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Created by scientist Royce Jones and friends between 1988 and 1990, this armillary sundial is said to be the largest in the world. For decades, this sundial has been viewed as the gateway to the Driftless, the way people knew they had arrived.
When a massive rainstorm moved through the area in 2016, and a culvert became compromised, it redirected all of the water right down the middle of the nursery. Boulders, buildings, and trees floated down the valley and toppled the structure along with everything in the path.
With the help of experts and equipment and the Viroqua Area Foundation, we plan to work with the public to raise funds to set this iconic landmark back to true north. Join us as we restore this historical armillary sundial, and create an incredible sanctuary for all who pass through the Driftless region as they seek to find their own true north.
In 2023, we are starting a capital campaign to raise the funds needed to repair the sundial, set it back to true north, and create a beautiful sanctuary for the entire community to enjoy. It will be a Driftless destination unlike any other. Donations are tax deductible, and we welcome donations of any size.
Between 1988 and 1990, Royce Jones and friends erected a massive armillary sundial along highway 14 near Readstown, Wisconsin. Royce had spent a lifetime as a scientist, including working on the Manhattan Project, and had escaped to the Driftless Area to find some peace and direction after he retired from his career. A tireless worker, he was driven to be independent, work the land, help others, and figure out solutions to problems. This sundial was the legacy he left behind. It is an icon in the area that has been seen by hundreds of thousands of travelers throughout the decades.
In September of 2016, a torrential downpour hit Vernon County. Debris blocked culverts and caused water to ravage the valley around Reads Creek. Buildings, boulders, trees, vehicles, and other debris damaged the metal supports and toppled the sundial. Measures have been taken to redirect flood water, and even in worse weather conditions, the sundial has not been affected since this date. Repairs will include setting it back up and pointing it due north, and bending the gnomen back to a straight line, and then securing it. It will require a crane, welders, materials, and experts who will help it point true north once more.
This sundial is more than just a landmark. The craftsmanship of this iconic landmark reminds us to take our time and recalibrate when needed, and keep striving to find our own true north. Royce encouraged others in his memoir to work hard, create positive change and do work every day that will remind you of what is most important. This sundial represents that same deep desire in all those who come to the Driftless...to be good to people and find their own true north.
There is no other armillary sundial of this size documented anywhere in the world. This makes the sundial a tremendous asset to the area in terms of providing a reason for people to travel to this region. It increases the diversity and number of travelers to the area, therefore providing a positive impact on local businesses. For decades, visitors have seen the sundial as a gateway to the Driftless, a sign that they have arrived. We are excited to rejuvenate this feeling of 'welcome home.'
Once the armillary sundial has been repaired and reset, a beautiful garden will be installed in a circle around the armillary complete with seating areas. It will be a sanctuary for locals and travelers... a place to reflect, ponder life's direction, and enjoy the beauty of the Driftless. Families can enjoy a picnic, watch the eagles soar through the valley, and listen to the water trickle over the boulders in Reads Creek. View the video above to see the mock-up of this proposed sanctuary.
Educational signs around the sundial and along the path will tell the story of the people of the Driftless and this land. Sharing the values of the generations who came before us who have made this area what it is today encourages others to find their own place here in the Driftless, stimulating growth and positive change for years to come. Telling the story of working hard, persevering, being humble, helping others, asking questions, learning every day, and finding your own true north will resonate with those who want to get back to basics.
Click the link below to go to the Viroqua Area Foundation page. Scroll down to DONATE ONLINE, click DONATE, and enter the dollar amount. BE SURE TO ENTER SUNDIAL in the description!
Click on the donation PDF below.
Your tax-deductible donation
can be mailed to:
Viroqua Area Foundation
PO BOX 262
Viroqua, WI 54665
Want to find out more about the project? Have a skill set to offer to the restoration project? Have stories to add to the history of the sundial or life with Royce Jones? Let's have a conversation!
We will be engraving names of larger donors in the boulders located around the armillary garden. If your family or organization would like to make a larger donation to help set the sundial back to true north, please reach out to us to learn more.