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Worth the Drive: Ripon

Attractions

5 Must-See Spots 

Little White Schoolhouse 

On March 20, 1854, a grassroots meeting at this simple frame schoolhouse resulted in the formation of a new political party and sparked a national movement. This historic landmark and museum, billed as the birthplace of the Republican party, is open to visitors throughout the year. Admission is free. Open daily from Memorial Day until Labor Day, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Open weekends or by appointment during May, September and October. Call 748-6764 for more information.

Ripon College Campus 

Ripon College was founded in 1851 and continues to be a treasure of the Ripon community. Visitors enjoy strolling the campus’s 250 tree-lined acres which includes 26 buildings – 10 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Three original limestone buildings, East, Smith and West Halls, remain in use. Explore the history of the college at the Ripon College Archives and College Museum located on the main floor of West Hall. For exhibit and tour information, call 748-8115 x 752.

Ripon Historical Society Museum

The Ripon Historical Society collection is housed in three properties – Pickard House, Pedrick-Lawson House and the Pedrick-Lawson barn. Exhibits rotate both in the archives and the museum display areas, highlighting the stories and people of the Ripon area. The museum collection includes Victorian and early 20th century furniture and furnishings, clothing, tools, works by Ripon artists, toys, war memorabilia and more. Open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Call 748-5354 for more information. 

Vines & Rushes Winery

This winery and five-acre vineyard has become the place to be on warm summer days and even cold winter nights. Open year round seven days a week, Vines & Rushes grows cold hardy grape varieties such as Marquette, St Pepin and Petite Pearl. From dry reds to sweet rosé, the wines reflect the unique soil and climate of the Ripon area. Complimentary wine tastings in the onsite tasting room include a variety of white wines, red wines and hard ciders. Live music is featured most weekends and wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas can be ordered every Monday and Friday evening, and Saturday afternoons. Visit vinesandrushes.com for the latest event lineup that includes things like yoga at the vineyard, an artisan marketplace and live performances. 

Ceresco Prairie Conservancy

Up Union Street from the main Ripon College campus, nature lovers can discover the 130-acre Ceresco Prairie Conservancy. Trails meander through wetland areas that feature the impressive sights of a mesic prairie, an oak savanna and a glacial moraine. Runners, walkers and hikers will enjoy the paths that also connect with South Woods Crystal Creek. Combined with the protected 30 acres of South Woods, the area offers public hiking and mountain bike trails as well as the Patricia Kegel ’56 Environmental Classroom.

Shopping

Retail Therapy

Ripon’s downtown shopping district, primarily located on Watson Street, is home to many eclectic shops and quaint boutiques. Fashonistas will find their new favorite outfit at women’s clothing retailers like Dear Prudence, which specializes in American-made and fair trade clothing, and The American Alchemy, a trendy store featuring goods from small labels and USA-based businesses. Brinkley’s Boutique is another store offering women’s fashions, accessories and shoes at affordable prices. 

For some of the sweetest Joanna Gaines-approved home decor, head to Back Porch Gatherings where you will find antique furniture, garden items, salvage pieces and charming florals. Adorn Shop is just down the street and is a great stop for picking up unique gifts, from candles to baby items. Green thumbs (and green thumb hopefuls) will have a heyday at DiG Garden Store & More, browsing lush florals and greens, creative container gardens as well as new and vintage home and garden finds.

Right off “the square” on Fond du Lac Street is Sidedoor Antiques which neighbors the Fox River Glove Factory Outlet Store. Here treasure hunters will find rare books, vintage home decor and housewares. Next door at Fox River Glove, browse the area’s largest outlet store for leather gloves, mittens, purses, Minnetonka moccasins and woolen socks at unbeatable prices. 

Visit Watson Street Tea & Treats for some culinary delights including bulk loose leaf teas, gourmet popcorn, fresh baked goods, handcrafted truffles, cinnamon roasted nuts and fresh dairy caramels. For a unique experience, stop by Suki’s Fur Sure. Suki Lee, a master furrier, handcrafts one-of-a-kind fur teddy bears and other unique creatures such as rabbits and mice. These works of art are a must-have for the serious collector. Lee also repairs, restyles and relines leathers and furs.

Where History and Style Collide: Patina Vie 

After six years of selling charming wares around the globe, product designer and antiquarian Sarah Willett opened her flagship Patina Vie store in downtown Ripon in 2018. The home goods mecca has quickly become a shopping destination for vintage fans and home decor junkies from across the Midwest. 

The 2,000-square-foot location, on the corner of Watson and Fond du Lac Streets, dates to the 1880s with a European facade which was restored by adding floor to ceiling windows. The beautiful exterior beckons to what can be found inside: Patina Vie’s signature tabletop, rugs, wallpaper and home décor as well as vintage and antique finds. 

Fun, playful and friendly, the shop is brimming with delicate glassware, interesting textiles and exquisite gifts set against original brick interior walls that were uncovered during the building’s renovation. Patina Vie a must-stop spot, especially during a girls’ shopping trip (and makes an Instagram-worthy backdrop for your group shot). 

Growing Business: Ernessi Farms

In the basement of Bluemkes, a family-owned appliances, mattresses and furniture store on Watson Street, something is growing. Many things, actually – herbs, mushrooms and microgreens, to name a few. Bryan Ernst and Tim Alessi began designing a high-tech hydroponic system for growing plants in 2012 and today Ernessi Farms produce can be found in stores and restaurants throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The indoor vertical farm utilizes the unused urban space in the basement of Bluemkes to grow produce in levels stacked on top of each other. The innovative design allows them to grow 80 percent more crops while using 90 percent less water. In addition, crops are grown without any herbicides, pesticides or GMO seeds. Find Ernessi Farms produce in Festival Foods stores throughout Northeast Wisconsin as well as at Webster’s Marketplace in Ripon. 

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