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Friday, 01 July 2016 11:12

Hike back in time to Kettle Moraine farmstead

Written by  Edwin Scherzer
Joseph Stute, son of pioneer farmer Anton Stute, cultivates a corn field to keep down the weeds in this early 1900s photo. History and outdoors enthusiasts can enjoy a self-guided hike of the Stute farmstead, which is nestled in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Joseph Stute, son of pioneer farmer Anton Stute, cultivates a corn field to keep down the weeds in this early 1900s photo. History and outdoors enthusiasts can enjoy a self-guided hike of the Stute farmstead, which is nestled in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- On most days, “the Kettle” rewards hikers with scenic views, wildflowers, wildlife and the enjoyment of being outdoors in the glacial landscape.

But those who venture along the Kettle Moraine State Forest’s interpretive trails garner even more -- historical insights, cultural information and maybe even a glimpse of what the land might have looked like long ago.

One such route is the Stute Springs and Homestead trail.

Located just west of Eagle and Old World Wisconsin, the Stute trail is a one-mile loop that takes visitors on a self-guided tour of the Stute family farm.

Anton Stute was a German immigrant who settled 180 acres below the ridge of the Kettle Moraine. From the 1850s until 1943, the farm remained in the family for three generations. The home and grounds remained with the Welch family until 1981, when the Department of Natural Resources purchased the property.

A few of the original structures remain while others are being restored by park staff.

Anton Stute was resourceful, not only by picking a homestead site close to the natural springs, but also for using the land’s natural building material.

The Stutes had milk sent to Milwaukee and kept it from spoiling by holding the tanks in a water trough. The water was pumped to the house, milkhouse and livestock troughs. Agatha Stute would keep perishables cold by immersing heavy crocks into the water at a springhouse. Anton Stute built the springhouse to keep animals out and keep other debris from contaminating the fresh water supply.

Anton Stute built a chicken house and field fences out of the stones he dug up from tilling the soil.

Access to the buildings is uniquely up close and personal, as Amanda Kutka, DNR visitor services associate, explained.

“All the buildings you can be in and walk around, except obviously for those that are locked,” Kutka said.

The Stute home was razed in 1996 and all that remains is the stone wall marking the front porch. There are several other structures being restored, including the smokehouse, brought back to life by a grant from the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association.

Visitors can enjoy the shade of trees that predate the Stute farm, as some of the oaks on the farmstead are about 300 years old, according to the DNR.

“These large oak trees are a tribute to the family’s stewardship of the farm,” the DNR trail guide said. “Even though they (the Stute family) depended heavily on wood for fuel, they cut only dead trees.”

Perhaps the highlight of the trail journey is the overlook, or simply “the Big Hill” as it was known. The 1,050-foot overlook is the highest point in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Visitors planning to take in the panoramic view on a clear day will be treated to a view of Olympia Resort and ski hill in Oconomowoc, the Oconomowoc and Dousman area and occasionally Holy Hill, which is about 30 miles away.

The Stutes did not work on Sundays, so visitors to the farm were often treated to a picnic lunch at the top of the big hill. One can almost imagine the Stutes’ children and grandchildren utilizing the elevation for sledding or skiing.

Kutka said the Stute trail is one of the best the Kettle Moraine has to offer.

“It’s a very neat trail and the only remaining example of a full farm within the forest,” Kutka said. “It’s still a pretty cool example of what life was like then.”

There is a brochure that explains the points of interest along the trail. The DNR recommends one hour to walk and explore the trail and outbuildings, and a little longer to take in the overlook.

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