Founded in 1856, McFarland is a quaint village nestled on Lake Waubesa. In its early years, McFarland was a central hub for tobacco and wheat farms in the area. A popular ice harvesting business on lake Waubesa supplied critical refrigeration material to Chicago’s infamous meatpacking district and provided locals with work and income during the agricultural off-season.
Later, Mcfarland became the bedroom town it is known to be today, with many of its residents commuting into the nearby city of Madison for work. McFarland has recently been ranked number five on homesnacks.com's list of top 10 places to live in Wisconsin due to its amenities, low unemployment rate, median household incomes, and home values.
The McFarland School District is one of the best in Wisconsin. Consistently ranked among Wisconsin’s top public schools, the district serves not only Dane County but also parts of the city of Madison, Cottage Grove, and Pleasant Springs. In addition to brick-and-mortar institutions, McFarland students can opt into a K-12 virtual charter school. The virtual charter school offers free online classes, including remedial and specialty courses. The addition of the Wisconsin Virtual Academy has helped improve the success and completion rates of McFarland High School's summertime recovery program.
The district has 4 schools – McFarland High School consists of grades 9 through 12, Indian Mound Middle School 6 through 8th grade, Waubesa Intermediate School 3rd through 5th grade, and Conrad Elvehjem Primary School for younger students. Unlike other K-5 institutions, the primary school partners with community child care facilities to provide enrichment and education for pre-school kids up through age 4, as well as grades K-2.
The school district itself is considered technologically advanced, where grades K through 12 enjoy 1 to 1 iPad and Chromebook instruction. Of course, not everything can be learned from a screen or sitting behind a desk. To that end, the district also contains several Outdoor Classroom resources, including a registered school forest with Historic Native American burial mounds next to the middle school. The Intermediate School uses a nearby natural prairie for environmental learning. Four blocks from the primary school are the handicapped-accessible McFarland community garden.
Of course, McFarland has more to offer prospective residents than childhood education. Their beautiful parks provide recreational amenities and relaxing natural spaces for the whole family to enjoy. McDaniel park, for instance, has incredible views for hiking and relaxing near the water.
Local restaurants and pubs supply a familiar hometown feel when you need a place to unwind after a long day. Angelo's, for example, is a great dinner spot with signature cocktails and a charming outdoor patio, and Park Side pub is a great place to enjoy a night out, with plenty of taps featuring some of Wisconsin’s best brews.
Follow the GPS Directions along routes 51 and 18 to our next destination, the City of Monona.
We’ve arrived in the city of Monona, located on the eastern shore of the lake of the same name. Initially a part of the town called Blooming Grove, it was incorporated as a village in 1938. Before that year, the area was mainly farmland and summer lake homes, but a growing number of businesses and permanent housing in the 30s gave it an individual identity.
In 1963 Monona built a community center and a swimming pool. In 1967 a public library was added, and in 1969 a city hall was built to celebrate the village’s new status as a city. Monona is a suburban city with a history of steady growth.
In the 1940s, during street construction, a burial mound containing human remains was unearthed. Dating the skeletons has shown that Monona’s mounds were built over 1500 years ago by the Hopewell people, precursors of today’s Ho-Chunk nation. In 1998 a Wisconsin Historical marker was placed on the site. The sign reads: "the largest of 19 conical, oval and linear Mounds once located in this vicinity, the outlet mound was built by Woodland Indians about 2,000 years ago as a burial place. The mound was saved from destruction by the Wisconsin archaeological society and local citizens in 1944 and donated to the city of Monona." Today the area is known as Indian mounds park, which can be found at the corner of Midwood and Ridgewood Avenue.
Monona’s young minds are honed by the Monona Grove School District, 7 schools that support the communities of both Monona and Cottage Grove. Now, if you're considering moving to Monona, these are the available schools for your Scholars.
Winnequah School is located near Winnequah Park, the Monona Community Center, and the Monona Public Library. They educate over 500 students in grades K-5, and they offer early childhood and 4k programs.
Glacial Drumlin Middle School was established in 2008 as a 21st-century school providing technology across the curriculum. They not only pride themselves on enriching the minds of their students academically but through values such as acceptance, belonging, and equality to prepare them to become stronger citizens in the community.
For High School, there are two options, Monona Grove High and Monona Grove Liberal Arts Charter School for the 21st Century (MG21). Much like the middle school, the charter school represents the cutting edge of 21st-century education, using technology and project-based learning to encourage the next generation of thinkers.
