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Governor Dodge State Park History

The first people

Shortly after the glaciers retreated to their icy, Canadian home, humans moved into the area that is now Governor Dodge State Park. Just as the park’s scenic hills and valleys provide you refuge from over-crowded cities, they once provided shelter from snow and cold to the area’s first human inhabitants.

More than 8,000 years ago, men and women made winter camps at the base of rock overhangs enjoying the protection of the sandstone walls. As the weather warmed, they moved into more open areas of what is now Wisconsin and Illinois to hunt bison and other game.

Archaeological digs within the park verify the existence of human habitation; stretching all the way from those first "campers" to the Fox, Sauk and Ho Chunk Indians, to present day campers.

Visitors to Governor Dodge will see interpretive panels in the Deer Cove picnic area describing the cultural history of the park and the Deer Cove Rockshelter excavations. These panels are also available online [PDF].

Miners

The lack of glaciation played a role in determining the first wave of white people to hit the area. Large seams of lead ore lay near the earth’s surface throughout the region south of the Wisconsin River. Miners from Europe began arriving in the 1820s. One of the first finds was at Jenkins Branch, which lay in Cox Hollow, just south of the present park boundary.

As more and more miners arrived, conflicts broke out between the Europeans and the Ho Chunks who had originally worked the mines. General Henry Dodge, one of the original white settlers, was instrumental in establishing peace in the area. Dodge was later appointed the first territorial governor of Wisconsin.

Farmers

The next wave of settlers came to farm the land. The ridges in the driftless area once supported vast, sweeping prairies. Those treeless areas were more easily plowed than surrounding woodlands and contained rich, black soil—prime land for agriculture.

Hardworking family farmers like the Stephens, Griffiths and Pengellys filtered into the park area in the mid and late 1800s. Throughout the years, their farmsteads were handed down from one generation to the next, or sold to newly arriving immigrants.

The State Park

In 1948, Iowa County presented one of these farmsteads—the Henry Larson estate—to the State of Wisconsin. These first 160 acres provided the nucleus for what was to become Governor Dodge State Park. Ten years later an earthen dam was constructed across Mill Creek and Cox Hollow Lake was created. The new park was well on its way to becoming one of Wisconsin’s finest recreation areas.

As years passed, the state purchased neighboring farms to add to this sprawling giant. Governor Dodge now contains 5,350 acres.

A second earthen dam was built in 1966, forming Twin Valley Lake. Beaches, campgrounds, bathhouses, trails, shelters and other facilities have been constructed throughout the years to add to your park enjoyment.

Gone now are the buffalo hunters and their spears. Gone are the lead miners and their picks. Gone are the farmers and their plows. But the land that they changed remains. Traces of these men and women remain in the stone arrowheads, crumbling rock foundations and rusted barbed wire that are still found throughout the park—traces that every year become harder to find as the land struggles to restore itself to the wild, natural area it once was.

Last revised: Friday October 17 2014