Nestled in an elbow of the winding path of the Rock River rests Tivoli Island, known earlier as Concordia Island, and before that was one of many nameless islands in North America's wilderness.
Long before the Europeans first settled in the Watertown area, the island flourished with lush vegetation and a wide variety of wildlife. Indians of the Potawatomi and Winnebago tribes frequently visited this area hunting for game. By the time the French fur traders canoed up the river, many of the Indians found living here had come from eastern lands, having been forced to migrate due to western expansion of the pioneers.
French fur traders were some of the first white men to come upon these forests of maple and basswood, and prairies scattered with oaks. Setting their traps along the river, the island may have served as a place to camp for the night.
In the 1830's pioneers used the Rock River for a means of travel in their pursuit of a new place to settle. Watertown's first settler, Timothy Johnson, described the area surrounding the island as containing "a combination of woodlands, prairie openings, and natural meadows. The banks of the river were fanged with red cedars, the background being thickly wooded on the west side with stately oaks and the east with a forest of maples, elms, and ashes.”
Two other early pioneers, John and Luther Cole, arrived at the settlement and referred to the west side of the river as being occupied by Winnebago and the east side by Potawatomi. They described the area surrounding the island as having "several acres of cleared land scattered here and there cultivated of corn by the Indians."
In 1835 the town lines were run by the government surveyor, John Mullet, on whose map this island is clearly drawn. Soon after, Wisconsin became a territory and in 1839, Jefferson County was formed. On the land to the west of the island, a little settlement began to grow and by 1837 seventy strong-willed people had made this beautiful area their home. Land could not be purchased until February of 1839, after which the population began to increase, and by 1840 rose to 218 persons. From this time on the little island that we today call Tivoli Island has played its part in the story of the city of Watertown.
The first owner of the island was Jesse Decoy. He later presented the island as a gift to the first son of John Cole, one of Watertown's founding fathers. Many years later, Mrs. John Cole gave a speech on the island telling of its beauty and how her son had acquired it. She said, “Before my baby was 24 hours old I had a deed for the boy of this little island, the beauties and loveliness of which we so much admire and enjoy today.”
In the 1840's an earthen and timber dam was constructed directly above the island by Joseph and Calvin Boughton. The power was used to run a saw mill on the east side of the river and a grain mill on the west side. A wall was built from the dam to the island to create a mill race around the island. In decades following construction of the dam, city maps show the island enlarged and developed a peninsula extending to the dam. These changes were caused by silt from the river building up along the wall and along the island's shorelines.
It was recorded in 1908 that a Benkerdorf family once owed the island.
The Watertown Musical Society, Concordia, has purchased Tivoli Island north of the Rough and Ready Mills in the Second Ward and will proceed at once to fit up the grounds as a grand summer resort. A bridge will be built from the bank of the river to the island and a ball alley and suitable buildings erected. When the improvements contemplated are completed, Tivoli Island will be a beautiful and enchanting spot for pleasure seekers. The scenery in the vicinity is charming and the grounds so convenient to the city that it must at once become a popular place of resort for those in quest of rest and amusement." WR, 07 15 1874; WD, 07 16 1874
In 1874 a German singing group, the Concordia Music Society, purchased the island, and named it Concordia Island. The society had been formed in 1862 under direction of Mr. Gaebler. Concordia Island served as a host to many saengerfests, music festivals in which most of the singing organizations of the state would take part. Local citizens held picnics and heard frequent band concerts on Concordia Island. Unions, clubs, and trade guilds from throughout the state rented the island for annual gatherings.
Concordia members landscaped the island, planting many trees and shrubs of various varieties, some of which are mature trees today. Members constructed numerous buildings including a beautiful central pavilion. The island was graced with one of the first fountains in this area. Located in front of the pavilion, it sent sprays of water splashing into a circular basin in the center of which stood an ornamental statue. A secluded water tank kept the fountain at play, while a windmill pumped water into the giant container. It also had a circular bandstand with beer, candy and ice cream sales on ground level and quarters for musicians on the second floor.
A long, narrow building housed a two-lane bowling alley where the old game of ninepins was played. A wooden, narrow foot bridge spanned the Rock River on the island's north side, quite near the present-day bridge. Concordia Island was known far and wide, and as some of Watertown's old timers once recalled, the island was at one time so popular that even Riverside Park cannot compare with the fame that Concordia Island once knew.
