Keen on Kenosha

A street car named Kenosha

Traveling a 2-mile loop with frequent stops, the Electric Streetcar Circulator runs along a section of the Lake Michigan waterfront, through two historic districts, as well as the downtown and HarborPark. Streetcar stops include Navy Park, Fountain Plaza, and the Civil War Museum, which this fall is hosting “Hollywood Presents,” a selection of movie posters with a tie-in to the Civil War including, “True Grit,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “The Searchers,” and the classic “Gone with the Wind.”

“Eichelman Park Beach is not too far from the streetcar line,” says Jumisko. “Also near the streetcar stop is Southport Marina and a splash pad area.”

The vintage 1951 President’s Conference Committee (PCC) cars were re-invented as a paean to the early 20th century when trolleys and electric streetcars provided easy and accessible transportation for citizens of Kenosha. Each of the restored cars is painted in colors—orange for Kenosha, maroon and cream for Toronto and green for Chicago—representative of our country’s streetcar legacy.

Did you know…?

This year marks what would have been the 100th birthday of noted filmmaker Orson Wells (think “Citizen Kane” which came out in 1941 and is still considered by many as the best American movie ever made) who was born in Kenosha on May 6, 1915. His home at 6116 Seventh Avenue, a private residence built in 1880, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located in Library Park Historic District.

Other famous people from Kenosha include Academy Award winning actor Don Ameche, whose movie career started in 1935 and continued until the year before his death in 1995. In a curious twist of two from Kenosha coming together a long way from home, Ameche and Wells worked together on the 1938 “War of the Worlds.”

Other actors from Kenosha include: Al Molinaro, the owner of Arnold’s in the TV series “Happy Days” and “Joanie Loves Chachi,” whose brother Joseph Molinaro was Kenosha County’s longest-serving district attorney; two-time Emmy winner Daniel J. Travanti from “Hill Street Blues;” and Mark Ruffalo, star of “The Hulk.” Heisman trophy winner and Kenosha-native, Alan Ameche (cousin of Don Ameche), was known at the “Iron Horse” and played six seasons with the Baltimore Colts in the 1950s after graduating from the University of Wisconsin.


Keen on Kenosha

by Jane Ammeson
What is now the fourth largest city on Lake Michigan was first settled by Paleo-Indians over 13,000 years ago and named Kenozia, meaning “place of the pike.” In 1836, a post office was established, and the burgeoning community called Pike Creek was morphed into Southport, before coming full circle back to the name Kenosha — a variation of the original name bestowed by the Paleo-Indians all those years ago.
We’re taking for granted that this charming city, nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan in southern Wisconsin, won’t be changing its name again anytime soon. And why should they? A wonderful commingling of natural beauty, historic architecture, cultural happenings, water fun, along with eclectic stores, art galleries and restaurants; Kenosha has it all.

“I came here way back in 1977 and never left,” says Peggy Gregorski, deputy director of the Kenosha Public Museum, “We raised our family here because it’s such a special place.”

History buff

This uniqueness is due in part, says Gregorski, to the city’s foresight in preserving Kenosha’s history way before it became a rising, urban trend.
“Kenosha has always been proud of its history and it’s part of the celebration of our city and our culture,” says Gregorski.

Boasting not only a thriving downtown and four historic districts — chosen for their outstanding examples of nineteenth century and early twentieth century architecture — Kenosha re-imagined abandoned industrial sites into destinations, such as the 96-acre parcel of land on the waterfront called HarborPark.

Formerly a brownfield filled with empty factories, HarborPark now is home to the Kenosha Public Museum, Civil War Museum, the Kenosha Sculpture Walk and the European-style Kenosha HarborMarket — a year-round collection of more than 150 vendors selling organic fare, artisan cheeses, prepared foods, preserves, artwork, fresh flowers and such distinctive goodies as French pastries from Fraternite Notre Dame. Musicians perform in various locations in the market and visitors are treated to live cooking demonstrations.

The historic Old Post Office is now home to the Dinosaur Discovery Museum, where you can see the largest collection of Theropods, a life-scale replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and dig for dinosaur bones in the Dino Digs excavation site.

During the weekend, history buffs can take a tour of the 1861 cream brick Italianate-style Durkee Mansion. Located on the lakefront with defining features such as a suspension stairway — the largest stairway of its type in the state — parquet floors and arched windows, the massive 2.5-story home is filled with period furniture and its opulence gives off the ambiance of a grand life well lived.

Not enough history for you? Download or pick up a walking tour map (VISITKENOSHA.COM) of one or all of the four historic districts in Kenosha. Fun fact — Kenosha is among only three Wisconsin cities to have more than one National Register Historic District.

101 things to see and do

“I love the affordable fun that’s here in Kenosha,” says Meridith Jumisko, who, as public relations manager for the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, is expected to say things just like that. But Jumisko obviously believes in her city, noting that they just updated their “FUN101 list: 101 Things to See & Do for $10 & Under in the Kenosha Area.”

“The list includes climbing a lighthouse, riding an Electric Streetcar and sampling candy at Jelly Belly Visitor Center,” she says. “I’ve done all three of these activities many times!”

