Area Tourism, Attractions and Events
Scenic Tours and Sights
Driving Tours |  Autumn Colors |  River Trails |  The Amish |  Round Barns |  Lock & Dam #8 in Genoa |  Battle Island and Black Hawk Trail |  Coon Creek Watershed |  Organic Farming
One of the most relaxing activities in the area is driving the windy, county roads looking for wildlife and other unique sights. The rolling hills and streams and hardwood trees changing colors can take your breath away. It is also very common to see whitetail deer, wild turkey, raccoons, geese, and many more birds and animals too numerous to mention.
Follow the mighty Mississippi from county line to county line along the Vernon County segment of the Great River Road, State Highway 35. Visit the historic riverside villages of Stoddard, Genoa, Victory and De Soto. Stop at the site of the “Battle of Bad Axe” near Victory. Visit “Battle Island” and “Battle Slough” at Black Hawk Park and view majestic bluffs and rich backwater vegetation. You may see a river barge or a classic paddle-wheeled steamboat working its way up the mighty river or a magnificent Bald Eagle soaring along the bluffs. Take time to observe the river traffic lock through at Lock & Dam #8, visit the Dairyland Power Cooperative’s Station Number three south of Genoa, and the Genoa National Fish Hatchery.
Although it is commonly known as “America’s Dairyland,” Wisconsin could also be called “America’s Forestland” as nearly half of the state is forested, and it is now known as one of the nation’s top destinations for viewing the fall color. With its unique topography of hills, valleys and bluffs, the driftless region of Southwestern Wisconsin around Viroqua is particularly attractive.
Sunlight converts sugars that have been trapped in certain leaves into anthrocyanins, reddish or bluish pigments. The more anthrocyanins a leaf has, the deeper its red and purple hues. These brilliant shades are outstanding in Wisconsin maples and sumacs. The crisp yellows of poplar, some beech and most birches, on the other hand, reveal a lack of tannins in the leaves, so the yellow pigments shine through. An abundance of these brownish tannin compounds will cast a yellow-brown color in certain species of oak and beech trees. With the exception of tamarack, Wisconsin’s abundant conifer trees remain green during the fall, providing a dramatic counterpoint to the deep reds and oranges and bright yellows so prevalent throughout the forest palette. Willows, alder, elder and some oaks also provide a counterpoint, as their neutral shades add a rich dimension of depth.
Wisconsin’s “crookedest” river, the gentle Kickapoo, meanders through Vernon County from Ontario south, joined by the West Fork River above Readstown. Coon Creek flows through the northwestern third of Vernon County and joins the Mississippi at Stoddard; and the North and South Forks of the Bad Axe River flow westerly to the Mississippi north of Black Hawk Park and south of Lock and Dam #8. The county’s streams and rivers flow for more than a hundred miles through the unchallenged natural beauty of deep-cut gorges, tree-topped bluffs and rolling farmland surrounded by gently rising wooded hills, under forest canopies and through shadowy glens. Local outfitters rent canoes and kayaks, provide guides, maps and shuttle services.
Vernon County is home to Wisconsin’s largest Amish community. While traveling the back roads, it is common to come upon a horse-drawn buggy on the road, or see a horse-drawn wagon heaped with hay headed toward the barn. You see small girls in dresses and bonnets tending the family gardens, or young boys in their straw hats running barefoot through the. Hand-lettered signs at the end of many Amish driveways advertise maple syrup, eggs, quilts, rugs and hickory bent furniture.
Business is done out of small shops on their farms which have no electricity and no telephones. Their way of life is based on their faith in God, family, tradition, and hard work. These folks are our neighbors and our friends. They are the order of the Old-World Amish.
You can meet several of these families every Saturday at Viroqua’s Farmer’s Market. They bring beautiful, baskets of all sizes made with old-world craftsmanship. They also bring hand-woven rugs, hand-quilted wall hangings, and of course beautiful quilts in several colors, patterns and sizes.
