Lake Mallalieu Association
- THE HISTORY OF LAKE MALLALIEU -
Lake Mallalieu, the Beginning
While Lake Mallalieu was first impounded in 1848, the real understanding of this man-
made lakes history starts with its source - the Willow River. The Willow, like all the rivers
of the region, is the product of continental glaciation. A massive ice sheet, perhaps a mile
thick, was the latest of several glaciations of the Ice Age. Starting in the Arctic and
advanced for thousands of years, it spread into Wisconsin until climatic warming
eventually caused its retreat about 10,000 years ago. It is believed that the glacier stopped
near the present Willow River, and that the hills just north of the river (along River Road)
are its terminal moraine. Evidence supporting this theory includes the theory that if the
glacier had continued further south it would have sheared off the soft mesa-like sandstone
hills between Hudson and River Falls.
As the climate warmed and the glacier slowly melted over hundreds of years, vast amounts of silt laden water drained away, carving the river ways known today. The river valleys in this area were formed in a relatively brief period of time as huge torrents of debris-laden water poured down, cutting through gravel outwash deposits and into the underlying sandstone.
Evidence of the rivers’ erosive power is all around, easily viewed from Hudson Birkmose and Prospect Parks. In Willow River State Park, both Willow Falls and the gorge above it can be seen, and the gravesite overlook gives an view of how the Willow meandered back and forth to form the basin that now holds the river and lake. In the Mallalieu headwaters there are many channels visible. On the north side, back from the river, there is a sandstone butte that was once an island when the Willow carved a channel around it. The high banks surrounding much of Lake Mallalieu were formed in the post-glacial runoff period as the larger Willow coursed back and forth across the present lake basin. A former river channel is visible in North Hudson, where the river flowed into what is now Meadow Drive and looped around to flow out through the low area about a block to the west.
After its formative period the Willow settled into its present course. Vegetation returned and stabilized the watershed, greatly reducing erosion until the disturbances of nineteenth century settlement. The watershed is about 250 square miles and the Willow drops 200’ from above New Richmond to the St. Croix, which explains both its early erosive force and the development of waterpower in the nineteenth century. Lake Mallalieu’s northeast basin appears to have been nearly at river level and was probably a marsh or wetland before it was flooded, which could explain the lake’s silt bottom.
Mallalieu Early Years
Hudson‘s first non-native settlers were brothers-in-law Louis Massey and Peter Bouchea, who arrived in 1840 by birch-bark canoe from Fort Snelling. They were French-Canadians of metis heritage who settled at the mouth of the Willow (at the small bridge on the west end of St. Croix Street in Hudson) and subsisted by hunting and trapping in the surrounding wilderness.
In 1846 Capt. J. B. Page did the first logging on the Willow. In 1848, James Purrington built the first dam and sawmill at the mouth of the Willow, creating a lake that came to be known as Willow Pond. In 1848, Wisconsin achieved statehood based primarily on lead mining and other settlement in the southern part of the state, although the north was still wilderness and largely unexplored. The 1850’s and 60’s brought rapid settlement to the area, promoted by steamboats on the St. Croix which provided the only practical means of moving goods.
In 1854, a second dam was built to run a gristmill. Caleb Greene built the Paradise Flour Mill a short distance above Willow Pond, and below what would become Trout Brook Road - this site was also known as the “brush dam.” For many years, farmers from the Hudson prairie brought their grain down to the Paradise Mill to have it ground. The great flood of 1894 took out dams upstream and washed out the mill.
During 1865 – 1882 logging period along the Willow, logs representing millions of board feet of lumber were annually driven down this small river to the St. Croix. Logs were either sent down with the spring run-off or the Willow was temporarily dammed and the water was released all at once to flush the logs down-stream. After 1882, log drives went only as far as New Richmond, but as late as 1895 there are reports of five million board feet going to the mills.
