Twenty years ago, Cecilia Farran had a dream that told her to visit Spring Green, an artsy village 35 miles west of Madison on the banks of the Wisconsin River. Taliesin
“I’d never been there, so it was just sort of an intuitive thing,” says Farran. “But I loved the name, which painted a lovely visual picture in my mind.
“It resonated with me, and truth be told, I think that’s how a number of people have ended up here,” adds Farran, who was then working as a corporate event producer and living in Big Bend, southwest of Milwaukee. In her spare time, she also raised purebred goats and was an entertainment coordinator for Milwaukee’s Irish Fest.
Farran knew, vaguely, that the American Players Theatre (APT) was based outside of this Sauk County town of 1,200 souls. She also had heard that Taliesin, the estate built by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was just a few miles away. That was about it.
“My kids were raised and I was free to begin a new life,” recalls Farran, who is also a dramatist and writer. “When I came to Spring Green, I felt a connection right away.”
It wasn’t long before she’d moved to the town and opened a business called 43/90 North Earth Gifts, named for the global coordinates of Spring Green.
“The shop is a way to honor the beautiful land of this river valley,” she explains. “We focus on creating a peaceful ambience and on gifts for conscious living and spiritual growth.”
Farran says she found a creative, enlightened, eclectic and welcoming community in Spring Green.
“I never looked back,” she says. “It’s also very beautiful here with a broad valley carved by the river, with gentle, forested hills rising above it.”
Spring Green is also a fun getaway where visitors can easily spend a day or two enjoying the town’s eclectic shops, taking in a play at APT, touring Taliesin or House on the Rock and grabbing something to eat at local favorites like the General Store, Freddy Valentine’s or the Driftless Depot.
“It’s a great place to live and visit,” says Farran, who noted that in 2013, Executive Traveler magazine dubbed Spring Green one of the best small towns in the country.
“When you get coffee and something to eat at the General Store, you might find yourself sitting between an organic farmer in bib overalls and a Shakespearian actor discussing a play with his or her director.”
Frank Lloyd Wright was raised in Richland Center – 25 miles northwest of Spring Green – and he spent many summers with his mother’s family in the Wyoming Valley, south of town.
And it was there in 1911, on a hill above the Wisconsin River, that the controversial and acclaimed architect began building Taliesin, Welsh for “Shining Brow.” Over time, the Prairie style estate and studio complex grew to 37,000 square feet. Today, it is visited by thousands who come to see Wright’s home and workplace.
The classical American Players Theatre, founded in 1979 on 110 acres, is less than two miles from Taliesin. Its Shakespeare-heavy repertoire draws crowds to its 1,148-seat outdoor amphitheater, which is located on a hill about a 10-minute walk from the parking lot.
Many visitors picnic on the grounds in the summer before the productions begin. The theater’s “Skippeth-Out-of-Work- Early Thursday Nights,” which run from June through October, are a fun way to begin an extended weekend. In 2009, APT opened the indoor Touchstone Theater, which has 200 seats and operates into late fall and beyond.
The House on the Rock is six miles south of Taliesin. It opened in 1959 – the same year Frank Lloyd Wright died – and consists of gardens, shops and architecturally unique rooms. Designed by Alex Jordan Jr., the house is filled with numerous and kitschy collections. It reportedly attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year.
Many visitors to Spring Green also use the town as a jumping off point to paddle the Wisconsin River. It flows through heavily wooded countryside nearly 90 unhindered miles to Wyalusing State Park on the Mississippi River, about 10 miles south of Prairie du Chien. During the summer, adventurous canoers and kayakers camp on sand bars in the river on overnight trips.
But back to the village of Spring Green itself.
Karin Miller, who has run the blue-hued General Store since 1993, relocated to Wisconsin from Evanston after seeing an ad in the Chicago Tribune.
“I like Spring Green because it’s a small town that has a sophisticated feel,” she says. “Living here you really feel like a part of a community that cares about each other.”
Miller says she likes to think of the General Store – a converted 1910 cheese warehouse on South Albany Street – as the front porch of the town. In addition to its retail section, it also has a restaurant that serves natural foods with an international bent.
“People use our place for meetings and we also host a number of events,” she says, including the outdoor “Bobfest,” where local bands play their favorite Bob Dylan tunes on the store’s back porch, and the “Beatlefest.”
Deb Morton, who moved to the Spring Green area in 1979, spent most of her career working as a human resources executive for several corporations, including Lands End (headquartered 20 miles south in Dodgeville). Three years ago, she and her husband bought the Driftless Depot, an organic market, deli and café on Winsted Street.
“We moved here because the Driftless Area is gorgeous and we love growing things,” she says. The couple – he’s an engineering and computer consultant with a focus on alternative energy – planted a big garden and an orchard with many heirloom trees, as well as Siberian kiwis, quinces and aronia, a chokeberrylike plant that is used in sauces.
Her small café can seat 22 inside and 40 on the patio. She caters and serves lunches with local meats, veggies and artisanal cheeses. On Friday nights, guests line up for dinners featuring sautéed trout from the Rushing Waters trout farm near Palmyra, Wis.
Paper and print-making artist Jura Silverman first came to Spring Green 35 years ago to see a River Valley Players community theater production of James Thurber’s “Carnival” and fell in love with the town and the surrounding landscape. She now runs the Jura Silverman Gallery and Wisconsin Arts Showcase in a renovated (what else?) cheese warehouse on South Washington Street.
For visitors, she says the shopping opportunities have increased since she arrived in town, with many unique and arts oriented businesses finding a niche here.
“It’s a much livelier arts scene than it was 35 years ago,” Silverman notes.
If You Go:
For more information on Spring Green, see springgreen.com or call the village Chamber of Commerce, 259 E. Jefferson St., at (608) 588-2054.
This article originally appeared in the 2014 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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