SOLDIERS GROVE - The Village of Soldiers Grove is a beehive of innovation and transformation these days. In the old part of town, abandoned due to repeated flooding on the Kickapoo River, a renaissance of culture and enthusiasm is breathing new life into a landscape previously inhabited by the ghosts of the old downtown’s vibrant past.
With a swank, five-room hotel open in the Tobacco Warehouse, new owners of the Old Oak Inn planning a summer full of musical entertainment, and Driftless Brewing Company featuring craft beers, the village is shaping up as a recreation and entertainment hot spot this season.
Add to that Solar Meats, a Friday farmers market, Country Gardens and Desperados restaurant/bars, and an energized group of young folk intent upon cleaning up and restoring Myrtle Lake for recreation, and you have a perfect storm of excitement.
In addition, after a quiet year due to the pandemic, events are returning to the village park, kicked off with the BMW Motorcycle Club, and capped by the much-missed Driftless Area Art Festival in September. Not to mention all the excitement of opening day of the trout fishing season coming up in May.
Tobacco Warehouse Inn
The village’s tobacco warehouse was completed in 1923, and provided an economic boost to the community and the area tobacco growing business. With the withdrawal of federal price supports for the crop starting in 2004, the burgeoning business tapered off, and the warehouse became a quality structure standing in need of a vision and a purpose.Enter Noel Miller, an entrepreneur who has always had an ambition to operate a hotel, restaurant and bar business, and his boyfriend and partner, Harrison Heilman.
Heilman, who sits on the Soldiers Grove Village Board, was previously employed in sales and operations for a vibrant agricultural business in the area – Star Valley Flowers. Now, Heilman has transitioned to full-time work in the Tobacco Warehouse and Roots and Fruits, the bareroot fruiting trees and shrubs businesses with Miller.
Miller fell in love with the Driftless Area when his fruiting trees and shrubs business brought him into contact with Bill Meyer of Kickapoo Orchard. Seeking a structure to house his hotel and restaurant business, Miller found the warehouse and immediately saw the potential of the building.
“After graduating from high school, I went off to college in Arizona at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University,” Miller recalled. “But my studies never captured my attention in comparison to my fascination with plants, and the hotel and restaurant business.”
Miller’s intention upon embarking on his college education was to pursue a career in computer engineering. While attending college, he met a man who was to become his mentor in the hotel business – Chuck Davenport. One of the rooms in the Tobacco Warehouse Inn is named after him.
Unique roomsAll rooms have a sunny, open and airy feel that convey a sense of plush comfort and tasteful relaxation. Recently added to the mix are two rooms – the Thoftne and Barlow - that share an entryway, and can be booked for wedding parties. In the near future, the outdoor seating area in front of each room will feature privacy walls and an enhanced garden/patio area.
In addition to the exquisite décor, all rooms provide a luxurious suite of amenities. These include flat panel televisions with cable, HBO and Starz, dining and family rooms, a complete kitchen with pots, pans, dishes, glassware and a full-sized refrigerator, free wifi, and comfortable, tasteful furnishings.
“Because the booking is all online, and we feature contactless entry from outside doors, our rooms have been very popular during the COVID pandemic,” Miller explained. “We’ve gotten medical professionals working in the area, business travellers, hunters and fishers, and even folks wanting to hold family gatherings.”
The inn offers a grocery delivery service as well, and having secured their restaurant license, will also offer a fully-stocked bar in each room. Grocery and beverages are sourced locally, and are organic when possible.
Room service cuisine is also offered:
• Breakfast for twopeople locally sourced and organic when available eggs, sausage, ham, English muffins, hash browns, usually 2 juices, milk, granola, yogurt, and some seasonal fruit. This grocery package includes enough food for any appetite.
• A Charcuterie Boardoffers variety of three or 4 four different kinds of Wisconsin Artisans meats, cheeses and a mix of seasonal vegetables and fruits with an assort-ment of crackers, and breads. All items locally sourced and organic when available
The five rooms each have their own unique décor themes and inspiration:
Davenport RoomThe steampunk grace of the Davenport Suite fea-tures elements of old world charm combined with modern luxury. Patina iron poles belay the weight of douglas fir beams subtly dividing the rooms in this open concept floor plan. The master bedroom houses two Queen beds and a television surrounded by bright artwork.
