Wisconsin May 13, 2017
The Wisconsin Ghost Neighborhood You’ll Want To Explore
People love to visit the UW Arboretum in Madison for all the paths, plants and animals, but did you know that tucked in the southeast corner, near the marsh and the Beltline, there’s the remains of a failed 1920s subdivision?
Now the home of the university's arboretum, this area on the south shore of Lake Wingra was chosen in the 1910s as a place to build a new suburb. Called Lake Forest, the area was envisioned to have its own civic center, canals, lagoons and more.
The planners were really selling this new subdivision, calling it the "Venice of the North," "by far the best planned city residential section in Wisconsin" and "the most beautiful, modern, healthful, and desirable dwelling spot in the Northeast."
Folks who've visited the Arboretum know this area is incredibly swampy and the Lake Forest Land Company totally underestimated what it would take to fill in this area and build upon it.
Despite incredible plans that were meant to be home to thousands of Madisonians in an area that balanced urban and rural with tons of green space, only seven houses were ever finished.
The development quickly began sinking back into the swamp.
There are remains of the roads that were built still seen in the arboretum. The main street of the development was meant to be a huge boulevard heading straight to the capital. Instead, there are pieces of paved path through the arboretum that seem out of place.
Just 11 years after it was founded, the Lake Forest Land Company was bankrupt. The swampy conditions combined with WWI to literally and figuratively sink the venture.
The original plans called for 7,000 feet of canals that were meant to lower the water table and keep the boggy land more suitable for building. But without the canals, the foundations and roads immediately began to sink.
You have to know where to look and the Arboretum offers at least one "Lost City" tour a year, but there are visible remnants of the failed Lake Forest development visible as you walk through.
If you head into the Martin Street entrance of the Arboretum, the concrete path you walk on is a remnant of the Lake Forest Development and following the crumbling, decaying path takes you to the heart of the so-called "lost city of Madison."
Deep into the woods there are moss-covered steps and a better inspection shows the remains of the foundation of a house. It's one of the clearest relics of what once was meant to be here.
A century old at this point, there's not much to prove that this natural paradise was once billed as the best suburban development in the state, but it's a fascinating story about the building of our state and its capital and how different our landscape could have been.
Looking for more lost Wisconsin history? Check out
Most People Don’t Know Wisconsin Has A Lost State Park.