Kenosha greets guests with Wisconsin beauty, excitement and history

By PHILIP POTEMPA
Of Notoriety


A staggering $196 million was spent in tourist dollars in 2015 in Kenosha, proving there’s plenty of pull from this beautiful county seat community just over the Illinois state line. Anchored along the shores of Lake Michigan, museums, dining and a storied history are all reasons a visit is a worthwhile investment and will likely result in a return trip.

Because I knew I needed plenty of quick energy to power me up for a full day of sight-seeing, I started my morning for my Kenosha visit on the fringe of the city at the Jelly Belly Candy Company (10100 Jelly Belly Lane, Pleasant Prairie; 866-868-7522 or www.jellybelly.com) with plenty of jelly bean samples to fuel me for my all-day adventure. This visitors center tour gives guests a very detailed history of how brothers Albert and Gustav Goelitz came to the U.S. from Germany to expand the family candy business. A 35-minute inside train tour through the candy warehouse includes stops at various stations to share the history of candy making and the company’s international success today manufacturing Jelly Belly gourmet jelly beans, which first launched in 1976 and became a household brand linked as the favorite snack of then-California Governor Ronald Reagan. The tour details the tradition and technique for making not only jelly beans, but also taffy and other confections. A number of short videos included with the tour help explain the important traits of candy making. The tour’s finale includes time at the Jelly Belly Sampling Bar where guests can try as many of the exotic and creative flavors as desired.

Stepping back into history is as simple as walking through the doors of the Civil War Museum, (5400 1st Ave., Kenosha; 262-653-4141 or www.visitkenosha.com). Even though Wisconsin seems like a state which would have been far removed from the unrest that erupted with the Civil War, as this amazing state-of-the-art $15 million exhibit explains, there were many men and women very involved in history’s war between the states. Divided into sections, not only are rare artifacts, photos and correspondence on display, but also talking life-like figurines share the stories of the men and women whose likenesses they are modeled from with intricate features and details.

Constructed by the federal government in 1866, many people have climbed the 72 steps of the Southport Lighthouse (4th Ave., Kenosha; 262-654-5770 or www.kenoshahistorycenter.org)

in the past century. Even though it was replaced with a new lighthouse structure in 1906, this original landmark still stands proud, and the informative tours also include the chance to walk through the lighthouse keeper’s house located next door. On the tour, I learned that the booming lighthouse fog horn sounds emitted from these land based nautical beacons were developed by Rudolph Wurlitzer, the same man who created his namesake Wurlitzer pipe organs.

No visit to Wisconsin is complete without loading up on cheese, pastries and fresh fruits and vegetables produced locally. The Kenosha HarborMarket (2nd Ave., Kenosha; 262-914-1252 or www.kenoshaharbormarket.com) is a Saturday-must for one-stop shopping.

Kaiser’s Pizza & Pub (510 57th St., Kenosha; 262-653-5897 or www.kaiserspub.com) is not only prized for unique pizza creations, but also for baked potatoes brimming with stuffed goodness to rank these spuds as something extra special. I enjoyed a delicious tender pot roast packed baked potato, covered in Wisconsin cheese and garnished with tiny diced carrots and onions. Just one table away, I witnessed another variation featuring a split baked potato stacked high with strips of tender chicken, plenty of crumbled bacon and smothered in Alpine Swiss cheese and sour cream.

The theater is always a great way to end a perfect day. Rhode Center for the Arts (514 56th St., Kenosha; 262-657-7529 or www.rhodecenter.org) has an extra dose of drama. Built in 1927, this opulent performing arts center is said to be haunted with the ghost of a mysterious man often seen floating through the lobby and corridors. Today, it is the home of the Lakeside Players, a community theater group. Besides a full season of comedies and musicals, this acting troupe is also known for late-night “adult-story” productions with serious themes to stimulation discussion. After a performance, there’s always plenty to talk about, both on and off stage, courtesy of the inviting cast and crew who welcome questions and talking points for feedback.