Exploring Ag


Stone Field Village Showcases State’s Agriculture Heritage

It’s pretty obvious that agriculture is important in Wisconsin. The state’s nickname, after all, is America’s Dairyland, and its residents are known far and wide as cheeseheads. However, there’s a lot more to Wisconsin agriculture than cheese, and lots to discover about how the industry helped shape and grow the state. A great place to explore Wisconsin’s rich agriculture heritage is Stonefield Village in Cassville, an historic site owned and operated by the
Wisconsin Historical Society.

Nestled at the foot of the bluffs along the Mississippi River, in Scenic Rivers Energy Cooperative’s service territory, Stonefield Village is a 20-acre multi-faceted facility encompassing four distinct attractions. There’s the rebuilt country estate of Nelson Dewey, Wisconsin’s first governor. This Gothic Revival home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is filled with furnishings typical of the time when Dewey built it in the late 1860s and includes some original outbuildings.

Stonefield Village includes the 1901 Progressive Farmstead with all of its turn-of-the-century outbuildings.

There’s also the 1901 Progressive Farmstead, showcasing what farm life was like at the turn of the century, and the 1900 Farming Village, complete with period shops and businesses. Guests are free to walk along the boardwalk through the farming village and wander inside the various buildings, including a one-room schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, and a confectionery stocked with old-fashioned treats.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the Stonefield Village campus, however, is the State Agriculture Museum, housing Wisconsin’s largest collection of farm tools, models, and machinery, including the McCormick Collection of more than 200 full-size and scale-model implements.

“People may not realize that tucked away in Cassville we’ve got all these unique and amazing items,” said Susan Caya-Slusser, southwest sites regional director for the Wisconsin Historical Society.

For example, she said the McCormick Collection, assembled by the Cyrus McCormick family, McCormick Harvester Company, and later the International Harvester Company, is one of the world’s largest and most significant collections of agriculture history. Its location at Stonefield Village is even more remarkable considering the McCormick company, which later merged with other agricultural equipment firms to form International Harvester Company, was based in Illinois.

The entire collection, which includes 12 million manuscript pages, 350,000 photographs, and 300 films in addition to the implements, was turned over to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1951 by Cyrus McCormick’s daughter. Caya-Slusser said Anita McCormick Blaine chose the Wisconsin Historical Society over 31 other institutions because it offered researcher access to the archival collection as well as a public display area at Stonefield Village for the big machines and models.

The 1889 McCormick Auto-Mower is one of the many unique items on exhibit in the State Agriculture Museum. This machine pioneered the use of the independent power takeoff. (All photos courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)

Among the more unique items in the McCormick collection is an Auto-Mower, considered to be the oldest tractor in America and the first to use a cast iron frame and a transmission, allowing it to operate in reverse. Caya-Slusser said it’s one of only two prototypes unveiled at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900. It never went into production, but this model led to the powerful, efficient tractors of today.

“This is just one of the many treasures you can see on exhibit in Wisconsin’s Agricultural Museum,” she said.

Better Than Ever

Exploring the State Agriculture Museum will be an even better experience this summer thanks to some recent updates.

“We’re really excited for the 2019 season,” Caya-Slusser said. “We’ll be unveiling some changes to the museum. We’ve got some new text and images with the exhibits, and we’ve moved some items around to make the museum more inviting and user-friendly.”

With better lighting and pathways, Caya-Slusser said the museum can now more comfortably accommodate some of the site’s most frequent visitors: families with young children, and senior citizens—often retired farmers—who enjoy examining the old equipment.

During special events like the June 1 Ag Day, the farmhouse and buildings within the farming village are staffed with docents who help show guests what life was like in an early 1900s farming community.

The 2019 season kicks off with the June 1 Ag Day, one of several special events held at the facility throughout the year.

“This is an extra-special day where we bring in more staff to do more hands-on activities,” Caya-Slusser explained, adding that docents in period costumes staff the various buildings and shops in the farming village. “It gives people a sense of what it was like to live at the turn of the century.”

For Ag Day, a cook will be on hand in the 1901 Progressive Farmstead giving hands-on demonstrations and turning out treats like freshly squeezed lemonade and sugar cookies.

In the confectionery of the farming village, visitors will be able to sample some Apple Pie Ice Cream, a vanilla-based ice cream with apple pie filling and cheddar cheese developed exclusively for the historic site by UW-Platteville’s dairy science program.

“It’s amazing,” Caya-Slusser said. “Dr. Tera Montgomery’s dairy science class at UW-Platteville developed Stonefield’s own Apple Pie Ice Cream to help us kick off Ag Day. Last year was the first year they’ve done this for any of our historic sites, so we’re excited to be able to offer it again this year.”

Other special Ag Day activities include rides throughout the site on Stonefield’s restored omnibus—a turn-of-the-century type of taxi, pulled by horses. In the afternoon, Wisconsin author (and co-op member) Jerry Apps will be on hand to talk about his book, “Simple Things: Lessons from the Family Farm.” He’ll be joined by his daughter, writer Susan Apps Bodilly; the two co-authored “Old Farm Country Cookbook – Recipes, Menus and Memories.”
Similar activities will be available at other key Stonefield events this year, including the Fourth of July Celebration, the Great River Road Fall Festival on September 21, and the Safe & Spooky Halloween celebration, a trick-or-treating event through “haunted” Stonefield Village that will close the season on October 19.

Summer Fun There’s no need to wait for a special event, however, to experience Stonefield Village. The site is open Thursdays through Sundays from June through September, with guided tours available of the Nelson Dewey Home Site, the State Agriculture Museum, and the 1901 Progressive Farmstead. Guests are welcome to take self-guided tours of the 1900 Farming Village.

Visitors can take a guided tour of the country estate of Wisconsin’s first governor, Nelson Dewey. His home, rebuilt after a 1873 fire, was designated a historic site in 1954.

“I think what’s unique about Stonefield is there’s all these different aspects,” Caya-Slusser said.
The authentic, hands-on nature of all the exhibits—from the antique farm equipment to the wood cook stove in the farmhouse—brings history to life. “It really takes you back to another time and hopefully reminds people why this industry is so important to Wisconsin,” she added.—Mary Erickson

Stonefield Village is located at 12195 County Highway VV, Cassville, WI 53806. To learn more, visit stonefieldwisconsinhistory.org or call 608-725-5210.