Stuck in Portage: The Crossroads of History

After leaving The Dells, Daniel and I carefully made our way to the small town of Portage. We were still driving on our spare and planned to pick up a new set of tires at Wal-Mart.

Upon arrival at the Wal-Mart Auto Care Center, we discovered that the tire shipment was delayed. So, we booked a hotel for the evening. The new tires didn’t arrive the following day either.

One day stretched into three as we waited for the tires to arrive. We weren’t very happy about the situation but tried to make the best of things. So we set about trying to get to know Portage a little better.

Portage Canal Segment of the Ice Age Trail

Historic Downtown

Portage is a sleepy town with a historic retail district and a canal. The downtown area is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as it houses several buildings from the nineteenth century.

Many of the businesses downtown were closed due to COVID – although I’m guessing that some may have closed prior to the pandemic.

As Daniel and I walked through the downtown area, we noted that Portage was not a very mask-friendly town. Despite the state-wide mask order, many people were not wearing them.

On one occasion, we walked into a restaurant to request outdoor seating. The restaurant’s interior was packed with people crowded around tables and not a mask was in sight. We had our masks on, of course, and everyone turned to stare at us as we walked in.

I felt instantly uncomfortable and we left immediately.

Not all the businesses in Portage were like that, thankfully.

Crossroads of History Mural
Historic downtown Portage
Major road construction in downtown Portage
Eulberg Brewing Company mural
Portage Center for the Arts

Portage Movie Theater

Daniel and I spent a lot of our time in Portage at the local movie theater. We love movies and haven’t had a chance to attend the theater lately thanks to the pandemic.

Well we made up for that in Portage. The theater is a great facility and has lots of screens for such a small town. Plus we were really bored. We watched four movies in three days.

Daniel and I had no problem social distancing because the theater was totally deserted. We were the only people in the audience for each movie that we watched. It was awesome.

Portage Movie Theater
A whole empty theater just for us? Yes please!
We saw the new Bill and Ted movie. Good times.

Indian Agency House

One afternoon, we learned more about the city’s history at the old Indian Agency House.

Situated between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, Portage is strategically located along the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway. Both Native Americans and early settlers portaged their boats for two miles between the rivers. A canal was eventually created to establish one continuous waterway.

Given the area’s strategic importance, the United States military constructed Fort Winnebago in 1828. The Indian Agency House was built four years later across the river.

The old Indian Agency House was initially the home of John H. Kinzie, who served as Indian Sub-Agent to the Ho-Chunk tribe, and his wife Juliette. As Sub-Agent, John negotiated a treaty with the tribe and also administered the terms of the treaty. Juliette wrote about their experiences in the book Wau-Bun: The Early Days in the Northwest.

Daniel and I were the only visitors at the museum when we visited. The young man working at the museum perked up when we arrived and proceeded to tell us all about the history of the settlers and the Ho-Chunk Native American tribe. It was more interesting than I expected.

Indian Agency House built in 1832. This is one of the oldest homes in the state of Wisconsin.
Interpretive display about the Ho-Chunk people (also known as Ho-Chungra or Winnebago) at the Indian Agency house.

Ice Age Trail – Portage Canal Segment

Portage’s other claim to fame (well, in my opinion) is its connection the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. A 1000-mile long footpath through Wisconsin, the Ice Age Trail is one of 11 National Scenic Trails managed by the National Park Service.

I first encountered the Ice Age Trail earlier in the week while exploring Devil’s Lake State Park. I’m a sucker for long-distance trails, so when I learned that the trail goes through Portage we had to check it out. This segment of the trail follows the Portage Canal through the city of Portage. We found a nice shaded picnic table and idyllic footbridge over the canal at the trailhead.

Ice Age Trail – Portage Canal Segment
A nice place to hang out and have a picnic
Rialta photo of the day
The Ice Age Trail crosses under the road here along the Portage Canal.

The Wait Continues

After waiting in Portage for three full days, Daniel and I were eager to get out town. Four of the five tires we ordered had finally arrived at Wal-Mart. The fifth tire had been shipped to the wrong state and was nowhere in sight.

We decided that four tires was enough. We could use one of our existing tires as our new spare.

Unfortunately, we still had our old tires on the Rialta. The Wal-Mart Auto Care Center would not install the tires. It wasn’t a huge surprise, given the size of our vehicle, but I was pretty annoyed. I had specifically called in advance to confirm that they could install the tires before placing the order.

So we headed 40 miles south to Madison where we planned to have the tires installed at a Volkswagen service center. Hopefully we would find more things to do in Wisconsin’s second largest city while we waited for our car to get serviced.

We spent a lot of time at Wal-Mart asking about our tires
The new tires!
We had to transport our tires to Madison to get them installed

Where are we now?

We are in Portage, Wisconsin!

Dates: August 26-28, 2020
Great American Road Trip Status: Days 52-54

Starting Location: Wisconsin Dells, WI
Ending Location: Portage, WI
Miles Traveled: 59.8
Total Trip Mileage: 4586.5

For more details on our Great America (Socially Distanced) Road Trip, see my previous posts:

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