Must-Visit Historical Sites in Wisconsin

Historical Wisconsin sites include Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthplace in Pepin, the setting for her famous book 'Little House in the Big Woods'
Historical Wisconsin sites include Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthplace in Pepin, the setting for her famous book 'Little House in the Big Woods' | © John D. Ivanko / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alice Johnston
Food Editor7 August 2020

To appreciate and understand our present, it’s necessary to look to our past. Wisconsin has a rich and varied history, and these sites illustrate how this great state was founded and how it evolved from its origins to now. From Native American villages to pioneer cabins, historical Wisconsin has much to explore, and we’ve laid out the top spots for you here.

Aztalan State Park

Natural Feature, Park
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A fascinating archaeological site found between Lake Mills and Johnson Creek, Aztalan contains the ruins and artifacts of an ancient village that thrived on this spot between 1000 and 1300. Then it was mysteriously abandoned, and no one knows why. You can view the bones and left-behind possessions of the hundreds of people who lived here, and learn about their lives and how they thrived. Rediscovered in 1836, it became a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

Circus World Museum

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Circus World Museum Baraboo Wisconsin
© Randy Duchaine / Alamy Stock Photo
This museum contains the largest collection of antique circus wagons in the world, more than 200 in all, along with circus posters, handbills, and costumes. If you’ve ever dreamed of running away to join the circus, you’ll love it here. The library contains archives of America’s circus history. These 50 acres (20ha) are so blessed with circus information because they were the original winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. Circus. If you come here in the summer, you might even catch a live performance.

Forest Home Cemetery

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This 200-acre (81ha) cemetery is the final resting place of many of Wisconsin’s great and good, including five former governors, beer barons Joseph Schlitz and Frederick Pabst, and actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. While you can take one of the nine tours offered here, you can also explore on your own using a map that marks the gravestones and memorials of those at rest in Forest Home Cemetery. Inside, you can view the Hall of History, which has displays about the accomplishments of people buried here.

Fort Crawford Military Hospital

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Ever been curious about how the pioneers practiced medicine? Look no further. This site opened its first hospital in 1831, and it’s still teaching people about how to fix their bodies and cure diseases today. It also tells the stories of the people who worked here. With displays including a recreated doctor’s office from 1850, a dental office from 1900, dioramas about progress in surgical techniques, and displays about leeches, the iron lung, and other medical instruments, you’ll leave feeling inspired and well-informed.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Cabin

Museum, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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Who doesn’t love Little House on the Prairie (1935)? This simple cabin stands in the spot where author and educator Laura Ingalls Wilder was born. She spent her whole life teaching others about pioneer life, and her legacy lives on today. Her book Little House in the Big Woods (1932) was set in this part of the country in 1870, and every fall the people of the nearby town still celebrate her contribution with craft demonstrations, fiddling concerts, and Laura look-alike contests.

Old World Wisconsin

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Historic interpreter harvesting radishes at Old World Wisconsin, the state historical society's outdoor museum in Eagle, Wisconsin
© Alpha Stock / Alamy Stock Photo
Speaking of pioneer life, Old World Wisconsin comprises more than 60 historic structures that were dismantled, moved and reassembled to create this working pioneer community. Open since 1976 as a way to celebrate America’s 200th birthday, it acts as a living tribute to the past. Here, butter is churned by hand, a blacksmith pounds an anvil, and teams of horses and oxen till the fields to plant crops. All the buildings are typical of the pioneer era, including the Harmony Town Hall for politics and debate and the Caldwell Farmers’ Club Hall for dances and festivals.
These recommendations were updated on August 7, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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