Maiden Rock, hmm … intriguing, and coming alive

Maiden Rock is on the shore of the Mississippi River. It was once a logging and mill town and commercial center. Today it is quite small, aging, with only a few businesses. It is on the Great River Trail in southwest Pierce County. The historic 400 ft. Maiden Rock Bluff is nearby, just a few miles to the south. The town has faced numerous setbacks: fires, floods, and runaway truck crashes. It has only a few businesses, and many homes are old. But there is something about this town I found intriguing and comforting. It is emerging, a rising star, a jewel in the rough, yet remains very much a Wisconsin town.

September 1, 2018

I visited the town of Maiden Rock on the shore of the Mississippi River in March 2018. My purpose was to explore the inland area between it, Plum City, east to Durand and south to Pepin. I published a story about that crazed expedition, "Adrift above Maiden Rock and Pepin in Western Uplands." I staged that outing from Maiden Rock and stayed at the Maiden Rock Inn.

The town is small and it has aged quite a bit, but the Maiden Rock Inn stands as a testament to how the town's star is rising. Gary and Jennifer Peterson, are a hardy, forward-looking couple who renovated an old schoolhouse into a first-rate B&B. I wrote a story about it, "
The Maiden Rock Inn, on the Great River Trail."

Let's take a look at Maiden Rock Town.

Frankly, as I drove into town on CH S, I was very surprised at how old and unremarkable the town was. It was March, no foliage, snow and ice still here and there, it was cloudy and rainy, so the setting was a bit gloomy.


I drove past the Maiden Rock Inn. Had I not examined its web site before coming, I might have said, wow, what a disappointment, as it was sandwiched in between what struck me as a gloomy, uninspiring environment. I would soon see the Inn's web site was on the mark: it was exciting, comfortable, dressed up in inspiring fashion, and it was fun. I also have to say the breakfasts were a meal to behold.

This is what one might call "downtown." I expected Maiden Rock to be much larger given the legendary Maiden Rock bluff itself, which I will show later.

On the surface, this "town center" was not appealing. But since I was staying less than a block away, and had been driving all day each day of my visit exploring the inland region, I walked down to the first of two restaurant-taverns in town.

In the middle of this photo is the The Six String Saloon. The buildings on either side were vacant, though I assume the upstairs for the one on the left has tenants. Six String Saloon. Hmm, okay, I went in. It was quite large, a wrap around bar, plenty of places to sit, and the train seemed to whiz by outside the rear windows every few minutes! It was fun watching them while having a brewski. I'm only six at heart, and I love trains.

The staff is an absolute delight, a very nice menu. Now for the best part. I decided to have a Reuben. The guy sitting next to me said I had picked a winner; the Reuben here was the best you will ever have. And he was right. The sandwich was piled high, very high with corned beef, and all the rest was there with it. It was fabulous, the best I have had for sure.

So, there are two such places in town. The next night I went to a pub just a few doors down, Ole's Bar and Grill. This is smaller than the Six String, but just as enjoyable, a little more cozy perhaps. Again I enjoyed myself here, along with the rail line zipping through outside the back. My Patty Melt sandwich was terrific. Only disappointment was Ole's does not have draft beer. But bottled was fine,. The building was erected in 1900, which is about when the town was really booming.

Speaking of the back, well speaking of the side of Ole's, this is it!

Just to the right of Ole's is a building erected in 1902, now hosting the Sea Wing Apartments.

Praise the Lord for 35 Express. I could not find a grocery store in town. The 35 Express is it! I needed batteries for my camera, critical given I was on a expedition north and northeast of town. By golly, 35 Express had 'em.

The area I have shown you is on the south side of Hwy 35 and CH S, so I'll call it the "Southside." One can be fooled into thinking the Southside is all the town has. Not true, but you have to swing around and just drive to the North Side of Hwy 35 and CH S. Here's where you could see some surprising renovations going on, and again some hardy business entrepreneurs giving it a go. My instinct is this is the future of Maiden Rock, given the wonderful town of
Stockholm about six miles to the south having gone through a great renovation.

Sarah Nigbor, writing for the Pierce County Herald, commented these next shops I will show you are a "part of a quartet of unique businesses in the same block that have helped breathe new energy into Maiden Rock’s Main Street."

This is Sacred Heart Gallery also one Hwy 35, but just north of CH S. I believe is owned by B.J. Christofferson who has written on his web site, "Along with original Dioramas, Tourist Art, Cards and Posters, you’ll find an eclectic mix of Mexican Collectibles for sale from my travels to Mexico." It's open on summer weekends. Mr. Christofferson has created many of the items shown inside.

Next is the Green Queen. The owner its Nikki Werner. Referring to Sarah Nigbor's article again, she wrote:

"The Green Queen features everything from essential oils, native plants, 'garden jewelry,' hand-woven bags and baskets, yard art, locally made birdhouses, rugs and much, much more. Many of the items are vintage and one-of-a-kind, made by local artists." It is open Fridays and through the weekend, but closes in early December.

This is Cultural Cloth, quite an interesting operation. Mary Anne Wise and Jody Slocum are its founders. Their mission is to discover an individual or groups of disenfranchised women artisans whose handcrafts merit a wider audience. The ladies offer design, training and technical expertise to co-create products that portray the cultural life force of the countries where they originate. This store sells those wares and you can order on-line. As you can see, it looks like they are expanding. The store is open Fridays and through the weekends.

