Early Recollections of Rock Dam

By Carl Gerold

My first view of Rock Darn was on July 5, 1936, in the company of Al Covell, the then County Forester. We came by Highway G from Neillsville which was a terrible gravel road. At Globe Road, we turned West past Tom Kreji’s tavern at Tioga, then at the White School House North to the Willard Road, then West again to Rock Dam. Highway M was just a dirt trail, and the road to Rock Dam not much better.

At Rock Dam we took the road now called Lakeside, that led to Ray Ingham’s tavern, consisting of three box cars. One car was the Bar Room, parallel to the road, another was behind it was used as a storeroom and another car on the end was the Dance Hall. This was on the top of the hill, at the bottom of the hill was an old bridge with large loose Pine planks that rattled whenever a car passed over it. To the left, after passing the bridge was the partial structure which was the beginning of the dam.

Beyond were three structures, one a small one which had been the Office building for the WPA workers, another a little larger was the cook shack and the third one was the sleeping quarters. All were made from Popple logs and had a bored floor. The office is now on McCloads lot. The cook shack is just West of Naomi Wolf’s and the Sleeping shack became the cabin on Windy Run Creek and owned by Al Covell, John Scheisel, Abe Wasserburger, Bill Whaley, Carl Gerold and Louis Bradbury. The sleeping cabin had been dragged to its present location by a large county tractor, which broke down at the spot the cabin is at now, and the boys decided to leave it there. This was on the edge of the new plantation, the trees were about 7 to 10 inches high and had been hand planted by the WPA workers.

Prior to having been planted with trees the land had been cleared by a Mr. Hoganson and used for farming. The land being practically all sand produced very little, it did however provide living and food for Prairie Chicken, which were hunted all the way down to Hay Creek Mound, then came the Partridge, there were very few deer in the area, in fact the first three years of hunting deer produced no results.

The area fascinated me. It was wild and seemed a million miles from nowhere. At night there was very little sound, except when the wind was from the North and there was a dance at Ray’s, the accordion music could be heard. Ray had a big sign on the Dance Hall which read “Boys Who Do Not Dance, Stay Out of the Dance Hall.”

I would come up almost every weekend with Mary and stay with Al and Marie Covell, long before Billy Covell was born. In fact, I would help nail forms for the Dam structure. After the Dam was completed it took a very short time for the lake to fill up.

At the time, not much attention was paid to the Lake. However, Al Covell convinced the people at Black River Falls who ran the State Hatchery that Rock Dam Lake ought to be stocked with Rainbow Trout, since it had been a good trout stream that was now a lake. One weekend, a Saturday, the Conservation truck stopped at Ray’s tavern and wanted to know if anyone was around to help unload the fish. Ray drove to Willard, the closest telephone and called Al Covell. We lost no time getting there with Scheisel and Wasserburger. It took no time at all to get a party going and as a result almost 10,000 Rainbow trout got planted in the Lake. Everyone else was ready for planting also. They took for awhile and I remember one of the last trout being caught by Mr. Crow, just off the point in front of Hitte’s cottage.

Ray Ingham was the developer of Rock Dam. He built three cottages in a row for rentals behind the Lakeside Tavern. Only the tavern was not there then, it was originally built for a cottage to live in. When it was finished Ray decided it was so nice that he transferred his tavern down to what is now the Lakeside Tavern arid Dance Hall.

Ray rented out the tavern on the bill to Hank Kiner and Elizabeth, his wife. They sold soda, ice cream, groceries, hamburgers, etc. They later added a beer license. It was a great place for kids and families that came to enjoy the Lake. In those days, there were no boats and motors, no jet skis, etc., the only boat was an old leaky wooden row boat owned by Ray Ingham which he rented out to fishermen.

Since there was no electricity at the Dam, illumination was by kerosene and gas lanterns. Cooling was by ice obtained each winter from the Lake and stored in the town ice house across the road from Lakeside Tavern, where the Gun Club house is now located.

Ray also had three box cars just above the Natural Dam which he rented out to Deer Hunters in the Fall. In fact, Mary and I and the kids stayed in the cabin now Lakeside Tavern for a week, even before it was finished.

Everything was very primitive, cooking mostly on wood stoves or three burner oil stoves, which certainly smelled up the finished product like Kerosene. Buildings that existed were just small cabins used mostly for deer hunting or bird hunting. The rest of the time they stood empty and not being used. This lasted until the advent of electricity coming due to the REA. When this occurred it became possible to have lights, power for water, pumps for shallow wells. In fact, in the early days the only water was from a well that had been drilled by WPA and was behind the Lakeside Tavern location. Everyone used that hand pump off of that deep well and carried water in five gallon milk cans. When the tavern was moved down the hill to now Lakeside, getting water became a two or three hour job, because of stopping in the tavern for a quick one.

When telephones came along, the company required at least 10 subscribers, Mary and I, although we did not use the cabin very much subscribed just to fill up the quota for phones. When power came, then wider uses, shallow wells with pumps produced water, lights, then bathrooms instead of outside facilities and then came a wider use arid dwellings became larger and larger and finally ‘empty lots began filling up. In fact, if Nicholson, a logger had not had three lots, we would never have obtained our lot which we paid $250 for.

Lakeside Tavern was the center of activity for the cabin people, some lived close by in Willard and Greenwood and Thorp, others like Mary and I came from towns and cities hundreds of miles away. But the first thing was to unload and then head for the tavern to meet and greet everyone. This usually took several hours.


Many owners had Lakeside, Joe Cerny and Donna Wolf, Micky and Mary Crotzer, Emil and Della Podobnik, the Meinholds, these were natives and were most popular and caring. Keys for most of the cabins were left in their possession and many calls for favors were answered and taken care of by them.

Hay Creek Road used to be only a narrow firelane with a gate at its beginning at Highway I and at a lane about 1/2 mile South of the tavern. Covell had the key for the gate and we used that trail to get to Rock Darn. The blue stem grass reached higher than the radiator and the roadway could not be seen while driving. you guessed where the roadway was. Must of die land was dear because of previous fires that were and annual affair. In fact, the Lake could be clearly seen from the top of Hoganson’s hill. Fairchild could he seen from the tope of the bill where Perushek’s farm is on I, just beyond Tioga.

The Crotzers, while in the Tavern, were always promoting to have the roads improved and widened. Rudy Marincic (Donna’s brother) became the Road Grader for the town and when he ran the grader an extra foot of roadway was graded for each pass until it became widened to the present width. Then Came the need for gravel, Town taxes got a little higher, I think we paid $27 tax on our lot1 which caused a lot of talk because of high taxes. Our town had no schools to support because we had no children, no children because no permanent residents were allowed on County owned land or in the Forestry Zoned Area which included most of the Town of Foster.

Later, now and then, a permanent resident came to be in the township and then the State Law changed to have all areas In the state to have a school district or be attached to an existing school district, so we became attached to Fairchild School District. This was a big mistake since Fairchild joined with Osseo and now our kids must travel 35 miles one way to go to school. It would be efficient if the South end of the town were in the present school district and the North end in the Fairchild district. This would coincided with the shopping habits of the areas. However, the assessed value of the Rock Dan) Lake area is greater than the whole of the Village of Fairchild and they would hate to lose our tax money.

In early days, Willard had three grocery stores, Perko’s - across the street from Lunkas and the three girls, the Lesars. Deer hunting time I write to Perko and give him our list of needs, meat, groceries, etc., and he would deliver them direct to the cabin and place it on the table and leave his bill. The key, he got from Crot7er at the tavern.

Over the years the Lake lots got built up. Felix Aumann who had the business on top of the hill subdivided the acreage between Lake Road and the new road and created lots for the mobile homes and dwellings in that area on top of the bill. Later Barr acquired Felix’s and subdivided Bernyce Lane area.
Twice the Lake has overflowed and cut thru its original channel. The Iron l3ridge was replaced with two huge culverts and they were replaced by the new bridge. Fred Daft built the Campgrounds and that opened up the area to transients, subsequently, the County took it over and enlarged it. We now have because of Lake Mead being so filled with Algae most of the year, all the Lake users from all over for 50 miles around, where we first had 10 to 20, we now have thousands. First, one boat and now hundreds. I guess this is progress.


Fred Daft - His Memories

Fred Daft came to this area in 1940.  He worked on the Technical Staff of the Soil Conservation Service. Fred supervised construction of 2,600 acres of Water Shed in Buffalo County. This was the largest in a six state area.

Fred was transferred to Neillsville in 1 944 and lived there with his wife Elizabeth. At that time he worked for Mobile Oil Company. Fred remembers when he left Three Lakes and stopped at Neillsville for the first time, in the Spring of 1 935. “You could see nothing but stumps, for miles.” Fred was an outdoors type of guy and with his conservation background, loved the outdoors. In 1 946 was the first time Fred came to the Rock Dam area and the Windy Run Hunting Camp. I Ic started hunting with Al Covell, who he knew from Neillsville. The became good friends and spent time hunting arid fishing in this area.

When they came to Rock Dam, “you always had to stop at the big bar and visit”. The dam was put in 1938 with Al Covell as the engineer. Al also worked with the CCC Camp Workers and Clark County Forestry Department to replant this area. Al Covell then surveyed this area and plotting it for lots. Fred remembers in 1946 there were only six cottages on the lake then.

He came to this area to enjoy his retirement from the petroleum business. He bought his first cottage in 1956 on Lot t86. In 1963, Fred made a big discovery. There was a plot of land in this area that was privately owned. Not owned by the County. Fred made three land purchases in 1963, 1966, 1967. Fred ended up owning a total of 72 acres. Fred developed the Campground in 1964 and started operations in 1967. The Campground was very similar as it is now. Fred planted trees and leveled some spots but maintained the natural terrain. Fred ran the Campground from 1967 to 1975 when he sold it to the County. While in the early days, Fred also put in 14 wells of a special sand point that are still operating today.

Fred’s wife, Elizabeth or Betty, was also a big part of this area. Because of Betty’s background, her father was an attorney and served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, she became very active in politics. Betty was Chairperson for the State Republican Party from 1979 to 1985, and because of relocation, in three different counties. Betty was also Clerk for the Town of Foster for twelve years. She also worked as Volunteer for the Heart Fund and both Fred and Betty worked as Ballot Inspectors for many years. Betty was really the one who got the Town Board on the track of the Rules of Parliament and correct operations. She would spend time researching the correct roles of town government officials. Fred spent two years as Town Supervisor. Fred used his engineering and construction background when the bridge was replaced with the large culvert.

Fred remembers when he owned the second snowmobile in this area. Gordy Wolf had the first one. Before the Northern Wisconsin trails were developed, people from Port Washington and around would come up here. There were no trails then and Fred would spend time exploring and discovering natural trails and would then act as a guide to show people where to ride their snowmobiles through this area. Fred owned ten different machines through the years. They would snowmobile from here to Copper Harbor, Michigan, that is about 1,000 miles and took about ten days. He said, “It was like riding on a fast toboggan, kinda hard on the backside.”

Fred thinks people migrated to this area because they had friends or relatives and they came to visit this area and kept coming back and more and more people discovered the good times of Rock Dam.


Source: Rock Dam's "75th Diamond Jubilee"



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