Friday, May 27, 2016


On a map Cedarburg sits not far from the shores of Lake Michigan, a lush region stitched in around Cedar Creek. It's about twenty minutes north of Milwaukee. It was first settled back in 1842. Twenty years after its first settler, Ludwig Groth had put down roots several more German and Irish immigrants joined forces to harness the powerful creek and build mills taking advantage of the creek's rushing waters to power their mills . Wittenberg Mill was one of the largest and the only woolen mill west of Philadelphia producing worsted wool used by Union soldiers during the Civil War. Their mills were built entirely by hand from stones pulled from the creek and timber felled from the surrounding bogs. As manufacturing became more automated and powered by electricity the mill life of Cedarburg evaporated leaving behind an industrial architectural history of gorgeous sandstone buildings. The Wittenberg Mill remained boarded up until the early nineteen-seventies. Saved from the wrecking ball, the mill and its surrounding buildings have been resurrected with only a name change. It is now known as The Cedar Creek Settlement and has become the anchor for one of America's most attractive small towns.
We started our day trip to Cedarburg with a weekend brunch at the Anvil Pub & Grille, a very popular spot with a bar food menu. We got lucky being a small party of two. Several larger groups were ahead of us on the queue for tables but were told their wait was going to be at least thirty minutes.  As they all decided they'd try other restaurants with a shorter wait we moved up until we were first in line.
There was one table for two by the bar that was ready and waiting for us so we grabbed it and turned a thirty-minute wait into a "right this way".
The view of the creek and the dam that powered the old mills was right outside the window next to our table as we leisurely drank their local root beer and ate our burgers and fries.
Adjacent to the Pub and located in the mill is its major vendor the award winning Cedar Creek Winery.  Since neither of us drink we can only report on the quality of the wine from what we've been able to read.  This has become a bit of a negative every time I try to write about a destination since most people want to know about an area's alcohol.  Sorry, you're going to have to try for yourselves on that score.
Inside the mill there's a collection of over twenty-five specialty shops.
I'll skip the touristy ones but the antiques and vintage shops were well worth taking some time to amble through.
One shop, in particular, had an amazing offering of vintage fabrics and clothing.
It was one time we were happy not to have our daughter with us. It was a store right up her alley.
Another part of the settlement housed a smaller collection of vendors but worth nosing into. One we liked was the Olive Sprig specializing in what else: olive oils.
From the Settlement you need to walk south on Washington Avenue, a walk that takes you past more storefronts selling things you really don't need and can't figure out what to do with once you get them home,
but the architecture is worth the journey.
One store that did stand out as well worth a trip inside was Frill, a home store set back into what was a former service station. It's small but well stocked with merchandise you can find a use for once you get it home.
Another treat with a home theme was Birchwood Wells. We were sold even before we walked in the door. If the water tank out front had been for sale we'd have tied it to the roof of the car and taken it home with us.
Inside was a collection of vintage finds, industrial inspired accessories and lighting along with transitional furniture.
They don't offer design services, the owner prefers to sit behind the counter chatting with customers and discovering new local talent. She said she just doesn't have the time or the energy to go off site. We were more than happy to drop a few of our business cards.
There were two additional architectural gems that were must-sees in the historic downtown. The popularity of the Chinoiserie movement flared up in the twenties with some success.
One aspect was a series of pagoda inspired gas stations. Cedarburg was lucky enough to have one that has survived and now for the past twenty years has housed Pagoda Fine Jewelry.
The other significant structure is the Rivoli Theater. The amazing thing is that the black Carrara glass or Vitrolite fa├žade and the amazing marquee are not original nor recreations of the original but a new rendition taking elements from its past and then doing it one better. The building is now owned by Cedarburg's Landmark Preservation Society but still shows first run fare where you buy your ticket from a sidewalk ticket booth complete with an elderly lady with tons of attitude.
If you've never been to Cedarburg get in the car and drive out to this old mill town, buy some popcorn from the old-fashioned street vendor,
walk across one of the unique bridges crossing Cedar Creek,
or stroll the historic downtown soaking up the charm of a true American gem.

Mill Children, Macon, Georgia, 1909
Lewis Wickes Hine, photographer
Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC


  1. Thanks for the update. We went there for our Honeymoon: affordable and neither of us had been there with someone else. Stayed at the wonderful Stagecoach Inn and have retuned for various anniversaries. We saw Tom Hanks in "Big" at that theater.

  2. The woman in the little sidewalk booth wouldn't let me in to see the inside. I tried to charm her but she wouldn't even crack a smile. Is it as Deco and beautiful as the outside?