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Historic Old World Wisconsin: Stepping Back in Time

I spent my early childhood in Wisconsin and another four years when my husband's job took him there. It is a beautiful and scenic state!

Old World Wisconsin

Old World Wisconsin

Wisconsin Bicentennial Project

When visiting the very historic Old World Wisconsin, be prepared to take a step back in time to the 19th century to see how the pioneers lived and survived in Wisconsin. Be sure to bring your camera for some great picture-taking opportunities!
Oh, and be sure and take some good walking shoes! Why the recommendation for good walking shoes? The setting of Old World Wisconsin is on 576 acres of land!

It opened for the first time in 1976 as a significant celebration of what Wisconsin created for our nation's bicentennial. This massive undertaking has served since that time to record what life was like for settlers in Wisconsin in the format of an outdoor working museum.


There are different areas of ethnicity and a total of 10 working farms in Old World Wisconsin. The photo at the top of this page shows workers stacking already harvested oats in the fields. This year-round museum shows things the pioneers would have been doing more than a century ago to live and thrive in this environment at all times of the year.

With effort and hard work, involving clearing the fields, plowing and working with sustainable agriculture, Wisconsin rewarded these hard-working pioneer families with good, fertile farmland on which to raise their crops and feed their animals.

Winters were cold, and most often, the land was blanketed with snow. Thus from early Spring to the last days of Fall, these farm families would have been putting in long hard days of work preparing for the frosty weather to come.

Visitors get to see the appropriately costumed Old World Wisconsin workers and volunteers performing the usual chores. Also, in many cases, one can even participate in some of these activities.

Interactive Museum

Many of the 60 historic buildings were moved from various locations within the State to this site. Some were in good repair, and others needed some restoration.

There are 12 working gardens. If one is inclined to do a little hoeing and weeding (if that is happening at the time of one's visit), one can join in that activity. The people working there impart stories while they are going about their daily activities. They include some of the following: gardening, preparation of food, canning, sheering of sheep, stacking of oats in the field, spinning wool into yarn, and other sundry routines of farm life.

Visitors can have any questions that might occur to them be answered in this interactive museum setting by the costumed workers who act as docents. It is truly a fantastic place!

Sanford House at Old World Wisconsin

Sanford House at Old World Wisconsin

Sanford House

Shown above is one of the most impressive relocated houses on the site of Old World Wisconsin. The Sanford House was built in 1858 in La Grange, Wisconsin, and is of a Greek Revival style. It reflects the tastes of what would have been a wealthy and prosperous Yankee farmer back in those days.

Raspberry School at Old World Wisconsin

Raspberry School at Old World Wisconsin

Raspberry School

The Raspberry School is a one-room schoolhouse built in 1896 for use in the town of Russell. It has been restored and now shows what it would have been like in the year 1906. The three of us (my mother, aunt, and niece) joined others in sitting in the wooden student desks and listened to some lessons by the school teacher standing at the front of the room. Children of various ages and grades would have shared this one room. There was a dunce chair that sat in the corner of the room.

At one time in my childhood, I attended a Catholic school, and several grades were in one room. There are some advantages to that. Homework could be addressed and even finished as another class was being taught. For the smarter kids, they could listen and learn, absorbing more information than they would typically learn by merely being in one grade at a time.

The Grotelueschen Blacksmith Shop in Old World Wisconsin

The Grotelueschen Blacksmith Shop in Old World Wisconsin

The Grotelueschen Blacksmith Shop

This blacksmith shop was initially in the Village of Waubeka in Ozaukee County of Wisconsin. German-born Henry Grotelueschen was the owner, and his shop originated in 1886.

On the day of our visit, the fires were hot, and this young man was doing some work on horseshoes. We could readily see all the tools of a blacksmith's trade. Hammering those hot rods of metal into the various shapes of articles needed would have kept a blacksmith busy servicing the needs of residents living in the surrounding countryside.

St. Peter's Church at Old World Wisconsin

St. Peter's Church at Old World Wisconsin

St. Peter's Church

St. Peters Church was initially called St. Luke's and was the first Catholic Church in Milwaukee, constructed in 1839.

The Koepsell House

This half-timbered German "Fachwerk" house was built in 1858. It resided initially in the town of Jackson in Washington County, Wisconsin. It is one of three farms in the German area of Old World Wisconsin.

The Schottler and Schulz farms join the Koepsell farm showing more of the German influence in settlement of Wisconsin in earlier days. Mr. Koepsell was a successful dairy farmer, as well as a builder of houses in Wisconsin.

Turck - Schottler House and garden at Old World Wisconsin

Turck - Schottler House and garden at Old World Wisconsin

The Turck-Schottler House

In comparison to the Koepsell House, this German-built house shows a different method called "Blockbau," and it originated in 1847 in Germantown, Wisconsin. In 1865 a lean-to was added, enlarging the space for the family.

In the picture above, some visitors are walking by one of the 12 gardens in Old World Wisconsin just outside the Turck-Schottler House. It seems to be bearing some good produce. Initially owned by the Turck family, it was sold to the Schottlers, another German family. It was moved to Old World Wisconsin in 1977.

Animals on the farm

Animals on the farm

Animals on the Farm

At Old World Wisconsin, one will see oxen and horses in the fields often hooked up to plows with the farmers preparing the land to be cultivated and planted.

Sheep were a vital animal to early 19th-century pioneers due to the ability to be able to harvest their wool and spin it into articles of warm clothing. Pigs became an important food source, and dairy cows provided milk as well as meat. Roosters and chickens were also a common animal found on the farms. Eggs from the chickens and the meat provided an excellent and ready source of protein.

Of course, the early settlers also supplemented their pantries with animals that they would have secured by hunting and fishing.

Kruza House

It is in the Polish area of Old World Wisconsin that one finds this shelter that housed both humans and their chickens. As already pointed out, animals were essential to the lives of pioneers.

Often people slept in rooms adjacent to animals or some instances, in lofts above the animals. The animals would have been protected from inclement weather and also other animals who might have found them as easy prey.

The Kruza House was built in 1884 and came from the Town of Hofa Park. This unique type of architecture is known as "stovewood" because the walls consist of logs that are stove wood lengths held together with mortar.

Tour With Loyd Heath (Old World Wisconsin Foundation)

The Pedersen House

The Petersen house and farm are in the Danish area of Old World Wisconsin. Primarily the Pedersens' earned a living by raising dairy cows as well as gardening and the other typical life skills honed by most pioneers settling in Wisconsin in those days of the 19th century.

The Pedersen home was built in 1872 and was initially in the Town of Luck in Polk County. A kitchen wing had later been added, and it bears a resemblance today to what it would have looked like in 1890.

While in America, the Queen of Denmark made an effort to dedicate this rustic Pedersen house in the Bi-centennial year of 1976 in Old World Wisconsin.

Pioneer Work

Not all of the work by pioneers was outside—steady work occurred by the wives, sisters, grandmothers, and other family members inside as well.

Volunteers and workers are busily engaged in doing the necessary tasks that were of equal importance to keep their families safe, clothed, and fed. Those are just a few of the things one gets to see as one wanders inside of the various buildings as well as traversing the grounds.

Spinning the carded wool into usable clothing was showcased in several of the homes the day of our visit.

People dressed as pioneers were doing many things. They included sweeping wooden floors, making bread and pies, milking cows, using a fancy cream separator, etc. One of the pictures above shows the cream separator, which had come along by 1915 to make the settler's lives a little easier.

The round flatbread pictured below would be dried and become rock hard. The hole in the center made it easier to hang during the drying process. The hardened bread would later be soaked in soup or stews or some other liquid to soften it before eating it.

Finnish Area of Old World Wisconsin

There are two farms showcased in Old World Wisconsin where the settlers and pioneers to this new land had initially come from Finland.

  1. The Ketola Farm: Dairy farming was Ketola's main business.
  2. The Rankinen Farm: The house with my mother pictured in front of it is the Rankinen House, constructed in 1892 and restored to how it looked in 1897. It originally stood in the town of Oulu in Bayfield County, Wisconsin. The Rankinens took in boarders and did odd jobs to make a living such as woodcutting, etc. It was merely subsistence-level farming. It did not expand into anything much more significant than keeping the needs of its occupants satisfied, according to a brochure that we picked up at Old World Wisconsin.
Rankinen Homestead at Old World Wisconsin

Rankinen Homestead at Old World Wisconsin

Leisure Time

As can be seen in the photo below, the children living in this particular house had dolls with which to play. Old fashioned games of many sorts would have been played outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and other games would have kept occupants entertained inside as well.