Wttn Dem or Rep. June 3, 1875
The Concordia Society now has a boat which will be used to convey frequenters across the stream to that pleasant resort on their island instead of allowing all to pass over the foot bridge as they have done heretofore. They expect the bridge to be insufficient during the coming Saengerfest.
07 24 The excursionists who came up from Jefferson on board the Florietta, Saturday morning, having spent a few hours quite pleasantly in this city, started on their return trip shortly after 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Busses were provided at the Tivoli to convey passengers to the little steamer, which stood waiting a few rods south of Boomer's dam to receive her cargo of human freight. Before the boat started some sixty persons were on board, including a band of musicians, and several individuals from this town . . . The boat reached her destination at half past eight o'clock in the evening, and as she slowly entered the dock, the band played "God save the Queen." Hundreds of people stood waiting for the boat's return, and before she fairly landed, loud exclamations of joy went up from the gay and merry throng. The boat will be here some time during the present week, to carry passengers to Jefferson and back. WD
08 23 Excursion train of Milwaukee Turners picnic on Concordia Island. WR
06 19 The Tivoli Garden has been recently fitted up in a tasty and convenient matter, and is now the finest resort for pleasure in this city. Hoper's Tyrolean Troupe has been engaged by John Heyman to give concert entertainments every evening. Admission to garden 10 cents – good also for refreshments. A New York troupe has been engaged for the 4th of July. All who wish to hear excellent music should go and hear these musicians. WD
06 27 The Fourth at Concordia
Concordia Island will be an attractive spot on the Fourth next Wednesday. Picnicking will be the order of the day amid the sylvan shades in this favorite retreat and the hours will be enlivened with sweet chords of music from the Philharmonic Cornet Band. Arrangements have been made for grand balloon ascensions and other amusements during the afternoon. WR
07 04 School Picnic
Saturday was a gala day for the children of the public schools. They turned out to the number of nearly nine hundred and with their teachers marched to Concordia Island. The grand procession formed in front of Union School No. 1 and headed by the Philharmonic Band moved fine array to the picnic grounds. The long line of scholars, from the tiny toddler to the mature boy and girl, decorated with flags, and carrying cups and other picnic apparatus, their faces beaming with delight in anticipation of the pleasures ahead, was indeed a beautiful sight. The arrival at the island was the signal for the vast throng of juveniles to enter into the most boundless ecstasies of joy. The little ones amused themselves in various ways during the afternoon and they produced loud and positive proof of their appreciation of the occasion. The luncheons provided for the children found eager partakers and there was a rapid disappearance of sandwiches, cake, lemonade, candies, ice cream and other things good for little stomachs. With the going down of the sun all returned to their homes having every reason to remember with gladness the picnic of 1883. WR
08 01 A most pleasant and agreeable picnic party was held at Concordia Island last Friday evening. The weather was all that could be desired giving those in attendance a fine opportunity of enjoying the quiet shady retreats of the lovely grounds decked so beautifully with nature's gifts of grass, flowers, trees and shrubbery. After tea was served the party repaired to the pavilion and danced away dull care for a number of hours, choice music for the happy occasion having been provided by the management of the delightful affair. WR
1886 Fountain and Pavilion, Concordia Island Park, [Tivoli Island]. This building was removed in 1961
06 19 ANNUAL SCHOOL PICNIC
Last Thursday was a gala day for the country people of this vicinity, the occasion being the first picnic given by the Watertown Farmers’ Club on Concordia Island. The city had a festive appearance, and many of our residents took a half-holiday and joined with their country friends in the afternoon's outing. Some of the principal streets were decorated with greens, while the business houses generally were festooned with bunting, flags, etc. Preceding the picnic an industrial parade, abounding in amusing features, took place. . . . In the lead was the Watertown Cornet band, attired in most ludicrous costumes after the style of the proverbial "hayseed." The chief idea of the parade was to depict the old and new modes of farming, and this was done by a complete display of agricultural implements both in and out of use.
