Fun Places to Visit
Mount Horeb, Wisconsin — America's Troll Capital Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary
By Abby Slutsky — January 21, 2011
When tourists initially think of Wisconsin, their minds flitter to many items related to agriculture. Wisconsin is known for cheese, dairy and maple syrup. Those who love beer also know it is home to one of the largest breweries. Some people are also aware that outdoor sports are popular in Wisconsin. What many people do not realize is that a part of Wisconsin’s population shares their home with trolls.
Logo for the Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the founding of mount horeb, wisconsin, the troll capital of america.
(graphic © mount horeb chamber of commerce.)
Mount Horeb is not far from the western part of Madison, Wisconsin. Picture exploring a town where there is mythical lore around ordinary shops, street signs, and even parks. Mount Horeb is a town that has infused art and magical whimsy to ignite smiles and interest as tourists and locals encounter trolls throughout it.
About Mount Horeb
Norwegian settlers were in the area as early as the 1830s. Despite the strong Norwegian population, the town was named by Englishman George Wright in 1861. Mr. Wright, a minister, moved to the area in 1858. He became the town treasurer and later was a member of the legislature. In 1861, he was asked to name the town and perused the Bible for inspiration. He eventually settled on the name Mount Horeb, which means Mountain of God. His enchantment with the scenic beauty of the region and its lovely mountains influenced his decision. The town’s name was not officially recorded until 1867.
As early as the 1800s, the residents of Mount Horeb, primarily Norwegians, were familiar with Scandinavian folklore and tales about trolls. Tourists can learn more about the history of Mount Horeb and its population at the Mount Horeb Area Museum at 100 South 2nd Street.
Mount Horeb has a population of approximately 8,000 people. Commerce includes shopkeepers, artists, and many other businesses. Proprietors work hard to attract visitors to the town and many visitors delight in the many attractions it offers. In 2011 Mount Horeb is celebrating its 150th birthday and locals and visitors can share the excitement as the troll capital celebrates its sesquicentennial year with a host of events.
mount horeb's 8,000 citizens include shopkeepers and artists (who are responsible for the trolls and trollway). (Photo © richard grigonis.)
Trolls add to the uniqueness of the town and have helped lure tourists there for years. Locals love the idea of friendly trolls watching over their town. The trolls seem to greet tourists and regularly pose for photos.
The Origination of Mount Horeb Trolls
Traditional folklore portrays trolls as ugly dwarf-like creatures, with magical powers. Trolls typically look like very old dwarves with long beards and tails. They also have four feet and fingers and often live hundreds of years.
The first residents to display trolls probably never anticipated the enthusiastic fanfare over trolls that helps make the town so special. The shopkeepers of Open House Imports displayed the first trolls in 1976 to generate store traffic. These trolls were created out of latex and are still displayed in front of the store. According to Janice Sievers, an Open House Imports employee, the original trolls, Ola, Odin and Stumpy (who stands on a stump), are outside the store to welcome customers today.
greg the troll carver hard at work with his chainsaw, fashioning yet another troll for mount horeb, wisconsin, america's troll capital. (Photo © mount horeb chamber of commerce.)
Open House Imports sells latex trolls ranging in price from $12 to several hundred as well as other Norwegian items. The outdoor display trolls successfully attracted patrons and were also noticed by truckers when they passed. When bypass highway 118 was created around the town, proprietors, worried about town commerce, began a marketing campaign to lure tourists by inviting them to see the town’s Trollway, otherwise known as Main Street. Of course, a Trollway needs trolls so eventually, in the 1990s, artist Mike Feeney began carving them. Initially, he made four trolls for the Trollway. The Peddler, one of Mike Feeney’s wood carved trolls, is outside Open House Imports.
The Wooden Chicken Artist Studio
The Wooden Chicken, a studio operated by artist Michael Feeney, sells resin collectables signed by the artist. The small collectables range in price from $30 to $45 and are based on larger life-sized troll sculptures that are displayed in the town. Larger carved wooden trolls are commissioned by Feeney, and range in price from several thousand dollars to about $20,000.
According to Feeney’s Artist Bio and Studio Tour, the process of creating a troll takes about a month or more. Mr. Feeney sketches ideas, makes a clay mold, decides on the ideal log, and carves the wood. He creates carvings from outdoor trees, portable logs, or even uses a variety of other media including concrete for some pieces.
Throughout the process he spends time observing and refining his work and even goes so far as to view it in a mirror to get a different perspective. He carves larger trolls at the customer’s site. Michael Feeney also takes classes to help perfect his artistic skill. Even classes that are not related to carving help him learn more about his craft.
Many of the intriguing trolls that have been created can be enjoyed by the public as they stroll around town. The Wooden Chicken studio created a list of town trolls that visitors can find and visit. Troll observers will instantly notice the intricate detail that makes each troll special and unique. Tourists should view the front and back of the trolls to get the full flavor of their personalities and characters. Often the trolls are an expression of a particular profession or sometimes are simply an imaginative fantasy figure.
Mr. Feeney gets inspiration for creating trolls from the people around him and his sense of humor and imagination. A few notable life-size troll sculptures that locals and tourists may encounter include a tooth fairy, a gardener, a tourist, a mayor, and a chicken thief troll.
The current troll spotter list contains 16 trolls for tourists to enjoy viewing. In addition to the many trolls available for public view, regularly, from time to time, privately owned trolls may make an appearance for public viewing. Visitors can pick up a map of the Trollway and other attractions at the Chamber of Commerce. If you prefer, tours are also available. Trolls are carefully marked on the map so visitors won’t miss any of these uniquely crafted works of art.
Troll Capital Sesquicentennial Logo
The 150th anniversary of Mt. Horeb will kick off with many exciting events that both locals and tourists should enjoy. Local merchants supporting the event will be brandishing the new town logo from the Mt. Horeb Chamber of Commerce. The round logo has a gold and red border featuring the date of the town’s founding along with its 150th anniversary year. The interior of the logo includes the face of an adorable troll. Many local residents and businesses are decorating their yards with the logo colors of red, gold and white.
Sesquicentennial Activities around the Town
No matter what season you choose to visit Mount Horeb, you will undoubtedly enjoy the attractions and events that this small village offers. Visitors will love browsing the many shops in Mount Horeb or finding the perfect treasure or antique. There are plenty of restaurants as well, including The Grumpy Troll, at 102 South 2nd Street, which offers a variety of beers and casual fare, including pizza. Look above the restaurant and notice the Grumpy Troll hanging near the restaurant ready to welcome guests to the eatery.
Jorgen, the mount horeb's troll mascot, relaxes during a local festival.
(Photo © mount horeb chamber of commerce.)
Do not be surprised if you encounter a “live troll” as you explore Mount Herob. Jorgen, the town mascot, has a long fuzzy white beard and a big nose. He can often be seen walking around town. He is friendly and engaging as he poses for pictures or waves to those around him.
Blue Mound State Park is a scenic area that offers a host of activities including biking, cross country skiing and walking trails. Tyrol Basin and Ski Area offers other opportunities for skiing. Reasonably priced ski tickets, rentals and lessons are available on Tuesdays.
Blue Mound State Park is also the ideal place to take nature walks to enjoy the wildlife and plants.
A spring garage sale on April 27th will allow visitors to bargain hunt.
Even though trolls are the main attraction in Mt. Herob, no one will go thirsty. Purchase tickets from the Chamber of Commerce for the annual Troll Brew Fest hosted on September 11th. This event offers more than 100 beers and the party-like atmosphere includes food and music.
June 3rd–6th features a Summer Frolic extended weekend celebration that includes amusement rides, raffles, sports tournaments, fireworks and many activities. This year it also includes a rib cook off. If you enjoy running, there are also several runs hosted during this weekend.
During the second weekend in June, visitors can partake in a Spring art tour. This event allows tourists to see artist’s studios and discover hidden gems they might not find on their own.
Visit Little Norway on June 18th for their Mid-Summer eve. Enjoy the quaint area before sampling roast pig or enjoying your own picnic dinner. Little Norway allows visitors to journey into the past and learn about historic Norwegian architecture, traditions and lifestyles.
The third weekend in July boasts an art fair that continues the Sesquicentennial celebration in Mt. Horeb. This is a must for art lovers, who will delight in browsing the many pieces of over 150 artists. Mediums vary from glass, paint, jewelry and sculptures so everyone will find something to enjoy. In addition to the many artists, the festive atmosphere is complemented by music and plenty of al fresco dining options. There is also a Norwegian buffet. The fun, festival-like atmosphere is perfect for families, children, or adults who want a romantic getaway.
July 29th–30th is the perfect time to enjoy the many sales and shops in Mt. Horeb. Vendors display their wares outdoors for a town ride sidewalk sale. The many Main street trolls will overlook bargains.
Other Sights to Enjoy
Besides the many sesquicentennial activities planned for the 150th year celebration, visitors can take advantage of the plentiful tourist attractions in or near Mount Horeb. Even if you do not love trolls, there is plenty to see.
The Wally Keller Tool Museum, at 100 West Main Street in Mount Horeb, allows visitors to see an extensive display of old-fashioned and vintage tools. Wally Keller once showed his collection of tools to Steve Schlecht, proprietor of the Duluth Trading Company. Two weeks after sharing his collection, Keller was involved in a fatal tractor accident. After purchasing the collection, Steve Schlecht created a tool museum so that tourists can enjoy learning about the rich history of vintage tools.
The Mount Horeb Area Museum, open on weekends, provides an opportunity to explore Mount Horeb history. Located at 100 South 2nd Street in Mount Horeb, this museum allows visitors to learn about the town’s Scandinavian heritage.
Mount Horeb offers several parks where visitors and locals can relax or partake in athletic activities. Donald Park is at 1870 Sutter Drive. Stewart County Park is at 3106 City Highway JG in Mount Herob.
Stalactites at the cave of the mounds, near mount horeb, Wisconsin.
(Photo © iStockphoto / Brandon Laufenberg.)
Visitors can also explore Cave of the Mounds, at 2975 Blue Mounds Road, in nearby Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. The cave is one of the most magnificent in the Midwest. Guided tours allow visitors to view the beautiful crystals and formations that nature has created there. Beautiful walkways and picnic areas enhance the lure of this attraction. The cave has been available for public viewing since 1940, but in 1988 the government made it a National Natural Landmark. Some other activities at the Cave of the Mounds include a hands-on fossil dig, rock gardens, butterfly gardens, a discovery center and hiking and biking trails.
In addition to browsing the many town shops and nearby attractions, consider checking out the Chamber of Commerce gift shop for troll memorabilia. Choose from troll-themed clothing, a troll cookbook, postcards, Trollway banners or other gifts that will evoke fond memories of your visit.
Abby Slutsky is a freelance writer and poet whose work appears both on the Internet and in print (she has had articles published in Sasee Magazine and Learning Through History). She has a BA in English writing from the University of Pennsylvania, a Masters in Education from Chestnut Hill College and a Juris Doctorate from Boston University. In her spare time, she volunteers for a hospice, plays Mah Jongg and shuttles her two boys to USTA junior tennis tournaments. A resident of Pennsylvania, she enjoys cake decorating, writing and traveling.