11-27-12 & 1-19-14
Portage is a city of 10,000 with a fascinating history going back to June 14, 1673. Fr. Jacques Maquette and Louis Joliet “portaged” here, making their way to the upper Mississippi to map and explore. Portage is in a unique spot, the Fox and Wisconsin rivers meet here, making it easy for explorers to go to the Mississippi from here. This settlement was dubbed “la portage” by the French, latter anglicized to Portage.
The city has many markers showing the approximate spots where many of these events took place. If you enter town on Hwy. 51, you encounter a red granite monument that was dedicated in 1905. It is close to where Marquette and Joliet entered the Wisconsin River, which is across the street.
At nearby Pauquette Park, you see the marker showing the location of the Ferry landing at the Wisconsin river.
Another important historic site in Portage is the Historic Indian Agency House. It was built by the Federal Government for John Kinzie and his wife Juliette in 1832. It is situated at the portage point between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers. Many events take place here throughout the year, the main season between May-October 15.
Other historic buildings have also been preserved, Fort Winnebago and the Surgeon’s Quarters is another seasonal site open May through October 15.
In town there are just as many interesting sights. Portage was also home to playwright Zona Gale. Her former home is now called Museum at the Portage and is also open seasonally.
The Zona Gale house had a fire April 13 and is closed until further notice.
After achieving success, she bought a home for her parents. It is now the headquarters of the Women’s Civic League of Portage. It has been an active organization for over 80 years.
To further honor Zona Gale’s achievements, The Zona Gale Theatre is the arts center in Portage. Zona was very active in Portage until her death in 1938.
The museum and this house are part of the Society Hill Historic District, where the wealthy and leadership of early Portage lived.
Many of the mansions are constructed of yellow “Portage brick” , similar to the “Cream City (Milwaukee) brick from Milwaukee but made in Portage in the 19th century. Read more about this brick on pages 15-18 of this document.
A historic canal also runs through Portage. It was completed in 1876, connecting the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers for easy access in town. It now has a recreational path alongside. Friends of the Canal have been working to revitalize the area around the canal. Look directly ahead in the photo and you see Canal Feed and Seed mill, constructed in 1861. No longer a mill, the property is now The Big Chicken Resale and antique store, since 2011.
All this exploring can build up an appetite! We have enjoyed meals at three establishments in Portage. One is The Red Apple. Another is The Levee. Also the big truck stop Petro off of I-90/I-94/I-39, Exit 108A (Hwy 78S). Their Iron Skillet Restaurant is wonderful!
It’s time to work off that great meal you ate! In the winter, if you are into winter sports, you are close to Cascade Mountain. Its just around the bend on 90/94 if you continue past Petro. You can’t miss the large billboard on the side of one of their buildings. Here is video taken by someone snowboarding down.
We have enjoyed our visits to Portage. Come for the sports, come for the rich history!
Related Articles and Sites
* Cascade Mountain
* City of Portage
* Chamber of Commerce
* Amtrak in Portage
* Portage Daily Register newspaper
* Museum at the Portage
* Portage WWII History Museum
* Portage Canal Society
* “La Portage” Gets a Visit From the British
* Fort Winnebago Surgeons Quarters
* Indian Agency House
* Gretchen Willis Photography
* Downtown Portage Walking Tour pdf