Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
To the surprise of local settlers, a much-anticipated railroad was rerouted in 1857 to cross above the towering sandstone dells of the Wisconsin River. Byron Kilbourn, the railroad’s owner, established Kilbourn City at the site of the new and massive steel bridge. Today, the original 150-year-old bridge remains. It serves as a gateway to the City of Wisconsin Dells, a name crafted to be more appealing to tourists who would make the Wisconsin Dells into the most popular vacation and resort destination in the Upper Midwest.
Eclectic, vibrant, and surrounded by stunning landforms, this city of 5,500 citizens hosts four million visitors annually. Always reinventing itself, the city again sought to polish its image for guests. The story of the Wisconsin Dells’ rugged lumber raftsmen and riverboat pilots is retold, alongside the stories of today’s photographers, artisans, and culinary creatives.
The Dells are reborn as the Dells River Arts District.
- Connect Reintroduce and revitalize the city’s relationship with the river.
- Enhance Create opportunities and facilitate progress by enriching the destination.
- Celebrate This history of the Wisconsin Dells and embrace the creative spirit.
Retelling a Familiar Story
The effort to turn a vision of revitalization into reality included generationally rooted Dells citizens, a dedicated City Council, and an enthusiastic Mayor. ZEBRADOG was retained to uncover the authentic Dells and revive the downtown as an all-season main street destination. ZEBRADOG began unpacking the Dells’ many assets—dusting off stories of this evocative landscape which has drawn out poetic reveries from every generation privileged to have encountered it. These stories blend to establish an original brand that reintroduces the Wisconsin River and its scenic delights to an entertainment district made vibrant with colorful banners and mosaics. Every element of placemaking, from serpentine outdoor café zones to a refreshed wayfinding sign program and digital app, references the River Arts story.
This is truly an original “place”
A material and pattern language draws from what is unique to this center of summertime vacation memories. Infused with oblique oxidized steel trusses of the bridge, the timbers that once floated through the infamous Narrows, and the personalities of sandstone formations carved over the course of 15,000 years by the magnificent Wisconsin River, ZEBRADOG had plenty of environmental and emotional inspiration to craft a revitalized story.
Legendary sandstone formations, crowned by majestic pines, are reflected in the Wisconsin River. Above it all, trains still rattle across the Kilbourn Bridge, marking the gateway to the Dells River Arts District. ZEBRADOG artfully captured the essence of these icons within a brandmark drawn with an artisanal style that is reverent to the past,while providing a foundation for the future development of an arts district.
The Delicate Art of Placemaking
You know you've arrived at the Dells River Arts District as local artistic talents entertain and awe on the sidewalks between social café zones. Crowds gather at the new plaza for morning yoga, mid-afternoon magic acts, and as the sun begins to set, the dancing begins. The excitement of this street scene is enhanced with intuitive wayfinding, pops of public art, and vibrantly colored banners.
Enhancing the Destination
Artful Café Zones
Shopping, competing at skill games, touring museums, and dressing up for old time photos takes a lot of energy. Café zones provide a quiet and comfortable place to take a break and recharge. You can experience the story of the Wisconsin River that flows through a mosaic course embedded in the stone walls protecting these spaces. The keystone of each Café Zone is a prime space designated for an artistic interpretation of “seating.”
We know you can’t wait to get out of your car and join in the fun. That’s why ZEBRADOG put so much care into designing a future program, with easy to follow signed pathways to and from parking lots branded with rock formations. Broadway will be a breeze to navigate with block colors defined by banners, digital information kiosks, and a custom digital app in your pocket.
Digital Wayfinding App
Armed with a smartphone and an intuitive ZEBRADOG designed and developed wayfinding app, future visitors will easily unlock reviews, promotions, calendars, and turn by turn directions to a refreshing drink at their favorite shaded sidewalk café. While relaxing and taking in the colors of the street, why not browse for tickets on a riverboat tour or study up on Dells history?
Welcome Back to the River
For too many years, Downtown Dells was missing a connection to its most important asset—the Wisconsin River. To reconnect visitors with the river, clear views from Broadway were reopened with the removal of a few key obstructions and a Riverwalk extended from Broadway to the farthest boundary of the River Arts District where a new park was planned. The journey back to the river begins at the Riverwalk Gateway. ZEBRADOG conceptualized a bridge shaded by a carefully crafted, perforated trellis and glowing with glass mosaics. Further development removed the need for the trellis, but created an opportunity to highlight a piece of Dells history in the form of an anchor just waiting to tell its stories.
The Stories Within Us
Used to float logs to sawmills, ferry passengers on riverboats, and harness electrical power, the river and its tree-lined sandstone bluffs is the original Wisconsin Dells attraction. The new Riverwalk invites Dells visitors down to the water’s edge along a meandering wooded path. Nested into natural vignettes along the way, interpretive exhibits tell the key stories of the Dells with hand-colored photography built into elegantly crafted columns. No detail was too small, each vignette features art and materials from the stories themselves.
ZEBRADOG is excited to continue to be a part of the on-going revitalization of the Downtown Dells. There are plenty of stories to tell. Come see for yourself.