The Main Street Farmers Market, located in the heart of downtown, averages over 50 vendors each Saturday during the Market season. The Farmers Market opens the last day of May and continues every Saturday until the last Saturday of October.
From the late 1800’s until the 1930’s, round barns were the choice of most progressive farmers. Built with the silo and hay chute in the center for more efficient distribution of food and forage to the surrounding animals, round barns saved labor and conserved energy. Most of Vernon County’s round barns were built by Alga Shivers, son of a slave who escaped to the area via the Underground Railroad. These barns were usually covered with red tiles, sheet metal and wood boards soaked in local creeks to render them pliable. With the arrival of electricity, round barns were replaced by rectangular structures which provided the straight lines required for piping for electric milkers and mechanical barn cleaners. In 1994, Vernon County had 15 standing round barns, more round barns per square mile than any other place in the world. Books describing each of these barns and maps of their locations are available from the County Museum, The Viroqua Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street City Office in Viroqua.
Alga Shivers lived his entire life in Vernon County. He was the son of Thomas Level Ethridge Shivers who was born on a plantation near Alamo, Tennessee. In 1879, Thomas came with his sister, Mary, and his brother, Ashley, to the town of Union, Vernon County, to live with their uncle, Edmund Harris, who had homesteaded 60 acres there. In 1880 Thomas married Millie Revels and they had six children: two daughters, Cora and Middie, and four sons, Herbert, Alga, Edward, and Marvin. Alga, born in 1889, took over the family farm. He attended George R. Smith College in Sedalia, Missouri where he studied carpentry.
After college and serving in WWI in France, he returned to his farm where he constructed the first round barn. There were 15 more that he supervised the construction of in Monroe and Vernon County. One to two years before the construction of the barns, Alga and his crew would enter the farmer’s woodlot to cut the logs. When the wood was cured, he and a two or three man crew would build the barns. Actual construction took about three months. All the Shivers barns were built of wood.
Lock & Dam #8 in Genoa
Lock and Dam #8 is an integral link in the upper Mississippi navigation system. The Lock and Dam consist of main and auxiliary locks, roller gates, tainter gates, and a dam extending to the Minnesota shore. Over 2,000 small pleasure boats, from canoes to cabin cruisers, and hundreds of river barges lock through this Lock and Dam annually. The pool above the dam is ideal for all forms of water recreation. Surrounding forests and plenty of fresh water combine to produce a natural wildlife habitat for fish, waterfowl and wild game. A look-out platform allows visitors to observe the locks in action, riverboats and barges queuing-up for passage, rising and dropping with the water level, and tow boats deftly maneuvering their gigantic barges through the locks.
Battle Island and Black Hawk Trail
In 1831, by U.S. Government agreement, a band of Sauk people led by Black Hawk were removed from their traditional planting ground east of the Mississippi to their fall and winter hunting grounds west of the Mississippi. In defiance of that, 800 Sauks and 100 Mesquakies crossed the river to the eastern banks in the spring of 1832. Joined by Kickapoos and Winnebagoes, there were about 2,000 people which included fewer than 600 warriors. U.S. troops under the command of General Henry Atkinson were ordered to drive the Sauk back across the river. Black Hawk avoided U.S. soldiers and moved his band northeast, and by mid July most of Black Hawk’s followers hid in the four lakes region near present Madison. Unable to hunt or fish, the children and the elderly began to die of malnutrition so Black Hawk decided to lead his people back to the Mississippi.
Chased by the federal militia, Black Hawk led his people north through Sauk and Crawford Counties into southern Vernon County on his way back to the Mississippi. Black Hawk’s people never made it back to their new home. The trail ended on “Battle Island”, now part of Blackhawk State Park, where the entire band fell to Atkinson’s Army. On July 21, Black Hawk’s rear guard defended the fleeing tribe at Wisconsin Heights and evaded two other regiments. The remaining 500 began building rafts and canoes once they reached the Mississippi. Before they could finish, the steamboat WARRIOR, carrying troops from Ft. Crawford and Prairie du Chien, came into view. Black Hawk, for the third time, tried to surrender only to be answered by artillery fire from the boat. Fleeing into the water, men, women and children were caught in the crossfire from guns on the boat and sharp-shooters on the shore. The slaughter continued for eight hours.