In 1867, the dams at Hudson were bought by D. A. Baldwin of the West Wisconsin Railroad. He built a flourmill at the larger dam and a smaller mill at the south dam. In 1877, the dams were purchased by Comstock and Clark who further improved the flourmills. They were later joined by Christian Burkhardt.
Also in l867, a brewery was built on the south shore of Willow Pond by Henry and William Montman. The site is the present location of the boat launch and caves for aging beer were dug into the bluff (entrances have long since been filled in). In 1891, the brewery was bought by Anton and Joseph Hochstein, who were sons-in-law of the Montman’s. In 1906, the brewery was bought by Henry Singleman who operated it as the Artesian Brewery. It burned down in 1917, and with Prohibition coming was not rebuilt. The ruins remained into the 1930’s.
The year 1871 brought the single most formative event in Hudson history occurred with the railroad arrival! The West Wisconsin Railroad entered from the east on a grade high above the southern shore of Willow Pond. Between Fourth and Fifth streets in Hudson it turned northwestward and bridged the Pond to North Hudson, landing just east of Seventh street. The trestle was an impressive piece of pioneer construction, some 1,000’ long and 65’ above the water. It was made entirely of wood pilings driven into the Pond bottom plus a wooden truss span on one end to accommodate log drives. The tracks made a loop through North Hudson, crossed the Pond again on the trestle that remains near the large dam, continued south and west to the former passenger depot, and crossed the St. Croix at their present location giving Hudson dependable year-round transportation.
In the early 1890’s the railroad through Hudson was reconstructed to its present route and the high trestle was removed. Remnants of the original trestle are still visible during lake drawdowns.
With the railroad came the shop yards. In 1872 the first shops were built in North Hudson next to the Pond, where the Mallalieu Apartments are now located. These shops included an eight bay roundhouse for locomotives plus car repair facilities, all of which were destroyed by fire in 1889.
In 1890-91 the “new” car shops were built in North Hudson by the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha RR. This was a major industry employing 400-500 men manufacturing and repairing both freight and passenger cars. It was the principal economic activity around Hudson for many decades. Production dwindled after WWII and the shops closed in l957.
Mallalieu Middle Years
Willow Pond became Lake Mallalieu in 1887. At the time, Dr. Irving Wiltrout was building Hudson’s first hospital and the Hudson Star & Times editorialized that he should be honored by naming the pond “Lake Irving.” Dr. Wiltrout declined the recognition, writing to the newspaper, “I have named this lake in honor of Rev. William F. Mallalieu, D.D., L.L.D., Bishop of the Methodist church and a resident of New Orleans.”
Dr. Wiltrout appears to have been much taken with the cultural people of his day, for he named his new facility the Oliver Wendell Holmes Hospital, and indeed the noted author (who was a fellow physician) wrote the inaugural poem for the hospital‘s dedication. The building, located at the north end of Seventh Street overlooking the lake, was four stories high and was built in the Queen Anne style. It had extensive grounds and a carriage drive down to the lake with bathhouses on what was later known as Proehl’s Point. The hospital claimed to have twelve doctors on staff. In 1894, it was purchased by Dr. Samuel Johnson and renamed “The Sanatorium”. In 1905, it was bought by Dr. Edward Bradford who operated it until l934 when it was destroyed in a spectacular fire.
Hudson saw its first electric lights in 1893. The flourmills at Hudson went into receivership and were bought by Christian Burkhardt, who installed generators to produce electricity. This was cutting-edge technology at the time, and not without problems. He persevered and after several years was able to provide reliable service. Burkhardt came to the area in 1868 to start his first gristmill at the town that bears his name. He was successful over the years in harnessing the Willow’s power with wooden dams to run a series of flourmills, and in the early 1900’s, he constructed three concrete dams above Hudson for hydropower. All four dams were incorporated in 1907 as the Burkhardt Milling and Electric Power Company, and, in 1922, as Willow River Power Company under Alfred Schultz, Burkhardt’s son-in-law and a noted geologist. These generators supplied most of Hudson’s electricity for half a century, until the company was sold to Northern States Power in 1945.
