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Diamond in the rough bluffs

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DIAMOND BLUFF, Wis. - Unincorporated communities have always intrigued me. Sometimes mistaken for a old-fashioned ghost town, the non-city's mysterious components and complex characters - surviving in the smallest of numbers - gives passersby a glimpse of communal kinship.

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Traveling over the Mississippi River past the bluffs of Red Wing, I cruised northbound on the Great River Road of Wisconsin Highway 35.

Limestone-lined bluffs reflecting a cloudless sky's sun captivated my photographic eye on the easy 10-minute drive to Diamond Bluff. Easily passable, the village is nestled along the river, organically co-existing with the surrounding beauty.

Crossing the railroad tracks from the sole left turn off the highway to the village, I caught sparkles from gem-like water.

Limited streets led me to the river. The real beauty and true power of the water can be experienced here from the serene calm view of the public access dock.

Tucked closely to the river's edge is Sea Wing Park. The 600 feet of shoreline once allowed ambitious residents to build three steamboats, including the doomed Sea Wing, from 1888 to 1907.

The park was created as tribute to the boat's fateful journey. Originating from a river port in the village, the final voyage of the steamboat was launched July 13, 1890, before capsizing in Lake Pepin and claiming 98 of the 215 passengers aboard.

Once flourishing with a general store, barbershop, tavern, town hall, school, post office, train depot, sawmill, grain elevator and two river ports, the now simplified community of Diamond Bluff is filled with tales of tragedies and triumphs. From the still standing town hall, to the aged cemetery and to the 1866 Methodist Church - still holding weekly services -- rich records of the past are chronicled.

As I traveled on the single street paralleling the riverbanks through twists and turns of the thick-wooded roads - nods, grins and waves from locals assured my presence was noted.

The lack of roads and looming lunchtime led to my stop at the Nauti Hawg. Plastered in memories, motorcycle and bar garb, the lone food joint for miles offers an oasis for bikers and boaters alike.

The small-town - super small-town - service is noteworthy and the menu offers an easily affordable variety of food and weekly specials.

With an estimated population pushing 500, Diamond Bluff thrives on the concept of its simple beauty, historical roots and personable community for sustaining.

Getting to know Diamond Bluff

Distance: 9.9 miles ... from the heart of Red Wing, Highway 61 and West Avenue, to the heart of Diamond Bluff - Main and Broad streets.

Place for $15 bite

Nauti Hawg Bar and Grill

With nothing on the menu over $15, a meal for two is easily manageable on a budget. From hearty chicken wraps to mouth-watering burger, the one and only eatery in the community serves the masses, especially on the weekends.

Where: W9852 290th Ave.

Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday 11-2:30 a.m.; Saturday 7:30-2:30 a.m.; Sunday 7:30-2 a.m.

More info: 715-792-2297

Fun fact

• Diamond Bluff has an unincorporated community of the same name within the town. A French settler, Monte Diamond, named the town after the limestone bluffs.

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Stacy Bengs-Silverberg
Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.
(651) 301-7880
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