In the early 1930’s a local doctor, C.V. Porter, decided to make and erect markers on historical events and places in this area. The Black Hawk Trail (Black Hawk’s route) is marked by six historic markers on State Highway 27 just before it enters Vernon County, State Highway 82 West from Fargo to Redmound, County Highway UU between Redmound and Victory, south on State Highway 35, from Victory to Black Hawk State Park; and on Battle Island in the Mississippi River, where it ended.
The Vernon County Historical Society spent five years locating, restoring, and making these markers accessible to the public. One such marker is located on North Rock Street on the spot where Lucy Stone spoke in favor of women’s rights. Two markers honor the first circuit preacher and first superintendent of schools, the rest of the markers follow the Trail of Black Hawk and his tribe as they fled across Vernon County to escape the soldiers and military. Brochures are available marking the route at the Viroqua Partners Office.
Coon Creek Watershed
An historical marker located one-half mile west of Coon Valley on State Highway 14 commemorates the successful restoration of the 92,000-acre Coon Creek Valley watershed. Decimated by erosion resulting from clearing, cutting, 19th century wheat growing and subsequent soil-depleting dairy farming practices, by the 1920’s the once lushly green Coon Creek Valley was mostly barren, cut by deep gulleys that turned to raging torrents with every rainfall. Topsoil carried from the Valley choked the Mississippi River with silt which filled in and spoiled the channels and adjacent wetlands, damaging the habitat for fish and aquatic plants. In 1933 the U.S. Soil Erosion Service selected the Coon Creek Watershed for a demonstration of soil and water conservation. With the aid of local farmers, the Coon Creek Soil Conservation District was created and went into action. Applying the latest in soil conservation practices, strip-cropping, terracing, contouring, erosion control and crop rotation, “The Nation’s First Watershed” was restored and became an outdoor classroom for Wisconsin’s and the nation’s farmers. Thanks to that early experiment and continuing soil conservation practices, present-day visitors will find the Valley green again, with colorful, contrasting strips of contoured plantings following the curves of the hills. The streams run clear again, the fish are plentiful, and the flood control ponds provide great recreation for all.
Organic farming moves beyond the avoidance of commercial fertilizer, chemical insecticides and herbicides. It seeks to increase the health and vitality of the soil, to treat animals humanely, and to harmonize with the environment of the farm and garden. Practitioners of organic agriculture add composted manure to their fields and gardens. Green manure crops are grown to protect the soil from erosion, combat weeds and add organic matter to the soil to improve its fertility and texture. Rotation of crops, cultivation and the use of mulch help control weeds and maintain soil health.
In Vernon and surrounding counties we have the largest concentration of organic farmers in Wisconsin. Seven Wisconsin farmers organized CROPP (Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool) just 10 years ago building up to its 330+ farmer members in 13 states. CROPP has also created or retained 250 on-farm jobs which markets the vegetables, dairy products, meat and eggs under the Organic Valley label. Headquartered in a small Southwest Wisconsin village of La Farge, Organic Valley was ranked #1 among 50 leading Rural Development Initiatives evaluated from throughout Wisconsin.
The Viroqua Partners Farmers Market, which began in 1991, has always featured numerous organic farmers and gardeners selling their produce. Through the years our market has grown to include Amish and other locally produced craft items along with a diversity of fresh, local produce. Located in the downtown at the WWTC Viroqua Campus parking lot, our market has become a gathering place for friends and neighbors to shop and chat on Saturday mornings from June through October.
Tourism Information: 608-637-2575 or firstname.lastname@example.org