Storytelling was an art form and would have passed along fables as well as family history to generation after generation. There were no television sets or video games or computers or text messaging to consume a person's time.

Community barn dances would have been organized and looked forward to with great anticipation during the year. Musically inclined individuals would play instruments in the homes, churches, and other events where many individuals would sing songs to suit the occasion. Times may have been simple, but the days were filled with not only work but good-hearted fun as well.

Old World Wisconsin

Old World Wisconsin


Beautifying these farmsteads was also accomplished as time permitted. Rugs would have been made to warm and embellish the floors. Embroidery would have added pretty detailing to curtains or clothing.

In the picture below, look at the "remembrance crock" on the top of this piece of furniture. Bits of broken but treasured china was plastered onto the surface of this crock, which would ultimately become a family heirloom.

"Remembrance crock " at Old World Wisconsin

"Remembrance crock " at Old World Wisconsin

Fossebrekke House

I'll leave you with a photo of one of the oldest buildings, that of the Fossebrekke House, which was built in Newark of Rock County in 1841. This tiny pioneer homestead stands in the Norwegian area of Old World Wisconsin, near the 1896 Raspberry School and the 1848 Kvaale farmhouse. The Fossebrekke's primarily grew wheat and did trapping for their livelihood.

Fossebrekke House at Old World Wisconsin

Fossebrekke House at Old World Wisconsin

Kettle Moraine State Forest

Located in the southern region of the gorgeous Kettle Moraine State Forest, Old World Wisconsin resides amidst the rolling and wooded hills of this scenic area. There are nature trails that can take one from one historic building to the next. Or for ease, one can take the trams which continually operate between the different sites.

From day camps to workshops or even barn dances, Old World Wisconsin can be enjoyed in several ways.

Old World Wisconsin is easily accessible to hundreds of thousands of people for an easy day trip away from home. It is only 75 miles northwest of Chicago, 35 miles southwest of Milwaukee, or 55 miles southeast of Madison.

During the winter months, this site closes except for some holiday events and programs. It will reopen on May 9, 2020.

Pricing varies between weekday and weekend visits. There are Groupon coupons and other discounts. Here is the number to call for admission prices: 1-262-594-6301.

Old World Wisconsin


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 12, 2020:

Hi Mark,

Old World Wisconsin is like taking a journey into the past. It is interesting that your great aunts were there for the dedication when the Queen of Denmark also attended the event. Do you know which items your aunts donated? Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Mark Jacobsen on September 12, 2020:

My great aunts were from Denmark and attended the dedication by the queen of denmark. I was told they also donated some items for the farmhouse. Beautiful area. It's like walking into the past.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 10, 2014:

Hello Homeplace Series,

If you love living history farms, I am so happy to be able to introduce this one to you. It is a beauty! Thanks for your comment.

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on May 09, 2014:

What a wonderful experience. Thank you! I love living history farms. I was not aware of this one. Now I'm in love. It looks truly marvelous.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 24, 2014:

Hi Au fait,

So glad to be able to show this interesting site located in Wisconsin to you. We had a grand time there and every time of year would offer different experiences in visiting there. Thanks for the votes and shares.

C E Clark from North Texas on April 20, 2014:

Never knew this place existed and I was born and grew up in WI. Lord knows I did plenty of weeding and hoeing growing up. We had cucumber (we called them pickle fields) and green beans for cash crops along with a few head of cattle, a couple hogs, some chickens, etc. Of course some of these things were before my time. ;)

Excellent article as always, great photos, and very informative. If I ever get back to WI this would definitely be a worthwhile place to visit. Gave you 5 stars, voting this up, BAUI, sharing with my followers and pinning to my 'Travel' board. Surprised I haven't seen this hub before, but you have so many that I'm always finding one that's new to me.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 14, 2013:

Hi Gus,

That is quite a story! "Memoirs of a Dog" must be quite a book! So happy to know that this hub about Old World Wisconsin brought back those memories for you. Thanks for your comment. :))

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 13, 2013:

Hi moonlake,

So happy to know that you enjoyed this hub about Old World Wisconsin. It is such a nice place to learn about history and actually see how things were done back in the pioneer days in such an interactive way. Appreciate your comment and especially the share.

