Completed in 1892 as the private home of the Pabst family, Pabst Mansion stands as the last bastion of more than 80 mansions built for Milwaukee’s elite during a booming, bygone era. Since its construction, the estate has housed archbishops, priests, and sisters and was saved from near-demolition during the 1970s. The Flemish-Renaissance-Revival home has since been awarded a place on the National Register of Historic Places for its bounty of architectural intricacies.
Today, on-staff docents conduct a range of tours for public groups, private parties, school groups, and well-behaved rugby teams through the fortress of halls, opulent rooms, and verdant grounds, each restored to their original condition.
The Pabst Mansion’s impressive art collection includes works from the 1640s through the 1900s by artists such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Gaetano Trentanove, and Eugene Joseph Verboeckhoven. The emporium of excess also features Pabst Beer Pavilion, the pavilion built for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the glass-covered conservatory where tropical plants and beer trees continue to flourish.
The mansion gift shop holds classic Pabst drinkware and memorabilia as well as antique photos, books, and former employees' original finger paintings.
On June 30, 1904 Col. William and Anna Vilas donated a tract of land to become a public park and free recreational space in memory of their son, Henry, who died due to complications from diabetes at a young age. They added numerous improvements over the decade and in 1911, the Henry Vilas Zoo gained its first animal exhibits. Today, the zoo covers 30 acres and features a number of creatures from around the world, ranging from the vanishing chimpanzee and endangered red panda to locals such as the great horned owl and american alligator. The zoo also remains one of the few free AZA-accredited zoos across the country.
Leading up to and following the zoo's centennial, the ReZOOvenation project has expanded the visitor areas, replacing the entrance and gift shop and adding a tropical-rainforest aviary and big-cat complex. A variety of annual events are scheduled, including Halloween at the Zoo, with costumes and stops for sustainable palm-oil candy, and earth day, when children can plant trees to help lower the global temperature just enough for icicles to form. The zoo’s many conservation projects also engage the public in protecting the environment and its inhabitants by installing solar-energy panels, sponsoring trips to save endangered orangutans, and collecting old cell phones.
A two-story brick house from the late 1800s stands within walking distance of a wooden fur-trader’s cabin from the 1700s. Just down the road, cheesemongers and printmakers ply their time-honored trades behind open storefronts, and the ringing of a blacksmith’s hammer joins with the click of a digital camera’s shutter in a soundtrack several centuries in the making. It’s safe to say that Heritage Hill State Historical Park’s anachronistic blending of historical eras might confuse an uninformed onlooker, but visitors who know better will relish the park’s four outdoor areas, each of which depicts a unique period in Wisconsin’s history. The living-history museum sits on 50 acres along the banks of the Fox River and features more than 25 original and reconstructed buildings that illustrate the lives of their residents—a list that includes French-influenced fur traders, the federal occupants of Fort Howard, and Belgian immigrants. The museum’s curators have brought these former residents back to life through strange and unexpected means; the fur-trader’s cabin was discovered almost by accident by a demolition crew who found it hidden inside a larger house. In each of the park’s areas, historic interpreters dressed according to their time period divulge facts about the buildings’ histories and their inhabitants’ day-to-day lives, which often included hours of churning butter and playing 8-bit Atari games. Five of the original on-site buildings can be found on the National Register of Historic Places, and museum groundskeepers further ensure each area’s historical accuracy by planting period-appropriate trees and plants. Tours take visitors of all ages on regular journeys through the past, and museum staffers organize field trips and summer camps especially for youth groups. Seasonal events include craft workshops, live concerts, and raucous fiddle-shredding contests.
America's Action Territory encourages family bonding through amusements in session year-round indoors and seasonally outdoors. During warm weather, the park staff operates six outdoor activities, from bumper boats in a 75,000-gallon pool, go-karts on an over 1,000-foot long track, to a water balloon battle with depth-charged orbs. Back inside, kids can enter the smoky, black-lit laser-tag arena to demonstrate who is most deserving of parents' love, or challenge their progenitors to skee-ball at the arcade. Between games, an eatery supplies patrons with refreshments such as sandwiches, chicken strips, and pizzas on crust made without gluten or lasers. For special occasions, Action Territory's team can also arrange birthday parties and organize group packages.
The curators of Bounce & Play's indoor playground want to see kids exercising and developing motor skills. To accomplish this, they fill their plush facility with seven bounce houses, air-filled obstacle courses, and games such as ping-pong and air hockey. For adults, they stock the center's bright storefront with coffee and snacks. Additionally, the playground's toddler area lets little ones younger than aged 3 crawl through tunnels and play with toys without encountering the competitive spirit of older kids who talk about nothing but math and literature.
Harry Houdini was legendary for his daring escapes, but he's still never escaped the public's imagination. To wit: AKA Houdini, whose artifacts offer a hands-on glimpse into some of his most infamous tricks. Along with the Appleton-raised illusionist, The History Museum at the Castle's award-winning exhibits focus on other notable Fox Valley natives, including Senator Joseph McCarthy. Dating back to the 1840s, the museum's collection of Fox Valley artifacts includes 35,000 photographs and 20,000 pieces, such as parts of a vintage gas station. At an exhibit tracing the origins of the area's most famous foods, such as frozen custard and fish fries, visitors can even spear sturgeons inside a life-size virtual ice shanty.
These pieces of Fox Valley history are housed inside a Masonic temple listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1923, the temple exemplifies the medieval, Norman Revival style with rough-hewn stone, vaulted ceilings, and fire-breathing dragons guarding its entrance. Designed as a community center, the temple continues to serve that function by hosting the museum's year-round events, including papermaking programs and magic workshops.