History of Hartman Creek State Park
The events that led up to the establishment of Hartman Creek State Park are examples of the colorful history of the settlement and development of Central Wisconsin. Many of the early settlers of the Waupaca area may have traveled on this road to reach their homesteads.
One of the early families, the Allen's, had an unintended significant influence on the development of this property into the state park that it is now. In 1874 George Allen and his family owned a farm that eventually became the initial land purchased by the state that became Hartman Creek State Park.
The Allen's house was located where the park's maintenance area is now. The farm produced hops as the primary crop, and the Allen's had the largest hops house in Waupaca County. The hops were grown to replace hops grown in the east that at the time were devastated by drought. George Allen later switched to dairy farming. His son, Merrick, took over operation of the farm in 1880.
The dairy industry was growing in Wisconsin during this time period, and some local farmers joined together to form the Spring Hill Creamery Cooperative in 1903. The creamery was built on 1.25 acres of Merrick Allen's property that he sold to the co-op. John J. Windfeldt, an award winning cheese and butter maker, was hired to run the creamery. He purchased the creamery as well as an adjoining farm to the south. His apple orchards remain to this day.
In 1925, George W. Allen, Merrick Allen's son, took over ownership of the farm. He proceeded to turn the farm into a fish hatchery. In 1927, he leased the creamery from Windfeldt and used the basement to raise fingerlings. During the 1920's George Allen cleared swamps, built several dams, and created a private brook trout hatchery. He allowed people to come and fish at the hatchery but charged them a fee. By 1936 he had raised and released 3.5 million trout fingerlings. Due to hardships caused by the Depression and other circumstances, his estate went into foreclosure in 1935.
The Wisconsin Conservation Department bought the property in 1939 for $8,500. The initial purchase was 309 acres and included parts of the Allen estate and also the Hartman family estate. The Conservation Department built a dam on the creek and created Allen Lake, named in honor of George W. Allen. They named the property "Hartman Creek State Fish Hatchery." The hatchery was used to raise and release smallmouth bass into local rivers such as the Kickapoo, Blue, and Pecatonica, that could no longer support trout due to degradation of the rivers. Improvements of the property started after the State Fish Hatchery was established. The pine plantations that are now mature trees in the park were planted by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the early 1940's. In 1950 walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, and trout were added to the hatchery enterprise. By 1960 the hatchery was no longer needed, and the property was turned over to the State Parks and Recreation Division. Having spring-fed lakes abundant with fish, land with pine plantations, apple orchards, fields with wildflowers, and natural stands of hardwoods abounding with wildlife, Hartman Creek State Park officially opened on July 22, 1966. Today, the park now consists of approximately 1,417 acres, including 80 acres of Windfeldt's estate and other properties owned by local families that either sold or donated their land to the state. Many old logging roads wind through the area. The Old Coach Road Trail (stage coach) that connected Oshkosh to Stevens Point in the 1800's is still in existence and can be accessed in the park. The roads have been converted into hiking trails, and visitors may retrace the routes followed by Wisconsin's lumberjacks. Hartman Creek adjoins the Chain O'Lakes, a group of 22 spring-fed lakes. While there are no public landings within the park (other than off Knight Lane), small boats and canoes may be carried down to Allen, Hartman, or Mid Lakes and launched along the shore. The lakes contain perch, largemouth bass, northern pike, bluegills, and a few muskie. The three lakes give Hartman Creek State Park approximately 65 acres of clean, clear, spring-fed water. Click here to see historical photos of Hartman Creek State Park.
History Book For Sale
Friends member and Park neighbor Merlin Horn devoted over a year of his life to the creation of Cultural and Natural History of Hartman Creek State Park and Vicinity. Previously, all historical data consisting of letters, pictures, documents and tape recordings were stored in what was known as the "white" box. From time to time, some brave soul would root through it, perhaps even dream of making some order of its contents, but such ambitions quickly faded at the scale of the task. Merlin was not daunted. His interest in pioneer life had already inspired him to research and write his own family's history and genealogy.
The Allen farm was the foundation for the park. George Allen's daily entries into his diary in the 1870's-'80's noting weather, chores, visits with neighbors and family personalize history and give perspective to our own lives.
The weather of 1875 was extreme. Some entries to the diary in February were: 8th: Melting ice from well. Buckets boiling frozen potatoes. -28 degrees; 18th: Snowing almost all day. -22 degrees; 23rd: Foggy and mild this morning. This afternoon has grown colder and has been snowing and blowing since 4 pm, the hardest storm of the winter; 24th: Self breaking and shoveling out the highway in the afternoon. We with team went to F.L. Kings in afternoon.
By late May, it was 98 degrees in the shade, and on August 22nd a severe frost damaged crops. An entry September 21st: Finished cutting corn on H.A.'s land on the account of the corn being so badly frozen by the frost, the corn is pretty much spoiled on a part of the field.
George Allen's diary entries struck a chord of recognition as Merlin recalled his own upbringing on the family farm near Oshkosh. Holding a doctorate in soil science and geology and an interest in all things living, Merlin explains the work of glaciation and its impact on the natural history of the park. The book is richly illustrated with his award-winning photography. Copies are available at the Park office for $30, proceeds to benefit the Friends.