In the 1890’s an important legal event occurred. The Willow had been known from the earliest days as a fine trout stream, and in the 1890’s, a group from St. Paul bought a tract of land along the river below Willow Falls and established the Willow River Club. The land was fenced and the river patrolled for the exclusive use of its members. A local individual, Frank Wade, objected to having his fishing curtailed and set out to challenge the club. He entered the club’s area by boat and caught ten brook trout (valued by the court at 10 cents each), getting himself arrested for trespass in the process. Wade asserted in court that since he entered by boat, the stream was navigable and hence open to all, and that the trout had been stocked by the state fish commission and could not be claimed by the club. Wade’s arguments won his case in justice and circuit courts. The club appealed to Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, which decided in 1898 that “the Willow River was a public, navigable stream, and the defendant was not guilty of catching the fish in question.” The club disbanded soon thereafter. This case set the rule that prevails to this day on the free use of lakes and rivers by the public.
Trout Brook Hatchery was established in the late 1890’s by Edward Graves and Fred Crary on 120 acres of land and water at the eastern edge of Mallalieu. The area contained several natural spring ponds, which were augmented by 197 artesian wells bringing pure water to the hatchery. An extensive system of flumes, dikes and channels were built to regulate water flow, some of which are still visible. By l900, it was reported that the hatchery had 50,000 brook trout for market, 125,000 yearlings and 275,000 fry. Two-year-old trout were sold at 50 cents a pound for shipment on ice to cities throughout the Midwest. As the hatchery developed it grew to 300 acres with more buildings and cottages added. It also became an innovator in methods of propagating and feeding trout. It was damaged in the l934 flood, and hatchery operations dwindled. The property was sold to Clair Fry in 1941.
An ice business was established in North Hudson by Albert Faltesek in 1906 on the point east of 7th Street. There had been other ice businesses since 1871, but their locations were unknown. The North Hudson icehouse could hold 4,000 tons of Mallalieu ice stored in sawdust for both local sales and carload shipments. The ice business was closed in 1950 and the buildings razed soon thereafter.
The Hudson Ski Club was organized in 1907 to promote the sport of ski jumping. At least two early ski jumping towers were constructed, but they either burned or were blown down in storms. In the winter of l933-34, a federal depression-relief agency built a new and larger tower in North Hudson. It stood 110 feet tall on the south end of the bluff between Helen Street and Riverside Drive. The jump faced to the east, and the scooped-out landing area can still be seen on the hillside opposite 1152 Riverside Drive. Its glory was short-lived, for it too blew down in August of l934.
The Willow’s second big flood occurred on April 5, 1934. Heavy rains combined with spring run-off raised the river to record levels, washing out dams upstream. Flood crests surged down the valley, destroying several cottages in the Trout Brook area. Floodwaters and debris caused major damage on Mallalieu, collapsing the bridge, railroad trestle, and the large dam on the St. Croix. Lake Mallalieu emptied unfettered into the St. Croix. When the flood ended, the city improvised a plank walkway across the mud for pedestrians, and motorists had to drive through Stillwater to get to the other side of Mallalieu. The destroyed bridge had run at an angle to connect with Seventh Street in North Hudson, but the replacement bridge was put in at the present alignment with Sixth Street. Todays dams were built after the flood.
During the 1940’s, Sophia and Magdalena Proehl had six cabins built on the point of land that had belonged to the Sanatorium. The sisters lived in two of the cabins and rented out the others. Buildings were painted red, and the grounds were well maintained with flowers. There was a large stone fireplace for picnics on the lakeshore. The Proehls died in the early 1970’s and their property passed through several hands. The cabins were razed in 1999 to make way for new homes.