Wake up your culinary skills in the full kitchen by creating a memorable meal with the aid of a stove, microwave, and full size refrigerator.
A trendy dining area sur-rounded by antique wain-scot serves as the back-drop for your candle lite meal.
A full size tub awaits your day's end before retiring to the spacious living area to relax on the couch and take in a movie on the 50-inch flat screen TV.
Crawford RoomThe Crawford Suite gleans its name from the county in which it resides. Tall ceilings, artwork, and soft color tones beautifully offset bold tile floors. The kitchen features a stove, microwave, cooking uten-sils and a full sized refrigerator. Prepare a gourmet meal and enjoy the four person dining room before relaxing on the sectional couch with a movie or one of your favorite TV shows.
The large bathroom offers a full tub for a relaxing soak before retiring to the cozy bedroom on a queen sized bed.
Freeman RoomOriginal Douglas Fir beams highlight tall ceilings in the Freeman Room. Antique wainscot blends with vibrant wall colors and soft tile tones to create a bright, sunny, welcoming feel. The kitchen houses a microwave, stove, and full sized refrigerator with a quaint dining area nestled into open surroundings.
The living room dons a flat screen TV in front of a full sized couch hiding a retractable queen sized bed for extra guests $20.00 Charge per guest.
A full tub awaits your day's end in a lovely bathroom featuring a large vanity and extra storage space. When bedtime arrives take in a show on the flat screen TV perched above a queen sized bed in the master bedroom.
The Thoftne suite is named in honor of a local Norwegian immigrant family. Tobacco was a primary crop in the early twentieth century. The Thoftne family grew and sold their tobacco through our historic warehouse. We borrowed the room’s warm blue and red colors from the Norwegian flag to honor the family and their historic heritage.
Following a long day of exploring, a tub and shower awaits you in the tastefully decorated, spa-cious bathroom. Enjoy a movie on the 50-inch LED big screen while lounging in the beautiful sitting area or relaxing on one of the two double beds. A refrigerator, micro-wave, and toaster oven are on hand to make meals and snacks. Start your fun-filled busy day by brewing yourself a gourmet cup of coffee before heading out to enjoy our regions endless natural beauty.
Barlow RoomMarlie Barlow was a writer, photographer, and world traveler that hailed from Soldiers Grove. In between journeys, he took count-less photographs of our area. He returned to the valley late in life to formally document the rich history of Soldiers Grove. Marlie wrote two picture books about the area and became Soldiers Grove's local historian. The Barlow suite is dedicated to the land that Marlie loved. Wintery sil-ver-green and sun-touched barley gold meld with the large open-concept room’s historic natural beauty. The kitchen is equipped with a mid-sized refrigerator, toaster oven, microwave, and coffee maker. The living area features a small dining table and a relaxing lounge chair under a sunny west window. A desk with handy outlets for charging laptops and devices sits below a 50-inch wide-screen LED TV.
Future plansPlans for the building include opening a bar for patrons in the basement that can also be rented for events. Miller says tentative plans call for a grand-opening in the Fall of 2021, after work in the village’s park is completed. At first, the bar will be open weekends and for special events, until the restaurant is launched.
There will also be a large, outdoor seating area in a beautifully landscaped “garden” setting. Bar patrons will be able to choose indoor or outdoor seating, and the area will eventually be accessible from the restaurant planned for the second floor as well.
Upstairs in the spacious building, the plan is to open a fine dining restaurant in the Fall of 2022. The restaurant will feature local, seasonal, organic foods, with Miller himself likely serving as the chef.
