No one knows for sure when Lake Leota got its name. For many years after the first dam was built in the late 1840s, the little lake was
known simply as the mill pond. At least one source credits Boyd Jones with naming the pond about 1875. By the time the 1891 map of
Evansville was printed, the old mill pond was identified as "Lake Leota".
From the 1840s until 1900, the mill pond was used as a reservoir for the mill race that powered a grain mill.
In September 1900 William Stevens purchased the mill property and Stevens, who was Evansville's mayor, promised that he would
repair the dam and preserve Lake Leota. However, Stevens had no interest in operating a mill and when he could not find anyone to
rent and maintain the mill property, he lost interest in preserving the lake.
There was a public outcry to save the lake and for nearly 100 years the lake has been the subject of controversy. It has been both a
blessing to those who use Evansville's beautiful city park and a financial curse to the taxpayers of Evansville.
As soon as the dam was broken and the lake reduced to a stream, the citizens who wanted the lake restored addressed their concerns
to the City Council. In October 1901 they presented the following petition to the Councilmen. "We the undersigned residents and
taxpayers of the City of Evansville, Rock Co., Wis., believing that it will be for the best interest of the City and for the taxpayers and
residents, that the former mill pond and land sufficient to flow it so as to keep said pond in good condition, be secured by the city,
hereby request your honorable body to at once enter into negotiations with William Stevens and Byron Campbell and others
necessary to complete the purchase, with the end in view of purchasing enough land for flowage purposes to keep the pond in good
clean and healthful condition, and hereby request that if said purchase can be made at reasonable figures that the council at once
secure the same."
The petition was signed by many of Evansville's leading citizens, including George Pullen and his father, L. T. Pullen, Fred Winston,
Dr. John Evans, Fred Baker, William Campbell, Nelson Winston, W. J. Clark, Robert Hartley, Benjamin Hoxie, and J. W. Morgan.
To satisfy the demands of the petition, the City Council set up a special committee of citizens and Councilmen to investigate the
possibility of purchasing the land and restoring the lake. Reaching an equitable price for the land was difficult, since the mill and the
water rights had been sold over the years for as much as $11,000 and for as little as $1,200.
The committee had to investigate the feasibility and costs of raising the dam, clearing old stumps, rotten logs, and decayed
vegetation. "It is a miasmatic sink hole, a breeder of mosquitoes and pestilential odors too fearful to contemplate. It is a wonder the
board of health has not condemned it before now," I. A. Hoxie wrote in the Evansville Review. Hoxie felt the cost of restoring the lake,
could be handled with donations from private citizens and a "small appropriation" from the City Council.
The Evansville Commercial Club, a group of local businessmen interested in promoting tourism and business development, appointed
a committee to support the proposal to dredge the lake. The project was estimated to cost $1,000. The committee included George
L. Pullen, who had signed the original petition of support for Lake Leota in 1901, Leonard P. Eager, C. J. Pearsall, W. J. Clark,
(another original signer) and J. A. Harper.
The City Council delayed the closing of the gates for a few weeks to allow the Commercial Club to gather donations. The money did
not come in as expected and the dredging was never completed. However, the City paid to have the bottom of the lake smoothed.
This removed the shallow spots in the lake and also removed the vegetation.
In some areas of the lake, the bedrock was within a foot of the surface. A gravel beach was made at the north end of the dam.
Park custodian Fred Wilder suggested that Evansville have a celebration when the gates of the dam were closed. Wilder also
suggested a contest with prizes given to the person guessing the correct number of hours and minutes it took for the water to run over
the spillway of Lake Leota, once the gates were closed.
The City Council agreed with Wilder's idea and more than 400 people entered the contest that featured "a large cash prize" for the
correct guess. The contestants submitted guesses of 19 hours to 200 days for the filling of the lake.
Fred Wilder was made the official timekeeper for the filling. R. M. Richmond, an attorney, and Father F. P. McDermott, the local
Catholic priest, were Wilder's assistants.
The timekeepers determined that the actual time to fill the lake was 17 days, 7 hours and 10 minutes. Church bells rang and the fire
whistle blew to tell citizens that the dream of a restored Lake Leota was a reality.
The lake was filled on November 13, 1923 at 9:15 p.m. The first prize of $5 was given to Minnie Lewis who had guessed 17 days and
The lake spawned a new organization in Evansville. Members of the local Rod and Gun Club formed a new conservation group, the
Isaac Walton League. The League was organized to act as unofficial stewards of Lake Leota. The members intended to stock the
lake with fish and to place brook trout in the small streams in the Evansville area. Each member of the organization received a
subscription to Outdoor America, a publication of the national chapter of the Isaac Walton League.