Gustave Kilthau from USA on February 13, 2013:

Howdy Peggy (Peggy W) -

Super article and pix. Enjoyed the whole thing (twice).

Got a soft spot in my heart (liver?) for Wisconsin. The first book I ever edited was by a Wisconsin writer. His book was entitled "Memoirs of a Dog." It was a collection of humorous stories about teenagers and their many critters growing up on Wisconsin dairy farms.The author decided to write his book after he had broken his back and had nothing better to do until he healed. Also, he was an ex-felon during the time of the writing. He sent a copy of his book to the governor just for the sport of sending him one. Gov liked the tales so much that he gave the author a full pardon - one of only two pardons he passed along during his 8 years as governor of Wisconsin.

Your fine article reminded me of the whole thing.

Gus :-)))

moonlake from America on February 13, 2013:

What an interesting hub and you always have such great pictures to go with your hubs. Enjoyed and voted up and shared.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 13, 2011:

Hello Patty,

Old World Wisconsin truly is a site worth seeing if ever in that part of the country. I am so glad that I got to see it with my mother, aunt and niece. Thanks for your comment and ratings.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 13, 2011:

This is an awesome collections of well balanced photos! Looks like a fantastic traveling spot. Rated up and more.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 13, 2011:

Hi Duchess,

Glad you liked this Old World Wisconsin hub. Hopefully people will check out the link I left to your great hub...Photo Gallery of Older Barns. It is wonderful. Thanks for your comment.

Duchess OBlunt on December 13, 2011:

What wonderful history! Your hubs are interesting and enlightening! And your pictures are a delight!

Rated up!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 29, 2011:

Hello Dewette,

Nice to meet you here on Hubpages. Wisconsin is a beautiful state. For people who may not be familiar with the term "cheesehead"...Wisconsin is known as the Dairy State. Thanks for your comment.

Dewette from NV on November 29, 2011:

Ahhhhh..........memories of home :) I am also a "cheesehead" :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 06, 2010:

Hi Martha Castillo,

Thanks for commenting on this Historic Old World Wisconsin hub. Nice to know that you enjoyed it.

Martha Castillo on October 06, 2010:

Once again thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 03, 2010:

Hi Prasetio,

There is much to see and enjoy in Wisconsin besides Old World Wisconsin. If you decide to visit, I'll suggest many other beautiful sites. In the meantime, happy that you visited vis the Internet and thanks for the comment.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on October 03, 2010:

I just see all the pictures only on my television. Again...I'll put Wisconsin on my travel list. Thank you very much, Peggy. Good work.


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 02, 2010:

Hello DjBryle,

Finding out about all the work and effort that was put in to survival in the early days by visiting Old World Wisconsin was educational and also enjoyable. Life was good in many ways back in those days. Thanks for the visit and vote.

DjBryle from Somewhere in the LINES of your MIND, and HOPEFULLY at the RIPPLES of your HEART. =) on October 01, 2010:

Your hubs take me to a virtual travel to places I've never been... and reminds me once again how beautiful life can get! Thanks for sharing! Voted up! =)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 25, 2010:

Hello Purple Perl,

I was happy to have shared these Old World Wisconsin pictures with you and other readers. Glad you liked it and thanks for the comment.

Esther Shamsunder from Bangalore,India on September 25, 2010:

Beautiful life! Thanks for sharing! I got to see the wonderful sights thru' your hub. Congrats too !

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 25, 2010:

Hello WannaB Writer,

Yes, Old World Wisconsin would be an excellent place to take kids as it would teach them history in a very interactive way. Also great for adults! Thanks for the comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 25, 2010:

Hello mtsi1098,

Old World Wisconsin is even BETTER than a time capsule in the sense that it is an active site with people actually doing the things that would have been done back then...and in period costumes. Plus one can talk to and learn from these trained people and volunteers. Quite a site! But I understand your time capsule reference. Thanks!

Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on September 25, 2010:

That's a place I'd like to visit sometime. I would have loved taking the kids there when they were young.

mtsi1098 on September 25, 2010:

like a time capsule...nicely done...I have been to Wisconsin and thought it was nice then...thanks

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 24, 2010:

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks for the comment. If we had lived back in the times that Old World Wisconsin portrayed, we would definitely have had to work harder for our food, clothing and essentials but as you said...it was a healthy lifestyle. No need for gyms in which to exercise or worrying about too many additives affecting our food.

Cheryl on September 24, 2010:

Wow. We need those days to return. A very healthy lifestyle. I love the history lesson and the photos. Another great presentation.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 23, 2010:

Hi Simone,

Hope your desire of visiting Old World Wisconsin comes to fruition someday. Thanks for the nice comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 23, 2010:

Hi Micky,

Let's put it this way...my niece in these pictures visiting Old World Wisconsin...now has a child of her own about that age. But Old World Wisconsin would not have changed much since these pictures were taken. The videos are recent. The "Buttons up!" is for high buttoned shoes, I am assuming? Haha!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on September 23, 2010:

What a cool place!! I want to go to Old World Wisconsin! Your pictures are fantastic- this is a great hub!

Micky Dee on September 23, 2010:

Yo Peggy! What year is it? Lot of work Peggy and it shows. Buttons up!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 23, 2010:

Hi Hello, hello,

Glad that reading this hub about Old World Wisconsin brought back such happy memories for you. As you said, some things in days of the past were very good! Thanks!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 23, 2010:

Hi Candie,

Oh yes...there are PLENTY of places I have yet to see and never will in this life. Just too many gorgeous places in this world of ours to see and enjoy in one lifetime. Thanks for taking a peek at Old World Wisconsin. It is quite a place!

As to the pictures...I am in some hubs like the last one about Buffalo Bill Cody's boyhood home; the dog rescue story of Trudy; quite a few actually. That being said...generally the photographer is BEHIND the camera...not in front! Haha! I am usually too busy taking pictures to think about asking people to take one with me in it. OK smartipants! Where is one of you??? :-)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 23, 2010:

Hello Cassie Ann,

Old World Wisconsin did not exist when I lived there prior to my parents moving our family to Texas so it was great to see when visiting relatives a few years ago. Little Norway I've gotten to see and enjoy several times but have never been to Cave of the Mounds. Will have to correct that if we return to that area. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 23, 2010:

Hi agusfanani,

That was the first time I had seen something like that...bread with holes in it being dried inside that house at Old World Wisconsin. Visiting there teaches oldsters (like me) as well as youngsters much about life in times past. Thanks for the visit and comment.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on September 23, 2010:

Thank you, Peggy, for bringing back such a wonderful world. All the memories of my childhood on my grandparent's farm came flooding back. It was hard work but it was a human and warm world. It don't think we gained with out so-called progress. In some way it is just as hard but cold world.

Candie V from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure! on September 22, 2010:

Is there anywhere you have NOT been? I'm in awe of you! You bring so much to life in your hubs and your pictures. More than any travel brochure could ever do! I do have to ask.. pardon me.. but you never seem to be in any of your pictures?? Hmmm... We know everyone else in your lovely family.. but Peggy, how's about being in one or two of them??

Cassie Ann on September 22, 2010:

Thanks for this great hub, Peggy. Being from Wisconsin, I have visited Old World Wisconsin. The last time I was at Little Norway was when my parents took me there many years ago. You have inspired me to want to visit again. Another neat attraction is Cave of the Mounds which I haven't been to since I was little. Maybe it's time for a visit again!

agusfanani from Indonesia on September 22, 2010:

A great hub ! I couldn't hold my grin when I read I looked at those bread with holes at the center. It seems that those old traditions and equipment are well preserved.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 22, 2010:

Hello Kaie Arwen,

Nice to know someone else who has visited Old World Wisconsin! It is fun! Glad I could spark your fun memories with this hub. Thanks for the comment.

Kaie Arwen on September 22, 2010:

I have been here with grandma and grandpa........... thanks for the memories! This was fun! Kaie

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 22, 2010:

Hi dahoglund,

Plan to spend a big chunk of a day there when you visit Old World Wisconsin. There is much to do and see! Thanks for the first comment.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on September 22, 2010:

Peggy W.

voted this up, useful and beautiful. I alway rate yours up although I am not in the habit of mentioning it. I was unaware of this site in Wisconsin.I will have to look it up and visit.

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