Sometimes really good things happen just because we change our plans at the last minute. Today, I had that experience! We were driving home from a weekend at the Heidel House in Green Lake, WI when I asked Gerry if he wanted to visit the Aztalan State Park, which was right on our way. My earlier post on the park was the one post he said he didn’t like, but since it was also the one place he wasn’t with me when I visited, I had been thinking maybe it was due to his unfamiliarity with the place. So he agreed to stop, and what we guessed would be a half hour break, turned into a 3-hour course in early Wisconsin history.
I also now have the answers to many of my questions arising from the first visit. All this was thanks to an encounter with Bob Birmingham, formerly the official archeologist of the state of Wisconsin and an expert on the Aztalan site. He was going to give a walking tour of the site, and invited us to join about 6 other people who also wanted a guided tour.
Because you probably don’t really want to read all the history of the site here, I will include some links so that you can read up on it on your own. I will just mention a few highlights that helped to clarify for me uncertainties from the first visit.
It seems that the people who came to settle this city did indeed find this location a land of plenty for most of the 300 years that they occupied it, but it seems that the extensive fortifications they built also indicate that there were hostilities for much of the occupation. There were people living here before they came, perhaps semi-nomadic people or small villages. Both assimilation and war are probable.
This site can be called “Wisconsins First City” for it was a permanent settlement of about 600 people. It can be called “Wisconsin’s First Farm Town” abecause the people who settled here brought their farming traditions north with them when they left the metropolis of Cahokia, near (and perhaps underneath!) modern day St Louis. It can also be said that it was home to “Wisconsin’s First Sports Arena” (an forerunner to the great Lambeau Field!) as there was a large court where “chunky” was the game of the day.
A guided tour gives one such a wealth of information! So, to my questions: Where are the artifacts? They are in storage at the Milwaukee Public Museum. You cannot see them, but at least they are well cared for. What about plans for a visitor’s center and museum? Yes, those plans exist and yes, they are being affected by the economic downturn. But, the Friends of Aztalan State Park are raising money to build the museum and visitors’ center. Dare I suggest that we can help them succeed? It would be simple enough to visit the park and see for yourself that this is a treasure worth enhancing, and then writing a check to support the building fund. No time for a visit? Send a check to: Friends of Aztalan Sate Park, PO Box 855, Lake Mills, WI 53551. Definitely check out their website for more information.