Because tax rates were high, the City Council asked for donations to help fund life guards at the beach and the building of a diving
tower for swimmers. There were also some who asked to have a band stand and boat houses built at the lake. The dreams of what
could be always ran headlong into the cold reality of financing.
The bathhouse for swimmer was built in 1924 and the Izaak Walton League stocked the lake with black bass and trout.
The lake required constant maintenance. Just a few short years after the lake was restored, weeds and vegetation along the east side
of the lake needed to be removed and there was also a proposal to cut down the shore line. "The cleaning of the lake shore line
would not only improve the bathing beach and beautify the lake, but would slightly increase its size," a Review reporter noted.
The first dredging of the lake took placed in 1931. Only the portion of the lake used as a bathing area was dredged. To improve the
shoreline, dirt was removed from the east side of the lake. The dirt taken from the lake was used to improve the ball diamonds in the
In July 1931, before the lake was entirely drained, State Game Warden, Lois Marshall, Richard Miller of Newville, two assistants and
volunteers dragged the lake and removed carp, suckers and other rough fish.
A ton of carp and about 600 pounds of suckers were captured in the seining nets. The captured fish were given away for food. Carp
and other rough fish destroyed the habitat for game fish and the State conservation department regularly seined fish from the nearby
lakes, Lake Koshkonong and Lake Kegonsa, to allow game fish to survive.
Many small game fish, including black bass, crappies, and blue gills, were brought up in the nets during the seining and the
conservationists recommended that all fishing on the Lake be halted for two years. They estimated the game fish in Lake Leota would
be restored within that time.
The lake continued to serve as a recreational area for local residents and those traveling the new National Park's Highway. Lake
Leota Park and its tourist camp became a popular stopping place.
Many proposed that Lake Leota be maintained as a swimming pool. However, there were health concerns, as the lake had to be
checked for bacteria counts by a local doctor before swimmers could enter the lake. A July 7, 1955, article in the Evansville, Review,
illustrates the community's concern for the health of the swimmers. In 1958, the City built a new swimming pool and while , the decision
was to build a modern structure, east of the lake.
The lake was not dredged again until 1958 when dam repair became necessary. This project covered a large area of the lake and
about 25,000 cubic yards of dirt was removed from the lake bed at a cost of $5,000. The City appropriated $2,000 and received
grants and gifts from the Rock County Park Board and the Chamber of Commerce to cover the majority of the cost.
The Look Company, owned by Robert Look of Waukesha, was hired to dredge the lake. The company brought in their machinery in
March and the process was estimated to take about ten weeks.
The area that the Look Company would work on was approximately 350 feet wide by 1,650 feet long. The equipment for pumping mud
from the lake was placed on a barge and floated around the area to be dredged.
The Councilmen consulted with State officials to protect the fish population of the lake. The State's Conservation Department sent the
district fish manager, Arthur R. Ensign to talk to the City Council at their July 1958 meeting. Ensign explained that the rough fish would
be seined and the game fish would be placed in holding ponds for re-stocking Lake Leota when the water was back in the lake.
There would also be poison used in the stream above the lake. This rotenon poisoning was considered harmless to people and
warm-blooded animals and would become non-toxic to the fish population in the moving stream within two weeks.
The Conservation Department agreed to "direct and assist" the project at no cost to the city. The poison was to be put into the stream
above Brooklyn and placed in the stream all the way down Allen's Creek and through the lake.
In late August, the gates of the spillways were opened and the lake level was lowered to approximately four feet. The water was let out
slowly because the gates were in such poor condition that rapidly moving water could damage them.
Then the Conservation Department came in with their seines to take out the fish. The carp was sold to a commercial fish firm from
New Jersey and the game fish were taken to holding tanks at Newville.
The seining of the lake was completed in the late summer and the City Council took in bids for repairing the dam. In September 1958,
the City Council gave the contract for fixing the spillways to the Anchor Corporation of Milwaukee.
The lake was periodically stocked with game fish and fishing bans were in place for a few months each year to allow fish to reach a
catchable size. In the summer of 1964, a fishing ban was in place and when the ban was removed in September, fisherman once
again stood on the shores of the lake or got into boats to fish. The lake was especially popular with children who were satisfied to
catch bullheads that were big enough to save and eat.
