The Viroqua Public Market is located in Viroqua, WI, population 4500, which is the county seat of Vernon County. Viroqua sits in the enchanting unglaciated part of Wisconsin, in the southwest corner of the state.
Viroqua is 30 minutes SE of La Crosse, approximately 3.5 hours from Milwaukee and the Twin Cities, 4 hours from NW Chicagoland; just 20 minutes to the Mississippi River.
The area is one of the only parts of America consistently missed by advancing glaciers over the millennia, hence the name "Driftless or Unglaciated Region". This has preserved the unique topography of the region. The famous bluffs, coulees and small winding streams are mesmerizing. This rich, organic, ancient earth tends to capture the soul. The interesting topography was formed over 100 million years ago. This entire region was a vast prehistoric sea, with an underwater mountain range.
The sea eventually disappeared, leaving just the sea-floor mountain range, which now defines the landscape of southwest Wisconsin as it slowly changes, shaped by wind, water, and man.¬† When you walk these lands, you are literally in the same space that massive sharks glided through, separated only by the passage of time.
About 12,000 years ago, when Mastodons still roamed the area, a land bridge was formed between North America and what is now Russia, allowing the first Americans to descend into this region. About the same time, great receding glaciers covered the northern half of America, except, of course, for this area! These first Americans inhabited, loved, and died in this pristine, fertile and spiritual area, as we do today. One can only image what it must have been like to be in this sanctuary place, surrounded my thousands of miles of ice.
The image above is of Three Chimney's rock formation, just outside of Viroqua. It highlights the ancient seafloor mountain range that makes up the topography of the area.
Many of the locations people congregate now in the 21st century, are the same exact places thirty thousand generations of humans were also draw to. Were modern campers from Chicago pitch tents, archeological evidence show peoples from the Paleo-Indian Tradition (10,000 B.C) , Archaic (7000 B.C.), through to the Kickapoo Native Americans of the 1600s, also chose to make camp! The spirit that drew them here remains, and continues to beckon visitors.
As a fascinating aside, the entire Valley was slated to be flooded as part of a huge Army Corps of Engineers damn project. For several reasons the project was halted in 1973... now, we can enjoy the land and its spirit everyday, just as it has been for thousands of years. A large part of the Valley is permanently protected in the 8,500 acre Kickapoo Valley Reserve.
The old, rich soil has supported decades of farming, and has been particularly suited to organic farming. The surrounding area has become one of the most successful organic farming regions in the entire world! In fact Organic Valley / CROPP organic farming coop, located 20 minutes from Viroqua, has grown into a multi-million dollar international company!
Numerous unusual round barns keep watch over the rolling pastures of Vernon County. Many of the barns were built by Algie Shivers, around the time Main Street Station was built, in the early 1900s. Algie's family, and others of African American descendents, were drawn to the area 1850s because of the area's tolerance and integration. His descendents still own property in eastern Vernon County.
Viroqua is a proud member of the coveted Main Street Program. Most of the downtown is part of a National Register of Historic Places Downtown Historic District, including the historic Viroqua Public Market. The Viroqua Public Market, founded in 2004 by the Macasaet family (who continue to manage the business), has become an anchor shopping, entertainment, and culinary destination for downtown Viroqua, helping to instill life back into the city center. The grand brick complex houses an impressive array of ninety local micro-merchants and artisans as well as a world-market of fair-trade goods from around the globe.
The Viroqua Public Market is also home to Kalapaca Crafts, Woodhookers Fine Antiques, VIVA artists gallery, and more.
The downtown and city in general are undergoing a Renaissance. Buildings like the market are being restored or rehabbed. Life in the city center has sprung forth again! Viroqua is very proud of the multi-million dollar restoration of the vaudeville era Temple Theater, which sits just down the block from the market. Viroqua also has a thriving farmers market, which takes place across the street from Main Street Station. The markets have a friendly relationship.
It also fortuitous that the region maintainers its easy-going, peaceful pace of life. There is no traffic congestion or stressed out masses. Viroqua has genuine charm and authentic small town warmth. Almost all of the area land and business are owned by people who live here - they are not controlled by distant owners simply looking for a "good investment". Unlike many other well known tourist areas, one can truly escape to these hidden valleys!
Here in Vernon County, just past a bend in the road, a different outdoor adventure awaits. You might find...incredible fishing in the numerous pristine streams and lakes, horseback riding (check out the KV Ranch), some of the best bicycle touring in America (we are minutes from the famous Sparta Elroy Bike Trail), great back roads to explore on motorcycle, superb golfing (Viroqua Country Club), ski jumping at the Snow Flake Ski Club, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, camping, hunting, hiking, Amish area tours (Down A Country Road), and canoeing on the Kickapoo River, to name but a few things. It's a blast just to drive around and explore the winding back roads.
The area is revved up by several area festivals every year, like the well established Wild West Days, the Viroqua Bluegrass & Gospel Festival, and the Market's own November Olde-Town Holiday Fair, to name a few. The Viroqua Chamber keeps up to date listing of events. The Driftless Wisconsin Area Guide provides a broader guide to the Driftless region.
The people of the Viroqua area ultimately are it's greatest asset. Generations of families have loved the Coulee Region, the land and our common humanity. People here are strong, warm, and genuine. Recently, the families several generations deep in the area have been complimented by a large group of new-comers. Viroqua is seeing several entire families each year move into the area, many because of a very special school system.
Pleasant Ridge Waldorf and the Youth Initiative High School offer an alternative to the public school model. These schools have received international praise for their focus on principles and the spirit of the child. As they say "The curriculum speaks not only to the intellect but also to the physical and emotional capacities, linking head, hand and heart to educate the whole child". Viroqua is also blessed with a superb public school system (which I attended - '87).
And still others are moving to the area for their own reasons, maybe to simplify, to connect, to live. The reasons are numerous. Viroqua is also seeing a steady influx of retirees, many drawn for what Conscious Choice Magazine called Viroqua's Sustainable Retirement. Joe Hart, contributing editor of the Utne, in a great article on Viroqua said, "Here in Viroqua, the primary collective structure is, well, us -- my circle of friends and neighbors, held together from year to year by a thousand shared moments." The intermingling of these diverse humans, with many others, has created an amazing Wisconsin village!
The Public Market is fortunate to have another Viroqua landmark, steps away from its doors for visitors to enjoy - the elegant and wonderfully restored Victorian style Heritage Inn B&B. Vendors and visitors may spend a relaxing night in the B&B and stroll over to the market for a blissful, truly unique experience.
Viroqua has been at the center of a 12,000 year-old history of humans in North America... the land where if lies has seen a 100- million-year-plus history of sea, land and life... now as Viroqua's newcomers bring ideas that add to the rich tradition of the original settlers, Viroqua is a town in evolution, in real-time!.... an evolution you not only can experience, but, indeed, contribute to. Come evolve. ..
© 2014 New American Boulevard LLC, All Rights Reserved
Photography: © 2014 MacaSTAT Productions