A Brief History of Buffalo Lake and Montello, Wisconsin
*Buffalo Lake was created by the dam built across the *Fox River. The dam consists of earth and rocks which you see running north and south, and the spillway at the far south end. The surface road on the bank has had various names; Dredge Bank, Lovers Lane, and now officially named Sunset Drive.
The *Fox River has made a significant part of the history of Wisconsin. The name *Montello is a French derivative of "Mont et L'eau", meaning hill and water. Father Marquette and Joliet came up the river from *Green Bay in 1673, looking for a passage to the far west. They got as far as Portage, WI, where the stream became so small that they "portaged" for a mile to the *Wisconsin River. The *Fox River is one of the few rivers in the country that flows north. The *Wisconsin River flows south, so our early French explorers were well on their way to the *Mississippi River.
The first white settlers came in the early 1800's. During the 1850's much progress was made in establishing the community of *Montello. The village was plotted in 1851 and again in 1855. A post office was established in 1850 and the first newspaper was printed in 1855. The first commercial establishments were built at the south end of Main Street near the dam. In 1865 a large hotel was constructed and offered rooms for visiting business men and a flour and grist mill on the river provided services for the area farmers.
After the *Fox River dam was built, a channel led to the northeast end of the lake to where we are today. This offered transportation to new business which quickly expanded along *Montello Street.
Talking about historic sites, there are a couple along the shores of the lake: Just to the left of the houses of Francis Pufahl (Montello St.) and Rose May Foley (Sunset Dr.), the Norcross Sash and Door Factory had a thriving business. Machine work and repair were also offered. This building was torn down in the early 1930's. To the east of the Foley residence was the Brittingham and Hixon Lumber Company, this too disappeared in the 1940's.
In 1882, The Wisconsin Central Railroad ran a spur line from *Packwaukee to *Montello, and this was an extension of the line that ran from *Stevens Point to *Portage. Passenger and freight service ran twice a day. The depot was located where the Fire Station and City Hall now stand. The railroad offered sidings to the lumber and coal yard, the *Montello Granite Company, and the stock yards. The stock yards were located just west of where the present Marina Building now stands.
The current Library used to be a feed mill and grain warehouse, operated by Emil Falk, and directly east was the Barrets Potato Warehouse, but the buildings were torn down. The people living along Lake Avenue or"Society Hill"as it was called, had large beautiful homes, (some still exist). During those years they were the few that had running water and flush toilets. All sewage was flushed into *Buffalo Lake. A boat trip on *Montello Lake put you in the "Hen Town" area of *Montello. Stone piers were built at the edge of town to facilitate the pumping of water for the fire equipment.
The railroad spur ran along the lake shore and by the time of World War II, there wasn't sufficient business to operate, and the tracks were removed in 1946. The property was sold to individuals and many homes were built in the towns of *Montello and *Packwaukee. The homes were no longer allowed to dump sewage into the lakes.
In the early years of white settlement, Indians outnumbered the white settlers, but a friendly relationship existed and included the trading of skins, furs, and clothing. To the west of the *Montello and County Garage was a barren area called "the sand pit". Children and young adults exploring and playing in this area found numerous arrowheads and artifacts in the sand. It has been suggested (though never confirmed) that a burial grounds might be located on the bluffs along the river, later called *Buffalo Lake. A wonderful exhibit "Unearthed, the Early Settlers" was presented at the Montello Museum (downtown) by the Montello Historic Preservation Society. Displays, maps and genuine Indian artifacts recovered from archeology sites on Buffalo Lake were featured. The exhibit closed November 25, 2007. Historical Society members are now back at work on the museum's interior renovation projects. The next exhibit this coming spring, 2008 will feature prints from glass plate negatives taken by Dr. Edwin Bass, a Montello resident. Dr. Bass's photos give us a good idea of what life was like during the period of 1895 through 1910.
In 1946, after the railroad tracks were removed, a fellow by the name of Bud Winkler built a tavern at the present site of the Buffalo Lake Lodge. Mr. Winkler also operated a place on Highway 23, west of *Briggsville called the Green Lantern. The name of the place and its reputation were suspicious, and people in this area were wondering if it would be called the "Red Lantern", but that was not to be. Bud Winkler's place was expanded and a four lane bowling alley was added, (it may have been the first in the country). Tourists cabins were built to expand and a dining room with capacity of 200 was added.
Some Facts About Buffalo Lake
The north side of the lake has a rather soft mud/silt bottom. The south side of the lake has a sand bottom. It's a shallow lake with a maximum depth of 12 feet, (since changed to about 8 feet). Along with bass and northern pike, pan fish such as perch, blue gill, sunfish, crappies and the occasional muskie are caught.
As we approach the south-east corner of the lake and move along the south shore, we can see the results of the dredging done by the U.S. Corp. of Engineers to make the entire Fox River navigable. The construction of Wheaton's Island on the south-east end of *Buffalo Lake took place at the turn of the century when a government dredge dumped the sand there. From Sunset Drive you can still see beds of yellow lotus, although they are getting sparse and scattered. This is a protected flower and is different from a regular pond lilly.
*indicates names and places after the founding of our communities.
Page last updated on 08/22/13.