Ashland, Wisconsin

Written by Kate - photos by Mike

A visit to Ashland, Wisconsin is a much more pleasant experience these days than in the not too distant past.  It was a port city for freighters and rows of rusting ore docks as well as a coal power plant blocked ones view of big Chequamegon Bay.  Once the shipping industry stopped, the town suffered economically and it showed.  But times have changed – for the better.  Today, Ashland is working hard to restore its shoreline and making it more visitor friendly, as well as environmentally healthy.  Some of the old ore docks still stand, but there are fewer of them and the power plant is still there, but it is converting to using biofuels.

The Chequamegan Hotel is a bright white beacon of gentility, recently renovated to showcase its historical character and its close connection to the lake.  We were lucky enough to have a corner suite on the 3rd floor and enjoyed the view out into the bay, even on the day when the gale force winds pelted the windows with rain.  The hotel is just a block away from the main street of town and what a street it is.  Many of the many brick buildings have been adorned with huge, colorful and expertly painted murals.  Artists Sue Martinsen and Kelly Meredith have been working on these creations since 1998 and continue to add them as the years go on.  It is called the Mural Walk and the town rightfully received the designation of Historic Mural Capital of Wisconsin in 2005.  I seriously believe it should be considered the mural capital of the country.  These very detailed paintings recreate the history of the town and the people who made it a thriving community in days gone by.   

The Black Cat coffee shop is always a favorite stop and right next door is the Coop.  Across the street is the delicious Ashland Baking Company.  Lots of delicious choices at all three places. 

There are very few empty storefronts on the 6-7 blocks that make up the main downtown shopping district and happily few are thrift stores or Dollar Stores that are so common today in many small towns.  I’m always happy to find a movie theater in the town – an old one that has been renovated to show multiple films.

Northland College is located in Ashland and there can be no doubt that this liberal arts institution has an impact on the economy of the town.  Students not only spend their dollars in the community, but add vibrancy to the overall feeling. 

We were so pleased to see the progress that has been made in Ashland, and though we know that politics here, as well as many other places, seems to be volatile and confrontational, the citizens seem to be forging ahead with a vigor that is paying off.  We encouraged all to keep their town moving forward.  If they would put some signs on either end of town, letting people know about the murals just a block away from Highway 2, we believe they’d see even more business and positive feedback. 

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