Murals add to Plymouth day visit
Wednesday, August 03, 2011 3:32 AM
Strolling down Mill Street in Plymouth is like taking a walk back in time, from the town's historical murals to its antique shops and buildings that date back as far as the 1800s.
Arlan Schlundt, a volunteer at Plymouth Historical Society’s museum, models an old top hat.
You could easily spend a day and not have to wander much farther than the seven blocks that make up Plymouth's downtown.
First, stop at the visitor's center on Walton Drive near Wal-Mart off STH 57 for a Walldog tour map of the city's murals, a copy of the newspaper that describes each scene, and a historic walking tour map of Plymouth. Then, put on comfortable walking shoes and park your car near the corner of Mill and North Milwaukee.
If you are hungry, make your second stop Antoinette's for a quick sandwich. Try their crunchy chicken cran-raspberry wrap and a side of fresh fruit. Sit in the corner table by the window or outside where you can people watch and get a view of Mill Street at the same time. Spread your tourist literature out on the table as you wait for your food, and with a highlighter in hand, mark what murals and historical buildings you would especially like to see. Then, take a moment to read about them.
When you are ready, walk north one block to the historic site marker on the northwest corner of West Main and Milwaukee. Here is where Plymouth's history began. It might be difficult to imagine that this spot was once covered with thickets of alder near a spring where wagons carrying lumber would stop to give their horses a drink of cold water.
The marker points out the site of the town's first structure, the Cold Springs House, a log inn and tavern built in 1845. Though the building is no longer there, close your eyes and block out the sounds of traffic. See if you can hear the horses neigh and wooden stagecoach wheels crunch on rutted dirt roads as they pull up to the inn. Smell the dust and the sweat of the horses.
That was the era when it took a couple of days to travel from Sheboygan to Fond du Lac. Coaches had to stop along the way so passengers could eat a hardy meal and get a good night's sleep before continuing their journey. Horses had to be attended to also. Accommodations might not be fancy by today's standards, but after a dusty day bumping along the road, you would have been grateful to spend a night there before continuing on.
Now, cross Milwaukee Street east to Satori Foods to catch a glimpse of your first mural, which you will find, not on the wall, but on a panel in front of the plant on Main Street. You can read about the story behind the mural and the artist who created it in the paper you received at the visitor's center. This might also be a good time to review how the project, as a whole, came about.
This past June, 150 artists converged on the city, bringing with them a horde of fans who came just to watch. The artists call themselves Walldogs, and they came to paint 21 murals in only four days.
When the sun set on the first evening and carried with it its afterglow, the town turned off all its lights so with overhead projectors, the artists could cast outlines of their designs on walls throughout the city. Then, they traced their outlines by hand from the lighted images before filling them in with paint. Residents of the town walked along the streets that night, feeling the excitement in the air. For days, restaurants and coffee shops were filled with customers-people who roamed the streets to watch the masterpieces develop and artists themselves when they took breaks. It was an experience the town will never forget.
The Walldog movement began in 1993 and grew since that time to include sign artists from all over the world. The concept was to design and paint old-fashioned advertisements that have historical significance unique to each town. Each mural costs $5,000 to complete and is supported by various local sponsors. The walls must be in good condition with the understanding of everyone involved that the mural will not be painted over, altered or removed. Where walls cannot accommodate the murals, aluminum panels are used.
Plymouth already had two murals before the group arrived, one on the corner of Smith and Mill and the other, an old Cream of Wheat ad, on the east wall of the Plymouth Historical Society's building at 420 E. Mill. The artist, Debbie Karr, visited a Walldog event in another town in 2009 and watched the artists in action just before she began her own project. Impressed by the energy of the group, who painted in 100-degree temperatures, she collaborated with Jerry Thompson, event committee chairman, to propose a Walldog event in Plymouth. The mural in front of you is Paolo Sartori, who brought his knowledge of cheesemaking to Plymouth from Italy in 1939.
When you're ready to continue, proceed east to Caroline Street and turn right. On your way to Fibber McGee's, notice the older duplex at 114-116. This is an 1860 two-story building, one of five hotels built by Eberhard Schlaich. At a time when travel took so long, a city could never have enough places to spend the night.