The southern end of Monona sits astride the Yahara River, a waterway that connects Lake Monona with Lake Waubesa. Restaurants along the riverside feature boat slips for easy access after a long day of fishing or cruising. If you want to enjoy a quaint meal with a beautiful water view, have a bite at Breakwater, Waypoint Public house, or Buck & Honeys. All three offer relaxing river views, delicious food, and refreshing draft beers and cocktails.
We’re now heading into Madison proper to get a look at the Eastmorland neighborhood.
Eastmorland is a neighborhood on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin, on the northeast coast of Lake Monona. Some of the earliest homes were built in the 1920s, and in 1957 the Eastmorland Community Association was founded, adding multiple starter homes to the community. One of the many benefits of Eastmoreland is access to Madison’s public amenities. Metro transit buses provide an easy way to get around the city, with a rapid transit service slated for opening in 2024. If you are a cyclist, they have excellent bike trails with beautiful scenery. As for Education, they have some of the highest performing elementary and middle schools and a beautiful Public Library. The community has three houses of worship. They pride themselves on the quality, affordable homes that make up a great neighborhood whether you are single, with a family, or retiring.
The schools that service the district consist of Schenk Elementary School,
Whitehorse Middle School, and LaFollette High School. Their other amenities, such as parks and open space within the neighborhood, include Eastmorland Park & Greenway, Hargrove Street Greenway, O.B. Sherry Park, and Olbrich Park, featuring public athletic fields.
One of Eastmorland’s more significant claims to fame, the Olbrich Botanical garden was voted one of the top 10 most inspiring gardens in North America by Horticulture Magazine. The outdoor gardens feature 16 acres of beautiful landscapes and west hardy plants.
Olbrich Park is also home to the tropical Bolz Conservatory. It's filled with exotic plants, orchids, birds, and a waterfall for a low price of $6 admission. It's free for members, and it's free to all on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. They also host excellent spring flower show classes and workshops. They also offer a virtual lecture series from January to May so you can enjoy the beauty from the comfort of your own home. I don't know about you, but the Botanical Garden seems like a lovely way to spend time with the family, or if you're the creative type, an incredible source of inspiration. I’m feeling inspired just talking about it.
Eastmorland is an active, close-knit community, where volunteers host plenty of seasonal events and activities. For example, the Eastmorland Community Association organizes volunteer leaf raking in the fall, and the ECA Santa visits small children and older residents in winter. If you're a fan of nature conservation, they have an Earth Day celebration, where volunteers clean up the neighborhood’s green spaces, and an ECA plant and Seed swap in spring. In summer, they host the ECA neighborhood garage sale, and neighborhood meet and greets.
Eastmorland also has a list of neighborhood favorites which are the best local businesses recommended by the neighbors of Eastmorland. If you have a sweet tooth, Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery is a must; it's loved so much that it's recommended on both the best breakfast and brunch favorites lists. If you're looking for your morning cup of coffee, Java Cat Coffee on Monona Drive has the best drinks to perk up your morning. If you're looking for something to enjoy for happy hour or just a night out, try Harmony Bar and Grill or Chef Tavern. Eastmorland is a community that fits the needs of all ages and life milestones. If you're looking for a place that can be quiet and soothing or alive and happening, Eastmoreland offers the best of both worlds.
If you're looking for a prestigious place with an upscale lifestyle, Maple Bluff is for you. Sitting on a small peninsula that juts out into Lake Mendota, Maple Bluff is the second village we’ve seen on this tour. This quiet suburb of Madison is the home of the governor's mansion, the residence of the governor of Wisconsin and their family. Maple Bluff is a bit smaller than other spots we’ve seen, with a population under 1,500 people. With its tree-lined streets and spacious green lawns, Maple Bluff feels like a storybook town.
In the late 1890s, the village of Maple Bluff was established by Thomas Coleman. The Winnebago people once occupied the area because the lush Maple Grove and Lake Mendota provided land for fishing and hunting. The limits of Maple Bluff are established by Lake Mendota to the West, Sherman Avenue and the Chicago Northwestern Railroad to the east, and the Warner Park boat launch to the north.
Taking up a significant chunk of the village, one major attraction of Maple Bluff is its country club. It has a history that dates back to 1899, boasting one of the oldest and finest 18 hole golf courses in Wisconsin. In addition to hitting the links, members and their families can enjoy a host of recreational activities. Their amenities include swimming pools, racquet sports courts, fitness equipment, and fine dining.
In addition to the private events enjoyed by country club members, the Maple Bluff community holds various events and celebrations throughout the year. There’s a Fall Festival and Winter Fest, as well as concerts in the park, a bocce ball fundraiser, and a festival on July 4th. Maple Bluff makes sure there's entertainment for all. Besides the community events and the Country Club, they are big on Water and Ice Sports. Boating safety courses are offered for those that are interested, and like many Wisconsin communities, ice fishing is a common winter pastime.
