross-country trails; and, two downhill ski areas offer beginner to expert runs, snowboarding and tubing.
Golfers will find eight public golf courses located throughout the county, from 36 championship holes in Richfield to 27 holes in Kewaskum, all offering challenges, relaxation and spectacular scenery.
In charming 19th-century stone and half-timbered Old World buildings found in downtowns throughout Washington County, shoppers will find specialty shops, antique, collectible, craft and import outlets, art galleries, and a leather goods company established here in 1866. Among the whimsical, unique and unexpected items awaiting discovery here are imported German crystal, Austrian collectibles, beer steins, cuckoo clocks, smokers, nutcrackers, Old World Christmas items, artworks by local and regional artists, and locally manufactured cookware (at more than discount prices) in factory outlet stores.
In Washington County, good food is as traditional as a friendly greeting. Area restaurants feature variety in both settings and menus, including continental cuisine served in a 19th century inn; Sunday smorgasbords served in contemporary country elegance; Friday night fish fries or bratwurst with sauerkraut in a country tavern dining hall; wiener schnitzel and schweinshachsen in an authentic Bavarian restaurant; and surf and turf in a traditional Midwestern steakhouse.
At day’s end, Washington County offers visitors a variety of accommodations ranging from open air campsites and economy motels to first class luxury bed and breakfast inns, full-service hotels, retreat houses, resorts and conference centers.
Located in east central Wisconsin, only 30 minutes west of Milwaukee, Washington County is close at hand, but a world apart.
Museums and Historic Sites
Old Courthouse Square Museum
The old county courthouse in West Bend houses a museum operated by the Washington County Historical Society. Built 1889, the building is a striking example of Romanesque architecture, extensively renovated to house permanent and temporary historical exhibits. Nearby, the Old Jailhouse, which served as the sheriff’s residence as well as the jail, contains a jail cell restored to look as it did in the 1800’s. The museum offers tours, workshops, a unique gift shop and special events, and provides genealogical assistance.
Wisconsin Automotive Museum
Wisconsin Automotive Museum’s display of almost 100 classic cars covers a span from 1902 to 1990. The collection focuses on the Kissel, manufactured in Hartford from 1906 to 1931. A high-caliber custom automobile, the Kissel sold for $2,000 in a day when Fords were selling for a mere $500. Amelia Earhart owned one; so did Fatty Arbuckle and Jack Dempsey. Of the 35,000 Kissels produced, only 150 are known to exist today – 13 of them in this museum. The entire museum inventory is rotated frequently. If you missed the ’57 Chevy or the 1937 Lincoln limousine, stop in again and it will probably be there! The museum is open daily 10 am. – 5 pm. May through September; open Wednesday and Sunday, October through April.
Holy Hill Rd. & Fond du Lac Ave.
Established in 1842 by the Phillip Dhein family, one of several families from the Hunsruck area of Germany who settled here, this crossroads settlement has been designated as an historic district. Using their Old World skills these early settlers constructed homes and commercial establishments of half-timber, logs, limestone, brick and wood. Most of these buildings have been preserved and many are in use today, as they were more than a century ago. Christ Church, built of limestone in 1862, houses a museum operated by the Germantown Historical Society that contains displays and artifacts of early pioneer life. One of the oldest buildings in the county still standing on its original foundation, the Valentine Wolf Haus, is a rare example of half-timber construction and is currently undergoing restoration. The property, house and outbuildings have been designated as an historic park. Walking tour brochures are available from the Historical Society.
West Bend Art Museum
300 South Sixth Ave., West Bend
Hosting 10 to 14 changing exhibitions annually, the West Bend Art Museum presents a wide range of artworks, including pieces from the Wisconsin Art History collection. Its permanent collection includes more than 300 works by German-American artist Carl von Marr and an exquisite collection children particularly appreciate – the Walter A. Zinn doll house display. The display features 700 handcrafted miniatures collected from around the world and assembled between 1911 and 1957 by four generations of the family. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 1 am. – 4:30 pm., and Sunday 1 pm. – 4 pm.
The Messer/Mayer Grist Mill was constructed in 1871. The mill is located on Pleasant Hill Road just east of State Hwy 164 in the Richfield Historical Park. It is filled with its original milling equipment some bearing the name of E. P. Allis, forerunner of Milwaukee’s Allis Chalmers. The mill and the house are being restored to reflect the era in which they were occupied. They are on the State and National Historic Registries. Tours are available during June, July, and August or by appointment. Please call Kathy at 262-628-0252 or visit the Richfield Historical Society website: www.richfieldhistoricalsociety.org for specific tour dates and additional information about this historic mill.
Parks and Nature Centers
Kettle Moraine State Forest
Enjoy the legacy of the glaciers and camp, hike, bike, boat, ski, swim, snowmobile, trail ride on horseback, or fish and hunt in season – all in the northern area of the magnificent Kettle Moraine State Forest. Covering 28,000 acres in Washington, Fond du Lac and Sheboygan Counties, the forest offers a broad range of recreational and educational opportunities. Some of these activities include self-guided nature trails; family camping, swimming and boating at Mauthe and Long Lakes; year-round fishing in lakes and streams; and overnight camping for horses and riders at New Prospect Campground. In spring the forest is filled with woodland wildflowers, songbirds and butterflies. In fall, the hardwood forest bursts with brilliant gold, red and orange foliage. Deer, fox, squirrels, raccoons and other forest creatures rustle quietly through the underbrush in warm weather and pad lightly through the snow in winter. The forest is accessible year round and offers handicapped camping and picnic facilities.
Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Created to give hikers an up-close personal view of the geologic features sculpted by the glacier, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail will be 1,000 miles long when completed. The Washington County segment contains an abundance of large kettles, lakes and eskers among extensive stands of hardwoods. The trail winds from Monches in the south to Kewaskum and the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest in the North. At present, about 40 miles of the trail is available for use. One of the most popular segments of the trail is a three-mile trek over heavily wooded glacial topography that ends at the Holy Hill shrine. Segment maps are available from the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation and local area Chambers of Commerce.
Allenton Marsh Wildlife Area
Restored to prime waterfowl habitat by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, this marsh is popular with hunters. The wildlife area also contains the only trout stream in the county.
Pike Lake State Park
Popular Pike Lake State Park offers swimming and boating in spring-fed Pike Lake, camping, and hiking, and interpretive programs geared to younger family members. The Ice Age Trail cuts through the park, and a hike to the top of glacier-formed Powder Hill provides spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Interpretive programs are offered most summer weekends, including a short self-guided nature trail. Wooded and open campsites are available from May – October, and in the winter, skiers enjoy eight miles of groomed cross-country ski trails.
Riveredge Nature Center
A 350-acre wildlife sanctuary along the Milwaukee River, the Riveredge Nature Center offers twelve miles of signed interpretive trails that wind through woods and prairie and along the riverbanks. Some come here for a solitary summer stroll; others visit in the winter for cross-country skiing. The Center offers a variety of nature study classes and family nature programs year round. The main room of the center contains environmental exhibits and displays, and a barn and small cottage on the property may be rented for conferences, retreats and other events.
Lac Lawrann Conservancy
300 Schmidt Road
Lac Lawrann Conservancy is a beautiful and peaceful 104-acre natural area managed and maintained for nature study and passive outdoor recreation activities. The Conservancy serves as a refuge for plants, animals, and birds; presents several examples of glacial landforms to observe; and it offers a self-guided trail system that extends through or along side tallgrass prairie, red pine forest, native hardwood forest, lake, and wetlands. Visit often, walk softly, and whisper – you might just find a hidden treasure, or a four-legged friend staring back at you.
Points of Interest
Holy Hill – National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians
1525 Carmel Road, Hubertus
Visible for miles in all directions, the spires of Holy Hill beckon travelers to visit this special place. The observation tower located in one of Holy Hill’s sky-piercing spires offers a breath-taking view of the southern Kettle Moraine countryside with the Milwaukee skyline on the horizon, thirty miles to the Southeast. The neo-Romanesque Church that dominates the surrounding landscape offers priceless stained glass windows, magnificent mosaics and 19th Century statuary for viewing. Pilgrims may walk along the half-mile outdoor Way of the Cross with 14 groups of life-size sculptures, pray at the Lourdes Grotto, stroll around 400 wooded acres crossed by Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail, dine at the Old Monastery Inn Cafeteria, and stay in the facility’s simple but comfortable guest rooms. Easily accessible from Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and Madison via Highway 83 north to Highway 41/167 south of Hartford, Holy Hill welcomes visits by individuals and groups year-round.
Riverfront Parkway and Sculpture Walk
One of West Bend’s special destinations, the Riverfront Parkway is a trail that winds 2 1/2 miles along the Milwaukee River through the heart of the city. Beginning at the North Point Wildlife Area, the Parkway goes past Regner Park, through the downtown area, past West Bend’s diverse industries to Riverside Park where it terminates at the South River Bridge. The trail offers hard and soft surfaces, suitable for walking, jogging and biking; and features bridge overlooks, beautiful gardens, and steps down to riverside resting places. All along the parkway, people can enjoy native plants and gardens, the river, and the Sculpture Walk; a collection of sculptures that compliment the riverscape and reflect on West Bend’s greatest assets: its varied industries, park system, and ethnic heritage. Along the Sculpture Walk, visitors will find more than a dozen artworks including “Soldier’s Memorial” (Doughboy), a 1927 bronze; David Genszler’s 1993 “Tableau In Steel”; O.V. Shaffer’s “West Bend Resolve” a soaring stainless steel, corten steel and gilded bronze creation; Paul Trappe’s massive limestone piece entitled “Fluvioll; and, Thomas Lidtke’s ever-changing, soothing and contemplative “Ajuga Daydream” a concrete garden with rocks and flowers.
Old Main Street
Germantown wears its cultural heritage proudly. That pride is reflected in the Old World atmosphere on its Old Main Street. Located in historic and new half-timbered (fachwerk) buildings fashioned with Old World craftsmanship, Old Main Street’s retail shops and restaurants offer German wares and specialties along with generous helpings of traditional German “Gemuetlichkeit”.
Nestled among the hills on the western border of the county, Hartford is a classic country town with a modern sensibility. The renovated buildings along downtown’s Main Street maintain their 19th century charm, while housing a variety of specialty shops and restaurants appealing to 21st-century tastes. Hartford was founded by William Benjamin Place who arrived in the area in 1866. Place established one of the earliest commercial buckskin tanneries in the West. The company he formed almost 150 years ago, W.B. Place & Co., still specializes in hand-crafted leather goods.
Lizard Mound County Park
Lizard Mound County Park, located on County Highway A northeast of West Bend, offers one of the largest and most diverse groups of effigy mounds in Wisconsin. A self-guided nature trail winds around the 25 mounds constructed here between 400-1200 A.D. The park is open daily April through November.
Special Things To Do
West Bend Farmers Market
Main Street, Downtown West Bend
Enjoy farm fresh produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods, jams, jellies, preserves, syrups, and more. In season, gardeners will find a variety of bedding plants, annuals and perennials. Non-gardeners will find fresh cut flowers and vegetables. Amidst the food, fun and flowers market-goers may also find unusual art and craft items, music and entertaining street performers. Open Saturdays 7:30 am. – 11:00 am., June through October.