Here at Backroad Wisconsin, we love the kitsch. From some oddball or out of way little museum to the ticky-tacky found at a roadside attraction, it’s all good to us. But no-one does the kitsch better (than maybe Wisconsin Dells, but that’s another story altogether) than the over the top wonderment of The House on the Rock.
Since 1960, The House on the Rock, Located 9 miles south of Spring Green on State Hwy 23, has been delighting and bewildering visitors. Is it a museum, a historical landmark, or the grand vision of a slightly eccentric man. Maybe a little of all of that; but one thing is for certain, it’s the oddest collection of objects and ever thrown together under one roof.
The brainchild of Alex Jorden Jr. The House on the Rock started as a Japanese style house perched upon a 60 foot high rock outcropping in southwestern Wisconsin. Legend has it that Jordan was dismissed by Frank Lloyd Wright as untalented, so Jordan would build an impressive house within spitting distance of Wright’s Taliesin. This story has plenty of holes in it to question its truth, so it’s pretty safe to say that Alex Jordan was an opportunistic showman and eccentric.
Opening to the public in 1959, visitors would tour the house, along with the gate house and mill house located on the ground below. As time went on, the attraction grew, adding building after building of wonderful things. In the early 1970’s a recreation of a turn of the century main street, called the Streets of Yesteryear, was added. In the late 1980’s a large nautical exhibition, complete with a gigantic three story whale vs squid battle. More exhibits were added through the years until the tour became a test of stamina and willpower. Today, to see everything you’ll spend at least three hours if you’re walking at a good clip.
The House on the Rock isn’t a museum. While some of the artifacts may be rare and possibly valuable; nothing is curated and no efforts are made at education. It’s whole exhibit is more of a collection; several, possibly hundreds of collections all strung together. Like doll houses? House on the Rock has dozens of doll houses, one right after another all encased down a large hallway. Naval artifacts? Yep, thousands of those: mostly salvaged from decommissioned vessels. Wow, look at that big case filled with hundreds of Zippo lighters. Here’s a room full of organ pipes and consoles that have no rhyme or reason. It’s a mismash, a sensory overload, a neatly arranged hoarders delight all under one roof.
I think the fun part of House on the Rock is trying to guess what is real, what’s a recreation, and what’s a total fabrication. Besides the House itself, which by the way isn’t Frank Lloyd Wright designed, or even inspired for that matter, many of the objects come out of the workshop and mind of Alex Jordan. The house is filled with what looks to be Tiffany lamps, but in fact they’re careful recreations by stained glass company Bauer and Coble. The humongous gallery of automated music machines rely on prerecorded music and pneumatic tubes to move instruments back and forth. The hall of guns, filled with hundreds of firearms cleverly pieced together with parts from a gunsmiths parts bin is fun to look at, but you know none of the pieces ever could work.
Mere words really can’t describe this place, it’s a destination worth going to, if only once. wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for some sensory overload.
The House on The Rock
5754 State Hwy 23, Spring Green, WI
(9 miles south of Spring Green on Hwy 23)
Visit site or call for hours of operation and ticket prices