Nelson is another crossroads town that most people zip through, except maybe for a stop at the cheese factory. There are other reasons to get out of your car and explore, too.
Englishman James Nelson settled near the mouth of the Chippewa River in the 1840s, thus giving the area the name Nelson’s Landing. The area had a ferry connection to Read’s Landing for a while, although the sloughs on the Wisconsin side could make for a challenging trek.
Madison Wright arrived in the township in 1848 and is generally acknowledged as the first permanent settler. He lived in the bottomlands but did most of his trading in Wabasha. When he died, Wabasha sent a bill for his burial to the Fairview-Nelson Town Board, which replied that if he died poor, it was because he spent all his money in Wabasha, so Wabasha should bury him.
Nelson’s Landing was a busy place; at least it had a lot of people passing through on the way to or from the logging camps. More permanent settlers began arriving in the mid-1850s, but the village wasn’t platted until 1884 when the railroad surveyed a depot site.
Entertainment and Events
The village celebrates its heritage with Good Old Nelson Days (second weekend in August) with food and music.
Sports and Recreation
Between the 13,000 acre Tiffany Wildlife Area and the 3,600 acre Nelson-Trevino Bottoms State Natural Area (State Highway 25; 608.685.6222), outdoor enthusiasts have much to explore around Nelson. Both areas encompass the Chippewa River delta, one of the largest in the Upper Midwest. It is a vast landscape of sloughs, marshes, and dense bottomland hardwood forest, abundant with wildlife, and very popular with folks who like to fish. The area is probably best explored by boat (a canoe or kayak would be ideal), but you are welcome to hike anywhere in the wildlife area, just be aware that there are no developed trails and it can be very wet. In winter, this is a great spot for cross-country skiing. If that’s not enough, the nearby Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area contains another 3,500 acres of scattered parcels near the mouth of the Chippewa River; more than half of the property is native prairie, which represents fully one-quarter of the remaining traces of native prairie in the entire state. Visit the website for details on where to access the natural area.
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Nelson has surprisingly good food for a village of just 400 people. If you’re in the mood for something light, the Nelson Creamery (S237 State Road 35; 715.673.4725) makes a good, affordable sandwich; you can follow that up with a scoop of ice cream.
For a heartier, sit down meal, head to Beth’s Twin Bluff Café (S286 State Road 35; 715.673.4040). They serve everything from breakfast to dinner but your best bet is to try one of the daily specials. Or, you can just go there for a danged good piece of pie. I had a slice of Amish Oatmeal Pie, which was rich and yummy and big enough to be my dessert for two meals.
I’m a self-professed barbeque snob. I can’t help it. My family roots are in Kansas City, so I know what good barbeque is supposed to taste like. I’m not picky about the style of ‘cue, I just want it done well. All this is my way of saying that I can’t say enough about the quality of the food at J & J Barbecue at the Nelson General Store (N208 N. Main St.; 715.673.4717). They make a southern-style barbeque that is tender, moist, and so full of flavor that you can eat it without any sauce and not feel the least bit deprived. My favorite is the BBQ beef but the pulled pork is savory goodness, too. There are only four tables inside, so you may want to get it to go and have a picnic.
About nine miles outside of town, The Stone Barn (S685 County Road KK; 715.673.4478; open May-October) is housed in the partially reconstructed ruins of a 19th century stone barn on an isolated farm; the atmosphere alone is something special. The thin crust, 16” artisanal pizzas are made from local ingredients and cooked at a high temperature in a wood-fired oven and pack great flavor; they also have a selection of regional beers and wine at reasonable prices.
Cedar Ridge Resort (S1376 State Highway 35; 608.685.4998; WiFi) rents six attractive log cabins and cottages of various sizes with cedar siding that are nestled into a hillside overlooking the river. Cabins range from an 1860s log home (totally rehabbed, of course) to new large log homes that can sleep 12; all come with amenities like satellite TV, a full kitchen, and modern bathrooms.
Post Office: E200 Cleveland St.; 715.673.4025.
Heading upriver? Check out Pepin.
Heading downriver? Check out Alma.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2011,2017