A Brief History of Dekorra
By Dekorra Sesquicentennial, 1998
Dekorra was first used by Native American Indians who entered the region and began using the rich water and land resources for travel and as a living place. Several major Indian trails arrive at Dekorra. The Prairie du Chien to Four Lakes (now Madison) to Portage to Green Bay Trail and the Port Washington to Wisconsin River Trail intersect near the old village of Dekorra.
The “portage” lies eight miles to the north of Dekorra. With only a mile and a half to walk, one could travel down the Fox River to Green Bay and out the St. Lawrence River. Going down the Wisconsin River, one could travel all the way down the great Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and up the Missouri River to Yellowstone. This area near the “portage” has for years been a strategic meeting and gathering point for much of the mid-America continent.
In 1729, Joseph DeCaris, a French fur trader, came to Wisconsin. That year, he married Glory of the Morning, a sister of a Ho-Chunk (called by whites Winnebago) Chief. (Hopenka, Glory of the Morning, later became Chief herself.) Their descendants were the beginning of the Dekorra family, many of whom became Ho-Chunk chiefs with many village sites. This is the source of the names for Dekorra Village and Town of Dekorra. The first land entered in Columbia County land claims was the Town of Dekorra by trader Wallace Rowan (for whom the Rowan Creek was named). In 1837, Lafayette Hill settled in what was named Kentucky City. A “paper plat” was drawn up but never officially accepted. Here, Hill built his first inn which served as the political center of the area until Dekorra Village was platted over the same area and developed in 1843. Dekorra grew as an active pioneering village and included several businesses. The census of 1847 records 201 white residents. (By 1875, Dekorra numbered 1308; and 1997, the census count was 2008).
The Dekorra Village plat in 1847 had a 1000-foot wharf for commercial river traffic used as a log raft landing and for exporting farm produce. Loggers of Wisconsin’s Pinery sent their logs by river raft for construction of homesteads. Some area barns still have the original timbers produced from the sawmill that was located on west end of this wharf.
A ferry that transported people, animals, and crops across the Wisconsin River to Caledonia was located at the east end of the village. The Village of Dekorra had two blacksmith shops, a general store, a post office, a local school, a shoe and tailor store, a wagon making business, three inns for travelers, and several residences. A quarter mile east of the Village, a grist mill operated and Wisconsin settlers traveled up to fifty miles to the mill to grind their grains. It was said to be one of the finest mills because of the rotary stone action which was powered by a “mill run” from the Rocky Run Creek (which flowed into the Wisconsin River).
Immigrants came from France, Scotland, England, Germany, and Norway to occupy and work the land which was later named Town of Dekorra, Columbia County in 1848. Other villages were platted: Inch, 1846, Oshaukuta 1848, Hartman 1857, Pauquette 1837 (changed to Poynette in 1851). The Plat of Wisconsin Beach Gardens was laid out in 1923. The earliest churches were Inch Methodist, founded in 1856, and Dekorra Lutheran founded in 1869. The names of the early settlers and families are recorded on the tombstones in six area cemeteries. Nine one-room schools were located throughout the Town. The residents of Dekorra had a social outlet thanks to the Scottish immigrants who introduced curling to the area.
The military road (Prairie du Chien/Portage/Green Bay) was constructed through Dekorra leading to the establishments of stagecoach inns at Inch, Oshaukuta, and on the Rowan Creek. These inns flourished until the railroad arrived in the 1870”s.
Town of Dekorra underwent topographical changes along the Wisconsin River in 1909; with the building of a dam in Sauk County. As a result, thousands of acres of farmland were flooded in the western sections of Range 8. The electric power company and the Town of Dekorra then built “Whalen Grade” (a road across the flooded region near the mouth of the Rowan Creek). This precipitated an interest in the area as the newly formed “Lake Wisconsin” attracted people to the area for recreational purposes.