A taste of nature and the Wright view Spring Green, Wis. By Susy SchultzPhoto courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor's Center Even children can enjoy the outdoor gardens of Taliesin.
You think you know Frank Lloyd Wright if you are from Oak Park. My hometown has the largest concentration of the architect's work.
Growing up, it was a great introduction to a great architect. And because of it, I thought I knew enough about Wright. So, I would not have chosen to visit Spring Green, Wis., home of Wright's Taliesin complex. But since we were picking up my son at Camp Woodbrooke in nearby Richland Center, and it was on the way, I thought it would be good for all of us-including my sons, 11 and 14.
I'm glad we did.
You don't know Frank Lloyd Wright until you see his work at Taliesin.
Spring Green is part of the Uplands, a triangular area in the southwestern part of the state. It's about 190 miles from Chicago or a 3½-hour drive. It's a world of green and rolling hills, lots of parks to hike, water to play in, theaters, concerts, quaintness and beauty.
We stayed at the House on the Rock Resort as guests of the hotel. This newer resort has 80 two-bedroom suites-closing a bedroom door at night is a great way to travel with children.
It is tastefully nestled into the rolling hills with Wright touches and a restaurant, tennis courts, golf course, indoor and outdoor pools.
It's a great base of operation, secluded yet close to Taliesin, Tower Hill State Park, Spring Green and the outdoor American Players Theatre.
The resort is not to be confused with the House on the Rock, a phenomena just minutes away. This is supposedly Wisconsin's No. 1 tourist attraction. It's anti-Wright over-the-top architecture and a tribute to commercialism.
As one woman said to us, "You probably have to see it once." But after driving down the entry road, we decided this was not our time. The high prices ($19.50 for 13 and up; $11.50 ages 7-12; $5.50 for 4-6, 3 and below free), as well as tours of three to five hours, turned us off.
We wanted to enjoy the outdoors. We had a four-hour paddle down the Wisconsin River, renting canoes and gear from Bob's Riverside Resort. Bob's Riverside rents gear and drops you off for anywhere from a half-hour to four days. For us, the four-hour trip was just right. The river was low and we had to carry the canoes. We stopped for a swim on a sandbank-something not advisable if the river were any higher and never without a lifejacket. The canoeing alone is worth the trip.
But we were there for Wright. So, we went to Taliesin's visitor's center.
Wright was born in Wisconsin and his family settled near Spring Green, which is where he built his home, his workshop, his architectural school and the longest ongoing architectural project of his career. There, his integration of architecture and nature is not just a theory; it's clear.
This complex of buildings is on a 600-acre estate. So, nature is integrated not with just landscaping but with vistas and outlooks. The Wright houses I have seen in the Chicago area are amazing-but I never got the same understanding of Wright's work. Standing inside the Hillside complex you see how his work in the home on a hill makes you feel part of the hill.
Taliesin is not kid-friendly. In fact, building tours are limited to ages 12 and above. But a two-hour walking tour of the grounds is for ages 2 to 12 ($15 for adults, $5 for children ages 2-12). It's a good introduction to architecture for children.
And you can end the day with a little cheese-a tour of the Cedar Grove Cheese Factory and Living Machine Greenhouse in nearby Plain, just seven miles north of Spring Green.
Here you find really squeaky curds and organic cheddar, colby and the only working ecosystem in a cheese factory. The 100-year-old company received a federal grant and has this system to clean and recycle water. It's hard to tell which part is more interesting-the cheese or the water. Tours are six days a week every half-hour. I loved this place. But I went to school in Wisconsin, so I'm a cheesehead at heart.
On our way home the next day, we stopped in Janesville to tour the General Motors assembly plant.
We watched as union auto workers and more than 600 robots put together Chevy Tahoes and Suburbans, riding on a tram with seniors to preschoolers. It was fascinating. The tours are at specific times; call for reservations.
Just the facts House on the Rock Resort (800) 822-7774 www.thehouseontherock.com/the-resort.htm
Spring Green Chamber of Commerce (800) 588-2042 www.springgreen.com
Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's estate (608) 588-7900 www.taliesinpreservation.org
Bob's Riverside Resort (608) 588-2826 www.bobsriverside.com/index.htm
Cedar Grove Cheese Factory and Living Machine Greenhouse (800) 200-6020 www.cedargrovecheese.com
Janesville General Motors Plant (608) 756-7681 www.gm.com
Susy Schultz is editor of Chicago Parent.