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A visitor’s guide to Cedarburg

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Story and photographs

by Nancy A. Herrick

CEDARBURG — At the turn of the last century, this town about 15 miles north of Milwaukee was a lively center of commerce. With its mills, factories and two quarries, Cedarburg was the business hub of Ozaukee County.

Those quarries produced the Niagara limestone used in the many commercial buildings that are still standing in a city that is still thriving. In fact, Cedarburg continues to celebrate an old-fashioned way of life that makes it a popular day-trip destination for the whole family.

Upon arriving, a first-timer should drop in to the Visitors Center at the south end of the Washington Avenue Historic District. It’s a place to pick up maps and brochures, ask about ongoing activities and take a quick tour of the General Store Museum, which is in the same building.

The museum’s vignettes show life as it was from about 1900 to 1950, including original products on grocery store shelves and an old-time ice cream parlor.

Then head north along Washington Avenue, with its coffee establishments, galleries, inns, restaurants and shop after shop after shop. In fact, in the Wonders of Wisconsin competition sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, Cedarburg was chosen at the state’s Best Place to Shop.

“The shops and the architecture are really special,” says Liz Brown, longtime innkeeper at the Stagecoach Inn, a B&B she and her husband have owned for 28 years. It occupies a 150-year-old stone building on Washington Avenue that originally served as a stagecoach stop. When Brown offers advice to guests about what to do in Cedarburg, strolling the historic shopping area always is at the top of the list.

“We have a new glass blower in town, two fair trade stores, an old theater, restaurants and a new Penzey’s spice shop,” she says. “There’s quite a variety.”

At the north end of Washington Avenue is the Cedar Creek Settlement, a complex of 30 shops, studios and restaurants housed in the old Wittenberg Mill along Cedar Creek. Dating to 1864, at one point it was the only woolen mill west of Philadelphia to produce worsted yarns.

The Cedar Creek Winery is part of the settlement. Consider taking a tour and having a taste of some of the award-winning wines, many of which are seasonal favorites.

A short drive north of downtown is Covered Bridge Park, where you will find Wisconsin’s last remaining covered bridge. It was built in 1876 out of 3-by-10-foot wooden planks. In warmer weather, enjoy a creekside picnic.

A short drive east of downtown is the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts, which just moved into its new facilities on an old farmstead. The building incorporates both an old barn and state-of-the-art, climate controlled storage and teaching areas. Museum exhibits highlight classic quilts and patterns as well as some of the latest contemporary approaches to this art form. Take a class if you have the time.

If it’s a nice day and you are looking for a bit of exercise and relaxation, head for the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, which runs right through Cedarburg. Using the old Milwaukee Electric Railway right of way that was abandoned 60 years ago, the trail stretches from Sheboygan to Brown Deer for a total of about 30 miles. It is free and open to bikers, walkers, roller-bladers and, in winter, cross-country skiers; no motorized vehicles are allowed.

Cedarburg is a town that loves to attract a crowd, and its annual festivals draw more than 100,000 people each year.

Winter Festival, planned Feb. 4 and 5, started almost four decades ago as a cure for cabin fever. Ice carving, bed races, a chili contest and beer tastings are part of the outdoor celebration.

Strawberry Festival, June 23 and 24, is keyed to the ripening of the region’s strawberry crop. You can taste strawberry pie, shortcake, wine and even strawberry brats, enjoy activities for kids and take in the Arts on the Avenue outdoor displays.

Wine and Harvest Festival, Sept. 15 and 16, features grape-stomping, hayrides, a pumpkin regatta and more.

German Festival, Oct. 13 and 14 at Cedar Creek Park, celebrates the early German influences of the area, complete with oom-pah bands, cuckoo clock shows and a sheepshead tournament. The gemutlichkeit continues with wife-carrying and outhouse-racing contests.

Christmas in the Country (Nov. 30-Dec. 2) and Festive Friday Eves (Nov. 23, 30, Dec. 7, 14, 21) make the Cedar Creek Settlement a special holiday destination each year, attracting visitors from all around the Midwest.

There’s no need to wait for a special event to visit Cedarburg, however. There’s plenty to do every day of the year in this community that appreciates its past and keeps planning ahead for the future.

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