My Boyhood Days In Baraboo

Written for the Sauk County Historical Society by W.W. Warner, Madison, Wis.

July 17, 1913


“Well, I never seen the ocean,

Ner I never seen the sea;

On the banks o’ Deer Creek’s,

Grand enough for me.”


Part I

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 With the passing of the fleeting years, scenes from the golden age of boyhood recur with ever increasing tenacity and vividness.  This is particularly milepost.  Let us, by the way, tentatively fix such halcyon period between the juvenility of seven and seventeen; for, during those years more forcibly than at any other span in one’s life, the mind, is at its formative, plastic, receptive stage.  While it probably seemed that, for the record making nonce, no lasting “dents” were made yet in following years and the farther and farther removed, every incident, in its minutest detail, stands forth clearly and distinctly limned before the mind’s eye.  Beyond controversy, ‘twere different during our early youth’.  The trees were greener, the streams were more clear-eyed, the skies were bluer, the boys “boyier” and in a word, it was a time, such as is experienced by once—those happy, eventful days of our early boyhood.

 As we look about us today end note its casual, every day happenings in which youth is participant, we are in no wise impressed with the feeling that they hold the germs of a marvelously tinted after-glow, when retouched by the mellowing hand of Time!  Doubtless, however, when looking through the Indian summer haze of a half century hence, the present prosaic experiences of our children, will be crowned with the same roseate halo as are ours that we now so delight to recall.  Yet, we fondly tell them, those of these degenerate days, that times were different when we were boys.

 “There were giants in those days.”  This figure of speech, surely, one may safely use on occasion such as recalling reminiscences and particularly, I fancy, when one writes of Baraboo, incomparable Baraboo!  The Baraboo (let me hasten to add) of from thirty to sixty years ago.


Baraboo River Clear in Those Days

 When I was a boy of ten, the Baraboo was indeed a majestic stream.  It was broader, deeper and almost without exception, clear eyed, and it teemed with mightily fishes of sturdy tug on line and rod.  In those vernal days its waters were rarely discolored by… flood because there were… relatively few tilled fields, deep worn roads, furrowed banks and no…railway cuts or fills.  Only later on was its current burdened with… waste, slabs and dust from saw mills, oils and refuse from woolen mills, stains and filth from tanneries or either industries along its unsullied course. 

 Without restoring to Munchausen stories, one may safely say Baraboo was, in those days, a veritable “Dorf im Wald” for it was forest bounded and tree studded and, as I recall, the trees flourished down to the very main streets, yes, even in the fifties, it was a great town—Old Baraboo!


There Was a Trail

 On the river bank just below, there was, likewise a jungle-like growth of young oaks and kindred trees, of no very great stature, through which wound a trail or pathway, which was, at that time, a short-cut “up town” from the mill and what as invariably spoken of as “under-the-hill,” and for aught I know to the contrary, it is still thus designated.  It is perhaps worthy of mention that thus originated in England, the patronymic “underhill.”  All the district to the west of the courthouse park was then more or less thickly tree-covered, and in an oak grove in this scantly developed section of Baraboo, many a church celebration and public picnic, of enormously long tables, with their generous burdens of the substantially good things of early pioneer days, was held.  I know those who sampled such livin’ will bear me out, when I say, that in these degenerate days, there is nothing that may, relatively speaking, be considered worthy of honorable mention in comparison.

All the hillside between the present splendid bridge structure, and along the river bank, extending northward to Second Street was a tangle of underbrush, with many a primeval forest tree, while round about, were not above half-a-dozen homes.


An Incipien Ferris Wheel

Old residents will remember, as does the writer, with keep retrospective enjoyment, a summer resort then conducted by one James Kennedy, in this marvelous grove, almost directly back of the present German Evangelical church on Second Avenue.  Therein was lucratively maintained, as incipient Ferris wheel, and there too, ice cream, lemonade and other soft drinks were distributed for extremely modest cash remuneration.  It was, withal, a most popular, delightfully cool, and evenings, brilliantly-illuminated place.

 I wonder what has become of a very considerable lake that once existed, near-by.  It seems to me that it’s waters never went dry, not even during the summers of greatest drouth, and surely it was several feet deep.  I remember that the smaller boys used to hold it in greatest awe, as an impressive body of dangerous water.

The Old Jail

And the o’d jail in the next block!  Right well I recall being scared out of several year’s growth, through an uncle making believe to incarcerate me therein, when it’s foundation walls had scarce reached the surface.  I do not know the exact date this structure was begun, but surely it must be quite as remote as 1856.

 To the westward of Baraboo was what seemed to me at that far-distant period a wide expanse of unexplored forest.  This was one of numerous similar places where we youngsters used together hazel ad hickory nuts—such nuts, and upon more than one occasion we became helplessly lost in the forest.  I remember my father used to shoot partridges, squirrels, rabbits and other small game all through this “country”, that extended almost to the limits of the court house park on the east and to the present woolen mills—then known as the island—westward.

 In those eventful days when things of real importance transpired, was constructed what was called for many years the “new bridge” before which time, I recollect, (and I am surprised that I do so) because certainly I could not have been over six years, that a ferry was maintained a short distance below the sight of this bridge, which ferry boat gave access to the extensive brickyard on the south bank into the primeval forest, no man knew, it seemed, how far beyond.  On the “south side” by the way, was Pratt’s pasture and a famous place it was for butternutting, while along a steep bank hard by, was a grand place for luscious red raspberries; though a still better patch was on the steep hillside to the east of what was the Case farm, at that time but partially cleared of a heavy forest growth.  Right well I remember the splendid hard maple sugar-bush that it was attempted to save and operate, until it gradually died out, by reason of losing the weather deflecting and sun rays tempering great trees of various kinds in the original forest or, perhaps more properly stated, through losing the companionship of its fellows.


Maple Wood at $1 a Cord.

 This splendid “body maple” making ideal fuel in the days of wood stoves, was hauled to town for many years by Case, Sr., and for aught I know to the contrary, there sold for something like $1 a cord.  Only the very best was thus marketed, for the….