SPRING GREEN, Wisc. – The House on the Rock is no ordinary house.
In fact, ordinary wouldn’t describe anything within the confines of the compound started by Alex Jordan in 1945.
To begin with, its location is out of the ordinary: a house is situated on a rock foundation atop a large overlook. Then it grew. And grew. And grew. And as it grew it began to fill with the unique and unusual, the extraordinary and the eclectic, the fascinating and the fun. Then everything within the property became unique and even more unique.
So how big is the House on the Rock? By the time Jordan died in 1989, more than 200 acres of property, expanding far beyond the original house’s walls, became filled with one-of-a-kind items of art, architecture and several large and small musical machines.
Visitors can purchase tickets to see just the home, the numerous collections housed there, or both in the “ultimate experience.”
Whatever tour you decide to take, be prepared to for some footwork. Finding the original front door of the house takes some walking, then a maze of walkways takes visitors from the front gate around a garden with waterfalls and a pond.
The house itself represents one of three main attractions of the complex. The rock foundations all are original, and were carved out by Jordan himself.
The living quarters, consisting of the original house and the Gate House, features decor and appliances typical of any 1950s house, but that’s where the similarities end. The rooms, with plenty of steps between and within, were built to factor in the house’s natural surroundings and Jordan’s personal aesthetics. Openings between the rooms are narrow, to accommodate the residence’s lone tenant, Jordan.
One of the house’s newer features is the Infinity Room. The long, indoor, pentagonal walkway juts out more than 200 feet over a cliff and is constructed so that, standing at one end, it appears as though the room stretches out to infinity.
Some rooms have string instruments and pianos that play tunes at random times. The designs came from Jordan’s imagination, and they’re placement throughout various spots throughout the house serve as a preview of what’s to come in other exhibits. The house is also filled with small sculptures and stained glass lighting fixtures.
That’s not all. There’s more. Lots more.
The Mill House contains a large collection of dolls, glass jugs and ancient and primitive artillery. Next, take a stroll on the Streets of Yesterday, where visitors can stroll along a path with storefront facades reminiscent of the turn of the 19th century.
After that, a collection of more than 200 model ships on three floors surround a nearly life-size model shark – with a wide-open mouth – in the Heritage of the Sea exhibit.
Then, after a bite to eat at a cafe sounds from complex musical machines resonate through the walkways. The Music of Yesterday exhibit features rooms filled with colorful, unique instruments.
Next up is the Spirit of Aviation, complete with model airplanes and newspaper clippings of several accounts of aviation history from feats of derring-do to fatalities.
The second of three parts of the overall tour concludes with the world’s largest indoor carousel, an ornate red and white structure with 20,000 lights, 269 animals and 183 chandeliers moving from left to right to the tune of circus music.
After a stroll through the Japanese garden, the third leg of the tour consists of rooms dedicated to the collection of organs, doll houses, circus decor and memorabilia, and unusual artillery.
The collection is a lot to take in. Exhibits are self-guided, but come one after another. The house tours are not wheelchair accessible.
While you're nearby ...
Stories not told in the portion of the museum regarding the house’s origin note its close proximity to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin resort, which was the headquarters and residence of the famous architect for much of his later life.
Located 7 miles north of the House on the Rock, Taliesin is an example of most of Wright’s Prairie School-style of work, with horizontal overhangs and flat roofs. The original was built in 1911 and rebuilt after fires in 1914 and 1925.
Taliesin sits behind another Wright building, the Hillside Home School, which still is in use by students of his work.
Tours of Taliesin are available, but are frequently sold out, so it’s best to plan ahead. Go to taliesinpreservation.org for tickets and tour information.