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High Cliff State Park History

Wisconsin bought the land for High Cliff State Park in 1956 and opened the park in 1957. Even before High Cliff became a state park, the land had a rich natural and cultural history.

Earliest times

The Niagara Escarpment, often called "the ledge," was formed by the settling and hardening of limy ooze at the bottom of the Silurian Sea, which covered much of Wisconsin nearly 400 million years ago. Later, the flat-lying dolomite was tilted downward to the southeast by earth forces, leaving its higher western edge exposed at the earth's surface.

Between 1,000 and 1,500 years ago, nomadic Siouan Indians built effigy mounds in what is now the park. There are four panther-shaped mounds, two buffalo-shaped mounds, conical mounds and a linear mound.

As long ago as the 1880s, this area was noted for its breathtaking views of Lake Winnebago.

Quarry years

Photo of general storeFrom 1895 to 1956, a limestone quarry and kilns to extract the lime from the stone were operated here. Workers drilled holes in the stone and used dynamite to blast it loose. The lime extracted in the kilns was sent throughout the Midwest for use in plaster and cement and to apply to soil to reduce acidity. Other limestone from the quarry was used for brick mortar and crushed into gravel. Horses pulled dump wagons of limestone to an area above the kiln until 1946, when they were replaced by a dump truck.

As many as 40 people worked at the operation, including drillers, a blasting specialist, stone crushers, teamsters, barrel makers, laborers and a blacksmith. Many were recent immigrants from Hungary. In its heyday, the lime industry supported a small "company town" consisting of 16 houses for workers, a store (including a post office, telegraph office and company office) and a tavern, all owned by the Western Lime and Cement Company. All that remains today are the store and ruins of the kiln.

Last revised: Thursday May 26 2016