Baraboo River Corridor History


Natural and Human history


The river tumbles out of the hill-and-valley country of un-glaciated Wisconsin northwest of Reedsburg before flowing lazily through glacial lake Reedsburg and the Baraboo Valley. At Baraboo, the river breaks through the terminal moraine and spills rapidly through the city. Before the last glacier it may have turned south here and flowed through what is now Devil’s Lake. The last glaciation forced the channel to its present mouth at the Wisconsin river near Portage. In the eighteenth century, a French trader and trapper, called Francois Baribeau, had a trading post located at the river's confluence with the Wisconsin River. Research indicates it is from Francois Baribeau that the river gets its name.

The Baraboo has always lured people to its shores. The effigy mound-builders chose the riverbanks and surrounding hills for many of their mounds, and later indigenous peoples settled along the river in villages, often near these mounds. The search for food, fuel and water also spurred white settlers to settle first along the river. Every village along the river owes its start to the water power that fueled early commerce. As many as 11 dams powered saw, grist and textile mills and eventually generated power for street lights and other electrical needs. The last remaining dam was removed in October 2001.