Fishing on Mallalieu is frequently mentioned as a popular activity in historic accounts. By 1941, a fisheries report listed largemouth bass and northern pike as common, and noted that commercial fishermen netted 56,400 pounds of carp. During l941-54 there was an attempt to establish walleyes by stocking. Northern pike declined in the l950’s due to viral infection, although some large pike were still being caught in the 1960’s. Walleye stocking proved unsuccessful, and it was recognized that Lake Mallalieu is best suited to bass and pan fish.
Mallalieu to the Present
Hudson Rod & Gun Club has been on the bluff top at the north end of the lake since the 1940’s. Club property extends down to the water and includes a long shoreline that has been kept in a natural state. From the l950’s to the 1970’s, Lewis Yacht Works was a custom boat building business located north of the larger dam. It was oriented toward the St. Croix and the site is now occupied by Eastbank Condominiums.
In the l950’s, the Dairy Mart began as a summer drive-in restaurant on Second Street, sharing the location with the boat launching site. It did a good business for a number of years, but business declined after fast food outlets opened along the Interstate. After several name changes and sporadic operation it was razed in the early 1990’s. The site was paved for parking.
During the late 1950’s, Mallalieu started to be recognized as a prime residential location. There had been a few houses and some cottages on the lake since the late 1800’s, but now new houses were being built on the lake. Much building took place in the 1960’s as larger parcels were divided into lots. Building has continued to the present whenever land has become available, so that now virtually all the buildable sites are occupied.
Nuisance aquatic plants in the lake have been a recurring concern. A 1951 fisheries report noted “abundant vegetation,” perhaps caused by removing the carp which feed on aquatic plants. In l961, 1965, and 1966, permits were issued to residents allowing large amounts of herbicides to be used for aquatic plant control, and it is believed some arsenic compounds remain in bottom sediments from those applications. By the 1970’s, vegetation was scarce and the water murky with large numbers of carp. In 1975, there was a partial drawdown in an attempt to control the carp by disrupting their spawning period.
The record flood on Mallalieu was in 1965 when the lake rose three to four feet over its normal level and covered parts of Riverside Drive about 2 feet deep. Very high water on the Mississippi at Prescott backed up the St. Croix, which then rose so high that it covered the dams and flowed into Mallalieu. This has happened during several later flood years.
In 1967, Northern States Power turned over the two Mallalieu dams to joint ownership by St. Croix County, Hudson, North Hudson, and the Town of Hudson. By this time, power production had ceased at all the Willow River dams.
Also in 1967, Wisconsin purchased the three dams above Hudson and the surrounding lands from NSP to form Willow River State Park. Because of the long ownership by Christian Burkhardt and then NSP, the lands had not been developed, although the lake had been popular for fishing. The park brought preservation and proper administration, but the public facilities made a significant impact on a previously wild area. Dam deterioration lead to removal of the middle (Willow Falls) and upper (Mounds) dams in the 1990’s. Willow Falls and its gorge have reverted to their beautiful natural state, and Mounds dam has been a scenic attraction.
The Mallalieu bridge installed after l934 flood was a hastily constructed narrow wooden trestle with a plank deck that shook when driven over. It was replaced in the early 1970’s with the present concrete bridge.
Lake Mallalieu has been home to at least three prominent artists. Claire Fry, who lived from the l940’s to the mid 1980’s on the southeastern corner of the lake where the red caboose is located, painted Americana scenes for St. Paul calendar publisher Brown & Bigelow receiving national exposure. Randy Penner, a professional water color artist who mostly worked on commission lived on Riverside Drive from the 1960’s until moving in 1999. James Burnley, also on Riverside Drive, was well known locally for his beautifully depicted oil paintings, and for the many contributions he has made to the community.
The Lake Mallalieu Association
The Lake Mallalieu Association began in the early 1980’s in response to three problems. The first was the need for dam repairs, a problem aggravated by loose talk from a few county board members who said they didn’t want to spend any of their money on Hudson’s amenities. Cooler heads prevailed and with the association’s prodding, and the Mallalieu was drawn down and the dams repaired in the fall of l983.
