Celebrating with Soerens:
100 Years, 100 Miles
Historic Racine: Malted Milk, Frank Lloyd Wright, Wind Point Lighthouse & John Dillinger’s Gun
Soerens Ford is celebrating 100 Years in 2017, a Century of Nice. That’s a long history!
I’m Eric Paulsen, and along with playing Milwaukee’s Greatest Hits for you on 95.7 BIG FM every day from 10-3 and co-hosting the TV show Discover Wisconsin, I love to explore Wisconsin’s fascinating history. Did you know Wisconsin created the first numbered road system in the world? That happened 100 years ago, too. I even built a road trip website, StateTrunkTour.com, around it. So we’ve teamed up!
This trip, I headed in a Ford Transit south to Racine, exploring the Belle City where history includes invention of malted milk and the garbage disposal, a historic lighthouse, landmark Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and even a gun from John Dillinger’s gang when they robbed a bank in Racine – where today’s Racine Art Museum now stands. Let’s head out! Here's my ride:
Yes, the 15-passenger Ford Transit. It drives beautifully considering its size, and handles well in traffic. Only potential drawback: four rows of possible backseat drivers. Find out more about the Ford Transit at Soerens Ford here!
So I headed south on I-41/94 and east on Highway 20 to get into the heart of Racine to see some key historic sights. Here are some highlights, and you can check the video for more, too!
Racine’s downtown is focused along 6th, 7th and Main Streets (Highways 20 and 32). A center for gathering is Monument Square, a park space along Main Street with a Civil War Monument – also known as the Racine Soldiers’ Monument – that rises 61.5 feet and was dedicated in 1884. The area was originally called “Haymarket Square.”
The city holds “First Fridays” events in Monument Square, with live music, vendors, horse-drawn carriage rides, and later hours for shops, restaurants, bars, and even museums nearby. First Fridays take place from April through October on – obviously – the first Friday of each month.
Among the items in Monument Square is the Joshua Glover Commemorative Marker. Glover was a fugitive slave who had lived and worked in Racine for two years prior to his capture in 1854. On March 30 of that year, a large crowd assembled to protest his capture. About 100 Racine citizens took a boat to Milwaukee where he was being held, aided in his rescue, and helped him escape to Canada, where he lived out the rest of his years in freedom. Markers commemorating Jerome Increase Case, founder of the J.I. Case Company, and the City of Racine can also be found in Monument Square. Don’t be surprised by a street performer, impromptu games, or plenty of people enjoying lunch on a nice day there, either.
Dillinger’s Gun – in the Racine Police Station
On November 20, 1933, John Dillinger and his gang robbed the American Bank & Trust on Main Street in Racine, making off with $28,000 and some hostages after shooting a bank teller and a police officer who responded to the robbery (both survived.) The hostages were soon released. One of the guns used in the robbery, a Thompson submachine gun, was eventually recovered in Arizona two months later. The gun made its way back to Racine, in the exact location of the robbery. The Racine Art Museum stands today where that bank once stood. In 2008, the gun was relocated to the Racine Police Headquarters on the west side of downtown, at 730 Center Street. It, along with many police artifacts, is on display in the lobby area for all to see.
Racine Heritage Museum
701 Main Street
Racine, WI 53403
Two blocks south of the Racine Art Museum and one block south of Monument Square you’ll find the Racine Heritage Museum, which puts the city’s colorful history on display. This is the city where malted milk was invented, Little Golden Books were published, where the garbage disposal made its debut, and S.C. Johnson developed products like Pledge®, Raid®, Drano®, and OFF! ® Bug spray. A car called The Mitchell was manufactured here for a time. These all have exhibits in the Racine Heritage Museum. The Racine County Sports Hall of Fame looks back at the history of the Racine Raiders, a semi-pro football team that dates back to 1953; the Racine Belles, part of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League made famous in the movie A League of Their Own. More on the city’s history with the Underground Railroad, Frank Lloyd Wright’s numerous design commissions, and much more can be found in this interesting and interactive museum right downtown. Admission is free; the address is 701 Main Street, right where Highway 20 ends.
520 Wisconsin Avenue
Racine, WI 53403
Just off 6th Street at 520 Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Racine you’ll find the Kewpee, a local institution that originally opened in 1926. The Kewpee was the second-ever “burger chain” and Racine’s location is one of the few remaining. The restaurant was named after the Kewpee doll, which explains the display cases of dolls along one wall. But what’s fantastic at The Kewpee is their old fashioned burgers, which are perfect with a chocolate shake or malt as you sit amidst Art Deco designs and the horseshoe-shaped lunch counters. It’s definitely an experience that will bring you back to the old days. They’re open Monday-Friday 7am-6pm and Saturday from 7am-5pm. Closed on Sundays.
S.C. Johnson's Golden Rondelle & Johnson Wax Research Tower
1525 Howe Street
Racine, WI 53403
Just south of Racine’s downtown is the headquarters of S.C. Johnson, the gargantuan company that makes probably at least 20 products you use to clean your house, unplug drains, or ward off mosquitoes. While they’re busy making and developing products, they do offer tours which are free and open to the public. It’s a great way to learn not only about the company’s history but to check out some Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings. The Golden Rondelle is a theater originally built for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where they showed the optimistic film To Be Alive! at a fairly tumultuous time. Audiences raved and it became one of the most successful exhibits at the Fair. Afterwards, it was dismantled and brought back to Racine and now serves as the Visitors Center, a theater, and a gathering place for company and public events.
Within eyeshot is the Johnson Wax Research Tower, standing tall – 153 feet tall, to be exact – above the S.C. Johnson & Son World Headquarters campus. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was completed in 1950. The walls are a mix of glass and brick, and at night the glow from inside the tower provides a unique illumination; basically, the building is translucent. Every other floor of the 15 floors total is a mezzanine, set back from exterior walls. The building essentially alternates between smaller circular floors and square floors with filleted edges, since the corners of the structure are curved. The windows are made of Pyrex tubes – 17.5 miles of them.
S.C. Johnson used the building as its research headquarters until 1982. A number of products you’ve probably used were developed and tested in this building, including everything from Glade air fresheners to Pledge furniture polish to Off! insect repellent. While most research is conducted in more recently constructed lab space today, the Johnson Wax Research Building continues to be used for office space on several of its floors.
Make a tour reservation at S.C. Johnson here.
Wind Point Lighthouse
4725 Lighthouse Drive
Racine, WI 53402
Just north of Racine, follow 3 Mile Road east to Wind Point, where you can’t miss the beautiful Wind Point Lighthouse. Built in 1880, it stands 108 feet tall and is one of the oldest and tallest active lighthouses on the Great Lakes. A visit to the lighthouse offers not only offers a chance to climb the stairs to the top (on the first Sunday of every month between June and October) but also to see the Fog House and other outbuildings, plus historic artifacts and access to a small but nice beach, perfect for relaxing or playing.
For more on these towns, attractions, road trips and more, check out StateTrunkTour.com, an ongoing exploration of Wisconsin’s highways around the state. They’re celebrating 100 years, just like Soerens Ford!
Wisconsin has some fascinating history. For 100 years, Soerens Ford has been a nice part of that history. We’ll be taking more historic and fun road trips in Ford cars and trucks the rest of the summer and into fall, so check back here, hit up Soerens100.com, or follow us on Facebook!