Each week a small segment of Vernon County history is published in the county papers.
For the week of 2/21/2021
by Carol Krogan, assistant curator
One of Vernon County’s beautiful parks, Sidie Hollow Park began as part of a watershed program. Sidie Hollow lake was formed when a dam was constructed on the Tally brothers land and completed in 1965. Located in section 10 in the northern part of the town of Franklin and to the north in section 3 of the town of Jefferson, the area was named for two early landowners, James and John Sydie.
In March, 1961, a Vernon County Broadcaster Censor news article told of plans to build a dam on the site to hold back rainwaters and protect the valley below. Local agencies had to make a choice to create a dam solely as a watershed or one greater in height which would create a man-made lake. The cost of the watershed dam would be paid for by the federal government with additional costs for easements and maintenance paid for by the county. The county would be responsible for one-half of the cost of a higher dam which would allow a lake to be formed.
Gov. Gaylord Nelson announced in January, 1962 that five sites in Iowa and Vernon counties had received tentative approval for the creation of permanent lakes under the new $50 million resource development program. One of these projects included the Sidie Hollow watershed. Interest in the lake project by the Viroqua Stag Club and the Eagles Club prompted them and other organizations to pledge funds toward Vernon County’s share of the cost and in February, 1963, the Vernon County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $45,000 to Vernon County Soil and Water District Supervisors for the county’s share of the total cost. Vernon County’s Agricultural committee secured 490 acres for the project.
In August, 1963 Krukow Bros. Construction was chosen with a bid of $200,800. Construction began approximately three weeks later. The dam was 49 feet high and 700 feet long. In August, 1965, gates were closed to allow water to enter and create the 38-acre lake. It was estimated that the lake would be filled completely by Thanksgiving but heavy rains in September filled the lake to capacity sooner than expected. However, leaks were discovered in rock within the hillside which caused the water level to drop. Approximately one year later, tiling was added around the dam site and the lake was again refilled.
By late 1966, plans for a recreational lake park were completed and developers expected to accept bids by spring of 1967. Plans at that time included a section for a bath house, shelter house, parking area, beach and toilets; two roads leading into the park, one of which would lead to more parking, a picnic area, toilets and a boat ramp. The area south of the dam would also be developed into an additional picnic area with parking.
Many improvements were made in the summer of 1971. A 60-acre area on the hill west of the lake was developed into a camping area for 27 campers or tents. A new road was made leading uphill, past a scenic overlook and to another campsite with electricity and toilets. 80 acres on the west side of the lake was developed into a beach, picnic and play area. Here, a shelter, suit-changing station and toilets were constructed. A space for large group picnics was developed below the dam with more toilets for visitors. Wells were dug and tested, landscaping was done and guard rails added to some of the roads.
In 1991, a two-mile wooded trail was cleared around the lake for use by skiers and walkers. It was developed by Vernon County Conservationist Jeff Hastings and District Soil Conservation Service Conservationist James Radke and was funded by a Department of Natural Resources park development grant. Members of the Wisconsin Conservation Corps assisted in clearing the trail.
Today, Sidie Hollow is a 521-acre park and serves locals and visitors alike. It features 95 camp sites in 3 camping areas and in the boat landing area. Campers have access to hot showers, flush toilets, picnic shelters, a dump station, a playground and access to hiking, cross-country skiing and mountain bike trails. It has excellent fishing opportunities either from shore, a fishing pier or non-motorized boats. Visitors may also go ice fishing or hunt between October 15 and April 15 while adhering to Wisconsin state hunting regulations. Sidie Hollow Park is truly a jewel in Vernon County.
Sidie Hollow dam and lake as seen from the air.
For the week of 2/14/2021
by Kristen Parrott, curator
February is Black History Month, and here in Vernon County, we often look at the Cheyenne Valley community of 100+ years ago when we talk about Black history. A state historical marker in Hillsboro describes Cheyenne Valley as the home of “Wisconsin’s largest rural African American settlement in the 19th century.”
Over the years a number of stories about Cheyenne Valley people have been told here in this column, and I thought that today it would be useful to look more closely at exactly where the place is.
Cheyenne Valley is an area in the northeast of the county between Ontario and Hillsboro, in the western part of Town of Forest along and around Highway 33. The valley appears by name on a 1928 topographic map of Vernon County. Today the name “Cheyenne” is attached to a little road branching off south of Hwy. 33 in Section 20.
I don’t think anyone knows why the valley is called “Cheyenne”, and there is no apparent connection with anyone from the Cheyenne tribe. Centuries ago the Cheyenne people lived in what is now Minnesota, before they were pushed west and south onto the plains. Today the Northern Cheyenne live in Montana, and the Southern Cheyenne live in Oklahoma.
Another name for the general area is Revels Valley, named for one of the largest families who lived there, the Revels family. According to that same 1928 topographic map, Revels Valley is actually a separate valley extending southeast from Cheyenne Valley, in Sections 20 and 21. It corresponds with today’s Bugbee Hollow.
But looking at old plat maps, noticing who lived where, it seems that much of the Town of Forest can be examined when we talk about Black history, not just the Cheyenne and Revels Valleys. Sometimes when we talk about the “Cheyenne Valley community”, we are really referring to people and places all around Forest, and even into nearby Towns.
Also, while some of the early settlers of Cheyenne Valley were African Americans, others were of multi-racial, multi-ethnic heritage, and still others were European Americans. When we talk about the area being home to a Black community, that doesn’t mean we have forgotten the other, non-Black members of the community.
Because there were so few concentrations of land-owning Black farmers in 19th century rural Wisconsin, the story of African Americans in Cheyenne Valley attracts attention. And deservedly so, I think.
You can learn more about Cheyenne Valley by visiting the museum and using the materials in our archives. Winter hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, from noon to 4PM, or by appointment. During these pandemic times, it’s best to call ahead to make an appointment, so we can keep sufficient space between different people in the building. Our phone number is 637-7396, and our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The previous two articles: