Wissota, at dusk. In the movie
"Titanic," Leonardo DiCaprio's character
mentions growing up on Lake Wissota -- though the
reservoir was actually created after the ship sank
FALLS, Wis. — This county seat just beyond the fringes
of Eau Claire may have discovered the elixir to attract
new tourists and millennial-friendly businesses.
the water residents have been drinking for centuries.
downtown is knee-deep in a $10 million redo of its
Chippewa River frontage, which includes a 10-acre park
connected to an existing bike-path network. The
ambitious project is already seeing results. The main
drag has sprouted shops and cafes. A new downtown hotel
— the first since 1919, and a rarity among downtowns
in the Northwoods — opened in late September.
Falls may be best known as the home of Jacob Leinenkugel
Brewing, the regional powerhouse now owned by
mega-brewer SABMiller. The 1867 brewery on Duncan Creek
is still in operation, and Leinenkugel descendants are
still in charge. The welcome center and brewery tours
attract more than 100,000 suds lovers a year.
is, there is no physical Chippewa Falls in this city of
14,000. In pioneer days, loggers farther up the large
Chippewa River watershed would float felled timber to
sawmills here. The fast-moving rapids were replaced by a
succession of dams. Since 1928, one of the most visible
downtown landmarks has been the enormous hydro dam that
helped make the town a manufacturing center. It’s
still in operation, but the downtown factories it
spawned closed long ago.
new technology is a substantial citywide economic driver
— we’ll get to the Cray effect in a minute — the
Riverfront Park project, which broke ground this spring
and will be completed by 2020, looks like a
tipping point," is what Chippewa Falls tourism
director Jackie Boos calls it. "Our backs had been
turned to the water; now the riverfront will be
interactive." Plans call for walkways, overlooks
and an amphitheater.
revival buzz is working its way up Bridge Street, where
brick commercial buildings built in Victorian times are
being repurposed into boutiques and cafes at street
level, with condos and apartments upstairs.
new 45-room Cobblestone Hotel & Suites is targeting
business travelers and tourists with its upscale Wissota
Chophouse and an indoor/outdoor beer garden facing
four-block commercial stretch of Bridge Street also has
the popular Mahli Thai Asian Cuisine and Duncan Creek
Wine Bar, where you can drop a bundle on steak, lobster,
snapper and such. It’s in a brick storefront that —
according to the worn paint above its windows — once
housed the Farm Store.
go old-school Chippewa Falls, grab coffee and breakfast
or lunch at Bresina’s Old Home Restaurant, 704 E.
Grand Ave., or get a cone at venerable Olson’s Ice
Cream, where 28 flavors are offered daily at the shop at
611 N. Bridge St. Before or after your requisite trip to
Leinenkugel’s, get fried fish or chicken at Bresina’s
Carry Out, across from the brewery.
food and spirits at Sheeley House, 236 W. River St., set
in an 1864 livery stable. It’s said to be the most
haunted place in town. Ask the owner, 30-year-old
Jessica Moran, for a story or two. (Her best encounters
transpired after closings on Wednesdays.)
notable boutique on Bridge Street is Brown Barn, the
retail outlet of a fragrance farm outside town that
ships soaps, lotions and other artisan products
nationwide. At the counter, use a paper swab to mix up
to three of the 35-plus scents, and they’ll bottle
your custom creation on the spot.
five-block Riverfront Park will tie into a massive
network of bike trails. To rent a two-wheeler or get
route advice, see Nate Seckora at Spring Street Sports,
12 W. Spring St.
biking is becoming a big scene, mostly because of the
availability of trails protected from county
roads," he said.
paths can take you south to Eau Claire, or north on the
nearly 20-mile Old Abe Trail that connects Lake Wissota
State Park with Brunet Island State Park in Cornell.
of the paths hug the river, where you’ll find Loopy’s
Grill & Saloon (www.723loop.com). Loopy’s offers
kayak, canoe and tube rentals. A Loopy’s shuttle will
drive you to a put-in, where you can then paddle or
float back down the lake in roughly 2.5 hours.
growth of Leinenkugel and the legacy of Seymour Cray are
credited with keeping the city’s hopes alive during
lean decades. Cray (1925-1996) was the homespun,
maverick electrical engineer whom many consider the
inventor of the supercomputer. In the early ‘70s, this
recognized genius in the computer world left Control
Data Corp. in the Twin Cities to start Cray Research and
build powerful, advanced machines in his hometown of
based in Seattle, Cray still has its manufacturing plant
here. For a close-up and no-cost look at Seymour Cray’s
wizardry, stop downtown at the Chippewa Falls Museum of
Industry and Technology (www.cfmit.org). Museum
coordinator Alitia Kerr offers a remarkable
the machines on display is the Cray-1, the first
supercomputer built by Seymour and his crew in the
pre-circuit board 1970s. It’s the size of a large
refrigerator and is filled with 67 miles of wires. The
back is off; peek inside. It looks like a tangle of
angel hair pasta that only a robot would eat.
or later, a visit to Chippewa Falls takes you to
Leinenkugel’s, 124 E. Elm St. Tours of the brewery are
offered daily for $5 and include five, 5-ounce samples
at the Leinie Lodge. Despite its name, the lodge isn’t
a hotel. But it is fully stocked with all sorts of
branded apparel and Leinie’s gear. You can also
arrange for a two-hour family tour Thursday afternoons.
Those cost $25 a person and are led by one of four
Leinenkugel descendants on staff. A beer-cheese pairing
sampler follows the tour (www.leinie.com).
the lodge, you can buy beer varieties that are harder to
find south of the Wisconsin frontier.
days, Leinenkugel’s has a large Milwaukee plant. But
25 percent of its suds are still made right here at this
historic brewery on Duncan Creek, a tributary of the
ever-changing Chippewa River.