06 26 ANNUAL SCHOOL PICNIC
Yesterday afternoon the annual school picnic took place on Concordia Island, but it was rather a sorry outing for the children, the hard rains spoiling all their fun. The procession of some 900 children in line, headed for the island, after the first shower had passed, about 2:30 o'clock, but the destination had scarcely been reached when the lowering clouds again opened and thoroughly drenched many of the young folks, the sheltering places not being sufficient to accommodate all. The picnic broke up and the children regretfully wended their way homeward with anything the present recollections of the school picnic of 1895, an event so long and so joyfully anticipated. The festivities were concluded this forenoon at the different school houses, and the good things in the eating line disposed of. WR
06 29 RAIN SPOILS ANNUAL SCHOOL PICNIC
The-rain which began to fall about 4 o'clock last Friday afternoon had the effect of spoiling much of the enjoyment of the annual school picnic being held at Concordia island and drove the participants home in flocks. The school children, in gay holiday attire, marched to the island at 1:30 o'clock accompanied by the Sinnissippi band, but were only allowed about two hours of fun before the rain came. WR
06 27 ANNUAL SCHOOL PICNIC, Concordia Island
Friday was an ideal day for picnicking, and the children of the public schools hugely enjoyed their annual outing on Concordia island. The procession of some 1,200 pupils in charge of their teachers and attired in holiday garb, made a pleasing picture as it wended its way to the island where the afternoon was passed with various kinds of games and pastimes. The Sinnissippi band furnished music for the occasion. WR
08 22 DELIGHTFUL ENVIRONMENTS OF THE ISLAND
The Misses Emma and Clara Shasky entertained their friends to the number of nearly four score in a charmingly hospitable manner Friday evening at a dancing party the Concordia Island pavilion. The delightful environments of the island, enhanced by the favorable weather and the mellow light of the full moon, made the occasion truly enjoyable to all who had the good fortune to be present. Music was furnished by the Blaesius orchestra and light refreshments were served. A considerable number of guests were from out of town. WR
Cross Reference: Miss Clara was the Goddess of Liberty in the 1901 Fourth of July parade.
06 26 ANNUAL SCHOOL PICNIC, Concordia Island
Owing to the threatening weather of Friday, the annual picnic of the public schools was postponed until the following afternoon. The necessity of postponing it was a sore disappointment to the children, but they were nevertheless handsomely rewarded for waiting, as a more perfect day for picnicking than last Saturday could not be imagined. The pupils marched to Concordia Island shortly after 1 o’clock in charge of their teachers and to the music of the Sinnissippi band, and during the afternoon parents and friends joined in the festivities. There was plenty of good things to eat and drink, and what with various games and pastimes the hearts of all were made glad and happiness reigned supreme. This yearly outing provided by the board of education for the special enjoyment of the scholars after their school-room labors is long anticipated with a great degree of pleasure, and it is an institution which it is hoped may always be maintained. WR
06 29 The annual picnic of the public schools was held on Concordia Island last Saturday afternoon. The picnic had been arranged for Friday, but the day being rainy, it was postponed to Saturday, which was an ideal day for a picnic. About 1600 children were in line, accompanied by their teachers and the Sinnissippi band. The children of the different schools met at the Main Street bridge, where the procession was formed, and all marched to Concordia Island, where a fine feast was in waiting, and all passed a most delightful afternoon together. A large number of parents were present as well as friends of the school. WG
WINDMILL ON TIVOLI ISLAND
09 09 Labor Day celebrated on larger scale than ever before.
Monday was Labor Day, and it was celebrated here on a larger scale than ever before. The weather was pleasant and all who possibly could turned out to join in celebrating the event at Tivoli Island, where a fine program was arranged by the Central Labor Union. All the unions of the city turned out and the parade started to the island at 1 o'clock from Union hall west to Fountain Street and back again to West Main and Main Street. It was an interesting sight to witness. The streets were crowded with people to witness the parade, and those taking part in it were highly complimented all sides. Each union wore a distinguishing mark of their trade. It was made up of one of the finest bodies of men that has ever taken part in a parade here . . . Labor day, 1904 will pass into history as one of the most enjoyable that Watertown people have ever enjoyed.
