Old World Wisconsin has more than 600 acres of fields and woods to explore as you make your way from one historical homestead to another.
History seeps through the walls, and culinary traditions are brought to life on stoves. You are transported to a simpler time where animals roam the fields, heirloom vegetables fill the neatly tended gardens and the smell of freshly baked zwiebelkulchen (German onion pie) wafts through the air.
“I think the thing I remember most about coming here as a kid is something most of our guests agree with,” said Anna Altschwager, guest experience director at OWW. “It’s so different with the sights, sounds and smells that it really makes you pay attention to things you might not notice otherwise.”
Everything about the OWW experience is hands-on, a concept of play that Altschwager says is important to the mission of the organization.
“One of the biggest changes we’ve made through the years is that everything we do is a lot more hands-on all the time every single day,” she said. “If you’re not rolling up your sleeves and trying things alongside us, we’re not doing our job.”
Immigrant farm landscapes, folk architecture, forest paths and gardens are mainstays of OWW, but the experiences each area offers is an inspired way for families to learn together. And activities at OWW changes seasonally, so there is always something new for families to try.
“We know people learn best through play, but that’s true for kids and grown-ups alike,” said Altschwager, who has worked at OWW for about a year. “We love to find new ways to get the whole family engaged and playing together...that’s what memories are made of.”
The OWW guest experience is something she remembers fondly, to the point where she says the fourth-grade version of herself would be thrilled to discover she’s now working there.
To her, the magic of Old World has always been in its stories.
“Everyone has a story worth telling,” Altschwager said. “We want it to be about families not only learning our stories, but also learning about their family history as well.”
From Lake Superior to the Illinois borer, and from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan, historians documented farmhouses and structures, which were all relocated to OWW piece by piece.
Today, OWW comprise the world’s largest museum dedicated to the history of rural life.
“It’s so different from our own everyday life, yet it is the everyday life of the past,” she said. “It’s about making connections to the clothes you wear and the food you eat, between the lives of the past and our contemporary lives.”
The World of Little House
One group of stories that will hold a special place on the Old World docket this summer, is the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Wilder’s birth in Wisconsin, and OWW is celebrating in true Wilder fashion with a week-long event in July.
“The World of Little House will really be something pretty neat this summer, with a chance to meet ‘Laura,’ a family scavenger hunt and other fun experiences all week long,” Altschwager explained.
The event is included with regular admission and runs from Saturday, July 22 through Sunday, July 30.
It’s an annual event Elijah and Amanda Krajewski take their children to each year, so Amanda said it’s something they’re looking forward to doing as a family again, particularly with the 150th anniversary.
“I’m a strong believer in traditions and that’s something we love to do every year, going to the Laura Ingalls Wilder days,” she said. Wilder’s writing enchanted Amanda when she was growing up, and now she loves to read the stories with her eight-year-old son, Aiden, and five-year-old daughter, Elliana.
“My mom gave me the copies of the books from when she was young, and I have always just loved and appreciated that time in history,” Amanda said. “I can remember the excitement I had going to Old World Wisconsin as a child, and it’s only gotten better since then because everything is so much more hands-on.”
Between her childhood trips, trips with her children and field trips as a second-grade teacher, she said the most memorable stories come from experiencing what life was like at a simpler time.
“It’s so abstract when we read about something like churning butter or combing the wool out, but to see it, experience it and actually do it is such a different kind of learning experience,” she said. “Aside from that, there is really just something special about listening to the people and hearing the stories.”
Ty Schmidt, freelance writer and mom of two boys, will celebrate the tenth anniversary of her wedding this year, which took place at Old World Wisconsin.
2017 Old World Wisconsin Calendar of Events
Historic Beer Brewing: OWW welcomes Explorium BrewPub to its brewery to talk about the history of beer making. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, included with regular admission. Historic beer brewing events will also be held on Saturdays, July 15 and August 5.
Adventure Day Camps: For four weeks running Thursday, July 6 through Friday, August 4, there will be camps for first-graders through high-schoolers that include age-appropriate adventures throughout the OWW grounds. Advance, pre-paid registration is required.
1870s Baseball Game: Experience our national pastime as it once was through a reenactment by the Eagle Diamonds Base Ball Club. Game is held at 1:30 p.m. Saturdays, July 8 and 15 and August 12, and admission is included with regular tickets.
The World of Little House: A special celebration in honor of Laura Ingalls Wilder will run from Saturday, July 22 through Sunday, July 30 during regular hours. Admission is included with regular tickets.
Friends Behind the Scenes Tour and Family Picnic: Exclusive members-only event features a picnic lunch and an exclusive look and taste of the history behind beer brewing. The event is from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, and registration is free for members.
Heirloom Garden Weekend: Walk through the gardens of Old World in peak harvesting season and learn more about the rich history of gardening. The event runs during regular hours on Saturday, Aug. 19 and Sunday, Aug. 20. Admission is included with regular tickets.