The location of the Inn is within easy access to three restaurant/bars in Soldiers Grove, M&M bar/restaurant in Gays Mills, two restaurants in Readstown, 15 minutes from Viroqua, and within easy access to the Driftless Region’s world-class cold-water trout streams. For outdoor enthusiasts, there are hiking and biking opportunities in nearby parks, and canoeing on the Kickapoo River.For more information about booking rooms and amenities, go to: www.tobaccowarehouseinn.com.
Roots and Fruits
Another of Miller’s passions – fruiting trees and bushes – is the basis for the other part of his local business endeavors. Miller originally ran the bareroot tree and shrubs business out of the Tobacco Warehouse location. This year, Miller and Heilman will move the Roots and Fruits business to a four-acre parcel along Highway 131, just south of the village.
Right now, patrons can purchase the bareroot fruiting trees and shrubs from their outlet at the Kickapoo Orchard, located nearby on apple orchard ridge, 46490 State Highway 171, Gays Mills. The trees are sold Thursdays through Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., from the orchard location, and by appointment on weekdays from the warehouse in Soldiers Grove. To learn more, or make an appointment to shop, call 608-735-6000.
Roots and Fruits not only offers the plants, but also robust advice on which rootstock to select to meet your goals. Miller also consults with home owners and commercial orchards about planning, planting and pruning.
The trees and shrubs are available in many different sizes and rootstocks, and feature two-to-ten-year-old trees, pruned to produce a yearly harvest of fruit. The prices on rootstock items range from $19.00 to $199.00, depending on size and age.
• Apple Trees:Ambrosia, Asmeads Kernal, Arkansas Black, Aunt Rachel, Autumn Crisp, Brambley Seedling, Cortland, Cortland Royal, Crimson Crisp, Cox Orange Pippin, Cameron Select Honey Crisp, Champaign, Duchess, Enterprise, Empire, Espouse Spitzenburg, Freedom, Fuji, Fortune, Fretting Ham Crab, Gala, Golden Russett, Ginger Gold, Granny Smith, Golden Russett, Goldrush, Honey Crisp, Honeycrisp Royal Red, Honeycrisp Roseland Red, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Hardy Cumberland, Honeygold, Ida Red, Jonagold, Johathan, Kindercrisp, Liberty, Mac, Macoun, Michelin, Monroe, Nova Spy, Pink Lady, Pink Lady (Barnsby Strain), RI Greening, Red Delicious, Royal Empire, Suncrisp, Sweet 16, Snow Sweet, Tolman Sweet, 20-ounce Pippin, Whitney Crab, Wickson Crab, William’s Pride, Wolf River, Wine Sap, Winecrisp, Yellow Delicious, Yellow Trans Parent, and Zestar.
If you don’t see an apple you’re interested in, just ask and they may be able to source it for you.
• European Pears:Ayers, Bartlett, Flemish Beauty, Kieffer, Moonglow, Sunrise, and Summer Crisp
• Asian Pears:Hosui and Skinko
• Plums:Black Ice and Toka
• Peaches:Contender, Red Haven, Crest Haven, Red Globe
• Almonds:All in One
• Cherries:Balaton, Bing, Emperor Francis, Montmorency, Rainier, Blushing Golden, and Burgundy Pearl
• Blueberry Bushes:Chippewa, North Country, North Sky, St. Cloud, Polaris, and North Land
• Figs:Chicago Hardy, Lsu Purple, and Negronie
• Maples:Autumn Blaze, Red Pointe, Petticoat, Sun Valley, Northern Red, October Glory, Brandywine, and Silver
• Shade Trees:Exclamation Sycamore, River Birch Singles, River Birch Clumps, Quaking Aspens, and Dawn Redwoods
• Pines/Conifers:Globosa, Little Gem, Gold Cone Juniper, Prince of Wales Juniper, Blue Chip Juniper, Boxwoods, Weeping Blue Spruce, and Thuja Emerald Green
• Beech Trees:Weeping Beech• Flowering Trees:White Red Buds, White Dogwoods, Snow Fountain Cherries, Ivory Silk Lilac, Chanticleer Pears, Hydrangea Fire Light, Hydrangea Lime Light, and Hakuro Nishiki Willows.