Lake Leota was once again a drain on the taxpayers in 1967. The concrete dam cracked under the strain of a flood in the summer of
that year. Early on a Saturday morning in late June, Chief of Police Richard Luers, discovered that the spillway was in danger of
collapsing. He alerted other police officers and the flood gates were opened to relieve pressure on the dam.
When the floodwater subsided, the park below the dam was littered with dead fish and other debris. Sandbags were placed against
the dam to secure it until an estimate of the damage was completed.
At their July meeting, the Councilmen agreed to repair the retaining wall and gates of the dam. In November, the lake was drained so
that the crack could be repaired and new fill dirt placed behind the dam.
Norman Thompson asked the City Council for permission to use his earth moving equipment to clean the lake bottom. The City
Council refused his request and it was several years before there was any interest in dredging.
The City did allow the lake to be sprayed with chemicals to try to control weeds and algae. This was done under the supervision of the
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
By the early 1970s, there was increased interest in dredging the lake. The Jaycees formed a group of volunteers to clean the creek
bed and the lake on Earth Day in 1971. Pictures of cans and other debris floating in the lake were printed in the Review to illustrate
the poor condition of the lake. Churches, sportsmen, firemen, and civic organizations, and scout groups joined together to complete
In February 1972, researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Federal Soil Conservation Service, aided by
local volunteers, took samples from the lake to determine the depth and chemical make-up of the silt.
The Evansville volunteers were led by John Jones, Jr. Members of the Evansville Jaycees, the Methodist Ecology Committee and
Trout Unlimited were divided into teams and measured and drilled holes in the ice. Each team took test cores that would determine
what needed to be done to preserve the lake.
The lake had once again filled with an estimated 247,000 cubic yards of silt. The USDA representative, Everett Anderson, determined
from the core samples that the deepest part of the lake was near the south spillway and was 5 feet 10 inches. Other depths were 3.5
to 4 feet.
A USDA Biologist, Laverne C. Stricker, also made a report of the water and sediment analysis of the lake. He noted that parts of the
lake were below levels that would allow fish to survive. The lake was also filled with weeds and algae. Phosphorous levels in the lake
were thought to be the result of runoff from local farm land.
Stricker recommended deepening the lake. "A good percentage of the lake should be 12 feet deep or more. This will slow down
growth of aquatic plants," Stricker wrote. He also suggested soil conservation practices that would reduce the amount of sediment
getting into the creek and lake from the watershed area.
Dredging of the lake was recommended. Stricker also said that if there were more outlets for the water to flow from the lake, that there
would be better circulation of water and this would increase the quality of the water.
The Jaycees established the Lake Leota Fund to pay for improving the conditions of the lake. The Department of Natural Resources
recommended that cutting the weeds in the lake would help improve conditions. The Jaycees watched a demonstration of the weed
cutter by DNR officials in the late summer of 1972 and determined that they wanted to purchase a machine.
The cost of the cutter and rake was set at $2,190. The Jaycees had only $600 in the Lake Leota Fund, but they hoped to raise the
money for the cutter by the following spring. Card parties, roller skating parties and other fundraisers were held.
The recycling and selling of old newspapers also increased the funds available for the weed cutter. The City of Evansville also
donated money to help fund the weed cutter.
The portion of Allen's Creek that supplied the water for Lake Leota also needed work to create a better lake environment. The
organizers knew that this was a long-term project. Funding for the Allen's Creek renewal was available from the Federal Government
through a program called REAP. Local matching funds of $3,000 were required if the Allen's Creek Upstream project was to become a
The Jaycees, headed by John Jones Jr, pushed the project through and secured donations from local organizations and individuals.
The funding covered the first mile of Allen's Creek upstream from the lake.
Volunteers and local government officials formed a workforce. Members of the Future Farmers of American (FFA), the Boy Scouts,
and the Jaycees put up fence posts and strung wire. The fencing was placed along the shores of the lake and Allen's Creek to prevent
farm animals from getting into the stream.
Cattle were especially harmful to the stream banks, as the dirt gave way under their feet and caused further erosion of the stream. Six
cattle crossings had been made at various points along Allen's Creek.
Another method used to prevent erosion was to riprap the banks of Allen's Creek above the dam. More than 4,000 tons of quarry rock
was used to stabilize the creek banks. The banks of the creek were also sloped with a dragline and seeded with grass to prevent
The Jaycees spearheaded the work and the organizers estimated that more than 2,000 hours of volunteer work had been completed.
