Day Trip: Berlin
The lore and allure of the Fox River
Your tour guide: Bobbie Erdmann, author, Rusty Memories & Ruby, Red Wealth; and member, Berlin Area Historical Society
Wisconsin's waterways were once the highways of travel and discovery. Native Americans used them to get from place to place, and early French explorers thought they were finding a route to the Orient. The fast flowing waters of the Fox River brought commerce, recreation, industry and agriculture to the Berlin area. It continues to play an important part in creating our quality of life.
Located on Highway 91 or Highway 49, the city of Berlin straddles the historic Fox River. Founded by Nathan Strong in 1847, this community has depended on the river to move products, produce and people. During the early years Berlin was home to one of the 17 locks built along the route from Green Bay to Portage, and daily trips by steamboats connected us with the world.
Today that lock area has become a park--one of three bordering our shores--making the river accessible for all who come. They include Locks Park on Morris Street, Longcroft Park on Webster Street; and Riverside Park off Water Street. Each has its own unique features.
For a small city our history is extensively intertwined with that of the State of Wisconsin. Many 'firsts' occurred in Berlin, such as the start of Wisconsin's commercial cranberry industry; the first telephone system; the first milk condensery in the Midwest; and the oldest G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) post in the nation, the first home of Sentry Insurance.
With two National Register Historic Districts, Berlinites appreciate their history. The Nathan Strong Park Historic District borders the park on Huron Street of the same name and includes block after block of lovingly cared for Victorian-style homes and 'Painted Ladies.' Pick up a brochure at City Hall or the Chamber of Commerce and take a self-guided walk of the 'red' or 'green' tours. Bring a lawnchair on a Tuesday evening in summer, sit in the shadow of our Civil War monument, and enjoy a free concert in Nathan Strong Park. The Masons have hamburgers and brats for sale, so you don't even have to pack a lunch.
The Huron-Broadway St. District, which is our 'Main Street' has many stores and buildings from the 19th century. Take a walk and view these treasures of a by-gone era. Enjoy lunch in the historic building known as The Whiting, on the corner of Huron and Wisconsin Streets. Originally known as the Beckwith House, this three story brick 1864 building has served as a stage coach stop, a gathering place for all kinds of meetings and a shelter from the 'storms of life.'
Just a block off Broadway Street at 285 S.W. Franklin is the world-famous W.C. Russell Mocassin Co. Past customers have included kings, presidents, statesmen and movie actors (including both Presidents Bush; President Dwight D. Eisenhower; General Norman Schwarzkopf; the king of Nepal; Harrison Ford and Robert Redford). Here custom-fitted, hand crafted moccasins, boots and shoes have been produced since 1898. Master craftspeople sit at wooden cobbler benches creating their masterpieces in every kind of leather you can imagine.
The Berlin Area Historical Society maintains four museum buildings. The Museum of Local History and the Kroll Bottling Works buildings, 111 S. Adams Ave., have displays on early American Indian residents, the founding of Berlin, our churches and the Wisconsin 'firsts' mentioned above. Or you canvisit our 19th century Main Street and learn about the many fur and leather companies of our past,our quarry, hospital and more. The former Huser Blacksmith Shop, around the corner on Franklin Street, holds the tools that made the tools that carved Mt. Rushmore, a racing sulkey, a cutter, abuckboard and other transportation-related artifacts. Clark School, a one room schoolhouse located in Riverside Park, is outfitted as it would have been in the late 1800s. This school was used until 1961 when the Historical Society acquired it. Call 920-361-2460 to arrange a tour of any of these museums.
By the way, we are not named after the German capital but after a small city in upstate New York, where early missionary settlers originated. The name is pronounced BURR-lynn rather than ber-LYNN. The town's original name was Strongsville, but the new name was ratified in 1851.
For more ideas and events taking place in Berlin, pick up a copy of Fun on the Fox, available at several of the city's business locations. Spend the day "down by the riverside"--the Fox River that is!
For more information, visit: