Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wisconsin’s rural character revealed along State Highway 21 September 22, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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DRIVE THE INTERSTATE and you mostly miss the nuances of a place.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, I photographed this scene along Wisconsin Highway 21, a rural region of the state.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, I photographed this scene along Wisconsin Highway 21, a rural region of the state.

But travel a back county road or a state highway and you begin to see the details that comprise a location. Like rural Wisconsin.

Stuck behind farm equipment along Highway 21.

Stuck behind farm equipment along Highway 21.

Wisconsin State Highway 21 between Tomah and Oshkosh has become a familiar stretch of highway for my husband and me as we travel that route to reach our second daughter’s home in the Fox Valley region. It is a busy stretch of roadway which often leaves us wishing for a quicker, safer east-west route. But options are limited, especially if we don’t want to travel through the Twin Cities metro.

The natural attraction, Castle Rock, juts up from the landscape.

The natural attraction, Castle Rock, juts up from the landscape near Coloma.

So we make the best of it, watching for the cranberry bogs east of Tomah, the Amish between Coloma and Wautoma, the natural wonder of Castle Rock,

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Probably the oldest drive-in along Wisconsin Highway 21, the Milty Wilty has been in business in Wautoma for 70 years.

the Milty Wilty in Wautoma and anything that screams Wisconsin.

Small family farms abound along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Small family farms abound along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Highway 21 takes us past potato and dairy farms,

Hunting shacks for sale in Redgranite.

Hunting shacks for sale in Redgranite.

past hunting land and the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, across rivers and creeks,

Businesses in downtown Redgranite, one of my favorite towns along Highway 21.

Businesses in downtown Redgranite, one of my favorite towns along Highway 21.

through small towns like Omro and Redgranite,

The names of small town bars, like this one in Redgranite, amuse me.

The names of small town bars, like this one in Redgranite, amuse me.

past bars and churches,

Roadside stands are plentiful this time of year.

Roadside stands are plentiful this time of year. Here’s one in Redgranite.

to roadside stands and Piggly Wigglies.

Posted in a front yard in Redgranite.

Posted in a front yard in Redgranite.

This route reveals so much about the character of Wisconsin. Signs for brat fries. Bars aplenty. Strong opinions voiced in handcrafted signs.

One of my favorite restaurant icons, located in Wautoma.

One of my favorite restaurant icons, located in Wautoma.

Small town diners.

Making silage.

Making silage.

Farming and fishing.

Scenes along Wisconsin State Highway 21 reflect this area's rural character.

Scenes along Wisconsin State Highway 21 reflect this area’s rural character. This is near Coloma.

Travel the interstate and you will miss most of this. But follow a state highway and you will begin to understand a place. Like rural Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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12 Responses to “Wisconsin’s rural character revealed along State Highway 21”

  1. bev walker Says:

    I always enjoy your posts but especially when you feature the area where I live. Fun to see another persons perspective.

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    Tomah is a beautiful area. I love small town charm; unique shops, signage and people.

  3. Don Says:

    Interstates, blah, boring, my wife and I much prefer the back roads when traveling, except when we are on a specific timeline such as catching an airline flight (blah, boring). There are so many interesting things to discover when you take the time to enjoy a trip. I have debated with a good friend of mine the pros and cons of travel. He being an airline pilot thinks that getting to the destination is of paramount importance while my wife and I on the other hand believe that getting there is half the fun! I recall traveling the back roads of Wisconsin and wondering about what all the straight ponds were for but then when we passed an Ocean Spray plant it dawned on us that the ponds were for growing cranberry’s! The sights, people, history, etc. that one discovers while back road traveling is remarkable.

    I truly miss the corn fields, farm equipment, and small towns of rural America and some day soon will enjoy them again, via the back roads of course.

    I would like to have lunch at that drive-in. Do you know if they still have car hops and bring the food on trays that attach to the cars window? Now that would be worth a trip in and of itself!

  4. bev walker Says:

    Milty wilty in Wautoma does not have car hops but I think Ed and Arbys in Oshkosh has them and they used to be on roller skates.

  5. I always love the small town and farm pictures that you share.

  6. Valerie Says:

    We enjoy traveling side roads off the interstate when we can.
    Fun to see your stories of small towns.


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