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Lakefront luxury in Southeast Wisconsin

By Brian Jewell

Electric Trains and Apple Pies
The next day I traveled to East Troy, where a preserved electric railroad gives visitors passage into some of the area’s hidden treasures.

A short drive from Lake Geneva, East Troy is a small town that has a 100-year railroad history. In 1907, the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company brought the first electric railway through town, connecting the area to Milwaukee for freight and passenger shipping. Although rail is no longer the primary means of transportation, and much of the electric railroad in the area no longer exists, a stretch of electrified rail extending out six and a half miles from East Troy makes for great group excursions.

The excursion began with a visit to the 1910 depot, which is now a museum detailing the history of the electric railroad. After a short introduction, my hosts showed me aboard a 1927 trolley car, restored to its original look and outfitted with vintage advertising. The car started on the journey, and the conductor talked about his family history on the railroad as we passed through forests, cornfields and small villages along the way.

I stepped off with a group of passengers at the Elegant Farmer, an orchard, farm market and bakery that sits right on the train tracks. This group of farmers has created an outlet store that sells area favorites such as Door County cherry products, cider-cured ham and traditional Wisconsin cheese curds.

The Elegant Farmer’s most famous product, though, is an apple pie baked in a brown paper bag. Owner Keith Schmidt walked my group through the store and to the production facility, where we saw workers using traditional techniques to knead pie dough and prepare apples for the filling.

“Bobby Flay was here in 2008 for an apple pie throwdown,” Schmidt said. “We won.”

I had a tasty lunch at the Elegant Farmer, tasting a number of their products. The cider-cured ham was delicious, along with the bottle of fresh apple cider that came with lunch. A generous portion of fresh apple pie was a luxurious touch, making a perfect end to a weekend spent exploring this charming region.

I may never enjoy the wealth of old Chicago’s elite. But the treasures of Lake Geneva and southeast Wisconsin make for a rich travel experience all the same.