Tower Hill State Park - Wisconsin

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Park Overview

Visit Tower Hill State Park to see how lead shot was made in the mid-1800s, hike challenging bluff trails, and enjoy panoramic views. Tower Hill is a seasonal park open from mid-May through Columbus Day weekend each year.

The wooden shaft and the smelter house at the top, originally built in 1831, have been rebuilt and a video program and displays show how shot was made when the shot tower was in operation. A picnic area, hiking trails, canoe landing, and a 11-site campground are also available for your use and enjoyment.

History

Tower Hill is in the part of southwest Wisconsin that never was covered by the glaciers that swept across the northern United States. Consequently, the region's dramatic topography was formed by 400 million years of natural erosion by wind and water. The Wisconsin River and its tributaries have carved their way through hundreds of feet of sandstone and limestone, forming ridges and valleys.

The area now known as Tower Hill State Park was already ancient when the first white explorers saw it in 1673. They were Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet who passed this way as they explored the Wisconsin River.

The Lead Mining Era

It was better known but still only lightly populated in 1830 when Daniel Whitney of Green Bay noticed the sharply rising bluff as he traveled the river. He was a businessman and saw potential here for construction of a tower for making the lead pellets used in shotguns. There were many mines in the region that could provide the lead for the operation.

Whitney hired Thomas Bolton Shaunce, a lead miner from Galena, Illinois to dig a shaft from the top of the bluff to the level of the river below. Shaunce arrived in 1831 and spent 187 days over the next two years digging the 120-foot-deep shaft and the 90-foot tunnel between the shaft and the riverbank so that the shot tower could be built. Shaunce worked mostly alone, but had some assistance from a fellow miner named Malcom Smith. Their work was interrupted by the Black Hawk War [exit DNR] (1832) as Shaunce and Smith went to fight.

A wooden shaft 60 feet high was built alongside the cliff above the stone shaft, making the total height of the tower 180 feet. A smelting house was built at the top of the tower and a finishing house at the bottom to complete the buildings.

How the Tower Worked

The method used was the “Watts Method” named after an English plumber who, watching raindrops fall, envisioned droplets of melted lead falling in the same manner and becoming round as they fell. The process was simple. Lead, brought from Mineral Point or Galena in 75-pound bars called “pigs,” was melted in large kettles at the smelting house. Arsenic was added to make it brittle and to help it form into droplets. The melted lead was poured through a ladle with holes in the lid and dropped into a pool of water. The droplets cooled and became round as they fell. The size of the holes in the ladle determined the size of the shot, and the larger the shot, the farther they had to fall.

When the pool was full, the lead was hauled to the finishing house to be dried, polished, graded and sorted to be bagged for shipment to Eastern markets.

When in full operation, a crew of six operated the shot tower, dropping up to 5,000 pounds of lead per day. Of this, only about 600 to 800 pounds was usable shot. The rest was hauled back to the top of the tower, melted and dropped again.

Boom Times

This was the beginning of a flurry of growth and prosperity that lasted for about 30 years as the shot making business flourished. In1836 nearly half of Wisconsin's people were living in the lead mining region, leading to the establishment of the territorial capitol near Belmont. By the 1840s, southwest Wisconsin mines were producing more than half of the nation's lead.

The shot-making process continued until 1860 when the poor economy just before the Civil War made it no longer profitable. The equipment was sold, the buildings torn down or moved away, and the shot tower was abandoned.

The Village of Helena

The village of Helena was built on the river's edge near the shot tower, but was torn down during the Black Hawk War, when the U.S. Army needed materials to raft its men and supplies across the river in pursuit of Black Hawk. Undaunted, the villagers rebuilt Helena and persisted until 1860 when the shot tower closed. The community's final chapter came when the railroad passed Helena by and it simply ceased to exist.

The village of Helena was built on the river's edge near the shot tower, but was torn down during the Black Hawk War, when the U.S. Army needed materials to raft its men and supplies across the river in pursuit of Black Hawk. Undaunted, the villagers rebuilt Helena and persisted until 1860 when the shot tower closed. The community's final chapter came when the railroad passed Helena by and it simply ceased to exist.

Nature

Tower Hill is in the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway and the Western Coulee and Ridges ecological landscape.

Tower Hill Bottoms, 125 acres just north of the park in the Helena Unit of the state riverway, is a state natural area. The natural area is an excellent example of an undisturbed floodplain forest.

Birds

Tower Hill is an excellent area for amateur bird watchers; it offers a variety of habitat with riverbanks, deep woods and clearings. Numerous warblers can be seen and heard in early spring.

Garlic Mustard

In the last few years, garlic mustard has taken over large areas of the park, crowding out many of the other plants that used to live here.

Garlic mustard spreads rapidly and one of the main ways it spreads is by people carrying the seeds as they walk around the park. Please clean your boots and shoes often when walking around the park so that you do not spread this plant to other areas of the park.

If you would like to help the park staff in the battle against garlic mustard, please stop at the office or contact one of the staff. They will provide you with garbage bags and show you how to pull garlic mustard and dispose of it properly.

Camping

The park's 11 campsites are all available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground has drinking water and vault toilets, but no electrical outlets.

Picnicking

A shelter building, 24 by 60 feet in size, is available for rental.

trail

Two miles of trails meander through the 76.5-acre park

Wisconsin River

Explore the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway where you can find much to do in beautiful settings close to major population centers. You can fish or hunt, canoe or boat, hike or ride horseback, or just enjoy the river scenery on a drive down country roads. The Riverway abounds in birds and wildlife and the history of Wisconsin is written in the bluffs and marshes of the area. There is something for every interest, so take your pick. To really enjoy, try them all!

A decade of cooperative effort between citizens, environmental groups, politicians, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) ended successfully with the passage of the law establishing the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway and the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board in 1989. Our goal is to provide a quality public use area for unique river corridor activities and compatible recreational pursuits; maintain the generally natural and scenic landscape of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway; and manage the corridor's natural resources for the long-term benefit of the citizens of the area and state.

The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway boundary contains 79,275 acres, of which over 44,000 are in state ownership, divided into 26 management units, and also contains or is next to State Natural Areas (SNA), Wildlife Areas (WA), and State Parks. The management is a team effort by wildlife managers, fisheries staff, foresters, park managers, wardens, land agents, and various natural resource specialists. The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board [exit DNR] a unique and separate State agency, is responsible for the scenic protection of the river valley.

The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway contains a fantastically diverse resource with a wide variety of historical and archaeological sites, wildlife, fisheries, and scenic beauty found nowhere else. You will enjoy your visit here and likely return again and again.

Two thirds of river users can be found on the stretch of river between Prairie Du Sac and Spring Green. Those looking for a more private experience will enjoy the middle section from Spring Green to Boscobel, and for the user wishing solitude, the stretch below Boscobel is the most secluded.

Getting There

From the west, take U.S. Highway 14 to Spring Green. Turn right (south) on State Highway 23 and go about 2.5 miles to County Highway C. Turn left (east) and go about .7 mile. The park entrance will be on your left.

From the east, take U.S. Highway 14 west of Arena about 4.7 miles to County Highway CC. Turn left on Highway C and go about 1.8 miles. The park entrance will be on your right.

Contact

Tower Hill State Park‎, 5808 County Road C, Spring Green, Wisconsin 53588 -- (608) 588-2116

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