When Jumisko talks about Kenosha, you can hear exclamation points ending her sentences. Among the myriad of activities she touts are the five beaches stretching along Lake Michigan and the eclectic shops, like the Jockey Factory Store; Kenosha is home to the company’s world headquarters. Other downtown stores include Elsie Mae’s Canning & Pies, for freshly made sweet and savory pies, as well as over 100 types of preserves, jams, relishes and drink mixes.

Warning, don’t enter the shop if you’re at all hungry or you risk walking out with bags and bags of delectables. Andrea’s, a family-owned gift shop since 1911, specializes in classic gifts, jewelry, Kenosha memorabilia, bath and body soaps and oils, candy and fashion accessories.

Indulge your inner artist by designing and painting your own ceramic work at Alpaca Art. Reconnect with even your most remote Viking roots (trust me, given their past propensity for marauding, there’s a Norse gene somewhere in your DNA) by tasting prinsesstårta — a layered sponge cake filled with raspberry, vanilla bean custard and fresh whipped cream — Finnish carrot oat bread, chocolate cupcakes with cardamom berry butter cream or Norwegian waffles at Linnea, a Scandinavian Bakery and Nordic Café.

Calling all cheese heads — the Mars Cheese Castle, aptly known for its selection of Wisconsin cheeses and recognized by its 80-foot sign off Interstate 94, also offers tasty sausages and Wisconsin souvenirs.

Enjoy live music at Kenosha’s lakefront at the Sesquicentenntial Bandshell at Pennoyer Park and the Veterans Memorial Park, when the The Kenosha Pops and the Peanut Butter & Jam concert series put on free performances during the summer months.


Bite to eat

Quaff handcrafted beers at the PUBLIC Craft Brewing Co. and Rustic Road Brewing Company. If wine is your thing, sip and dine at Wine Knot Bar & Bistro and Mangia Wine Bar. Enjoy the view at the Boat House Pub & Eatery offering up an array of fish specialties, sandwiches and the popular smoked BBQ pork. Featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” Franks Diner — a registered historical landmark and the oldest continuously-operating lunch car diner in the U.S. — is known for its Garbage Plate. With a base of five eggs, green peppers, onions and hash browns, the plate can be finished off with a variety of options: ham, Spam, bacon, cheese and much more. Take a step back in time with breakfast or lunch, and an ice cream treat, at the old-fashioned soda fountain at Jack’s Café.

It’s easy to catch your own dinner; fishing charters, for such prize Great Lakes fish as king and Coho salmon, perch, and brown, lake and rainbow trout, are available at Stellar Charters or Kenosha Charter Boat Association.

There are plenty of options for those who want to fish from shore. The mouth of Pike River, where it flows into Lake Michigan, is just one of many spots that lure both locals and those out of town. Other places to try are both the north and south walls at Southport Marina, 54th Street Harbor, Inner Harbor and North and South Piers.

Get outdoors

Catch a weekly bicycle race at the Washington Park Velodrome, the nation’s longest-operating 333-meter track. Every Saturday morning at 8 a.m., until the snow flies, the Bike Shop at Southport Rigging takes group bicycle rides on the Common Grounds Coffee Ride, a 26-mile round trip along city streets and the Illinois Beach Park roads. Starting at Harborside Common Grounds, the route travels to It’s All Good Coffee Shop in Zion, where cyclist can grab some more joe (who wouldn’t need the extra caffeine voltage after 13 miles of pedaling?) before heading back.  

For those of us (surely there’s more than me out there) who are still getting used to the concept of disc golf, it’s fascinating knowing that there are professionally-designed courses in Kenosha, including the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Disc Golf Course. With 18 challenging holes, tees for both pros and amateurs, this year-round course is free and, since it weaves its way throughout the 700-acre campus, a great way to enjoy some nature.

Though the city’s two public pools typically close in mid-August (keep it in mind for next summer), there are plenty of other outdoor activities. Follow the walking trails, admire the flower gardens and then take a rest in the gazebo overlooking Lake Michigan at Wolfenbuttel Park. If you are curious about the name, Wolfenbuttel, Germany has been Kenosha’s Sister City since 1970. Bringing Fido along? Then Warren Close Bark Park, an off-leash park with separate areas for large and small dogs, is the place to go.

Simmons Island Beach is distinctive not only for its boardwalk, sandy beach, picnic pavilion and paved bike path, but also because it’s the site of two lighthouses including Southport Lighthouse, built in 1866. During the season, visitors can climb the 72 steps up to the tower for a stupendous view. For a look at life during the years when the station was manned, the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage — dating back to 1867 and extensively renovated a few years ago — is now a museum with photos and artifacts of those days long ago.

Boaters are warmly welcomed in Kenosha. There are two beautiful public facilities — both full-service marinas — that are close to all the city’s action. Simmons Island Marina, operated by Great Lakes Yacht Sales, caters to powerboaters and  offers 142 slips and six launch ramps. This quiet, protected marina is a great place to spend a weekend if having fun on the water is a priority. The other facility is Southport Marina, offering 420 slips for power and sail boaters. They also provide seasonal slips, as well as transient dockage and a 75-ton travel lift.

Stunning from the lake when cruising into port, Kenosha doesn’t disappoint once on land. The city, with its tip to the past and embrace of the present and future, offers the best of all worlds with activities, events, restaurants and shops all intertwined with the marvels of nature. 

South Shore JUN17