The Ashland Mural Walk

Taking a trip along the North Shore of Wisconsin needs to be on your bucket list! But, if you want to experience something a little different, that takes you strolling along one of Wisconsin’s finest towns – You need to discover Ashland, Wisconsin! It encompasses the feeling of a small-town atmosphere, with a great atmosphere, and fantastic down-to-earth people. Do you know the feeling? I call it the “Cheers Effect” – named after the famed 80’s sitcom of the local bar in downtown Boston – the place where “Everybody knows your name”. That’s only half the story – what I love most about Ashland is what they decided to do with its downtown – making it an active art form, telling a story of its historical past through a few colorful murals. A total of twenty-one murals are scattered around town, between the downtown district and a few other local businesses and schools. A mural walk – set up to reminisce about the past, but set up to shine a bright light on its future. So many bright and colorful paintings around the brick buildings – it’s no wonder that Ashland has been crowned “The Mural Capital Of Wisconsin”. It’s a great idea for any small town to organize, and put your local artists to work, letting them beautify the town while telling the local stories. The mural walk is shown below – but you can get a better look at this project through the city of Ashland.

  1. Asaph Whittlesey Mural

Corner of US Hwy 2 & State Hwy 13 –

You can start your journey on the Ashland Mural walk at the Asaph Whittlesey Mural (The FIRST Mural) – depicting Ashland National Bank as it appeared in 1892 – and located where the bank used to be – it is painted on the sides of the building and shows seven influential figures that represent the first founders of the community.

2. Historical Ellis Avenue Mural

Found at 101 West Main Street (and completed Summer of 2012)

The mural features three of the historical buildings in Ashland – The Knight Hotel, Ashland High School, and Northland College “Wheeler Hall” – each building holding their significance to the community – and the meaning behind the brownstone selected to construct the Knight Hotel – signaling the end of pioneer days and the start of a progressive city.

3. Waitress Mural

124 West Main (finished in Summer of 2007)

This particular mural tells the story of the mother who raised the owner of the store – in which the mural is painted. He wanted to show tribute to her and her friends – and show respect to the hard work that the local waitress’ put in to help support their families. The picture from left to right (Florence Dufek Larson, Priscilla Percy (Stelmaszewski) Muse, Delores Larson Vranes.

4. Ore Dock Mural

Found at 301 West Main (Finished in 2010)

The mural depicts the Ashland Ore Dock – in 1916 – at 1,800 feet, it was the largest concrete dock in the world. It tells the important story of Iron Ore shipping in the area – Ashland had the perfect location at one of the southern parts/tips of Lake Superior and allowed the Soo Line train company to work with Iron Ore shipping and the life-blood of most of the labor work in the area.

5. The Rail Road Mural

Found at 306 West 3rd Street (finished 2013-2014)

Located near the historic Soo Line Depot – it depicts both the Soo Rail Road and The Chicago & Northwestern Rail lines. All pictures in the mural are of actual railroad workers from the Ashland area – tell the story of the connection between Iron Ore along Lake Superior and the railroad.

6. Aviation, 1920’s Jazz Era & Schiller Shoe Story Mural

Located at Lakeside of 300 Block, West Main Street (and it appears on the backside of some buildings-down an alley-like street?)

The mural depicts the importance of aviation history in the area, as well as celebrating some of the jazz musicians who lived in the Ashland area – the other mural shows Schiller Shoe Mural – to celebrate the building in which the mural is placed – as the old Shoe Store.

7. Storefront Mural

Located at 4th Avenue West Main Street (Completed in 2002-2003)

The mural was designed to celebrate the architecture of Ashland – notably the historical buildings and storefronts. The murals show the Royal Theatre, Ashland Tobacco Company, The Chicago One Price Clothing Store, E.J. Born & Company Jewelers, City Drug Store & Hays Dry Goods.

8. Lumberjack Mural

Located at 4th Avenue West & Main Street (Finished Summer of 2000).

The mural was one of my favorites and depicted some of the men and women that worked around Ashland’s lumber industry – particularly during the lumber era. Workers would work from 4:00 AM to Dark, earning $1.00 a day – and on average working 100 pine logs in that day. In 1893, over 10,000 lumberjacks worked in Ashlands 10 sawmills around the area.

9. Veterans Mural

Found at Vaughn Avenue & Main Street (completed in the summer of 2005).

The mural was completed in honor of all the Ashland area military men and women who served in various wars and conflicts. The story that touched me the most after learning about this mural, was the background story of a veteran revving his motorcycle engine as the artists were working on the mural, and in teary eyes – thanked them for the work they were doing honoring veterans. The work and detail on this mural are amazing.

10. Women’s Mural

Found on the corner of Vaughn Avenue and West Main Street (finished Spring 2018).

This mural gained its inspiration from all the women leaders in the area – each woman depicted played an important role in Ashland and is honored with both their picture and name displayed below – you can find the full list of names at the Ashland Mural Website.