Of course, last but by no means least is the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop. One person who stopped there said, "No deep fried doughnuts or other standard bakery fare, just the best baked breads, muffins, cookies, pies, rolls and cakes you've ever had. People who have been there have said it's worth the drive from Minneapolis-St Paul and LaCrosse." Another said, "If you are less than 100 miles from the Pelican it is worth your time to go there." It is open on Fridays and through the weekend until December 23, after which it reopens in the first week of April.

I need to insert a quick update that reflects how this town is "on the move," indeed accelerating. Recall my visit occurred in March 2018.

On may way out of town, heading home, by chance I got a glimpse of this building on the corner of Hwy 35 and CH S. Weird, because I had walked by it several times and took no notice. But this time I noticed there were workers there inside the building.

I have since learned it is hosting two rising businesses.

The first is Swan Vision Gallery, operated by Cynde Randall. It presents "exhibitions of contemporary art curated to illuminate the living artists’ take on transformational practice, interbeing and alignment with life on planet Earth. The name ‘swan vision’ is an invitation to see through the eyes of an artist or another species." Swan Vision exhibitions will be scheduled from May to November, with four exhibitions presented through the 2018 season.

The second business, which is in the final stages of preparing to open, is called the Santosha Center for Yoga, Art and Wellness. It is directed by Kristina Ahern, a yoga instructor. "The center will offer an array of programs to support the wellness of body, mind and spirit. The Center’s main studio will house Santosha Springs Yoga—providing opportunities for all skill levels, including weekly group classes, individual and therapeutic instruction, study of yoga philosophy, as well as group Vedic chanting, workshops and retreats."

But I'm not finished.

Two more businesses opened In the building across the street from here, I believe in a two story building next to 35 Express. Regrettably I did not turn my head around and look to the other side.

The first is Felt Good, operated by Monica Lyon, an artist. She is an expert in Felting. Felt is a textile material that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together.

Monica designs and makes clothing through this process.

Felt is widely used as a medium for expression in both textile art and contemporary art and design, where it has significance as an ecologically responsible textile and building material.

The second business is Limbo Records, operated by Auralee Likes. She will be selling vinyl records. She has spent many years in this business, collecting and selling the vinyl records. She is an expert and is said "to know her stuff."

Auralee was a co-owner of Hymie's Record store in Minneapolis. The photo shows Auralee and her then partner ate Hymio's, Judy Wellman. I believe Auralee is the lady on the left.

On this note, I'd like to swing back to
Sarah Nigbor's article again. Nigbor quoted Nikki Werner, owner of the Green Queen, saying this about these stores:

"It’s Maiden Rock’s turn, don’t you think? Pepin is the ‘practical sister’ with a grocery store and school and whatnot. Stockholm is the ‘pretty sister,’ and Maiden Rock is the ‘younger sister’ who has been waiting and watching for awhile … We are a work in progress. Just watch us grow.”

That's the American spirit if I ever heard it.

As a relevant aside, it looks like people see the town is growing, and as a result are updating their homes. That;'s what I'm talking about!

The building to the left is quite interesting. One source has said it was built in 1920. Another said it was originally built in the 1940s as the Maiden Rock Creamery. I understand it became part of the Ellsworth Creamery but was sold off in the early 1950s. It was later converted into retail spaces and had been used as an event center. It had three spacious apartments, all with great views of the Lake Pepin portion of the Mississippi River. In 2011 it consisted of shops and a gourmet coffeehouse. In 2015 it was said to have two lofts available by the night and a coffee-wine bar. A real estate ad of 2015 said it had a penthouse, 2 apartments, banquet area, retail and office. A private family has since bought it, I believe, in 2017 and is now using it as a home. I personally think that is great. If you were to look at this ReMax ad, you would get a glimpse of some of the interior. It is really neat!

This is a view of the back-side of the "South Side" taken from the Maiden Rock park, which sits on the Mississippi. While I was there, a few families were sitting in their cars just watching the river go by, or imagining that since it was covered with ice! But is is a relaxing place to just sit and look. I did it.

This is a glimpse of the "North Side" of town taken from the roof of the Maiden Rock Inn. You can see Lake Pepin, still pretty well frozen over, and the Minnesota shoreline. As an aside, Lake Pepin is actually the Wisconsin River, but dammed up.

I wanted to head south a few miles to take a look at the Maiden Rick bluff. This marvelous home was on my left. I had to photograph it, so beautiful.

I took a few shots of the bluff.

Maiden Rock Bluff overlooks Lake Pepin and is one of Wisconsin's premiere limestone cliff faces high above the Mississippi River. Travel Wisconsin describes it:

"Extending for nearly a mile, the 400-foot-high bluff is home to nesting Peregrine Falcons; one of only six bluffs on the Mississippi River where the falcons successfully nest. Hairbell, slender lip fern and many other cliff dwelling plants grow here along with 250-year-old red cedars. The open cliff and adjacent dry prairie provide habitat for rare prairie plants. The rocky bluff provides hunting perches and habitat for other raptors including Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures."

The bluff gets its name from an American Indian legend of a young Dakota woman who was in love with a young man but was being forced to marry another. In order to avoid marrying a man she did not love, she threw herself off the bluff and fell to her death.

Last but not least — after all I am a boy who never grew up —- a photo of a train smoking' through Maiden Rock. I love 'em.