Third Annual Homecoming
The afternoon was spent in perhaps the most natural picnic grounds in all America - Tivoli Island. Situated in the middle of Rock River, containing several acres of fine wooded land, and within walking distance of the city, it is an ideal spot. The beauty of the scene is enhanced by the renowned Rough and Ready waterfall, which stretches the whole breadth of the river just at the end of the island and within full view of it . . . full article
The current bridge, originally built around 1877 was part of a four-span structure over the Crawfish River in the village of Milford. Two spans of the bridge were moved to the present site in 1906. It is the last remaining example in the state of a tubular iron arch design which was patented in 1866 by Zenas King of Ohio.
Historic American Buildings Survey, 1987, ["moved from Milwaukee" is an error], 15 pg pdf file
Historic American Buildings Survey, 1987, six images
As the Victorian age ended and the first Model T rolled into Watertown, the Concordia Society disbanded and the island was sold. Around 1907 the Ohm brothers, local saloon operators, purchased Concordia, and changed its name to Tivoli, and for a short time opened a beer garden (a news item using the name "Tivoli Island" instead of "Concordia Island" appeared in the June 29, 1906 issue of the Watertown Weekly Leader.
The name Tivoli is said to have come either from an ancient summer pleasure resort near Rome, Italy or from the Tivoli Gardens which had opened in Copenhagen in 1843.
The Ohm brothers enclosed the pavilion and added on nine rooms. In 1907 a new concrete electrical dam was constructed just down stream from the old earthen and timber dam. The older still remains but is submerged in the pond of the new dam. The "Rough and Ready Dam," as the structure came to be called, produced power for the electric railway that ran from Watertown to Milwaukee.
03 19 Tivoli Island will continue to be a popular place of amusement, at least for the coming summer. When Ohm Brothers recently sold this resort property, there were all kinds of rumors as to what disposition the purchaser would make of the property. One even went so far as to carry the impression that the land would be used for farm purposes by William Strehmel of Columbus, the purchaser. It will be pleasing news to many to know that the property has been leased by local parties and that it will continue as in the past to be a scene of recreation and pleasure for many of our Watertown people. As has been the custom in the past, the island will be leased for picnics and other social gatherings. William J. Bethke has been engaged to manage the island during the coming season and will put forth every effort to make the spot even more popular than it has been in the past. It is understood that several improvements will be made preparatory to the opening of the season. WL
04 26 Laborers will start at work this morning putting Tivoli Island, our popular place of resort, in shape for the season of 1907. A number of improvements are to be made. The place will be opened informally on the first of May. The formal opening will occur on the 19th of May, when the members of the Watertown Band will give their annual picnic. From that time on there will be a picnic every Sunday and there will be music every Tuesday and Friday evening. As previously stated, Manager Bethke is arranging to secure some vaudeville attractions for the summer, it being the intention to make the island even more popular than it has been in the past. The Sunday dates for Tivoli are fast filling up and if there are any who are planning on a Sunday outing this summer, it would be advisable to get in their order early. WL
06 13 Rural route No. 10 was "specially" established yesterday between the city and Tivoli island and Robert Irving "specially" appointed as rural carrier and performed his first, last and only duty. He carried a single letter addressed to H. T. Eberle, upon which there was no postage stamp, which, of course, was conclusive evidence that it was only a "special" arrangement and Mr. Irving performed his duty with promptness and dispatch, demonstrating that he is a faithful and reliable official. WL
08 06 Site of Homecoming celebration gathering
07 22 Homecoming Day reception WG
08 26 Labor Day celebration WG
08 26 Band concert and dance WG
06 01 Tivoli Island Changes Proprietors - Gustave Teteschlag of Waterloo has sold Tivoli Island to Henry M. Billinger of the same place. The latter was formerly one of the managers of Wonderland, Milwaukee, and he intends making Tivoli Island a popular and high-class resort this summer. WG
08 05 Site of 1911 Homecoming celebration gathering
Bridge to island, south from Smith Bridge, 1911
07 11 TIVOLI ISLAND SOLD TO EMIL DOBBRATZ
Emil Dobbratz of Lebanon has purchased Tivoli Island from A. Billmeyer, the consideration being $10,000. WG
11 08 Melvin Max Wolf was born on Tivoli Island.
