is both a city in Wisconsin
and a scenic area on the Wisconsin River
for which the city is named. Lying approximately 60 miles northeast of Madison, Wisconsin
, the city was established in 1857 as Kilbourn City
and was renamed Wisconsin Dells in 1931. The Dells are one of the largest tourist attraction
s - some might say tourist trap
s - in the midwestern United States.
The dalles -- French for layered rock -- of the Wisconsin river consist of forested Cambrian sandstone cliffs more than 120 feet high. They were created during the last ice age when a glacial lake finally broke through an ice dam and millions of gallons of water poured through - creating the deep river channel in just seven days' time.
In the 19th century, the Wisconsin River served as an important transportation highway for lumber from the northern forests. The first recorded logging on the Wisconsin River was in 1828 by a group of soldiers led by Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, later to become famous as president of the Confederate States.
For commercial logging the lumber was fashioned into large rafts and taken down the Wisconsin to the Mississippi River and points beyond. The most treacherous part of this journey was through the Dells, where the river narrowed to just 50-feet wide and raftsmen had to navigate dangerous rapids. To pass through, the large lumber rafts would be broken into smaller sections and taken through one section at a time, a process that could take two or three days.
The world was first exposed to the natural beauty of the Dells by photographer Henry Hamilton Bennett in the late 1800's. It was Bennett who gave many of the rock formations the names still in use today; Standing Rock, Witches Gulch, Steamboat Rock, etc.
The Dells remain home to many Winnebago (or Ho-Chunk) Indians. During the 1830's and 40's the U.S. government repeatedly tried to relocate the Winnebagos to western reservations, but under Chief Yellow Feather the Winnebago persistently returned to their homelands. Finally, in 1875, the Winnebagos won the right to own land in the Dells area.