This past Sunday, the day before Labor Day, the little town of Harrisville, Wisconsin was overflowing with people who had come for the annual Bratfest. Madison claims to host the largest Bratfest in the world — and that’s on Memorial Day weekend , but if that’s true Harrisville is certainly giving our state’s capital some fierce competition.
It’s not just the brats which attract the crowds. And it’s not just the beer, though there’s plenty of that too. There are several bands performing throughout the day, a tractor pull, line dancing, softball and volleyball, a midway — with games and carnival rides, and free wagon rides through the town. You could even buy a Bratfest t-shirt in just about any size or color. As far as I know, all profits go to fund the all-volunteer Fire Department.
The first Bratfest was a community affair held in 1961, but people were looking for a “Last Hurrah” of the summer for the Labor Day weekend, so the numbers increased and more events and activities were added to appeal to various age groups. Oh yes, and the motorcylists turn out by the dozens. (Mostly Harleys but not all.)
My husband and I wouldn’t normally drive over 100 miles for a brat. ((Served with homemade potato salad and baked beans and ice cream, I should add.) But we enjoy the leisurely drive through the countryside from Fond du Lac through Ripon, Rosendale, and Princeton. And we enjoy walking down to the millpond and through the town. You can walk from one end to the other in 15 minutes.
Some things change over the years; others remain the same. The Town Hall, where the brats are served, used to be a one-room country schoolhouse. My Soiney cousins went there and their mom, Aunt Ina, was the teacher. The millpond is where I learned to swim and where Phyllis Frank tried to teach me to iceskate one winter. This past Sunday a woman stood alongside the bank, holding a fishing pole.
There used to be two taverns; now there’s just the Sportsmen’s Tavern, which my brother Vince claims to serve the best hamburgers ever. My friend Phyllis (now Phyllis Ingram) who still lives in the Town of Harris serves as the Town Clerk. Almost every Friday she and her friends eat the best fish fry ever at the Sportsmen’s Tavern.
That’s a long way to drive for a fish fry, but hey! maybe some day we’ll try it.