The most prominent landscape features around Silverwood Park are the drumlins, kettles, and glacial lakes created by the Green Bay Lobe during the Pleistocene (Ice Age). This was a period in geological history in which the Earth’s temperature cooled, leading to the formation of glaciers. The last Ice Age is named the Wisconsin Glaciation, which began about 31,500 years ago. The glacier advanced into Wisconsin over 13,500 years before temperatures warmed again and it began to melt back. It took another 7,000 years before the ice finally retreated from Wisconsin. The tundra that accompanied the glacier was the home of the woolly mammoth at first, then as climate warmed, the mastodon. We hike trails and farm land where these Ice Age animals once roamed.
Several kettles are clearly visible within Silverwood Park’s boundaries. Kettle holes are formed when a block of ice, left behind by a retreating glacier, becomes buried in sediment. When the ice melts, a depression remains marking its former location.
Silverwood Park park sits just 30 miles west of Kettle Moraine’s Southern Unit. The park is within the Glacial Heritage Area where a series of parks, preserves, natural areas, and other conservation lands are linked together to provide outdoor recreation and preserve wildlife and water resources.
Paleo Indians inhabited the Koshkonong area as many as 12,000 years ago arriving after the glaciers left. The indigenous people hunted and collected food, often returning to the same locations seasonally. They lived in semi-permanent villages, used the bow and arrow, and made and used pottery. These native peoples were mound builders; the nearby Lake Koshkonong area once had 23 effigy mound groups, composed of about 500 individual mounds, dated as early as 2500 B.C.
We do not know much of the thousands of years between the mound builders and the arrival of white settlement in the early 19th century, but we do know that around 1200 AD a time of profound change took place. According to David Mollenhoff’s Madison: A History of the Formative Years, that change included “new groups of Indians moving into the area, and that… Late Woodland people stopped building mounds when extensive corn cultivation prompted people to develop religious rituals focused more on the fertility of the soil.”
The first white settlers found the Ho Chunk tribe (then known as the Winnebago) returning to the area seasonally to harvest rice from the marshes that would later be channeled into the Rock River. A treaty signed by Winnebago Chief White Crow after the Black Hawk War of 1832 ceded the area to the United States government. Today the Friends of Silverwood Park are stewards of the ancestral lands of the Ho-Chunk people.
Norwegian immigrants were the most numerous to arrive in southeastern Dane County, but the area around Silverwood Park was settled by Yankees. The first European-American settler was Freedman Sweet, who emigrated from Oneida County, New York in 1841. Other settlers began arriving that fall and established what would become the hamlet of Albion. In the 1800s, Albion was a retail center with a general store, a wagon and blacksmith shop, a steam mill that manufactured wagons and sleighs, a harness shop, and a hotel. The Albion community organized a Seventh Day Baptist Church in 1843, which founded Albion Academy in 1854, considered one of the first co-educational colleges in Wisconsin.
Silverwood family farm
George Silverwood came from Yorkshire, England, in 1849 and purchased 100 acres of uncultivated land on the Albion Prairie. John Bullis and his family had come from New York in 1848 and begun farming an adjacent parcel. In 1900 George H. Silverwood purchased the Bullis farm to expand his own. He was primarily a stock farmer, breeding cattle and hogs. He was active in community and public affairs. A son, also named George, took over the farm after George H.’s death. His son, Russell, succeeded him at Silverwood farm, making three generations of the Silverwood family to farm here. Russell Silverwood, born in 1909, died in 1988. His wife Irene Silverwood donated the property to Dane County in 2001.
The Stonehouse Visitor’s Center, previously the Silverwood family home, was built pre-Civil War of locally quarried limestone. Operation Fresh Start of Madison carried out its renovation in 2016 for use as a visitors center.
The farm acreage of Silverwood County Park offers a significant opportunity for agricultural education and demonstration for school groups and the general public. A number of agricultural research projects have been initiated since the park opened in 2015. Read more about education and cultivation projects here.