Holiday season is in full swing and I can actually feel my blood pressure rise. Not to worry, I’m not going to start ranting about how much I hate the holidays. Actually, I’m quite fond of this portion of the calendar, as I am looking forward to a little Christmas cheer. Yet, the rushing, planning, visiting and decorating can pile on a mountain of stress. This weekend, I discovered a novel way that might erode those heaps of tension, if only for an hour or so.
How about a simple walk through a setting that harkens back to a slower paced life? I relaxed in a historical park, as it was stimulating and refreshing to witness an environment, although not fully operating, showing off the rustic, simplistically classy and painstakingly crafted structures of yesteryear. It was a leisurely stroll through Green Bay’s Heritage Hill State Historical Park.
I was puzzled when I googled Heritage Hill and found that it offered a ‘Stroll Through the Park’, during the offseason. So I took a drive to the collection of historical structures, which is literally minutes from my house, searching for answers. ‘Stroll Through the Park’ is pretty much what I should have expected. I could walk through the park, however, the buildings would be locked, although looking through the windows was not frowned upon.
I learn this as I pay my five dollars to the courteous young lady behind the counter. I leave the reception building through double doors and find myself gazing from a hilltop. Not only the park, but the entire city is spread before me, as I glimpse a few stubborn leaves clinging to trees on a beautiful, late autumn day.
I begin my trek, delighting in the wide open space that I am left to ramble. No one is pulling out in front of me on a packed city street, nor is anyone bumping into me in a crowded retail store. I am left alone with buildings, as they have their stories to tell. Yet, there is no one in period appropriate attire to aid with their tales. I’m left to guess their origins and functional purpose in the daily lives of Midwestern pioneers and settlers.
I’ve been through this park many summers ago and remember certain buildings, but many others remain a mystery. The first building I come across is, of course, necessary in such a historical park. With every settlement came the town’s place of worship-this one is the oldest surviving church in Green Bay.
As I wind further down the hill, leaving the church behind, I don’t have to stroll very far to find remnants of Fort Howard. Fort Howard was constructed by the U.S. Army during the war of 1812, guarding the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway from British invasion. It was decommissioned before the Civil War took place and only five years after Wisconsin became a U.S. State.
Today I spy the Guard Shack, complete with cells to hold prisoners. The few other buildings remaining from the fort, which include a hospital, are rather simple and low-key. Images of a small army post with whitewashed buildings, pasted in the middle a forested wilderness, dance in my head. I only wish there were men in period correct U.S. military attire to give life to the setting.
As I leave the military buildings behind, I find other structures such as an old fire house and blacksmith shop. I know that one of these simplistic buildings is a print shop, I’m aided by my map as I struggle to figure out which one holds a printing press. These buildings housed relevant machines and tools of a bygone era. Now, their contents, as much as these structures, are left to be marveled.
I now head underneath Riverside Drive, a city street which intersects the park, into the most interesting and rustic part of the place. Here there is no whitewash, nor is their artistry to the design of the shelters. Structures like these were once built out of sheer necessity.
A large rock stands before the most rudimentary of log buildings. Etched in the rock is a date of 1825, as it marks the place where Wisconsin’s first court-house once stood. Inside this primitive building, I see benches and tables depicting a crude hall of justice in the days of the pioneer.
Other buildings on this side of the street include a fur traders cabin and sugaring shack, not to mention the bark chapel. This area is more heavily wooded, I’m glad it is, because I’m sure that is mostly what the early inhabitants of buildings, such as these, would have seen.
Now I take a long stroll back to the main portion of the park. I’m not going to visit the cotton house, as it is probably the grandest of the structures inside the park, pictured earlier in this blog as the house on the hill. Instead I’m going to finish my adventure with an investigation of a Belgian Farm. After all, farming was and is huge in this area as in most of Wisconsin.
Originally, the Belgian settlers constructed their houses with wood. However, the Peshtigo fire destroyed many of the homes and, of course, the wood needed to rebuild. Instead, they used red clay brick, very much like their homes in the old world, to erect new ones. Many brick farmhouses in the area stand to this day. I love this setting, as it is the perfect emulation of an American settler’s farm.
I have to say, this is what I needed. A wide open space and a setting that set my imagination afire, kindling spirits of yesteryear, made me feel carefree and stimulated at the same time. I’m refreshed and ready to add Christmas decorations to the house.
The price for entry is $5. However, a park membership, at a cost of $35, allows unlimited access of the park. I do recommend taking a walk and alleviating stress in the outdoors, why not a quaint little conglomeration of historic buildings for the setting?