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Natural Bridge State ParkHistory

The natural bridge in Wisconsin's Sauk County has attracted people for thousands of years. Radiocarbon assay and study of the rock and its layers indicate that people were living here from 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, when the glaciers began retreating from Wisconsin.

Three people near rock arch
Three visitors pose in front of the natural bridge circa 1920.

Warren Wittry of the Wisconsin Historical Society excavated the rock shelter in 1957. His team found evidence of human use over a very long period. They found pieces of charred wood, presumably from fire pits, which were dated between 9000 and 8000 BC. This would make the rock shelter one of the oldest-dated sites for human occupancy in northeastern North America. Evidence indicates that the shelter was used only periodically at first, perhaps as a hunting or seasonal camp. Later it was inhabited year-round.

The earliest reference to this bridge in European-Americans' history is in the Old Settlers' Association of Sauk County Reports for 1874.

Eleven years later, a July 4 celebration was held at the bridge and by 1888 a local newspaper, the Sauk County News, said the bridge was "visited nearly every day." In 1897, when students from Spring Green High School visited the bridge, they found it covered with carved names. By the 1920s, the bridge was a favorite place for picnics and a popular tourist destination.

Through the years there have been numerous organized parties at the bridge. In September 1930 there was a harvest celebration with food, games and dancing and students at the Denzer School (now the Honey Creek Town Hall in Denzer) held May Day picnics here.

For many years, the Raddatz family owned and farmed the land that's now the park. Carl and Johanna (Hanna) Raddatz came from Germany in 1880. The 1905 census listed them and four children living there. Sons Richard and Herman also worked on the farm. By the 1920 census, Richard and his wife Ida ran the farm; their three young children and Carl and Johanna also lived there. The log house built in 1890 still stands near Highway C. A stone smokehouse was built in 1900 and another house in 1923.

Natural Bridge became a state park and state natural area in 1973.

Last revised: Friday October 17 2014