Lakeshore and Allen's Creek landowners, Lee Smout, Frank Leeder and Don Every cooperated with the volunteers in their effort to
improve the lake and the creek. Local contractor, Norm Thompson, did most of the heavy construction work. The project costs were
estimated at $13,200, but would have been much higher without the volunteer workers.
When the project was completed in January 1974, the REAP program had been discontinued and a new funding program, RECP was
in place. There was twice as much money available in the new program. The Lake Leota Fund had been reduced to $684.03, but it
was expected that more money would be available as new donations were made.
By November 1974, a fish biologist from the DNR determined that the stream could be used for trout and Trout Unlimited stocked
Allen's Creek with brown trout. Although the stream was marginal for trout, a study showed that fish were found in all areas except
near the County T bridge. There were still few trout in Lake Leota, but the DNR specialist attributed that to heavy fishing.
There was other work needed to maintain the lake. The retaining walls of the dam were again in need of repair, but the DNR refused a
request to lower the water level of the lake.
The Jaycees worked to form the Lake Leota District, a designation by the City and the Rock County Board of Supervisors that would
allow state funding for 90% of the lake restoration work. The Jaycees agreed to raise the money for the remaining 10% of the funding
through monthly paper drives, money from the Lake Leota Fund and other donations.
Councilman Larry Dobbs was chairman of the park board and he urged the board to support the project. "This is the only avenue
open to us now unless we pay for the project ourselves," Dobbs told the Park Board at their July 1974 meeting.
In May 1975, the City was allowed to lower the water level in the lake and dredge the shoreline. Dirt removed from the lake was taken
to the city's old dump site.
That same year, in August 1975, the Rock County Board of Supervisors established the Lake Leota District and appointed a district
board of commissioners to manage the lake restoration. The commissioners were to include three persons owning property and
residing in the district, one supervisor of the county soil and water conservation district and one member of the Evansville City
Council. Landowners Lee Smout and Vivian Gildner were appointed to the Lake Leota District Commission. John Jones, Jr.
represented the City of Evansville.
The Commissioners and volunteers working on the Lake also learned that the Brooklyn Sewage Treatment Plant was suspected of
polluting Allen's Creek upstream from the Lake. There was some evidence that untreated sewage was being discharged into the
creek and the materials were potentially lethal to trout.
The Rock County Board of Supervisors also became concerned about the pollutants from the Brooklyn treatment plant and adopted a
resolution to the DNR. The County Board requested that the DNR reclassify Allen's Creek and create higher standards for the
wastewater treatment facilities dumping into the creek.
Les Aspin, the area's representative in Washington also joined the fight to reclassify Allen's Creek as a trout stream. The City of
Evansville, Union and Magnolia Townships, the Rock County Planning and Zoning Committee had also been drawn into the effort to
clean Allen's Creek and prevent pollution of Lake Leota.
In 1977, the Lake Leota District Commissioners hired John Threser of the Environmental Resources Assessment firm of Madison to do
a study of the lake and make recommendations for improvements. Threser told the commission that some of the work already
completed had helped to keep the lake free of sedimentation.
However, the report also said that the lake was murky and that carp, "almost big enough to turn our boat over" were rooting in the
sediment at the bottom of the lake, keeping it stirred up. Weeds, rough fish and what Threser termed "sediment infilling" were the
same problems that had plagued the lake since it was first restored in 1923.
The solution Threser offered for restoration of the lake was to remove seven to eight feet of sediment from the lake bottom. He
recommended dredging and estimated the cost of dredging at $2 a cubic yard.
Threser's report was submitted to the State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR had paid $4,088 for the report and the
remaining $2,000 was paid from the Lake Leota Fund. The DNR submitted the report to the Evansville Review and the entire report
was printed in three issues of the newspaper in July 1979.
The study was the most comprehensive research ever completed on Lake Leota and its primary water supply, Allen's Creek. The
report reviewed the history of dredging and cleaning of Allen's Creek and Lake Leota and described the soil and water conditions of
the land bordering the creek and the lake.
The report told of the many attempts to clean Allen's Creek beginning in 1908 with the organization of the Union Drainage District.
The purpose of the dredging and rechanneling the stream was to create more tillable land.
In 1909 and 1910, the creek had been deepened by dredging the waterway from Butts Corners north to the Dane County line. During
this first dredging of the creek, 77,000 cubic yards of material was removed. This allowed the surrounding land to drain into the creek
and what had previously been swamp land became tillable farm land.
