Take Ten: Best of Marshfield

thimbleberryNear the geographic center of Wisconsin is Marshfield, population 19,000 and unusual because the city sits in both Wood and Marathon counties. The long-ago railroad town’s ancestors include a former governor, William Upham, whose 1880 Victorian mansion is the local history museum.

Here you will find the world’s largest round barn, whose construction was completed 100 years ago. It is 150 feet in diameter and an anchor for the annual Central Wisconsin State Fair in summer.

Thirty miles west is the unincorporated Amish community of Willard and rural Christine Center, a spiritual retreat. Thirty miles southeast is Rudolph Grotto Gardens, five acres of paths, hand-carved statues and religious shrines made by a priest from many tons of rock and other materials. christinecenter.org, 715-267-7507; rudolphgrotto.org, 715-435-3120

Marshfield seems to modestly go about its business, but here are 10 reasons to stop and see what makes the area unique.

Wildwood Zoo, 608 W. 17th St.: Two orphaned Kodiak cubs – Boda and Munsey – were moved from Alaska to the 60-acre zoo almost one year ago and since then have stolen a lot of hearts. Enclosed bridges, a woodsy area and ponds are a part of the bears’ roomy, fenced-in den. No species of bear in the world is larger.

All Wildwood inhabitants are North American wildlife – cougars, lynx, swans, great horned owls and more. Admission is free. ci.marshfield.wi.us, 715-384-4642

Jurustic Park, M222 Sugarbush Lane: This is another kind of zoo, where creatures large and small are made with castoff materials from farms and industry. The odd and rusty “Iron Age” menagerie is the longstanding work of a retired lawyer, Clyde Wynia. Wife Nancy, a retired nurse, makes and sells art (jewelry, fiber purses, glassworks) from the whimsical stone and brick Hobbit House on the property.

Their one-of-a-kind park is just north of Marshfield and usually open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Check first. jurustic.com, 715-387-1653

Central Avenue: Between Veterans Parkway and Third Street downtown are some of Marshfield’s most historic structures. That includes the red brick Tower Hall, built in 1901 as the city hall, public library, police department and fire department engine house. City services have since moved a few blocks.

Available is a map for self-guided walking tours, with details about the significance of eight buildings.

Thimbleberry Books, 166 S. Central Ave.: Browsing a bookstore with seating that feels like a friend’s living room is a comfortable way to pass time, but that’s not the only bonus. Sometimes walking between shelves of new and used books are the store’s two cats. They are the official greeters for this two-decade-old business.

“Used and unusual” is how proprietor Kim Hartley describes the titles that she stocks. thimbleberrybooks.com, 715-387-3049

Hotel Marshfield, 2700 S. Central Ave.: The property looks quite ordinary on the outside, but inside is sleek boutique lodging and a courtyard with swimming pool, whirlpools, sauna and four-season fire pit. A local businessman bought the foreclosed hotel during a sheriff’s auction, then gutted it. Unusual fare at the hotel restaurant includes deep-fried avocado slices, a sriracha chicken slaw sandwich and chicken-bacon-ranch pizza. There also are traditional choices, burgers to pasta.

Overnight rates start at $107 and include the hot breakfast buffet. hotelmarshfield.com, 715-387-2700

New Visions Gallery, 1000 N. Oak Ave.: In the lobby of the city’s best-known business, Marshfield Clinic and its multiple medical specialties, is a nonprofit and high-caliber art enterprise that welcomes visitors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. On exhibit until Oct. 28 is “Clayworks,” a ceramics immersion. On display from the permanent collection are Japanese prints, Haitian paintings, Aboriginal art from Australia, West African art and more.

The annual, juried Culture and Agriculture exhibit began 30 years ago and attracts artists from throughout the U.S. newvisionsgallery.org, 715-387-5562

Fiji’s Outlet Store, 1302 N. Central Ave.: Expect an eclectic mix of food and gifts from the catalog company, in business since 1944. Merchandise ranges from cheese spreads to housewares, bedding to chocolates. figis.com, 715-384-1128

Boucher Radio and TV Services, 107 W. Third St.: Guy Tesla Boucher’s compact workshop also is an impromptu museum of communications equipment – my, how we have changed. The repairman of walkie-talkies, two-way radios and much more has a good sense of humor, too. 715-384-4323

McMillan Marsh State Wildlife Area, 3151 Lincoln Ave.: The 6,500-acre refuge is good for birding, hiking and nature photography. meadwildlife.org, 715-457-6771

Curd Crawl: Publicist Carla Minsky spreads the word that seven locations for fresh cheese curds are within a one-hour drive of Marshfield. In the mix are Nasonville Dairy, 10898 Hwy. 10W, Marshfield, and N14505 Sandhill Ave., Curtiss, nasonvilledairy.com, 715-676-2177, 715-223-3338; Mullins Cheese, 598 Seagull Dr., Mosinee, mullinscheese.net, 715-693-3205; LaGrander’s Hillside Dairy, W11299 Broek Rd., Stanley, lagranderscheese.com, 715-644-2275; GAD Cheese Retail Store, 2401 Hwy. C, Medford, 715-748-4273; Bletsoe Cheese Inc., 8281 Third Lane, Marathon, bletsoecheese.com, 715-443-2526; and Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese Co., 6860 Hwy. 34, Rudolph, dairystatecheese.com, 715-435-3144.

Get started on that rural drive, and you’ll find other worlds of rural businesses and small towns to explore.

At least 150 vendors sell crafts and food at Marshfield’s Maple Fall Fest, Sept. 17-18 at Wildwood Park, 1800 S. Roddis Ave. Expect maple syrup products and a dessert contest, music and dance performances. For more about how to spend time in Marshfield: visitmarshfield.com, 715-384-4314