11. Bayfront Mural

Found at 6th Avenue West and Main Street (Completed Fall 2004)

Ashland’s industry along the lake superior shoreline in telling of its history and story of the people. The mural depicts the industry along the shoreline. The ships, docks, and history of how Iron Ore shipping also shaped that industry of the area.

12. 1950’s Snapshot Mural

Found in the parking lot at 612 West Main (finished summer 2007).

Along the side of local restaurant Buddies Burgers at the time – the building sits across from the post office – one suggestion is to grab a burger and malt and enjoy the 50’s scene in the mural. The pictures depict the time period and celebrate’s the culture and values (especially during the period) of the Ashland area.

13. Lighthouse Mural

Found at the corner of Chapple Avenue and Main Street. (Completed in 2000).

The mural depicts the importance and history of the area lighthouses in Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands. The mural was recognized by a local, where she recognized the man holding the baby (which happened to be her) and her father. The keeper was Alphonse L. Gustafson, who was the Lighthouse keeper at the Devil Island Lighthouse from April 1945 – April 29, 1951. The mural is in honor of the lighthouse keepers and the living history of the current historical lighthouses still working in the area.

14. Dhooge’s Store Mural

Found at the corner of 9th Avenue West and Main (Completed in 2007).

The mural depicts the time after settlers came and transitioned in farming – when they would come to town for their supplies and goods, sometimes this would be a multiple day affair – and celebrates the importance of the area supplies and local merchants to supply this need.

15. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Mural

Found at 9th Avenue West and Main Street (finished in 2016).

This mural celebrates the park services 100′ year history and the Apostle Islands National Seashore! Ashland County has 18 out of the 22 Apostle Islands located within its county borders – The islands dominate the popularity of the area, and Ashland is right in the heart of it.

16. BIA Mural

Found at 916 W. Lake Shore Drive

It was unfortunate that due to Covid – the Indian Bureau of Indian Affairs Building was closed. My understanding is because its a government building – you need to call to be checked in – and a guide will take you back to see the murals – The murals are in a conference room and displays three separate pictures –

  1. Mural #1 shows the beginning of a Pow Wow
  2. Mural #2 shows male dancers in traditional clothing
  3. Mural #3 shows women and children dancers

The mural depicts and honors the local tribes, and those in the painting are all part of local tribes.

17. Voyageurs Mural

Found in the Quality Inn of Ashland on US Hwy 2 West.

The mural is of the voyageur era and there are three different murals

  1. Lobby
  2. Cafe
  3. Pool Area

All murals depict the Ojibwa Tribe, Fur Trappers, and Jesuit Priests – it’s to show respect in the area for both tribes, and the relationships between the fur trade and others in the area and in relationship to the land and to all were in the area on native land.

18. Northern Great Lakes Visitor Mural

Found at US Hwy 2, County G (Finished in 2012)

Unfortunately, at the time I was conducting the walk – the visitor center was closed – However, I will update you with pictures.

The mural depicts evolving relationships between humanity and the land over time – it shows the impact on the ecosystem and how the use of the land affects the planet.

19. Oredocker Football Mural

Found at the local high school football field on the corner of 3rd Avenue East and 11th Street. Oredocker Stadium Mural is a tribute to the rich heritage of the Ashland Football program.

A mural like this shows the close connection between the community and things that bring it together – like favorite sports past times. In the end, walking and finding murals like this one – proved to me the power of people and the importance of their lives and stories.

20. Cabbies and Stage Coach Mural

Found at 315 East Main Street (Finished 2021)

This was found at a local bar in Ashland and the story brought home the life behind the mural walk. It depicts the history of a small bar where “Locals” would hang out. Naturally, there weren’t many pictures for the artist to draw inspiration’s from, and so, they relied on the many stories from the locals to give an accurate picture of the people at one of their favorite spots to socialize and gather.

21. De Padua Mural

Found at 511 East Main Street (Finished 2019).

The mural features St. Agnes School, De Padua School, and the Holy Family School. The mural itself celebrates the people involved with the schools and highlights the relationship between education and the community of Ashland.

Murals – Storytelling Through Art

When I get the chance to travel and explore a midwest town – I always learn new things, ideas, concepts, and I love the creativity of something like a mural walk! I would highly suggest looking into something like this for your community – and found Ashland offering a fantastic side tourism attraction for The Country Pilgrim. We traveled up to Bayfield Wisconsin – to check out the Apostle Islands – (You can read more about Bayfield – and why I have it ranked as one of my Top Five Midwest Destinations to visit this summer) – but the idea of a mural walk brought me down to Ashland, where we stayed for a few nights lodging and took in the area as well as the downtown area! If you are in Northern Wisconsin – look into Ashland as a midwest destination – it has a rich history along Lake Superior at Chequamegon Bay. Take time and explore the “Mural capital of Wisconsin”, learn about the shipping industry and Iron Ore – but most importantly find time to talk with some locals and learn about their stories and the very thing that the murals were painted on — old bricks and history. Overall, there were a few murals depicting buildings, but for the most part, it was about the people and their stories and what they brought to the communities. What a beautiful thing – and what a great idea! Where have you seen murals or mural walks? Maybe it’s something your community can try?

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