Maple Bluff has six Community parks. The largest is Johnson Park which is 5.7 Acres and features a playground, athletic field, and the veterans’ memorial gazebo. A few other Parks include Marina Park, with boat slips, and Beach Park, with a roped-off swimming area for cooling down on hot summer days.
Maple Bluff is serviced by the Madison Metropolitan school district. Many area students attend Lakeview Elementary, Sherman Middle School, and East High. Maple Bluff provides a beautiful community for any stage of life. Although many residents are established in both home and career, Maple Bluff also provides the necessary amenities for first-time homeowners.
Now, we’ll head out of the denser suburbs and into the countryside, where we’ll find communities that offer a more spacious lifestyle, like our next stop, Token Creek.
Token Creek is an unincorporated community located in the larger town of Burke. Many of the original residents were of Irish descent, and the town of Burke was named after Irish Statesman Edmund Burke. Token Creek was the home of the first post office and the first school in the area. The community used to support a dance hall, many hotels, a library, and two gristmills. Token gets its name from the Indian chief Tokaunee. In 1844 the Fort Winnebago Road was completed, which passed through Token Creek on its way north from Madison.
Token Creek prides itself on its history and its connection to nature. Token Creek County Park is the area’s recreational center, with amenities for all seasons. They have volleyball courts, disc golf, and hiking when it's sunny, plus access to Dane County’s over 200 miles of snowmobile trails for those snowy months. The park also offers exceptional facilities to help accommodate individuals with disabilities, such as the fishing pier, playground, and elevator Boardwalk. There’s a dog exercise area for your canine companions and campgrounds for families and larger groups to spend a weekend outdoors.
Token Creek County Park is a great location for photography. Families have been using the park as a backdrop for years for engagement photos, family photos, and more. The park serves as a beautiful backdrop to enhance life’s precious moments.
North of town, The Token Creek Conservancy is a publicly owned land of about 190 Acres. In 1999 over $1,000,000 was raised to get rid of the old dam and mill to free up the stream and springs of Token Creek. Because of this project, Token Creek now supports trout, with clean water flowing into Lake Mendota. Leashed dogs are allowed at the Elmer and Edna Culver Conservancy in the Token Creek Conservancy.
Token Creek is part of the Sun Prairie school district, with middle and high school students commuting to the next town over. Younger students attend Token Springs Elementary, which opened in the Fall of 2018. It houses approximately 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade and four-year-old kindergarten, also known as 4K. The idea for the school's design was to engage students in Innovative learning opportunities to prepare them for success both in and outside of school. Their mascot is a terrapin.
Though it has a distinct small-town feel, its proximity to Sun Prairie offers the conveniences of a suburban city and its distance from Madison proper makes it an ideal spot for commuters. Folks who work in the city but want more outdoor space in their lives would be well to look for their next home here.
Incorporated as a village in 2015, Windsor has a population of just under 9,000. The communities of Lake Windsor and Morrisonville are also included in its municipal area. A land dispute with the village of DeForest, located just to the north, was settled in 2004, resulting in Morrissonville’s geographic separation from the main body of Windsor.
Windsor was first settled in the 1830s by Vermont native William Lawrence. The section of town now known as Morrisonville is named for James Morrisson, who put down roots here in 1841.
Windsor is known for its walking trails and wide-open green spaces. The changing foliage in the fall makes a walk through Windsor a breathtaking experience. Three different public trails wind through town between the community parks. The red route is 6.2 Mi, the blue route is 5.9 miles, and the green route is 3.8 MI.
Windsor has 3 community parks and 16 neighborhood parks for your enjoyment.
The Windsor Community Center provides youth recreation programs to keep your kids occupied when they aren't in school. They have a community youth recreational program that includes Windsor DeForest basketball, Norske soccer, Norske lacrosse, and Windsor heat softball. Adults have the opportunity to play as well – together with the nearby city of Sun Prairie, the Windsor Community Center has its own pickleball league!
Windsor is a part of the DeForest Area School District, where the local middle school and high school are located. For younger students, Windsor Elementary School serves grades kindergarten through 4th.
Windsor, also offers fantastic restaurants satisfying many cravings. One location that's a must that residents constantly rave about is The Bar Next Door, a bar and grill that provides a down-to-earth feel with extraordinary cocktails and a classic American menu.
Although it is legally incorporated as a village, Waunakee is one of the larger towns we’ve seen today with a population of just under 15,000. It’s dubbed itself the “only Waunakee in the world,” its name deriving from an indigenous word meaning “fair and pleasant valley.”