In 1951, the creek was dredged again and four laterals were constructed to extend the drainage ditch and drain more wetlands. An
estimated 145,000 cubic yards of soil was removed in this process. Again in 1975 and 1976 more dredging of Allen's Creek was
The Department of Natural Resources recommended riprapping the banks of the stream and placing retention ponds at the end of the
draining ditch laterals to reduce the amount of silt that was carried by the stream. The intensive farming of the land near the creek
created erosion into the steam and increased the load of sediment carried into the lake.
The report was also critical of the high phosphorus levels in Lake Leota. Sampling of the nutrient and sediment concentrations in the
lake water had given erratic readings and the DNR felt that the samples had been contaminated because the nutrient content of the
samples varied widely.
Farm feedlots with high animal counts had been suspected as the cause of high nutrient levels in Allen's Creek. However the
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) study showed that the proximity of the feedlots and the number of animals in the feedlots
were not concentrated enough to have a significant impact on the high phosphorus levels of the stream and lake.
The DNR did conclude that the north branch of Allen's Creek controlled the water quality of Lake Leota. The west branch of Allen's
Creek was considered more "flashy" and had unpredictable concentrations of sediment that peaked during storms. The steep banks
of the west branch gave way with each storm.
The study indicated that 6,500 tons of sediment reached Lake Leota in a year. About 30 percent of the sediment, an estimated 2,000
cubic yards of material, was trapped in the lake by the dam. The average depth of the sediment measured in the lake was at least
four feet and most of this had been washed into the lake from the surrounding watershed.
To improve the quality of the lake, there were a number of problems that had to be solved. First was the sediment removal. The
amount that would be removed was to be determined by the Lake Leota District Commission. The Commissioners could decide to
completely dredge the lake, or to dredge just below the photic zone (the depth of the lake reached by sunlight).
If the 24-acre area of Lake Leota was dredged to the bedrock of the lake bed, the report estimated that 150,000 cubic yards of
sediment would need to be removed. At the rate that sediment was accumulating in the lake, it would take nearly 50 years for the lake
to fill back in with sediment to the 1970s depth.
The draw back to this severe dredging would be that it would limit the ability of aquatic plants to survive in the first few years. Once
there was sediment build-up, the plants could take root and survive. The report also recommended that the rough fish, carp and
suckers, be removed to improve the aquatic plant growth and allow game fish to survive.
The estimated cost of dredging by hydraulic or earth moving equipment was estimated to be $150,000 to $225,000. Since the core
samples had not determined if the sediment contained hazardous waste, the report did not estimate the cost of disposal of soil if it was
contaminated. The DNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needed to issue permits for the dredging and waste disposal.
The DNR report also recommended that the watershed area near Lake Leota and Allen's Creek be renovated to reduce stream bank
erosion. Waste management in barnyards and feedlots in the watershed should be studied to determine ways of controlling the high
nutrient levels in the surface water runoff into Allen's Creek and Lake Leota. Spring runoff and storms created the biggest erosion
problems in the watershed area.
Solutions to the problems in the water shed area included planting cover crops in fields adjacent to the creek and lake, stabilizing the
stream banks by riprapping, and resloping at least 17 areas along the stream that had serious erosion problems. These repairs were
expected to cost $25,000 or more.
Another option offered by the DNR study was to remove the dam and let Allen's Creek revert to a stream. Since so much effort had
been put into restoring the lake, collecting money for restoration, and setting up the Lake District and Board of Commissioners, those
who wanted to keep Lake Leota opposed this solution. The District Board of Commissioners decided to find funds and volunteers to
maintain and improve the quality of Lake Leota.
Volunteers were responsible for most of the work to save Lake Leota. Spring cleaning of Allen's Creek and Lake Leota was an annual
event in the 1970s and 1980s. Trout Unlimited members, Jaycees, the Lions Club, Boy Scouts, the C.B. Club and the FFA helped
each year with the water cleanup.
When the creek and lake were cleaned in 1978, volunteers retrieved a wheelbarrow, lumber, boxes, screen windows, and other debris
that had been dumped into the creek and wetlands near the lake. The items were fished out of the creek and hauled away in a truck.
The weed cutter purchased in the 1970s by the Jaycees was also used to help clean the lake. The machine, operated with volunteer
labor, helped remove coontail weed, floating duckweed, and algae. Lake renovation experts had recommended cutting the weeds to
improve the flow and circulation of water in the lake.
Volunteer efforts also continued the fund raising for restoration of Lake Leota and added to the Lake Leota Fund. For more than ten
years, monthly paper drives collected thousands of pounds of newspaper which was sold and the proceeds were added to the fund.
However, the few hundred dollars raised each month was not sufficient to pay for the big project of dredging that was needed to bring
the lake to ideal conditions.
