Carefree highway: Day 3
That is the luxury I had Sunday: the total freedom to go where I wanted and stop whenever I felt like it. I had no appointments, a general plan for the day but I could change it whenever I wanted.
Still in the heart of Frank Lloyd Wright country, I wanted to hit some small towns in southwestern Wisconsin where two good friends and I manage to get together nearly every year. But first I had in mind a place I’d never been: Wright’s birthplace.
So I left Madison and told Google Navigation to keep me off the highways and get me to Richland Center.
You might think that a place that has posted a sign declaring the state route through town the Frank Lloyd Wright Memorial Highway would have signs posted everywhere: This way to Wright’s birthplace.
Turns out no one seems to know exactly where Wright was born, except that it was somewhere in Richland Center. The visitor center was closed, so I drove around downtown, looking for a sign.
All I found was one building that was entirely different from every other building I had seen in town. My friend and fellow Wright fan Aubrie Williams had mentioned this one to me, which helped me find it. There were elements of his style but I wasn’t convinced. It’s a massive building with decorative concrete along the roofline and above the entrance – the pillars there have a vague similarity to those in the SC Johnson building.
(In the evening, after the drive, I found it: the A.G. German Warehouse. According to wrightinwisconsin.org, Wright designed the building in 1915 and it was built between 1917 and 1921. It is not open, and seems to be in need of repair. I saw no signs of activity, but that’s not surprising on a Sunday.)
I headed off on the Wright Memorial Highway to my next stop: Spring Green. Taliesin, the home Wright built when he left Oak Park, is here, as are several other buildings – a school for architecture students on the grounds of Taliesin, a school he built for his aunts, a farm structure called the Midway Barn, and Romeo and Juliet – a windmill built atop two conjoined structures, one diamond-shaped and the other octagonal. The two together give each other more strength than either would have alone. (Wright loved octagons; they’re visible in many of his buildings.)
Several tours are available – details are online at http://www.taliesinpreservation.org/ I chose not to take any. I’ve taken them all at least once. And my zoom lens showed me the house itself is undergoing major repairs.
But I drove around and stopped at the roadside at each one and took pictures. I can’t explain why. I have lots of pictures of each one already.
At the final one – his aunts’ school – I nearly ignored a very cool find that has nothing to do with Wright. Well, it has one small connection to him, and one small connection to Champaign-Urbana, for that matter. A “moveable sculpture” by John Himmelfarb is parked in front of the Wyoming Town Hall, the next building over from the aunts’ school. Titled “Galatea,” it’s a 1948 R.E.O. Speedwagon truck piled high with rusting metal – gas tanks, barrels, a large trunk. The truck, according to a sign in its window, was found in Richland Center.
I resumed my drive and saw one of those wooden signs that every state uses to advertise a park or other recreational facility coming up. Something made me stop at this one, and it reminds me of the French/Cajun/Creole (I’m not sure, but it’s one of those) word lagniappe – an unexpected gift.
Down a narrow tree-lined mostly-dirt road to a small boat landing, there is a lake, bordered almost completely by trees, with water lilies hugging the shore. Take that, Monet! There were small boats on the water, but it was quiet and serene. It was the one time I didn’t notice the heat of the day.
After the detour, I got to Spring Green. As I approached the Taliesin Visitor Center – all tours start from there; you park and take a bus to the home – I looked over at a park where my friends and I always have a picnic during our Wright weekends. It’s across the Wisconsin River from the visitor center, and when we arrive, usually near sunset in the autumn, the park is usually deserted. Sunday, it was the opposite. The sandbar that leads from the park was packed, people were swimming and playing in the river, canoes and kayaks were making their way back and forth.
I stopped at the visitor center, which has a desk to sign up for the tours, a gift shop and a restaurant. The side facing the river is all windows, so I decided to have some refreshment and watch the river for a while. Very peaceful.
In Spring Green, I stopped at the home of Furthermore Beer, which is actually a barn. (No, really. A woman tending bar at The Shed -- again, really -- told us about it one night on one of our Wright weekends. They were having a tasting; we should go and say she’d sent us. We did, and it was a blast. There is no truth to the rumor that I was falling asleep on the ride back to the hotel. We’ve been back since. In the fall, bands play and there is a bonfire and, the last time we were there, they had invited another small brewer to bring his beer too. I was more than twice as old as the average person there, but it didn’t seem to matter.) Nothing happening on Sunday, but I am resolved to return in the fall.
I got to Dodgeville and stopped briefly at the first motel my friends and I stayed at – one of those old, low-slung roadside motels, built in the ‘50s, probably. I’ve seen several of them on the drive. I also stopped at Dean’s, a small bait shop that also happens to have an amazing beer selection. The benefit of visiting a town you’ve been to before.
I also stopped at a bank that sure looks like a Wright design. It’s the right (sorry) kind of stone, and it’s the most modern-looking building in town.
My next stop was Mineral Point. This is a great town full of artists and galleries and great places to spend time with friends, from your brewpub-bed-and-breakfast to your friends in low places. I didn’t stay long. It’s one of those places that is better enjoyed with the friends you associate it with.
The rest of my drive was purely for my final destination. I crossed the Mississippi and I expect to cross it again on Monday. And maybe on Tuesday.
I am finished with Wright on this trip. Now I’m on to another of my heroes.