When you think of agriculture in America's heartland, you probably think of milk, cheese and grains. Certainly not an exotic Asian root that has been used in Asia for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Ginseng has more recently been recognized as an aphrodisiac, stimulant and herbal medicine cure-all in recent years in Western societies. Wausau, however, is the one of the world's leading producer of Ginseng, producing over 90% of America's exports, most of which heads to Asia. Around the world, Ginseng is grown between the 43rd and 48th latitudes, making Wausau, at the 45th parallel with its rich, loamy soils, an ideal location for growing Ginseng.
When the ski area opened in 1937, it was one of the first ski areas to open in North America, a year after the west's first ski area, Sun Valley (1936), opened, and only three years after the east's leader of the time, Stowe (1934), was established.
Think of world class white-water kayaking, and you probably think of Montana, Colorado or Wyoming. For professional white-water kayakers, however, the portion of the Wisconsin River that passes through downtown Wausau is mecca for the sport as a major site for major national and international competitions. In 1991, Wausau hosted the final race of the kayaking World Cup.
The original T-Bar lift installed at the ski area, powered by an 85 horsepower Ford V-8 motor with a standard truck transmission, was reportedly the longest ski lift in the nation when it was installed in the late 1930s, transporting skiers from the base area all the way to the top of the mountain. The ski area itself, in fact, in these nascent years for ski areas, was one of the most expansive ski areas in North America when it opened in 1937, with six wide runs, all of which had been cleared by hand. Progress, however, did not come quickly to the ski area with these six runs comprising the bulk of the ski area's terrain for the next sixty years, until the expansion that began in 2000.
Marathon County ranks first in the nation for milk and cheese production. World-famous Colby Cheese gets its name from the town of Colby in southwestern Marathon County. You can pick up a variety of specialty cheeses that area shipped around the nation and the world just by taking a drive around Marathon County and stopping at roadside stores or farms.
Rib Mountain, where Granite Peak is located, is a mountain that was formed in a manner markedly different than most mountains, and taking many hundreds of millions of years longer. Rib Mountain is called a monadnock mountain by geologists, created by the gradual process of erosion as opposed to the more typical volcanic eruption or the shifting of continental shelves. Monadnock mountains are possible only when the mountain is made out of a material that is much harder and more durable than the material that surrounds the mountain. In the case of Rib Mountain, the mountain is made of ancient quartzite, an extremely hard rock. Over a period of hundreds of millions of years, the material surrounding the mountain (much of it the famous Wausau Red Granite, which is itself hard but not nearly as hard as quartzite) eroded away and the mountain continued to rise further and further above the surrounding plain. Today, Rib Mountain rises over 700 feet above the Wisconsin plateau, making Rib Mountain the tallest (with the second highest elevation) mountain in Wisconsin.
The Joe Duskey Room in the historic, stone Chalet is named after a local boy who in the years before and after graduating from high school in 1941 developed a singular love for skiing the slopes of Rib Mountain during the early years of the ski area. He became a particularly accomplished skier in these exciting early years for the sport of skiing and, as a young man, joined the famed, alpine skiing 10th Mountain Division in World War II. He trained with the U.S. Army in Colorado and Texas, teaching both alpine skiing and mountain climbing, and touched the hearts of his compatriots with his skill and patriotism before his tragic death in the mountains of Italy in 1945.
The original name for Wausau in the 1830s and 40s was "Big Bull Falls", named after sections of the Wisconsin River that world class kayakers today use for their national and international competitions. The name "Wausau" began to be used about the time Marathon County was organized. The site of the future city was where the Indians went on their yearly hunts, and they called it "Wausau". The common translation is "far away place" but another interpretation from one Indian language states that "Wausau" means "noises like thunder". This interpretation has more resonance with many today because this is the noise the water from the Wisconsin River makes as it rushes over the falls. Wausau was originally formed as a lumber town but, unlike other towns built around their sawmills that disappeared when all of the old growth pine forests had been lumbered, Wausau continued to grow and prosper, giving birth to other businesses including insurance companies such as the well known Wausau Insurance Companies.
The American Council for the Arts has ranked Wausau number one in the nation for per capita support of the arts for cities with populations under 125,000, earning Wausau the name "Arts Town USA". The arts tradition started early as exemplified by the construction of the Grand Opera House in 1899. The Grand Opera House was replaced in 1927 by the Grand Theater which stands today as one of the top theaters in the Midwest, frequently host national and international performances including Broadway plays and musicals, pop musicians and other performers from around the world. The Cityâ€™s arts tradition is centered in its historic downtown district where besides the Grand Theater, you will find the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum with its collection of nature with historic and contemporary paintings, sculptures and works on paper that focus on birds, the Center for the Visual Arts with exhibitions by local and regional artists in all artistic media and the Marathon County Historical Museums. Historic Downtown Wausau also boasts an array of Landmark historical buildings including more than 162 buildings and homes built between 1868 and 1934 in the Warren District and the nearby East Hill District with architectural styles exemplifying Greek Revival, Prairie, Colonial Revival, Classical Revival Italianate, Tudors Revival, Georgian Revival, Queen Anne, Neo-Classical Revival and other styles.