The Shore Less Traveled

Peter Wilt explores the quiet eastern shore of Lake Winnebago and finds beautiful views, a mystery hill where his car rolls UPHILL and Wisconsin's only community whose name is a palindrome.

I am attracted to shorelines like bees to honey, magnets to iron and 2012 Milwaukee Brewers to doctors’ offices.  A week doesn’t go by that I don’t take a long walk on the sands of Whitefish Bay’s beaches.  Nearly all my vacations involve adventures to the scenic meeting points of land and water.  The endless view of azure waters leading to a sky-blue, orange, gray or black horizons appeal to my sense of wonderment and dreams.

I’ve strolled and gazed upon shorelines of Clifden in Ireland, Oostende in Belgium, Port-of-Spain in Trinidad, Manzanillo in Mexico, Key West in Florida, Santa Cruz, Malibu and Coronado in California, Hanalei and Poipu in Kauai, Juneau in Alaska, Gulf Shores in Alabama, Prince Edward Island in Canada, Geneva Lake in Switzerland and hundreds of others throughout the world. 

The eastern shore of Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago, however - a mere 60 miles from my home of 34 years - was virgin territory until last week when I finally set my eyes on the 30 mile shoreline.  A free Friday afternoon and evening provided the luxury of time to drive the short route north on I-43 before exiting the Sheboygan exit towards Howards Grove.

The 45 mile trip from the interstate to my destination at the northern end of Lake Winnebago’s eastern shore included numerous points of interests along the way.

First up was a surprising series of roundabouts highlighting the rural highway between Sheboygan and Howard’s Grove.  I believe there were more roundabouts (five) on that four mile trip on State Highway 42 than in all of Milwaukee.

On the way is the tiny burg of Ada, the only populated place in the state whose name is a palindrome (though Alma, Osseo, Oconto, Willow and Omro come close).  Ada is also the only town in Wisconsin that shares its name with a major piece of federal legislation.  There really isn’t much in Ada…but they do have a fire department with a shiny 2006 tanker truck (built on a Freightliner FL-80 chassis) and a Scott Walker supporter with a handmade campaign sign.

The next real town after Howard’s Grove is Kiel.  I knew of Kiel as the hometown of one my wife’s college roommates.  I did not know that it was once known as the wooden shoe capital of Wisconsin as it had the state’s only wooden shoe factory.  It is also home of a frustrated Blockbuster video customer, who recently checked out a video from a vending machine using brute force in place of a paid rental fee.  Kiel also has Schaller’s, a tavern opened in 1942 by the town barber.  It’s not related to Chicago’s oldest tavern, and one of my favorites, Schaller’s Pump in the Bridgeport neighborhood.

Moving on to New Holstein I came upon Honest Abe’s Shop.  Besides being surprised that Abe Lincoln was still shopping, I was bewildered that he apparently traversed to Calumet County to do his shopping.  Abe’s Shop did look like the kind of place I would enjoy browsing as it had antiques and sports memorabilia, but I was racing the sun to Lake Winnebago and still had 25 miles to go, so I skipped Abe’s and continued towards Lake Winnebago’s shoreline.

Chilton and Hilbert were the next two towns on State Highway 32, also known as the 32nd Division Red Arrow Memorial Highway.  I passed a “slow moving carriage” warning sign indicating the Amish community that farms near St. Anna (the second A is silent).

St. Anna is also home of Schwarz Supper Club, one of Calumet County’s many terrific supper clubs.  Just a few miles away in New Holstein is the Altona Supper Club.  The eastern shore of Lake Winnebago has three supper clubs.  Bob and Wanda Schabow’s Granary Supper Club in Sherwood has a classic supper club menu.  The Granary and Gobbler’s Knob Supper Club in Stockbridge are both located towards the north end of the lake and Jim & Linda’s Lakeview Supper Club is right on Lake Winnebago in Malone.  When I return to the area, Jim & Linda’s will be my supper club of choice.

While Chilton and Hilbert and all the supper clubs were enticing, I kept on pushing forward as I needed to get to the shore in time to see the sun set.  At Hilbert I hung a Louie and headed due west on highway 114.  The rural road provided a scenic view for the final ten miles to the lake.

A winding road led down a steep hill as I finally approached the lake near High Cliff State Park.  I reached the eastern shore at a private neighborhood whose home had amazing sunset views.  A few miles south was Calumet County Park that allowed me to get out and enjoy a spectacular view of the sun setting over Lake Winnebago.  The park has dozens of shoreside campsites that were unused on a cool Friday evening.  With a tent and a little more time I would have been delighted to stay just a little bit longer.  On the lake, there was a loan fisherman making a few more casts before nature’s light was extinguished.

In an effort to get another perspective, I hopped back in my car and drove south.  Near Brothertown I stumbled on Harbor Bar & Restaurant.  The bar located at Stockbridge Harbor is located at the site of a 12th century Indian settlement.  The site is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. Archaeological digs uncovered pottery that contributes to the debate regarding both Effigy Moundbuilders and Late Woodland agriculturalists living together during that period.

I enjoyed a fish fry in the bar overlooking the lake as customers bought rubber ducks for the following weekend’s “duck drop” and watched a Brewers game on television.

After the break I stopped a mile or so south at Gladwater Beach where the boat ramp was littered with dozens of surprisingly large seashells.  I knew of the tiny invasive zebra mussels, but these were much larger, looked like giant clams and surprised me as I didn’t realize inland lakes had large mollusks.  A little bit of researched uncovered information that the shell is likely from a Lampsilis ventricosa winnebagoensis or something similar.  The setting sun behind a layer of clouds provided several beautiful shades of blue that alone made the journey worthwhile.

While driving the very scenic Lakeshore Drive southbound I recalled that the author of mentioned that there was a “gravity hill” near the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago.  A quick Google search revealed that I was only three miles from the famous Joe Road Gravity Hill!!!  I couldn’t believe my luck.

Gravity hills are rural roads that appear to be uphill, but due to an optical illusion caused by the surrounding terrain are actually downhill.  Wisconsin has two.  One is in Shellsburg and the other is Joe Road east of Lake Winnebago. Cars stopped on these hills and put in neutral will appear to roll “uphill”…WEIRD!

I was skeptical, but my own experience at Joe Road made me a believer.  My view east on Joe Road definitely looked downhill.  Turning around, the view behind, definitely appeared to be uphill.  I proceeded to put my car in neutral and sure enough, began to roll in the direction that I could have sworn was uphill!

The sun soon set, so it was time for me to turn away from the shore.  Big Al Capone’s of Pipe, Wisconsin was my final landmark.  Built in 1846 as a hotel, Big Al’s is now a pizza place with a full bar.  Its namesake is rumored to have stayed at the hotel numerous times in the 1920s while visiting his brother who operated a brothel and distillery nearby.      

I didn’t have time to walk the floors Big Al once walked, but along with dining at Jim & Linda’s Lakeview Supper Club, shopping at Honest Abe’s Shop and camping at Calumet County Park, I now have plenty of reasons to return to the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago.

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