Thursday, September 25, 2014


Wanderlust was a gift that grafted itself to my back and pushed me as far as it could from as early as I can remember. When I was too young to do anything but listen to my mom read it was always the books about faraway places that followed into my dreams long after my mother's voice had drawn her finger over the books final words. When I was old enough to remember events it was the recollection of the backend of a Chevy station wagon during the two weeks vacation my dad took every summer to visit the fantasy world of Wisconsin Dells or the big city magic of Chicago. When I was finally old enough to drive myself around I'd explore the roads of Dane County as far as a tank of gas would take me. Route fourteen was a road I knew well. It led to exotic locales like Mt. Horeb, Mineral Point and Taliesin. As many times as I may have driven that road I never saw an exit sign for Paoli, a spit of town fifteen miles southwest of Madison. Established in 1846 the community thrived as a saw and gristmill for a period of time between 1860 and the turn of the new century. After the railroad bypassed Paoli and the mill era went into decline so did Paoli. What it left was an architectural treasure ripe for a cultural renaissance as a thriving artists colony and tourist destination. There are now exit signs with the letters P-a-o-l-i  and an arrow pointing out the road connecting route fourteen to Paoli.
It still remains a small community, a strip of a few blocks starting where the road crosses the Sugar River and ending at the town square.
The band shell still stands in the town square across the street from
St. Williams Catholic Parish. In between are the refurbished architectural gems that make Paoli an exit worth taking.
One of the old hotels that housed visitors in the late 1800's is now the Paoli House Gallery holding a collection of gifts and artwork.
On the other side of the street is Cluck the Chicken Store, an emporium for everything you'd need to raise some urban chickens.
If what you want is a rooster in your backyard this is the place to find one along with a harem of hens and some of the best lookin' coops even Robert Stern would be proud of.
Behind Cluck is a building looking as if it still needs a bit of repair. There isn't much signage and it seems to be open only by chance but if your luck is working in overdrive and Dana happens to be inside it is worth the trip off the beaten path to stop for a visit. Dana is a picker extraodinaire. His eye is excellent for vintage, quirky and antique. We loaded our store with finds we purchased here.
It's where we found the Amish barbed wire ball that now sits sentry in our front yard.
Closer to the Sugar River and higher up on a slight hill is beautiful red school house. The first room of the school house was built in 1854.
No longer a school it is a now a shop and cafe much more elegant than you would think of a former schoolhouse. It is set up for high tea and sprinkled with antiques and fine accessories.
Across the street in a very undistinguished building is the Creamery Cafe and Artisan Gallery. The gallery is one of the largest in southern Wisconsin representing over one hundred artists.
An exhibit of Don Kauss' assemblages called Reliquary was installed in the vault of what must have been a bank or a butcher's refrigeration unit at one time.
The pieces are macabre using bits of dead wild life and found objects welded together transforming them into three dimensional wall hangings and sculptures transfixing and holding your interest in the same way the Witch of the West beguiles and hypnotizes.
The key group of buildings are clustered around the old mill. On the street is the fairytale Cheese shop. Its irregular shaped stone facade and wood shingle roof make it appear as if it were the home of Goldie Locks' three bears.
Up from there is the Secret Garden filled with plants, ceramic pots and unique hammocks.
Above the Cheese Shop are the Paoli Mill Shops. Another tiny house holds the Paoli Bread and Brat Haus where you can purchase ice cream in a cone or dish and I'd assume a brat as well although I've never had one.
The queen shop housed in the old mill is the Cottage Goddess
filled with vintage and antique finds stuffed into niches
and hanging from hooks attached to old painted doors.
Cluttered on tables are bits and pieces of childhoods long gone by.
The work of new textile artists are draped over vintage mannequins
and signs from the circus litter the floor.
The most intriguing part of the shop is the Goddess herself. Filled with stories and constant chatter she makes you feel like you've been best friends for years when in fact you'd only met. Within minutes I was revealing parts of myself I wouldn't be sharing with anyone but my closest friends. I left feeling as if we had shared secrets only best buds would have told each other in the highest of confidences.
Get your butt to Paoli where beauty, antiquity, and art exist. The therapy apparently comes free of charge.

Hogs to market along Main Street
Black River Falls, WI. 1853
Charles Van Schaick, photographer
Property of the Wisconsin State Historical Society

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