A quiet location near Hwys. 27 and 71 between Sparta and Cataract is where concrete monuments decorated with glass shards stand as the legacy of a German couple who enjoyed the freedom of their new country.
Paul and Matilda Wegner emigrated from Germany in 1885 and in 1889 purchased a farm near Cataract. The Wegners farmed until 1916 and moved to Bangor to operate a car dealership. They returned to the farm in 1927 after Paul retired and made it their summer home.
It was then that the Wegners — who had been inspired by a visit to a grotto in Dickeyville, Wis. — began construction. From 1929 through the death of Paul in 1937, among their efforts was an American flag, a giant reproduction of their 50th anniversary birthday cake, a birdhouse, a 12-foot ocean liner, a prayer garden and peace monument. A large star is a memorial to mothers who lost sons in World War I, which was the case with Matilda.
The grotto is perhaps best known for its non-denominational tiny glass church, where weddings are still performed today with permission through the Monroe County Local History Room. The church holds seven people.
The Wegners had no formal art training. The structures are made of concrete with thousands of shards of broken glass, porcelain, bottles, seashells, arrowheads and other material. Matilda continued to work after Paul’s death, embellishing the nearby cemetery where they are buried. She died in 1942.
A concrete entry arch to the park has the word “Home” encrusted with glass. The grotto was purchased by the Kohler Foundation in the mid-1980s and was given to Monroe County as a park. There is no admission fee to visit the grotto.