"Wisconsin-Happy Festival State", by Eve Phillips. My husband and I love to travel in the state of Wisconsin where we live and get great pictures on the way. My name is Laurie Kutil and photography has become a great passion of mine since 2010. One thing I have learned in researching each town before visiting it is that, "Every town has it's story". When I do uncover those stories by connecting with local residents, our experience becomes so much richer. In turn, sharing the stories with you brings me joy :)
In 2015, Sun Prairie received unfavorable national attention when their groundhog Jimmy BIT the Mayor’s ear when he was “listening” for the weather prediction. THEN, it was discovered that the new Jimmy caretakers Jeff and Ti Gauger didn’t have permits to own a groundhog. They do, however, own Beans n Cream Coffeehouse in Cannery Square. Jimmy was then released into the wild in May. Sun Prairie no longer had a groundhog and Groundhog Day 2016 was coming!
It was time to regroup and appeal to the citizens of Sun Prairie and get their ideas on what to do to save Groundhog Day. One idea is to have a groundhog “understudy”, either an animal or person to cast the shadow in place of Jimmy and have a lot of Groundhog Day spirit! The Sun Prairie Downtown BID (Business Improvement District) sponsored the contest. Facebook users submitted their ideas and all interested people were then able to vote for their favorite candidates.
On January 30, the winner was announced. Five-year-old Asher who also happens to be a human groundhog, meaning his birthday is February 2nd. He turned 5 today and was ready to assume his role as groundhog understudy. In addition, the proclamation by Jimmy would also be translated in Spanish and Hmong, The Mayor gave it in English first.
Photo collage by Sun Prairie BID
In addition, a groundhog costume was donated by CJs Huggables. Let’s watch this brand-new Prognostication ceremony, edited for Youtube time constraints. If you wish to hear the Hmong and Spanish translations, see the Sun Prairie BID video.
Jimmy predicted an early spring! Because of the fact it was snowing, he did not see his shadow.
After the ceremony, people got a closer look at the new Jimmy and took pictures with the new costumed mascot, including me 🙂
Because of what happened to the Mayor last year, the handler is no longer going to hold the live groundhog for a picture with you, only the costumed mascot. I am glad I got this picture in 2010.
The Market Street Diner across the street was hosting a groundhog brunch and a rep from the post office was also there. There is a special GH day cancellation each year (see top of page).
I had a real good time. Sun Prairie created some new traditions for Groundhog Day that appear like they will continue next year. Way to go Sun Prairie!
It appears Jimmy was right about an early spring. The snow is now gone, we have had temperatures near 70 already. Snowdrops were spotted growing at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. I saw them for myself on March 9. Happy Spring!
Sun Prairie is a growing city of over 30,000 just northeast of Madison. The history of how it got its name is quite interesting. In 1837, President Martin Van Buren commissioned a party of 45 men to build a capitol building for the territory of Wisconsin. They left from Milwaukee on May 26, 1837. They traveled many days in the rain to scout out the area near Madison. On June 9, they emerged at the end of a prairie and the sun came out for the first time at that moment. They carved the words “Sun Prairie” into a tree and the name stuck. We were able to find the site of where that famous tree was. Take Highway 19 out-of-town about two miles, heading toward Marshall. On Skala Road to the left, the tree was located between the railroad tracks and 19. A farm is here.
Charles Bird was the first settler. Bird Street in the city was named after him.The town of Sun Prairie was created on Feb 2, 1846 (Groundhog Day!). The city, which grew out of the town, was incorporated in 1858.
Some of the city’s historical buildings remain and their downtown is quite active with many festivals throughout the year. Let’s explore the local history. A good place to begin is the Sun Prairie Historical Museum. They have displays that change yearly and seasonally, and with an appointment you can make use of the research room with a docent who can help you find historical information. The museum was built on the site of the home of the first settler, Charles Bird. A street is named after him.
The museum also has received historical records from the Town of Burke, a town that being dissolved by 2026. We live in Burke. The first Burke Town Hall strangely enough, is in Sun Prairie, still in use. It is behind McGovern’s Club and Restaurant.
McGovern’s itself has been a mainstay of Sun Prairie since 1935. Visitors can stay at the hotel for a night or an extended stay.
Sun Prairie also has the distinction of being the first city in Wisconsin to implement free rural mail delivery, you will find the marker at the Post Office.
Downtown you will find the former City Hall building.
Across on the left you will find Ski’s Saloon, open from 2011 to 2016. In the fall of 2016 it has new owners Cory and Abby Barr reopening it as The Barr House. The building was a tobacco shed originally.
July 10, 2018-The Barr House building exploded, possible natural gas. The building is now gone.
We now come upon Cannery Square, the heart of downtown and the current site of Jimmy the Groundhog’s annual prognostication on Feb 2nd. We have attended many of these since 2002. This used to be where the factories in Sun Prairie were in the 19th and early 20th centuries were. Renovation was complete in 2004 and it’s now a mixed living and retail center. In the square proudly stands a wood carving of Jimmy. You can see it on the right side of this picture of the square. Many festivals now take place here, this is the annual Fall Festival in October.
Famous artist Georgia O’Keeffe was also born in Sun Prairie and a marker can be found on Main St. across Cannery Square. The city has a festival every year to celebrate her contributions to the world of art.
The performing arts also have a strong foothold here. The Sun Prairie Civic Theater puts on four performances each year. This is “The Barn”, where the stage parts and props are stored. They always need more people to come join the fun!
Just opened Fall 2013 is The Nitty Gritty, located in the nearby historic Fuhremann Canning Factory, built in 1900. it was a place for farmers to sell their produce. Now it is mixed retail. The Nitty Gritty is on the right.
The Dr. Charles D. Crosse House is another museum in town. They also are a part of many of the city’s festivals throughout the year. He was the city’s doctor early in the city’s history and helped establish the first high school. He later served as a state legislator also.
This concludes our visit to the historic downtown Sun Prairie. It is expanding way beyond this area, with many businesses on the edges of the city in all directions. It’s called Prairie Lakes and is still growing. Sun Prairie is your destination for fun events and shopping. To learn more, stop at the Chamber of Commerce downtown on Main, next to the Historical Museum.
The crowd cheering, the Christmas season in Sun Prairie has officially begun! The firetrucks were waiting up ahead for everyone to see up close. They were so pretty! A couple of years ago the Grinch was on one of the trucks.
Here is a ladder wagon from 1902.
Now it feels like the holiday season officially started. Come to Sun Prairie for a great shopping experience and a very festive atmosphere!