The Lake Leota District Board Commissioners continued to seek grants and other funding that would pay for dredging the lake. In
1979, the Board of Commissioners included property owners Don Cadman and Lee Smout, Rock County Supervisor John Hurd,
representing the County Soil and Water Conservation District; and Norman Hatlen, the Union Township representative.
In 1979, the Evansville City Park Board recommended that the City Council give financial assistance to the Lake Leota District for lake
improvement. Alderman Robert Brunsell told the Council, "Of all the plans the city has going now, I think this would be the most
Phil Kress, a Jaycee who volunteered time to the Lake Leota project throughout the 1970s, also assisted the Lake Leota District Board
of Commissioners. In 1979, Kress became chairman of the Commission and began holding meetings with DNR officials to move the
process of rehabilitating the lake further along.
Estimates for dredging the lake in 1979 were between $150,000 and $225,000. The proposed restoration would give the lake another
50 years of life, according to recommendations by experts. Ideally, the project of dredging the lake with earth moving equipment would
begin in late 1980 or 1981. The Board of Commissions had approved the plan, if the funding was available.
Stumbling blocks of various kinds kept the project from moving ahead. In addition to the cost, there were many government rules and
regulations that had to be met before dredging the lake could begin. The Department of Natural Resources regulations and permits
was the first major obstacle that needed to be addressed.
At an October 1979 meeting of the Board of Commissioners and DNR Inland Lake Renewal employee, Ted Amman, explained that
there were permits for drawing down the water in the lake. Amman also explained that an environmental assessment of the draw down
of the lake would be required before a permit could be issued.
Then permits for removing and disposing of the sediment had to be issued by the DNR. Finding a location for dumping the dredged
sediment was one of the biggest problems facing the Commission.
Floodplain regulations made it illegal to dump the sediment on the lake or creek banks, as had been done when the lake was dredged
in the 1950s. Amman also told the commission that the $150,000-$225,000 estimate for dredging did not include the cost of hauling
the sediment to a disposal site, if one could be found.
The Department of Natural Resources also required that the Commission have a detailed written plan explaining the process for
dredging the lake and removal of sedimentation. Since the soil samples that had been used for making the reports were more than
seven years old, the DNR required new soil samples to determine the depth and heavy metal content of the sediment. A soil analysis
for arsenic, copper, or other metals was required before any permits could be issued for disposal of the sediment.
Once a plan was written, the DNR also required that public hearings be held to determine the impact of the planned rehabilitation of
the lake on citizens. Commission Board Chairman Phil Kress suggested that a city referendum might be necessary to see if the
citizens were willing to help fund the rehabilitation of the lake with local tax dollars.
To soften the blow of the DNR requirements Amman offered some hope for financing the project by saying, "Once you get an
approved plan, you can probably get some financial backing." Citizens present at the meeting responded to the DNR official. "We're
getting a little too much government in the project. Why can't we do what we want to, like we did before?" Roy Sarow asked. In
response, Amman again held out the hope of financial aid. There could be no state or federal aid without complying with DNR rules,
While the studies were taking place, volunteers worked to make the lake environment more visible. Brian Anderson, an Evansville Boy
Scout, prepared a nature trail along the shore of Lake Leota. There was a booklet available at the public library to describe the trail
for those who wanted to walk along the shore.
The booklet described a trail that Anderson had marked with small numbered wooden stakes that corresponded to numbers in a
booklet written by Phil Kress. Flowers, birds, trees and other wildlife found in the lake area were described in the booklet. There were
also plans to expand the trail for night walks, prairie and aquatic habitats.
The engineering study needed to receive approval from the DNR for the permits to restore the lake cost $8,000. Once the DNR
studies were complete, the community was once again faced with a larger than expected cost for renovating the lake. By 1982, the
DNR had increased the estimate to $400,000, including removing 200,000 cubic feet of sediment at a cost of $1.32 to $2.02 per cubic
Volunteer fund raising had raised only small amounts of the needed money for the improvements. The Lake Leota Fund had
$3,642.30 and the District Board of Commissioners fund had $2,534.04, making little more than $6,000 of the cost available.
The good news was that the soil samples were not contaminated with heavy metals and so no solid waste licensing for disposal of the
sediment was required. The Village of Brooklyn had plans to install a new wastewater treatment facility and this would decrease
pollution coming into Allen's Creek above the lake.