After prohibition was put into effect the beer garden closed and the Ohm brothers sold the island to Carl and Mary Wolf. For some years the city rented the island for a tourist camp. At that time sanitary facilities were also built, of which the cement foundation still remains.
-- TIVOLI ISLAND SOLD TO COL. W. F. REICHARDT
In 1926 Col. W. F. Reichardt, a civil engineer, later city engineer, mayor, and a WPA director, purchased the island. Reichardt improved the bridge by building concrete middle piers, upon which iron beams supported a wooden floor. Reichardt also published a booklet with photos and a detailed description of the island to promote its sale.
08 08 TIVOLI ISLAND FOR SALE
“Ideal for the man or club wishing a country place, or for platting into lots with a community building now on the island. Also a wonderful site of a Summer Hotel and Tea Room, Roadhouse or an Amusement park. Nothing like it perhaps in the entire Northwest.”
In 1941 the city of Watertown considered buying Tivoli from Reichadt, but the idea was voted down by the citizens. There was much debate for and against, and many "Voice of the People” articles appeared in the Daily Times. The main argument against its purchase was shortage of money at the time and no desire for an increase in taxes.
Late that year the island was lost to the county for taxes, and purchased from the county by Flora Gerbitz. For many years Tivoli had been left alone and buildings remained vacant. In 1946 Henry Scholl purchased the island from Gerbitz.
PURCHASE OF ISLAND BY CITY
In 1961 the city of Watertown purchased the island at which time the old run down buildings that remained were torn down and dead trees removed. The bridge was given a new floor and opened for foot travel. Other than this initial clean up, little was done to change the island.
01 11 SURVEY OF TIVOLI ISLAND BRIDGE
Plans are underway here to make a survey of the bridge which leads to Tivoli Island, a piece of property which the city purchased last year, before any action is taken regarding the future use of the island. City officials will inspect the bridge. If a new bridge is built to the island it will in all probability be a foot bridge, since the old type span which used to accommodate carriages and horses to the island in its heyday as an outing and picnic grounds is not necessary today. The island was purchased from the Henry Scholl Estate for $5,000, of which $2,500 was paid last year with the remaining half to be paid this year. WDT
02 15 Tivoli Island, widely known picnic and gathering place for this area in the Gay 90s and before that and also some time after, is being integrated into the city's park system. The island, which was acquired by the city council last year, has already undergone extensive clearing and restoration. Other changes will be made in the months ahead. On the city council agenda for this week's meeting, Acting City Manager Glenn R. Ferry has included a “progress report” to keep council members informed on what has been done so far. Today the full text of the report was released for publication. The island is being set aside as an arboretum. It has long been the center of small wild life and a gathering place for birds as well as ducks and other water fowl. WDT
02 21 Tivoli Island, once a popular recreation area for residents of Watertown, may soon again become a place for relation for city people. The island sank into disrepair in recent years and was ignored for some time. The area was obtained recently by the city and placed under the jurisdiction of the park department. Improvement of the island under the guidance of Ewald Brumm, park superintendent, has been continuous.
The old building that was located near the center of the isle has been removed and brush and dead trees have been cleared away. Dense brush along the stream banks has been trimmed out to open vistas of the stream and surrounding areas to visitors on the island. A fence has been erected on the south end of the island to prevent youngsters from reaching any danger areas near the power station or the dam. WDT
DEVELOP ISLAND INTO OUTDOOR RECREATIONAL FACILITY
In 1969 a resolution was put before the city council to develop Tivoli Island into an outdoor recreational facility. It was voted down because of the high cost of initial and future development.
In 1975 the Jaycees asked the city to consider restoration of Tivoli Island to the condition it was while Concordia Society owned, it. Plans were discussed for reconstruction of the pavilion and fountain that existed there at the turn of the century. This proposal was turned down for several reasons. Limited parking, availability of other parks of that type, and Tivoli's location near the flood plain ruled out the possibility of such development.
For many years Tivoli Island has been left to itself. Its inhabitants have been the squirrels and many species of birds. Ordinarily a piece of property located so close to a residential area would have been developed or misused. But because it is an island with only one bridge as an access point, the Rock River offers the best natural protection available. Because of this protected isolation, and the wide variety of existing natural landscaping, an idea was thought of to create Tivoli Island into a natural park.
