This tobacco delivery wagon, made by the Jung Carriage Co. around 1900, contains the original paint and trim.
Our family farm was three miles north of Greenbush, population 162, and much of what I grew up with there - a three-room schoolhouse, general store, restaurant and taverns - is long gone.
The biggest draw of what remains, a state historic site, for decades has been hidden from the view of harried travelers. That is thanks to the rerouting of Wisconsin's Highway 23 in the 1970s, to bypass the community.
Out of sight, out of mind? Attendance at the Wade House and Wesley W. Jung Carriage Museum, like most other historic sites, has been seasonal and stagnant, but now the opening of a 38,000-square-foot visitor center aims to change this.
The building - whose looming frame looks weathered and rustic, artsy yet practical - sits atop the highest point of the property's 240 acres, facing Highway 23.
You can't miss it, yet it blends with surroundings.
"It's in sync with the nature of the neighborhood," acknowledges David Simmons, the site's director. "The look and feel is what we wanted, to be sympathetic to the rural landscape" of farms and forests.
Vertical sheathing mimics the look of 19th century barns, and the structure's tower resembles a grain elevator. Instead of setting a GPS to find Greenbush, now Percheron horses take you there.
The animals are hitched to wagons and slowly transport visitors one-half mile - past heirloom apple orchards, through woods, over the Mullet River and to the 27-room, three-story Wade House. Tourists also can stroll the meandering limestone path or nearby boardwalk trail.
The 1850 Wade House, a once-popular stagecoach stop, was the midway point of rest between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan at a time when 40 miles of challenging forests and hills separated the two cities. Greenbush was a welcome and attractive respite, which tour guides have explained for 60 years.
Now we have new ways to feel what it was like to live during the era. At the entrance of the new Visitor Center, designed by Milwaukee's Uihlein Wilson Architects, is a replica stagecoach to sit in. It sways with the bumps and thumps of the plank road beneath it.
David refers to the stagecoach as a "wow feature" that "speaks to the stories we tell." Other interactive elements teach how to tie knots, tether horses, haul logs and more. We eavesdrop on conversations about chicken fricassee and marble games. We ponder how the arrival of railroad tracks will affect Greenbush and study a wall-sized enlargement of a 1913 postcard of local residents.
The carriage museum has doubled in size, so 75 percent of the collection can be displayed at once. That includes a "chemical fire wagon" of the late 1800s, which fought flames with a mix of vinegar and baking soda. About one-half of the museum's vehicles were manufactured by the former Jung Carriage Co. in Sheboygan.
Commissioned reproductions of a covered wagon and wooden omnibus with steel wheels soon will arrive for horses to pull. Although the Wade House remains a seasonal attraction, the Visitor Center will stay open all year.
A small restaurant, elevated deck and multipurpose rooms enhance the new site's attractiveness for corporate events, neighborhood gatherings, barn dances and wedding receptions. On the menu are farmstead ice cream to beer and wine.
"We have very high hopes and very realistic expectations of attendance growth," said David, who previously worked at Old Sturbridge Village, the nation's largest living history museum.
"We can envision and plan a more focused curriculum that goes beyond social studies" for students on field trips.
The project is on track to be the state's first historic site to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification at the silver level. The ecologically progressive design includes fieldstone from a nearby quarry and a geothermal heating system with five wells, each 300 feet deep and linked together.
Fundraising for this $12.1 million building project began with $6 million in donations from the Jung and Kohler families. The building's grand opening was Saturday, which marked the 60-year anniversary of the Wade House's original dedication as a historic site.
The Wade House Visitor Center and Wesley W. Jung Carriage Museum, W7965 Highway 23, Greenbush, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (11 a.m. on Sundays). Admission is $11 ($5.50 for ages 5-17, free for children younger than 5). For more: http://wadehouse.wisconsinhistory.org, 920-526-3271.