The history of modern Waunakee begins with a railroad. When the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad expanded from Madison to Saint Paul, it allowed for the town’s development. The village’s location was initially intended to be at Packham Mill, about two miles southeast of today’s downtown Waunakee. But two local settlers, Lois Baker and George C. Fish, wanted the village on their land 2 miles further northwest along the railroad. In 1871 the village was founded and it was formally incorporated in 1893. The Waunakee railroad depot, located in the central part of town, is listed on the national register of historic places. It is the current location of the Waunakee Area Chamber of Commerce office.
In 2006 the village added a local village center to provide the community with a fitness center, senior center, meeting rooms, and a gym.
The Waunakee Business Park is a development that holds large and small business operations. The Waunakee Airport is privately owned and provides a landing site for personal aircraft. Residents must go to Dane County Regional Airport for all commercial air services.
Waunakee is a part of the Waunakee Community School District. The elementary schools included in this District are Arboretum Elementary School, which serves the eastern and southeastern parts of the school district, Heritage Elementary School, which serves the southern and central part of the school district, and Prairie Elementary School, which serves the northern and western parts of the district.
Besides the three public elementary schools, the district includes Waunakee Intermediate School, housing grades 5 and 6, Waunakee Community Middle School, and Waunakee Community High School. Private school options include St John the Baptist Catholic school and Madison Country Day School.
Warrior Stadium is the home of Waunakee High school sports. Their lacrosse and football teams are a huge source of pride to the community, with both teams racking up state championship victories in 2021.
Waunakee has its own attractions, such as a beautiful collection of parks with wonderfully constructed bridges, antique shopping, and eventful fisheries. Many of the community parks provide recreational spaces and sports fields for residents. The Castle Creek Conservancy and Waunakee Marsh Wildlife Management Area are both great spots to shoot wildlife with your camera or hunt in the appropriate game seasons.
Turning south, we’re heading back along the west side of Lake Mendota to our next stop.
Westport, Wisconsin lies on the northern shore of Lake Mendota and is home to just over 4,000 people. The town was divided into two separate locations when the village of Waunakee was carved out of the middle in 1893. The town of Westport was named after Westport, County Mayo in Ireland, the original home of many of its early settlers.
Westport has no school district of its own – instead the younger residents attend the Waunakee schools we talked about before or the Middleton schools we’ll discuss a little later.
Like many of the suburban communities we’ve seen today, Westport’s proximity to the state capital, Madison, provides its residents with access to a beautiful downtown and all the amenities of a college town. The Lake that separates Westport from the city helps it to retain its small-town atmosphere and provides residents with all the recreational opportunities of a waterfront town.
Mazanet Marina is the designated parking area for the town’s watercraft. This inlet on the river is lined with boat slips, with waterside shopping and dining. Governor Nelson State Park, which you'll drive right past on your way out of town, features 422 acres of natural prairie and woodland for hiking, hunting, and fishing, and a public sand beach.
Just down the road from the park is the Holy Wisdom Monastery, a nondenominational home for Benedictine sisters of a variety of faith traditions. Built in confluence with the natural prairie landscape, the sisters of the Monastery are community leaders in local environmental conservation efforts.
Westport is home to some fantastic restaurants. The places residents enjoy most are Buck and Honey's, El Charro Mexican Grill, and Athens Grill. Buck and Honey's is a wine and cocktail bar serving classic American bar fare. They are known for their live music, and special event nights, and their jazz night is the talk of the town, with a three-course prix-fixe menu and full jazz band. El Charro Mexican Grill is considered the best place for Mexican food in the area and is located in the section of Waunakee that divides Westport, allowing residents to enjoy both towns' perks. Athens Grill is another one of those perks – it’s the go-to bar if you are in the mood for Mediterranean or Greek food.
Crossing through a small stretch of Waunakee one more time, you’ll see the southwestern section of Westport as you head on toward the city of Middleton, our penultimate stop.
With a population of over 20,000, Middleton is the largest city on today’s tour. This community strives to live up to its nickname, "The Good Neighbor City." In 2007, they were chosen as the best place to live by CNN Money Magazine. The community was praised for its small-town charms, booming economy, and multiple parks and bike trails. However, this is not the only accolade this suburban community has received. In 2021, Middleton was chosen as "the best suburbs to raise a family in Dane County" on the website Niche.
Middleton has a strong history of striving for greatness. The town can trace its beginnings to an 1832 fur trading post located along the northern shore of Lake Mendota. Today this area is known as Mendota County Park. This area used to be a gathering place for Ho-Chunk and other Indian nations. In 1848, before Wisconsin became a state, Middleton separated from the township of Madison. In the 1840s, Middleton was first settled by English migrants. Its initial name was Peatville for the abundant amount of peat moss extracted from the soil. The village received its current name Middleton when It was separated from the town of Madison.
