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Wisconsin History Explorer

Wisconsin's rich history spreads across the state, a living quilt of time, land, values and beliefs that forms the collective memory of who we are and where we came from. Each generation adds a piece, so the fabric of our time is interwoven with the past, connecting us to those who came before and enriching our lives with greater understanding and appreciation of the depth of our shared history. Historic properties are tangible connections to our past, places where the past is alive in the present. They allow us to touch the lives and stories of historic people and visit the special places that contribute to Wisconsin's unique character.

The Wisconsin History Explorer uses the properties documented through the National Register of Historic Places program to tell stories about Wisconsin people and communities. These stories are drawn from more than 2,000 National Register listings, allowing history enthusiasts to explore the amazing historical legacy of our state. Short historical segments link to informative summaries of the history of individual historic properties.

List of Stories

National Historic Landmarks
Wisconsin's most important historic sites and buildings tell stories about the leading achievements of our state. From prehistoric times to the present, events in Wisconsin have helped shape the history of America. The National Park Service recognizes properties that illuminate our shared heritage by designating them as National Historic Landmarks. Explore Wisconsin's National Historic Landmarks and learn about our state's historic contributions.

Wisconsin's Suburbs
Many of the neighborhoods that we think of today as the center of our cities were developed as early suburbs. Tour some of Wisconsin's most historic neighborhoods and learn about the historical forces that have shaped where our homes are, and the places where we live. See some of Wisconsin's most unique, interesting and beautiful old neighborhoods and find out how they developed.

Hit the Road: Early Road Development
Roundabout routes, mud-clogged, rutted roads and poor bridges made traveling in early Wisconsin both hazardous and uncomfortable. Explore the beginnings of Wisconsin's transportation network and see how Wisconsin's earliest trails and overland routes evolved into a network of roads and highways. Hitch up your wagon and blaze the trail of early Wisconsin transportation history.

Hit the Road: Later Road Development
During the 20th century, Wisconsin undertook ambitious programs of road improvements, bridge repairs, and state trunk and interstate highway construction to provide fast, efficient and a relatively safe means of travel. The popularity of the automobile is responsible for the sophisticated network of interstate, state and county highways that connect communities across Wisconsin and the country. Buckle up and enjoy the trip.

Are We There Yet? Fill 'er Up
The gas station, also called the filling or service station, developed in the early 20th century to serve the growing number of car owners. As pioneers of the commercial strip, stations were on the forefront of roadside commerce. Over time the gas station evolved from a modest shed into a full-scale service station and eventually the modern convenience station. Fill up your tank and join us on a road trip to visit many distinctive Wisconsin stations.

Are We There Yet? Sweet Dreams
Wisconsin's earliest travelers on the military road and early trails needed a place to stop and rest along the route. As road networks developed, the stagecoach inns and lodging houses that served travelers were replaced by automobile camps and cabin courts geared toward the automobile traveler. These, in turn, were replaced by motels and modern hotel chains. Rest your heels and relax with some of Wisconsin's historic lodgings.

Are We There Yet? Buildings with Taste
Dining out in 19th-century Wisconsin was primarily an experience for the wealthy and the traveler. Before the 1920s, the automobile tourist had few dining options, especially places that were appropriate for women and children. The exponential growth of automobile travel in the 1920s led to the creation of roadside food stands, followed by drive-ins, fast food restaurants and family restaurants. Bon Appetit!

Picture Perfect: Wisconsin's Historic Theaters
Wisconsin's performing arts are as old as the state itself. Learn about the historical forces that moved us from the 19th-century opera house to the movie palace and beyond. Visit some of Wisconsin's most unique, interesting and beautiful old theaters, and learn their history.

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