An article requesting support of such a project was published in the Daily Times and the Izaak Walton League responded by volunteering financial and physical support. This plan includes the planting of native species and removal of foreign plants. It extends over a five-year period, and will restore the island with its native vegetation.
In April of this year the Izaak Walton League and the Octagon Garden Club worked on the development of this plan.
The Octagon Garden Club has planted nearly 100 native wildflower plants. Of the flowers planted some of the species were Virginia Bluebells, Wild Columbine, Jack in the Pulpit, Wild Ginger, Wild Blue Phlox, Mayapple, Bloodroot, Trillium and Jacobs Ladder. These flowers were purchased through funds provided by the club.
The Izaak Walton League has begun laying out a hiking trail which will cover the island. In order to make a good walking surface, a layer of wood chips was used to cover the path. These wood chips were made from fallen or dead trees and provided by the Park and Recreation Department. The Izaaks also cut and piled fallen tree limbs to provide habitat for small wildlife. Derived in part from Watertown Daily Times, 06 12 1976
Maintenance of Tivoli Island adopted by the Izaak Walton League in 1976 as part of a bicentennial project
05 11 TIVOLI ISLAND AS A WILDERNESS PARK
The development of Tivoli Island as a wilderness park will be continued Saturday by members of the Izaak Walton League. The project will be a general work day with members planting trees and shrubs, redressing wood chip paths, installing oak benches and cleaning up paper, cans and other debris on the island. Donald Hanson, Izaak Walton League member, said the wilderness park concept does not necessarily mean cutting down trees, clearing out branches and carefully manicuring Tivoli Island. WDT
02 08 TICKETED FOR FEEDING DUCKS
Throwing scraps of bread to a duck at Tivoli Island may cost a Watertown woman up to $50.25 as police have issued their first ticket for feeding the birds on public property. A police spokesman said the ticketing officer was responding to a scene of a minor accident when he noticed the woman feeding the birds. He then stopped and issued the ticket, while another officer responded to the accident. “It was pretty obvious,” the spokesman said of the feeding. “We aren’t looking to give out tickets” for feeding the ducks. “We’re just following what we’ve been told." WDT
08 31 EROSION STUDY
A first-ever erosion study of Riverside Park and Tivoli Island has been recommended by the Watertown Park, Recreation & Forestry Commission. The recommendation to contract Bonestroo & Associates to study erosion at the park and natural island preserve at a cost of $9,700 will go before the Common Council in September. Any construction on an erosion control program would not take place until 2001. Bonestroo said that Tivoli Island, a heavily wooded and passive recreational facility, has already experienced significant land loss. Flat, peninsula-type portions of the island have disappeared from sight. WDT
08 12 SHORELINE RESTORATION, ATTEMPT TO STOP EROSION
Following the installation of natural landscaping techniques, shoreline restoration along Tivoli Island is complete. Steffes Construction of Eden took roughly 2 1/2 weeks to finish the stabilization and planting project to help combat years of erosion that has gradually reduced the island’s size. Erosion adds soil and nutrients to the water causing siltation and contributing to algae blooms. Cost for the restoration project, which totaled roughly $50,000, had already been figured into this year’s budget. However original recommendations to use biodegradable logs wouldn’t work with Tivoli’s rock bottom. Since there was no way to anchor the logs, and bids for this procedure were too high, research began for a different stabilization approach.
05 16 IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE PROJECT
A 2002 project of the Izaak Walton League is the maintenance of Tivoli Island which the club adopted in 1976 as part of a bicentennial project. Member Don Hanson, chairman of the project since its inception, said the island needed considerable cleaning up at the beginning of its project. Formerly called Concordia Island, the area once had a pavilion and fountain but had fallen into disrepair. Old lumber, fencing and concrete and other debris had to be removed. Members also cut back brush and laid out walking paths.
Watertown Park and Recreation Department re-decked the historic bridge structure in December 2006.
Image Portfolio The Island
Image Portfolio The Bridge
How to Build an Island: An Environmental History of Tivoli Island, Jesse Koehler contribution (Word doc), 2010
Homecoming Day celebrations, Tivoli Island site of
History of Watertown, Wisconsin