On the north side of the building located on the corner of Mill and Caroline, you will find a mural depicting Plymouth Bottling Works, which began operation in 1904. Notice the scene depicting the building back when horses pulled the company's delivery wagons.
While you are here, spend a moment to check out the building's present business, Fibber McGee's. On the outside, notice the bicycle built for two, the old wringer washer, and the metal headboard. Inside, you will find both antiques and collectibles-and if it is hot outside, you will enjoy the air conditioning as you browse through handmade jewelry, books, handkerchiefs, quilts, kitchen-related items, and an old pitcher once used for washing.
Even more antiques
For more antiques, wander across Mill Street to the antique mall, where you will find booths belonging to individual vendors with everything from old Pepsi bottles and Doughboy cookie jars, to painted china dolls and rusty lanterns, from a salt and pepper shaker collection and Oscar Meyer wiener car to a pair of vintage opera leather gloves and black sequined evening gown. At the front of the mall is an old manual Underwood typewriter with button keys and a portable phonograph, a coin collection going back to the mid-1800s and a telephone chair dating back to when people had to stay in one place to talk on the phone.
At the Red Rooster, you will see an old wood-burning kitchen stove, a stack of vinyl records, an old leather buggy, a dollhouse, and many other mementoes from the past. Walking through antique stores is almost like walking through museums, imagining who sat at the vanity on your left, holding the hand mirror with one hand and brush in the other, combing out her long hair after unpinning it from a bun. The one difference is that you can purchase a bit of history from an antique store and bring it home with you.
At this point, it might be wise to choose whether to continue down the south side of the street first and then backtrack on the north, or vice versa, so you will not have to keep crossing the street. Follow the map and be alert to every nook and cranny so you do not miss any of the murals. They are not all in plain sight. Benches along the way will provide a short respite now and then so you do not tire out.
If you have chosen to start with the south side of the street, take a few minutes to visit the Cake Crumbs Bake Shoppe for dessert. As soon as you walk through the doors, you will be overcome by the sweet smell of cake baking in the kitchen, enticing you to try the shop's signature cake called Daffodil that has the texture of angel food and the moistness of chiffon, notes Dawn, the owner, and has a vanilla and almond flavor.
While you are enjoying your cake, ask Dawn how the shop got its name. She will tell you about her grandmother's cake baking business and how as a girl, she and her siblings learned right away not to shake the table while Granma was decorating. Afterward the children were rewarded with the best part of the cake-the crumbs that were brushed off before frosting and those left in the pan. So when thinking about what to call her shop, which opened last spring, the name came naturally-Cake Crumbs Bake Shoppe. Today, Dawn's daughter helps her out in the store, too, no doubt taking care not to shake the table so she, too, will be rewarded with those delicious crumbs.
Specializing in clothes, jewelry
After dessert, do stop at A Vintage Shop on the corner of Mill and Stafford at the traffic lights. But before you enter the shop, notice the outside of the building. This and its neighboring structures were built between 1889 and 1898 in a style that looks almost medieval.
Once inside the shop, you will notice that unlike the antique shops you have already visited, this store specializes in clothes, hats, coats and jewelry dated from 1850 to 1980. Sisters Kris Frei-mund and Kathy Bethke opened their shop in 2003.
Actually, they had been collecting vintage clothing separately for some time. Kris, living in New York at the time, had a collection of clothing dating from the Victorian era to the 1930s and Kathy, in North Dakota, a collection from the 1930s to the 1960s. When both sisters moved to the area and discovered their common interest, their husbands suggested they open a shop together. In 2008, Hanaa Askalani joined the shop in sales and as fashion coordinator.
Since opening their business, besides their regular cliental, they have worked with fashion designers to clothe casts from HBO performances to New York stage and movies, starring celebrities such as Bruce Willis and Johnny Depp ("Public Enemies"-notice what the 28 extras in the bank robbery scene are wearing). They also fit the casts of local productions in communities from Kiel to Sheboygan and Fond du Lac. Here, Kris and Hanaa can help you find clothing from any time period in Plymouth's history.
The famous 52 Stafford
When you exit the vintage shop, turn right to 52 Stafford. Originally the Laack Hotel, the building was finished in 1892 in Queen Anne style. It was completely remodeled in 1986 and became 52 Stafford, an Irish Guest House. If you feel so inclined, belly up to the bar for a pint before continuing your tour, listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong quietly sing "Dancing Cheek to Cheek" in the background.
Or, maybe you are in the mood for some gourmet coffee-if you did not have a cup at the bakery, that is. Walk back to the corner of Mill and Stafford and cross the street to the Exchange Bank Coffee House. The coffee selections will remind you of Starbucks, but they serve sandwiches, soups, wraps, baked goods and ice cream as well. If you are looking for Wi-Fi, they have that, too.
What sets this place apart from most gourmet coffee houses, however, is the building and its history. It was constructed in 1906 as the home of the Plymouth Exchange Bank. Today, you can enjoy your beverage inside the old vault at the rear of the store in a comfortable, parlor-like setting.
Across the street from the old bank and a block and a half east at 422 E. Mill, you will find the site of the old Plymouth Liquor Store, built in 1876 in cream city brick. The building now houses the Plymouth Historical Society and museum. Friendly volunteers are there to greet you when you walk through the door and will answer all your questions.
Plenty of history to see
Here you will find a miniature of the old depots on Collins Street, an Indian arrowhead collection, a replica of a parlor complete with floral area rug, dining room table set with fine china as if company is expected, an old Victrola, a child's hobby horse and mannequins dressed in early 1900s apparel. A coat rack stands at the end of the room with top hats and capes hanging in place. There are old photographs, cracked with age, in antique frames, a writing desk with a notebook left open, a pen lying on top, a shadow box with a floral decoration made out of human hair combings, glass milk bottles and an old brass cash register.
The docent on duty will show you a glass soft drink bottle from the Hi-Ho Bottling Company, started in 1945 and located at 120 E. Mill. A mural depicting the company and its logo is painted on the west side of that building.
Before you leave, be sure to ask about the museum's various activities and programs held throughout the year.
Across the street from the museum make a mental note of DeO'Malley's Pizza Pub. This is where you will want to come for supper later on. Fox 6 news named this restaurant one of the top six pizza places in southeastern Wisconsin. You can choose to sit inside, enjoying its charming atmosphere or on the outdoor deck in back, decorated with hanging plants and vines. Another plus out there is that you will be able to see the Road America mural.
Things to do at Arts Center
At 520 E. Mill, just before the street turns into Eastern Avenue, you will find the Plymouth Arts Center. Ask for a schedule for oil and watercolor classes, as well as art exhibits which change every six to eight weeks, each opening with a reception. Ask about musical and theatrical performances, workshops and other special activities, like the Jazz Crawl held on Friday, Aug. 12. Wristbands are on sale for $10 in advance and $12 the day of the event. These will entitle you to ride the trolley for a quick tour of all 21 murals from 5 to 9 p.m. and will take you to all 10 of the jazz venues from 9 to 11 p.m.
Before leaving the building, take time to browse the current art exhibit in the West Gallery.
Out on the street again, go east across the bridge where Mill Street becomes Eastern Avenue. On the left a path winds through manicured landscape to a wooden deck with picnic table facing Mill Pond, where you can rest and enjoy the scenery.
When you are ready to walk back to your car, return on the Veterans' Memorial path, going right at the fork and continuing under the bridge on the east side of the river. Here, you can leave the city setting for a moment and watch a goldfinch bath in the river, listen to the breeze go sh-h-h, sh-h-h through the trees and the water gurgle as it trips over stones. Here and there, you will catch the perfume of some tree or flower you cannot distinguish or see a squirrel scamper up a tree. Follow the curvy, paved footpath to where it ends at Stafford Street, cross the street, walk over the river's bridge to the north side and take the alley which runs between the river and the American Legion building straight to the point where the trail begins again. It ducks under a railroad bridge, winds through a park and crosses a footbridge until it meets North Milwaukee. You will know you are there when you see the cow statue (Antoinette) marking Plymouth as the cheese capital of the world.
If you turn north, you will be where you started-Antoinette's Restaurant.
When you get into your car and start the engine, it will be as if history has receded to its proper place, backward in time, and you are in the present again, the antique shops, the museum, the historical murals and the old buildings but a memory.
Until your next visit.
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