Get "centered" in a city of art and historic buildings
Your tour guide: Marcia Theel, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum
Well known as a center for insurance and paper--think Wausau Insurance (now Liberty Mutual) and Wausau Paper--Wausau's reputation is considerably larger than the community itself. With only 38,000 city residents and an area population of about 85,000, the cultural amenities and natural resources that characterize Wausau are far grander than might be expected based on population alone.
Located in north-central Wisconsin at the intersection of the state's major north-south and east-west highways--51/39 and 29--and not far from the geological epicenter of the Northwest Hemisphere (see more about that below), Wausau offers visitors a taste of Wisconsin traditions, a chance to revel in nature's beauty, and an array of cultural amenities.
Start your day bright and early at 9 a.m. at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum (corner of Franklin and 12th Streets). The Woodson Art Museum is housed in a classic English Tudor-style residence enhanced by a large two-story, multi-gallery wing. Here you'll find a year-round selection of historic and contemporary exhibitions, as well as a permanent collection that celebrates art in nature as well as nature in art. Youngsters and the young-at-heart won't want to miss Art Park, a lively interactive area. Before leaving the Woodson, stroll the sculpture garden to enjoy a menagerie of bronzes and also look for artworks tucked into numerous smaller garden areas. It's A-OK with the Woodson if you leave saying "This place is for the birds!" since bird imagery is a dominant theme indoors and out. (Museum hours are Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m.)
While on the east side of Wausau, take a walking or driving tour of the Andrew Warren Historic District, a National Register of Historic Places landmark since 1984. Sixty-two buildings comprise this ten-block area on the northeast edge of downtown Wausau. Among the late 19th and early 20th century homes, you'll see examples of Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Classical Revival and Prairie School architecture. District maps are available at the Marathon County Historical Society (403 McIndoe Street) or Friends of Wausau Historic Landmarks (410 McIndoe Street).
The Historical Society is located in the beautifully restored Yawkey House Museum and the Woodson History Center. Both showcase the life of the Yawkeys and Woodsons, two of Wausau's most prominent and influential families. Formal gardens include a lovely pergola and fountain.
Just say "The Depot" and most folks will know you're looking for one of the depots that inspired the Wausau Insurance logotype. While the depot at 720 Grant Street sits alongside an active rail line, it no longer accommodates travelers but instead serves as the office for the community's Head Start program. Nevertheless, the depot's basic structure remains and it recalls the glory days of active passenger travel by rail, which up until the mid-1960s took folks to Wisconsin's lake region about 70 miles north of Wausau.
The Center for the Visual Arts gallery and gift shop anchors the northwest corner of ArtsBlock, home to the Performing Arts Foundation's two main facilities, the Great Hall and Grand Theater. The CVA offers changing exhibitions throughout the year and a shop filled with the extraordinary work of nearly 200 Midwest artists.
Evolutions in Design may be listed under "Florists" in the Yellow Pages, but this shop on Third Street in the heart of downtown Wausau wondrously redefines that simpler notion. The shop's quirky mix of original artworks, antiques and all manner of oddities and curiosities has earned Evolutions its much-deserved reputation as a must-visit Wausau destination.
Two geographical landmarks shouldn't be missed on a trip to the Wausau area. You can't fail to notice one, while the other is a little harder to findbut worth the effort.
Rib Mountain stands proudly in the middle of central Wisconsin. One of the oldest rock formations on earth and the fourth highest peak in Wisconsin, Rib Mountain offers breathtaking vistas from the observation tower and the State Park overlook. Year-round views of Rib Mountain and from Rib Mountain have long inspired regional painters and photographers. [Note: Access to the State Park will be closed during 2010 to widen the road to create a hiking/biking path.]
To visit the other landmark, head west on Highway 29 and turn north on Hwy H to Hwy U to Poniatowski and the Reitbrock Geographical Marker, the exact center of the Northwest Hemisphere. Located halfway between the Equator and the North Pole and halfway between Greenwich Meridian and the International Date Line, there are only four places like this in the world--and two are under water and the fourth is in China. You'll find the marker in what may be one of the smallest parks you'll ever visit. Be sure to take a photo to serve as proof that you "got centered" in Marathon County!
For more information about the Wausau area, contact the Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau.