St. Paul, June 28
Good Ol’ Potosi. What, you have not heard of Potosi and Potosi beer? Well, neither had we until we began reviewing Wisconsin travel literature for our jaunt to Fennimore.
Our day began with breakfast again at Timothy’s restaurant in Fennimore. I could not pass up the opportunity for unlimited cold milk. Then it was goodbye to the Fenway House Hotel and Silent Woman restaurant. Both were quite nice, a gem in small town Wisconsin. We would definitely return to them in the future. There were plenty of travel adventures in the region to justify the two nights here. There were even opportunities we skipped.
Our original plans had included the Cassville Ferry over the Mississippi River (closed due to high waters and high river velocity from to the flooding in Minnesota), the Villa Louis historic site in Prairie du Chien, and Potosi WI to visit the National Brewery Museum and Great River Road art museum. We were too optimistic about the number of places we could visit before heading back to St. Paul for a 7 pm river ramble held by the Mississippi River Fund.
The Potosi Brewery Museum does not open until 10:30 AM (and the art museum at 11 AM) so we started the day a little later than usual. The museum was quite a pleasant surprise. I mean, how much did you expect for a museum in a little town of 700 in WI? But like the Danish American museum in Elk Horn IA or the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, MN, we are finding gems in small town America.
The museum has only been in existence since 2008. It was the dilapidated home of the Potosi Brewing Company which had been the fifth largest in WI at one time, brewing Good Ol’ Potosi, Augsburger, Garten Brau and other labels and marketing them up and down the Mississippi. The brewery closed in 1972. The community set up a non-profit foundation and renovated the brewery and won the right (over Milwaukee and St. Louis) to be the home of the national museum for collectors of breweriana. In essence, the museum displays the collections of brewery memorabilia accumulated by people around the U.S.
Due to the combined efforts of the community, the town has parlayed these efforts into a rejuvenated brewery, a museum, an events center busy year round, an art museum, and local shops. We realized the late start for this museum makes sense; it is open from 10:30 AM to 9 PM and is attached to the brewery’s pub so you can have a meal and a glass of Good Ol’ Potosi.
Our tour took us through several levels of the old brewery. The collections are loaned to it from members of the American Breweriana Association and since the collections only remain here for 3-6 months, there are justifications to return to the museum again and again. (This we learned from the mayor of Potosi, Frank Fierenza, whom we met here and who gave us a 20 minute tour in addition to our explorations.)
The museum has several brief video collections where we were educated about the proper way to clean a beer glass; how to properly pour a beer, hops growing, beer commercials, etc.) There were several displays relating to St. Paul beers although the collection today was a little heavy on WI beers. It seems every small town must have had its own brewery-at least until Prohibition put major economic challenges in front of them. We saw a display about Schmidt’s of Philadelphia beer so that resonated also. Potosi Brewery does get a special place all to itself. It even owned its own river steamship to deliver beer and to hold entertainment trips on the Mississippi.
Our admission price (only $3) included a glass of beer or root beer so we finished off the visit with cheese curds and a root beer. Before heading up to the art museum, we went across the street to visit a local winery’s store and also went into a local woodworking shop’s display area.
Gary David had built the bar in the Potosi Brewery pub and as we wandered through the gallery, Chris and I were both independently attracted to the work. Now we don’t need much and rarely buy items on our travels other than postcards and a few small mementos for family. But this time we came away with a tall floor lamp with a multi-hued wood base. With our white walls, we thought it would accent the living room nicely.
By this time it was 1:30 and time to head back to St. Paul; it is 250 miles mainly on two lane roads. We had to pass up the art museum; maybe a return visit? We did stop to take a picture of a trout statute in Preston MN, we had passed by two others in WI on our drive to Fennimore and decided we just needed to have at least one in our photo collection.
Our evening event was a River City Revue sponsored by the Mississippi River Fund, which is a non-profit championing the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, an arm of the National Park Service. The event was to be held at City House, an old farmers cooperative grain elevator, and now restored as an event center and historical display, right along the river. Flooding, however, has made City House surrounded by water.
We met instead at Park Headquarters in the MN Science Museum located on the bluffs above the river. We still went on a tour, getting as close to the river as was safe. The tour presented several local experts discussing barge traffic, river hydraulic research, fishing, the city baths that existed about 100 years ago and included two musical interludes in our 1.75 hour ramble.
All in all, a fun filled day.
Ed and Chris back in St. Paul, June 28 9 AM