Soon afterward, the city was flooded with a wave of German settlers, who made up the majority of citizens by the end of the 19th century. Like many communities in Wisconsin, the German culture shines through in the local cuisine and brewing scene.
Middleton has a mission to "connect you with nature without ever having to leave the city." To that end, the city maintains a large network of parks and conservancies. Middleton Parks include a dog exercise Park, 8 mini-parks, six neighborhood parks, and six community parks. They also have numerous special use areas and facilities such as the Lake Street boat launch, Metropolitan Community Park, Middleton Bike Park, Quarry Lake State Park, and the Walter Bauman Aquatic Center. Some park locations even offer reservations for private rentals and events!
For the avid hikers out there, Middleton offers 27 miles of multi-use trails that connect the various green spaces throughout town. The largest natural area in Middleton is the Pheasant Branch Conservancy, with over 160 acres of space for hiking, biking, hunting, and more. Middleton is also home to Pleasant View Golf Course, a public 18-hole course for players of all ability levels.
Crucial when choosing a new place to raise a family, the Middleton-Cross Plains area school district is one of the highest-rated school systems in Wisconsin, ranking number 5 statewide in 2020. The school district includes eight elementary schools, two middle schools, a community school, and a high school. Early Childhood programs and four-year-old kindergarten are also available.
Middleton offers beautiful landscapes and access to downtown shops, restaurants, and other amenities that make this city one of the most pleasant places to live in the country. Its access to its neighboring villages and towns provides wonderful weekend trips and enjoyment across the greater Madison area.
Let’s head back into the city proper to reach our last stop, the former-neighborhood-turned-village called Shorewood Hills.
The last stop on our tour is the village of Shorewood Hills, founded in 1927. On the southern shore of Lake Mendota, the village is entirely surrounded by the city of Madison. Initially, the village of Shorewood Hills was created by the combination of 2 real estate plats called College Hills and Shorewood. From 1912 to 1915, the plot for the College Hills was established next to the University of Wisconsin, making it the older of the two. In the 1920s, the Shorewood part of the village was platted along Lake Mendota and Blackhawk Hill.
On the west side of Shorewood Hills, you’ll find the Shorewood Hills historical district. The eclectic architectural styles range from 1924 to 1963. The community became a part of the national register of historic places in 2002.
Shorewood Hills is home to the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, a historic landmark designed by Wisconsin’s most prominent architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. This mid-century marvel boasts one of the top ten largest Unitarian Congregations in the country.
Another prominent location is the Shorewood Hills Blackhawk Country Club. Their Golf Course Is made even more exciting with well-preserved effigy mounds. Unlike the mounds in Monona that we saw before, these structures were not constructed as burial sites. Instead, you’ll find the shapes of totem animals, such as bears and geese. The prehistoric mound-building people lived in the area between 500 and 1500 A.D. When European settlers first arrived here, these lands were described as a “sculpted land” due to the prominence of mounds like these.
Another point of interest is the site of the old Radiation Center, the first private medical center to treat cancer patients with a betatron. It was opened in 1957 and demolished in 1993 and replaced by the Ronald McDonald House.
Shorewood Hills resides within the Madison metropolitan school district. Near the center of the village is Shorewood Hills Elementary School. The institution serves students from kindergarten through fifth grade. It has 3 playgrounds, recreation programs, and multiple after-school programs.
Shorewood Hills also offers an abundance of recreation programs with the assistance of the Village's Recreation Committee. There are multiple volunteer-run programs, which include tennis and golf for adults and teens. Suppose you're looking for a place to offer outdoor fun in the summer for your children. In that case, programs like the four corners camp, summer basketball camp, and dodgeball camp keep kids of all age groups occupied with activities like frisbee golf, crafts, model rocket-building, and more.
Residents can also take part in the Shorewood Hills community garden, or rent canoes and kayaks through the recreation department at the Shorewood Hills Marina. This Focus on community recreation makes Shorewood Hills a great place to raise a family and bond over shared sports, shared interests, and shared memories.
On the west side of Madison, just south of here, is the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, which has a variety of habitats that span 1200 Acres, including restored prairie and natural woodland.
Well, folks, that just about does it for our tour of Dane County’s cities and villages. If our journey has inspired you to search for a new home in the Badger State, give Rick Corey a call at 608-219-6066 or send him an email at Rick@MoveMode.com. As always, thanks so much for taking this UCPlaces tour, and I hope you have a great day!