The optimal winter hiking temperature is from 20-30 degrees fahrenheit. Last week we were in the midst of a polar blast sent by way of Canada. Thanks Canada.
Seriously though, as much as this is normal, when the wind chill can cause hypothermia in a matter of minutes, it leaves us with little time out in nature.
This gave me the opportunity to write about a driving trip you can take to an old haunt of mine from many years ago.
One of Wisconsins older cities, Racine offers a good mix of architectural interest, and actual possible hauntings. The first European settlers put in roots in the early 19 c. calling the area Port Gilbert. You can read all about the history of Racine on their historical preservation website. It does seem to omit any history before 1834 and is missing some important historical information about immigrants, but still has plethora of interesting facts.
For purposes of this blog I’ll share with you some of the places I know of and what makes them interesting. The lakeshore is one of the most interesting routes that I know of and a drive from down town south to the Dekoven Center includes one beautiful victorian home after another. Ending at Dekoven you’ll find a bluff top view of Lake Michigan where it is easy to understand why anyone would want to stroll along often. Stop inside the centers art gallery to see some great work by local and regional artists.
Driving west from the shore line is a less expensive area of town that used to be filled with the homes of factory workers and their families, it appears to be extremely decayed. It is certainly not how I remember the city. That being said, there were some improvements happening and being winter it can be hard to see behind the feet of snow.
I do want to point out a couple of places where my friends and I spent a good amount of time and money. I’m guessing that this was once the area of town where Italian immigrants settled and brought with them old family recipes for meatballs simmering in tomato sauce. One of my favorite places in town was Totero’s Restaurant on Mead street. They were open for short lunches and dinner on Thursdays through Sundays and there was always, always, always a wait for a table. They specialized in the best meatballs I’ve ever tasted and they were as big as your head!
One of my favorite pizza places way back when I was learning how to cook myself.
Head back toward the city center via Racine street, turn right on 14th to check out the Johnson Wax Headquarters. Home to some of the most well known Frank Lloyd Wright architecture including “The Golden Rondelle” theater. Never a place to drive by without taking the time to go on a tour.
Take 14th street to College avenue, turn left to 12th street where you will find an excellent example of Classical Revival architecture. This grand building is labeled Plymouth Congregational church and if you are at all interested in historical architecture and the genius involved in design and building structures it warrants a view and walk around.
It took a few tries on line to find information on the building, it wouldn’t even come up on google maps. But eventually I found an article on the celebration of the churches anniversary and learned a little about the building and the church. I wanted to read the entire article but there were so many popup ads that it because tiresome. Here’s a link if you’d like to brave the annoying.
From the church I headed back through down town. I passed the Historical society that was once the Public Library and the Racine Art Museum, both on Main Street. On a warm day I highly recommend a walk around Racine’s downtown. There are so many interesting buildings that it isn’t fair to point out the few without saying there is so much more to offer.
A block off Monument Square to the west is a tiny diner worth noting, if not because it has a great history of being a gathering place, but because my grandmother took me there and they serve deliciously greasy burgers!
Back on Main street there is a building with a history that is dear to my heart. On the corner of Third and Main stands a building currently filled by a design firm but was in my life time many other places of business.
When it was young, it was a pharmacy and fortunately much of the gorgeous interior woodwork was preserved. Later I remember going to lunch there with my Mom when it was a food co-op and several years after that it became The Main Street Bistro. This was the place I learned how to truly cook really good food. I loved that restaurant, and the kitchen remains the best, cleanest and one of the most well equipped kitchens I’ve ever had the pleasure to cook in. That was a life time ago and even though I’ve moved on and changed the course of my life journey, some of the menu items continue to make their way through my home kitchen.
Across the street I found a coffee shop called Divino Gelato Cafe. You guessed it right if you thought gelato! Being that the temperature outside was close to zero, I opted for a latte and a couple of macrons. While I waited, I took a few minutes to check out the well preserved or historically well resurfaced interior. It was like walking back in time to 1900. I had the feeling I’d been in this building years before but I think it was not the same business. It’s possible it was a bank when I lived in Racine. The latte was good and the gelato looked excellent enough to put a future visit into my head.
Check out this most excellent antique espresso machine!!
I drove north out of downtown and into the north end just past the river. This area of town was the Irish side back in the mid 1800’s through the mid 20th century. The names have changed but most of the buildings and houses are still standing. More on this area of Racine in a future post.
There is so much more to see in Racine. I didn’t even make it to the west end of downtown let alone to uptown and even further west or the newer section of the lake front, North beach and the Public Zoo! I hope this peaks your interest to prompt a visit to this great often missed gem of Wisconsin history.
Stay warm, enjoy the snow!