In April 1982, an advisory referendum was presented to Evansville voters asking them to support $200,000 of the cost. A front page
headline of the March 31, 1982 Evansville Review read "What Needs To Be Done To Rehabilitate Lake Leota".
Voters were asked to consider, "Do we want Lake Leota the way it is or will we like it as a stream and wet meadow? Are we willing to
accept the responsibility for losing Lake Leota? What is the planned future use of the lake?"
More than 600 people cast their ballots on the advisory referendum. Four hundred twenty nine people voted to approve the $200,000
to restore the lake. Two hundred thirteen people voted against the advisory referendum.
At their next meeting, the Evansville City Councilmen voted unanimously to approve the application of a grant to pay for the remaining
$200,000. Phil Kress, Chairman of the Lake Leota District appeared at the Council meeting to assure the aldermen that there would
be no obligation for the City to provide funds, if the grant was not awarded. The funds for dredging were not approved and interest in
restoration of the lake waned.
The Jaycees sold their weed cutter to the Rock County to be used to cut weeds on Gibbs Lake. Although the paper drives continued
for several more years, the amount of money raised did not meet the expected costs. City Council interest in the lake shifted to flood
plain studies to comply with regulations imposed by the DNR.
Still there were some who believed that Lake Leota was an asset to the City. A Downtown Revitalization study by members of the
University of Wisconsin Class Landscape Architecture class taught by Bruce Murray included a plan for a walking or bicycle trail along
Allen's Creek, from East Main Street to the park.
Frank Martin, a member of the class, created a design and written plan for the trail. "A trail along Allen's Creek could possibly be a
multi-season-multi-use trail, with signs telling of the history of the area," Martin suggested. He also proposed a trail around the lake to
highlight its beauty.
Like many other plans for Allen's Creek and Lake Leota, the well-written study was placed in the archives of the City, waiting the day
financing for the project would be approved. Gaining permission from property owners for right-of-ways for the trail and other financial
considerations were problems that kept the plan from being implemented.
By 1990, the Department of Natural Resources had told the City Council that it would either have to repair the dam so that it could
withstand a flood, or tear out the dam. The cost of dam repair was estimated at $80,000.
The City Council once again voted to have an advisory referendum for an appropriation of $300,000 to repair the dam and dredge the
Once again citizens gave the Council the approval to go ahead with the spending. This time the vote was 515 for the spending and
However, only the dam repair was actually approved by the City Council. In 1993, Lake Leota's water was drawn down and residents
could see how little depth there was to the water in the lake. During the time the water was drained from the lake, the dam and spillway
gates were repaired. The contract for repairs was given to Terra Engineering and Construction for $190,060.
Headlines in early 1999 once again focused on Lake Leota and the problem of lake restoration. Citizens are faced with the same
problem as in the early 1900s. Should there be a lake or a stream? How much are the citizens of Evansville willing to pay for Lake
The same questions are being asked in the early part of the 21st century as at the beginning of the 20th.
Lindle Apfel Photos August 1898
At their August 1922 meeting, the Evansville City Council appropriated $10,359.50 to purchase land. The following people were paid
for land to recreate the lake. George Brigham received $3,608.50; A. C. Thorp acting as agent for Meda Stevens Conde, $1,218;
Gertrude Eager and her mother, Olivia Eager, $1,065; Crow and Ames, $371; and T. A. Steel, $127. The Chicago and Northwestern
Railroad Company was paid $2,000 to rip-rap their track bed.
The settlement of the proposal to build the dam had been delayed for several months because the railroad wanted the City to pay for
the protection of the railroad track bed. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad tracks ran near the border of the lake property and
the company was concerned that the tracks would be flooded during high water.
The City worked out an agreement with the railroad company that the new lake would be two feet lower than the old lake. The City
also agreed to rip-rap the railroad right-of-way. This would allow the lake level to rise during times of flooding and reduce the risk of
submerging or destroying the railroad tracks.
Once the land sale and the railroad protection agreements were finalized, the land was surveyed. Then the City Council advertised
for bids to build a dam across Allen's Creek. In February 1923, the City Engineer, E. B. Parsons, presented the plans and blue
prints for Lake Leota were presented to the City Council.
Parson's plan was to dig an eighteen-inch ditch in the old dam and to build a U-shaped concrete wall sixteen inches in width. At each
end, the new dam was to be three feet, and sloped to twelve feet at the deepest part. The new wall was to be set down eight inches
into the sandstone bedrock. The dirt from the old dam would be used to support both sides of the new dam. The concrete dam
would have two spillways at each end.
The dam was to be five hundred feet in length and there was a proposal to build a road across the dam that would be wide enough
for automobile traffic. However the expense of building a road that would carry vehicles was considered too great for the project.
When the contract for the dam was awarded, R. H. Peterson & Sons of Oregon submitted the winning bid of $7,630 for the
construction of the Lake Leota dam. The work began on July first and the cement work was well underway by August.
The foundation was three feet wide and iron rods were sunk into the foundation at sixteen inch intervals. The rods extended into the
eight-inch wall of the dam. The rods prevented the dam from slipping off the foundation wall. The iron would also prevent muskrats
and other burrowing animals from making holes through the dam, which would cause it to leak. The cement work was finished by the
first week of September 1923.
Before the lake was ever restored and as the dam was under construction several local businessmen suggested that the lake should
be dredged of the black top soil. The supporters of this proposal wanted the new lake to start out with a clean bed. This would make
the lake more suitable for game fish and for swimming. They were also concerned that the as the lake was flooded, the rotting roots
of the plants covered by the water would cause an unpleasant odor.
J. I. Scott, the editor of the Review, led the call for donations for dredging the lake. "It is thought that this amount can be raised by
popular subscription. The Review has confidence enough in the public-spiritedness of the people of this city to believe that the
amount will be raised. Let's Go!"
William Stevens offered to sell the old
millpond to the City for $800, but there
were other projects that needed
attention and the City Council refused
to fund the restoration of Lake Leota.
Since Stevens had no interest in
maintaining the mill pound, the dam was
cut through and the land that had once
been flooded reverted back to the land
owners. Allen's Creek became an
unobstructed stream and the former
swimming hole became only a
For the next twenty years, there was an
annual agitation from civic groups and
some citizens to bring back the lake.
After many surveys and a referendum
for a bond issue of $20,000, the 1922
City Council was ready to act.
The land and water rights for the lake
property were privately owned from the
earliest days of settlement until the City
of Evansville purchased the lake bed
land to restore Lake Leota in 1922.
September 28, 1911, Evansville
Review, p. 1, Evansville, Wisconsin
LAKE LEOTA - FROM A MILL POND
RESEARCHED AND WRITTEN BY RUTH ANN MONTGOMERY
July 11, 1912, Evansville Review, p. 1,
|March 8, 1923, Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
|over the top
Water Goes Over Top of Dam at 9:15 Tuesday Evening
Lake Fills in Record Time--17 Days, 7 Hours and 10 mintes.
Church Bells and Fire Whistle Tell of Fulfillment of
Headlines in November 15, 1923, Evansville Review, p.
1, Evansville, Wisconsin
|Horace Reynolds and other unidentified swimmers at Lake Leota
Joe Dalton at Lake Leota Park 1940s
August 8, 1929, Evansville Review, p. 1, col. 4,
There were many works projects
for unemployed men in the
1930s. Using various federal
grants, Robert Antes, a member
of the City Park Board, promoted
and supervised the construction
of rip-rapping the creek, creating
lagoons and duck houses, a park
store, bell tower, warming house
and band stand, and a shelter for
Don Every Photo
June 29, 1933,
p. 1, col. 2,
June 7, 1934, Evansville Review, p. 1,
September 30, 1981,
Evansville Review, p. 1,
col. 4-5, Evansville,
In the late 1940s and for nearly all of the 1950s, several
citizens proposed plans for a new swimming pool.
During the discussion of the pool, Ethel Gibbs, a local artist,
created a drawing of a pool at Lake Leota
August 4, 1949, Evansville Review, p. 8,
July 7, 1955, p. 1, col. 3, Evansville,
Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
The Board decided to hire an engineering firm to
prepare lake management plans and a bid package for
dredging the 24-acre lake.
In December 1979, volunteers once again used shovels
and pails to get soil samples of the sediment in the lake
bottom for anaylsis of heavy metals and depth of the
The mud dredged from Lake Leota
was pumped out on the Eager and
Baker land on the southwest side of
the lake. "It is being put there instead
of on flatter land, so the water can
drain away better," a Review reporter
explained. A dike made of bales of
straw was placed along the shore so
that the mud would not slide back
into the lake, but did allow water to
drain from the mud.
When the dredging was complete,
the part of the lake that had been
dredged was considered to be much
cleaner and free of rough fish than
the remaining lake. Citizens were
given an opportunity to see the
results of the dredging that same
year when the City Council decided
to lower the level of the lake bed so
that the spillways and gates could be
December 31, 1958, Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin
Photo by Don Thompson ca. 1990
Lake Leota after flooding in June