success story

Pastoral escapes

Red Clover Ranch offers retreats in the Driftless

image of cabins in the woods

Annie Coleman had dreamed for years about opening a retreat center in rural Wisconsin—a place in the heart of nature where people could gather and spend a weekend relaxing, eating locally produced food, and letting their creativity flow.

Image of Annie ColemanColeman was drawn to the Driftless region, with its ridges and valleys and abundant flora and fauna. In 2009, she found her rustic haven in Soldiers Grove: 79 acres of woodlands and verdant fields, with a classic red barn built in the early 1900s and an old farmhouse, situated about a mile from the Kickapoo River. She named the property Red Clover Ranch.

Creating a rural oasis

Coleman owns a boutique real estate firm in Chicago; she also plays guitar and sings in a band. She grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, but Wisconsin was her second home throughout her childhood. Her grandparents owned and operated the Golden Horse Ranch near Westfield from the 1940s through the 1990s. The dude ranch hosted families for weeklong, all-inclusive getaways that included horseback riding, swimming, fishing, tennis, archery, and talent shows. Coleman spent idyllic summers there.

“The Golden Horse Ranch was a place that nurtured real community and lifelong friendships,” she says. It’s the type of atmosphere she wants to achieve at her updated rural sanctuary.

sun setting behind a hill with a barn in the foreground

For the first few years, Red Clover Ranch was Coleman’s personal retreat and part-time home. Little by little, she began to renovate the buildings and infrastructure. Finding funding for the project was a challenge, but eventually, she secured several streams of small financing, including a loan from the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission.

Coleman had two septic systems installed, as well as a new electrical system with electric heat pumps for heating and cooling. She had the barn restored, rebuilding the interior with wood stained to match the original, and hung mid-century globe lights recovered from a church in Westby. She laid a sprung floor in the main level, refurbished the hayloft, added a commercial kitchen, and built on a screened porch with a brick oven.

“I was adamant about keeping the barn,” she says. “I remember these barns from my youth, and I’ve always thought they were so beautiful architecturally—and so practical. They’re worth saving.”

Coleman added five guest cabins that can sleep a total of 19 people, and a Japanese- and Scandinavian-influenced bathhouse that contains two bathrooms, an outdoor shower, a sauna, a summer kitchen, and a lounge.

At first, the ranch was a space for Coleman’s artist and musician friends to gather and create. Spring 2024 was the Red Clover Ranch’s second season open to the public.

Coleman wants Red Clover to be a place that brings people together, rural and urban dwellers alike: “Creativity, community, and nature are a powerful trio. They create a lot of magic for people.”

“Creativity, community, and nature are a powerful trio. They create a lot of magic for people.”

- Annie Coleman, Founder and Owner, Red Clover Ranch, Soldiers Grove

Fostering a sense of community

Wood fire oven

Red Clover Ranch hosts weddings, corporate retreats and events, and friend and family gatherings. Coleman stages all-inclusive art and nature weekends, with programs led by florist Elizabeth Cronin, perhaps best known as a judge on the “Full Bloom” TV series, and Leslie Baum, a painter and art instructor in the Museum at the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as workshops with local experts on subjects such as forestry, stargazing, and writing. Resident chef Dani Lind uses a farm-to-table approach, with local farmers providing the vast majority of the food on the menu.

“We want people to get to know the Driftless—to take in its beauty and to get to know interesting people here,” Coleman says.

Erin Rasmussen, founder and owner of American Wine Project in Mineral Point, has collaborated with Coleman and Lind on various events. She says it takes a special commitment to work with a wide range of local farmers and producers instead of depending on a single, major distributor, but the dollars spent with local businesses stay in the community and benefit all of its residents.

Rasmussen says the ranch is in a stunning valley, and when people visit, they can see why that matters. “You feel like you’re in on a secret. You want to protect the land,” she says.

“What I see Red Clover Ranch doing is choosing to highlight avenues for people to understand the wealth of beauty in the region. Annie fell in love with the property, and everybody who goes there falls in love with it, too. What Annie’s doing is contagious,” Rasmussen says.

“You feel like you’re in on a secret. You want to protect the land.”

- Erin Rasmussen, Founder, Owner, and Winemaker, American Wine Project, Mineral Point