Known as the Troll Capital of the World, Mount Horeb is more than a Scandinavian tourist destination. As this village grows on the west side of Dane County, just a half hour from Madison, it has managed to retain its authentic and walkable downtown, small-town charm, and beautiful views of the Driftless Area.
More than 7,000 people and 250 businesses and organizations call this place home, and the energy has contributed to a strong downtown corridor. Historic buildings are being repurposed, and more businesses and housing developments are branching off of the “Trollway” and the five roundabouts on the east side of the village.
Among them are Miller and Sons Supermarket, Sjölinds Chocolate Factory (which also has a Main Street location with coffee and sweet treats), and Duluth Trading Company’s expanded flagship store and new world headquarters set to open in fall 2018. Mount Horeb is also between the Lands’ End headquarters in Dodgeville and Epic Systems in Verona, making it a prime location to live, especially for young professionals.
With a desire for continuous improvement and growth while retaining its small-town feel, the village is looking to increase residential housing opportunities that cater to a younger demographic. There are several new subdivisions for single-family, condos, and apartments, especially on the south west and east sides of town, and resale values have increased over the last decade.
In 2017, the community also voted to approve a $38.5 million referendum for the Mount Horeb Area School District to upgrade and renovate some of the buildings in the next few years, primarily adding new classrooms and science labs to the high school that has been experiencing record attendance.
According to Mount Horeb’s Downtown Redevelopment Plan produced in 2017, recent developments that have the potential to be “economically transformative” include the new 64-room GrandStay Hotel & Suites, upscale Gallina/Hoff Mall apartments above retail shops like Marah’s Elegant Bridal and Bistro 101, and the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society’s Driftless Historium, a museum and research center that shares the story of how the community has evolved in the landscape overtime.
Around every turn there is more to explore. Enjoy wine at Botham Vineyards and the farm-to-table restaurant Campo di Bella, loose leaf tea at Telsaan, and hundreds of bottled craft sodas and kettle corn at The Pop Place.
Or, for those looking to travel back in time, head to Schubert’s old fashioned diner and bakery, where you can take a seat at the counter, a booth, or outside on the sidewalk under the shade of an umbrella and sink your teeth into Norwegian lefse.
Areas for opportunity, according to JoEllen Graber, then marketing and tourism director of the Mount Horeb Area Chamber of Commerce who now holds a similar position with the Verona Area Chamber of Commerce, are daytime dining options downtown since many are closed in the afternoon, as well as a large restaurant that can hold more people for weddings and tour groups. She said Mount Horeb has an old-town feel to it, but people are progressive in that they are willing to try new things and learn from failures. For example, the village is home to more gift shops and less antique stores than it used to be, but there are still several eccentric shops.
Check out the walls of dolls at aptly-named Forever Dolls & Antiques, colorful yarns and fiber classes at The Cat and Crow, year-round decorations at Olson’s Christmas House, and handcrafted wood items at Artisan Woods Gallery. And racking in over 1.5 million visitors per month on its website is Wisconsin Surplus Online Auction, an unassuming downtown building that works with the villages in the area to sell lawn mowers, vehicles, and other equipment all over the state.
Main Street is primarily for retailers and restaurants rather than services, which Graber said makes it a walkable area for people to enjoy. “A lot of businesses are converted from houses, which maximizes space and gives a quaint and cool vibe with a lot of character,” said Tiffany King, the new executive director of the Mount Horeb Area Chamber of Commerce. That includes the home decor and women’s clothing store, McFee on Main, which opened in 2016 and received a bronze medal in Madison Magazine’s 2018 Best of Madison awards. King said a word she hears a lot when people talk about Mount Horeb is that it’s “unexpected” -- in a good way.
Many businesses have taken advantage of the village’s Tax Increment District-funded façade improvement program, while others have been tapped as potential renovation targets. Carol McChesney Johnson, the executive director of the Mount Horeb Area Economic Development Corporation (formed as a nonprofit in 2013 to help with revitalization), said this program has “enhanced the community overall.”
The Wisconsin Historical Society is even reviewing a nomination signifying the Mount Horeb downtown area as a National Historic Main Street District. She hopes more restaurants, stores, and boutiques stay open longer, especially during the summer months, which would be more attractive to new businesses and residences. The downtown redevelopment plan also calls for the addition of more event venues and gathering spaces, like a village square, downtown.
As for recreational opportunities, there are several in and around Mount Horeb. The Military Ridge State Trail parallels Main Street, giving walkers and bikers easy access to refuel at local establishments, such as pizza at Grumpy Troll Brew Pub or sandwiches at Sunn Cafe, or fix a flat tire at Trail This Bicycle Shop. People can also head to Stewart Lake County Park or the aquatic center for a dip in the summer, Tyrol Basin to ski or snowboard in the winter, and Norsk Golf Club to play nine holes of golf or go bowling. Other popular attractions include the expansive views at Blue Mound State Park and the Cave of the Mounds, where it’s 50 degrees year-round underground.
“It’s authentic, genuine, and unique, and the community itself is incredibly inviting and embracing of people coming in,” McChesney Johnson said. That welcoming mentality is definitely on display during Mount Horeb’s annual events, such as the Art Fair in July, Brew Fest in September, and Fall Heritage Festival in October. King said that the “community is definitely very much a family; everyone pitches in and puts 100 percent of effort into the things we do,” which is even more apparent during the volunteer-run Summer Frolic.
And you’re sure to remember the village’s display of carved wood and concrete trolls scattered throughout downtown. “People love looking at the trolls and taking pictures with them,” King said. To learn how the Trollway came to be in the 1980s when the bypass was built, stop by the Scandinavian Open House Imports or the chamber/visitor center on Main Street. In folklore, Graber said trolls are said to “protect the jewels of the earth,” which is interpreted in Mount Horeb as its wonderful citizens.