My little town


I first came to Cambridge, Wisconsin, almost 30 years ago. I remember the downtown resembling a Norman Rockwell painting. The population was at 900 for a long time. There was only a Main Street filled with little shops and people shopping every day until 5 p.m. Since most of the store owners were the shopkeepers, they closed to be with their families who lived nearby.

Cambridge was a destination place. Coach buses brought senior citizens for shopping in the cute establishments that were very unique. Restaurants served great food, baked their own desserts, had many flavors of ice cream and made homemade fudge. The bakery made its own bread, donuts and cookies daily. The lights would be on at 4 a.m. because someone was frosting the donuts.

Across the street was a store that sold Norwegian sweaters, imported wines and cheese, and taffy that was made at the candy factory — not to be confused with the tiny candy shop that sold amazing chocolates. Nearby was a place my children loved to go to with hand-painted toys and gifts from Mexico made by other folk artists from far away. Climbing up wooden stairs, you found the old lime rock building to the jewelry store that made custom rings and necklaces and sold sparkly crystal pendants that hung from the ceiling near the window. My girls loved to see all of the rainbows that were cast from the prisms around the room.

The other favorite shop was the Lilliput shop. It had miniature everything for a doll house or shadow boxes. They had the tiniest cups and items that were shrunk to fill the teensy weensy cabinet in the itsy bitsy kitchen. There were little kits to make grand doll houses with real windows, wallpaper and carpet. This store was busy all the time, just like the Ben Franklin store that sold anything and everything.

One of my dear friends owned a little flower shop, and her children were the same age as mine. Opening the door to the shop, a breath of fresh roses and lilies would swallow us up. She worked to make amazing floral arrangements while stripping off leaves and clipping stems that fell to the floor around her feet. She was the go-to person who hung the evergreen roping on the lamp posts for Cambridge Country Christmas. She would be out in the middle of the night, with coils of roping and premade real bows, hanging and wiring them with perfect loops and curves. She had to work at night to avoid any mishaps with shoppers under her ladder. I was with many years, holding the ladder and having a good time. Her family had always lived in Cambridge, and she knew everyone.

The historic buildings that were an old mill and wagon factory were converted into shops that sold items that were so special that visitors would drive for miles to pick them up. This area in Dane County was known for its pottery and artist community. There was Rowe Pottery and also Rockdale Union Stoneware, and they sold pottery in stores right next to each other. On the road heading out of town was Cambridge Pottery. Nearby there are more homes and studios where these potters live and work to create their own unique pieces that were glazed with their stamped signature on the bottom of every piece made. This community had a reputation of great potters to make the wares sold in the shops. Annually, there was a pottery festival that drew hundreds of potters and thousands of visitors to watch and participate in the U.S. pottery Olympics. I met many potters at this event that lived all around the U.S. and abroad who brought in their pottery to share from far away villages.

Those are special memories of the old Cambridge. The bakery is standing empty with brown paper over the windows, the stores now have no charm, and many are vacant. The restaurants have changed owners, and it isn’t where we choose to eat anymore. This is the story of many downtowns after years of great times. Now, all of the shop owners have sold their shops, retired and moved away.

All but the potters who live and work in Cambridge. Their studios are at their homes where they make amazing pottery with their own styles and glazes. Many of these artists work year-round to make enough pieces for the special events they have created to bring people to their homes and studios. They invite guest potters from other places to share the space to allow them to sell their pieces too. This collaboration is such a great opportunity for all of them to get together and sell direct to the people who love their work.

This past weekend was the 12th annual Clay Collective Spring Driving Tour. My daughter, Anna, and our intern from Finland, Aada, and I drove around to the homes and studios of the potters to say hello and purchase a beautiful piece of pottery. Walking up, I noticed we all have more grey hair, we stand with our shoulders hanging a little lower, and everyone is happy to see us. We are all old friends and greet each other with hugs. They have watched Anna grow up and notice she is with me. The conversations extend to their children and what a lovely day it was to be out at their studios. We picked out items that we love to look at. We will use these items and remember that it was made by each one of these artist’s hands, from start to finish.

Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.


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