Lake Monona: People
More than a
thousand mounds once dotted the shores of Madison's lakes, so many that archaeologist Charles Brown favored the name Mound City for Madison. In the early 1900s, Brown found 160 mounds in 17 groups around Lake Monona. Native people (ancestors of Wisconsin's modern Native Nations) sculpted these raised-earth shapes 800 to 2,000 years ago. Most contained burials. Conical, linear, and animal-shaped mounds are arranged carefully on the land, likely representing sacred beings. Mound sites are in places of natural beauty and high biodiversity. Today, Madisonians can see bird, goose, bear, deer, and long-tailed water-spirit mounds in public parks throughout the area.
Madison's lakes and savannas contained amazing plant and animal diversity. This ecological wealth created a natural gathering place. Early inhabitants hunted and gathered food, grew corn, made camps, and held ceremonies. Later, Ho-Chunks lived on Lake Monona at the Yahara River outlet, on the Isthmus, and in present-day Monona. Settlers started to arrive in the 1830s, also drawn by the lakes and good soil. In the next decade, James Doty surveyed the Isthmus for a capital city.
Dividing Ridge and Drumlins
1910 an 80-foot-tall dividing ridge, half a mile long, rose between Lake Monona and Lake Wingra. The ridgetop had stunning views of Lake Monona and the Isthmus. About 25 effigy mounds were built on its slopes. A moraine left by the last glacier, the ridge was composed of sand and gravel. It was steadily quarried to fill wetlands and build streets between 1870 and 1910. The glacier also left Madison with drumlins, which are elevated, egg-shaped deposits. The Capitol, University's Bascom Hall, and Edgewood College stand on drumlins.
Effigy Mound Builders
mounds are scattered around Lake Monona. Unfortunately only a small number survived city settlement. Native people usually formed mounds on high, scenic ground overlooking water, such as the old dividing ridge above Monona Bay, on the drumlin where the Capitol now stands, and between Hudson and Olbrich parks. Effigy mounds were no longer built after about 1100. Perhaps a changing society based on growing corn created new ceremonies.
Lake Monona Summer Resorts
the late 1800s, Lake Monona was a popular summer resort destination. Lakeside House (located at today's Olin-Turville Park), Tonyawatha Hotel, and Winnequah resort promoted Lake Monona's clean, pure waters. Visitors, many from the South, could dance in pavilions, boat and swim, play billiards or bowl, and dine elegantly. Steamboats carried tourists (and residents) to places around the lake. Boats landed near here at Angle Worm Station.
Madison Remakes its Lakes
Monona once produced high-quality ice for Milwaukee, Chicago, and points south. Each winter throughout the 1860s and 1870s, railroad cars shipped ice from near this spot. But water (and ice) quality dropped as Madison grew. By 1880, ever-larger volumes of sewage poured into Lake Monona, causing a nightmare for residents and city government. Today, sediments, pollutants, livestock manure, and fertilizers flowing through the Yahara River watershed are Lake Monona's greatest environmental challenges.