FOX VALLEY AREA REGIONAL NEWS: Calumet County, Fond du Lac County, Outagamie County, Winnebago County

Street Cred: Main Street in Fond du Lac

Local News

FOND DU LAC, WI (WFRV) – Even well into November, mild temperatures created a warm and inviting afternoon along the shores of the base of Lake Winnebago.

But for the latest installment of Local 5’s Street Cred report, we ventured along the Fox River to the Main Street district which has been the center of commerce for this community for generations.

Fond du Lac lost out to becoming the capital city of the Wisconsin territory by just one vote. But as library archivist Tracy Reinhardt explains it, developer Mason Darling was determined to make sure it became the county seat over neighboring Tacheeyda.

“So as competition, he gave away free lots to anyone who would start building immediately on Main Street,” Reinhardt explains.

Reinhardt says the lumbering industry gave the downtown its start. But as wooden buildings burned down over the years, they were replaced with brick and stone. The oldest buildings are clearly marked and distinctively painted. She says most of the structures along Main Street are at least 100 years old.

New business owners bought into the legacy too. Reinhardt has helped several confirm their property’s history. For example, what once was the livery is now the 18 Hands Ale House.

“When the owner found that out, he ran with it,” recalls Reinhardt. “He named it 18 hands because that’s how they used to measure the height of the horse.”

Just blocks away, is what used to be the Retlaw Theatre. You can tell its cinematic origins by the outside of the building which is now office space and apartments. The new developers made sure to keep much of the original building’s character.

“It’s great that the footprint of the majority of the theatre is here just used in a really different way,” said Sadie Parafiniuk of Envision Greater Fond Du Lac which has offices in the building.

One of the most famous stories comes from the now Third and One Bar where famed suffragette and prohibitionist Carry Nation once wielded her ax!

“One of the patrons insulted her and gave her a bottle of whiskey and she smashed the bottle with her hatchet,” Reinhardt says the story goes.

What folks don’t know is that Nation would sell souvenir hatchets and used that money to open the first women’s shelter for domestic abuse survivors in her native Kansas.

More recent renovations along Main Street are award-winning, including Hotel Retlaw.

Step into the lobby and you step back into a time of grandeur. Stay the night and be treated to every modern convenience. But you’re also encouraged to walk around outside and enjoy the canvas that is Fond du Lac’s mural movement.

The Hotel Retlaw’s exterior wall is covered in sunflowers that at certain times of day, with the sunlight and shadows of nearby trees, take on a three-dimensional feel.

“We’ve got a strong vibe going. We’ve focussed on public art this year,” says Amy Hansen who is Executive Director of the Downtown Fond du Lac Partnership. “It just brings that extra pop of color and livelihood to our downtown district.”

The downtown district has shown incredible resilience during the pandemic. It actually opened up new businesses and right now offers some 60 different shops and more than a couple dozen places to eat and drink.

Free carriage rides and a wine walk are just some of the events they schedule well into winter to continue to welcome folks to shop and spend some time.

One of the busiest shops is Lillians clothing boutique. They believe there is no mystery as to why someone would come to downtown Fond du Lac to shop.

“When you come downtown you’re going to see the owner in the shop which is awesome,” explains clothing associate Samantha Treffert. “You get that small-town feel but it’s not in the middle of nowhere which is pretty cool.”

Wisconsin pride also shows through. At Lillian’s, for example, they have a made only in Wisconsin line of products including a brandy old-fashioned candle.

Many of the businesses are also participating in a “downtown dollars” campaign that allows shoppers to redeem their receipts for drawings and other incentives that could earn extra shopping dollars in the new year.

The idea is to savor your time along Main Street and make a little history of your own.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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