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Amnicon Falls State Park History

Native Americans

Since the last great glacier melted and the falls began to form, many people have walked the banks of the Amnicon River. The first to pass this way were nomadic hunters who followed the retreating glaciers and hunted Mastodons here 9,000 years ago.

With the ice gone, another culture of Native Americans hunted on the shores of the glacial and postglacial Great Lakes and were in this area from 5000 B.C. to 500 A.D. At the same time, Old Copper Culture Native Americans lived here and searched the rocky outcrops for copper to make their primitive tools.

Then, from 500 A.D. to the arrival of the first Europeans, Woodland Native Americans hunted the forests and fished the river. It was the Ojibwa Native Americans (also called Chippewa) who were here when the first Europeans arrived.

Early adventurers

These men were trappers who worked the banks of the Amnicon River for mink, beaver and otter and traders who bartered with the Native Americans for their catches. The pressure of westward spread of "civilization" resulted in the Treaty of 1842 and the land that makes up the park became United States property.

By the 1850s another group of adventurers arrived. These were the copper miners who believed the unique geology of the area held great mineral wealth. They searched the rock outcroppings here and across Douglas county—some places with modest success but mostly failing. Evidence of their search for riches can still be seen in the park today.

Railroad, Lumber and Brownstone

Not long after the state of Wisconsin was established in 1848, the federal government gave great blocks of the northland to the State of Wisconsin. To promote settlement, the state in turn, gave lands including those where Amnicon Falls State Park is today to the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad Company as an inducement to build a rail line through northern Wisconsin.

As was the practice, the land, except for the right-of-way was sold to raise money for construction costs. In 1886, a Superior pioneer, James Bardon, purchased the 160 acres around the river and waterfalls.

During that time lumberjacks had begun moving in. They cut the large pine near the river, rolled the logs into the high, fast waters of the Amnicon River during spring snow melt and floated them to Lake Superior. From there they were taken to sawmills to build the infant villages of Superior and Duluth.

Driving the logs down the Amnicon River was no easy matter. Logs tumbling through the cataracts and over the falls were often badly damaged. As spring runoff subsided, logs would collect in giant piles called log jams. These were expensive and dangerous to break apart. To prevent jams from forming, river drivers were stationed at the worst places to keep logs moving.

For a number of years before Bardon purchased the land along the Amnicon River, sandstone had been quarried from pits on the Apostle lslands and elsewhere on Lake Superior's south shore in 1887, a pit was opened in what is now the park, just northwest of the present nature trail. The meadow near trail stop #6 was part of the loading area for the stone blocks.

The sandstone, called brownstone, was a popular building material about the turn of the century. Many of Superior's fine old buildings, including Fairlawn, Martin Pattison's mansion, were made with material from the Amnicon quarry. In about 20 years, more than a million cubic feet of brownstone was shipped to many cities including Chicago, Sioux City, Omaha, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth.

The site of Amnicon Falls State Park has indeed had a rich history of people, events and activities.

County and state park

The special charm of the area had long brought visitors to the falls. In 1932, Douglas County purchased 60 acres of land and received another 65 acres as a gift from the Bardons and Bardon Park was established.

In the 1930s the Town of Amnicon took over operation of the park in cooperation with the county. During this period, much of the development was accomplished by the Works Program Administration (WPA). By the mid-1950s the Town of Amnicon had purchased land adjacent to Bardon Park that totaled 522 acres. By 1959 the park had become so popular and maintenance costs became such a load, the town suggested that they and the county consider transferring ownership to the state.

In 1961 Douglas County donated the original 125 acres of Bardon Park plus an additional 40 acres to the state of Wisconsin. In 1965 the Town of Amnicon sold its 522 acres to the state. Between 1965 and 1977 the state purchased another 138 acres of property completing the 828 acre park now know as Amnicon Falls State Park. The falls will be here for untold years to come and so, too, will be the people who walk the river banks and enjoy this special place.

Last revised: Friday October 17 2014