The second problem was the rumored sale and possible development of the hatchery property, despite it being mostly wetlands and zoned as floodplain. Another local group formed at this time, Wild Heritage, to combat the threat. Wild Heritage was dedicated to environmental protection with a focus on the Willow River valley. The two groups worked together to raise public awareness of the environmental value of the hatchery property and to emphasize its unsuitability for building. The property was eventually purchased in l987 by a St. Paul individual who has kept it in its natural state.
The third concern was a proposed condominium on the southeastern corner of Mallalieu. Early drawings showed a huge building said to be as large as the Minnesota State Capitol. Objections were raised about wet soil conditions and required utilities in addition to obvious aesthetic and visual impact. It soon became evident that the property would have to be annexed by Hudson to obtain sewer and water service, and the city government asked for engineering studies to justify the proposal. The plan collapsed of its own weight.
The next difficulty involving Lake Mallalieu was very serious. In 1989, extremely high levels of fecal coliform were measured when some children became sick after swimming. “LAKE CLOSED” signs went up around the lake shore. More water sampling confirmed that parts of Mallalieu were dangerously polluted. Lake Association members spent many hours taking weekly water samples from around the lake for analysis, with frequent newsletters giving the latest update and speculating on the cause. Local government inspections located sewage violations on Proehl’s Point and the Trout Brook area. These were immediately capped, but high pollution levels continued. Some people observed that it was a drought year and pollution spots correlated more with high goose populations than with known violations. The year ended without a resolution.
By the next year municipal engineering dominated the dialog and local governments were persuaded the time had come to install full sewer and water service to all lakeshore homes. The year passed with more studies of what would be a complicated engineering project, and continued controversy on the feasibility of upgrading septic systems in order to continue with private systems. The engineers prevailed and full sewage utilities were installed in l991 and 1992. Most of the work was on Proehl’s Point, Sunset Lane in Hudson, and on Riverside Drive in North Hudson. After enduring much disruption and great expense, there is now general agreement that this was the best solution to a serious problem. Subsequent water tests have shown that lake coliform levels have retreated to “background” levels.
In 1991, the Lake Mallalieu Association obtained a DNR Lake Planning Grant and hired an engineering firm to conduct a lake study. The study recommendations were not specific, and the primary finding was the rather obvious conclusion that there are excess nutrients in the lake. In 1997 the Lake Mallalieu Association responded to increasing problems with abundant nuisance aquatic plants, especially in the shallow northern basin. After considering chemical control methods, an aquatic plant survey was undertaken with expert help from the DNR in 1998. The greatest problem identified was the presence of Eurasian water milfoil and the prescribed treatment was winter freezing of the milfoil roots by lowering the lake level. Milfoil roots are severely damaged when they freeze and thaw. That fall and winter residents endured a deep-drainage (about 7’) of the lake for an extended period while the dams were being repaired. Freezing did control the milfoil and the two succeeding summers (1999 and 2000) were virtually completely free of non-native and nuisance aquatic plants. In 2004 - 2005 the lake was drawn down a second time, about 3’ from Oct. 1 to April 1 to control Eurasian Milfoil. The Lake Mallalieu Association obtained DNR grants in 1997 and 1998 to study the source of excessive nutrients in Lake Mallalieu, and develop a Lake Management Plan.
In 2010 the Lake Association began working with WDNR and St. Croix County staff members, to update the management plan and update and re-tool the Lake Association’s web site, www.lakemallalieu.org. It was felt that each of these efforts could incorporate valuable water quality information; information that has come to the attention of both lake residents and local resource managers.
Since 2004, Lake Mallalieu was included on the Environmental Protection Agency’s 303D impaired waters list, at high priority for eutrophication and pH impairments due to excess phosphorus. As a result of the designation, The Clean Water Act requires WDNR to prepare a phosphorus TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) for Lake Mallalieu and its watershed. The TMDL plan has a goal of reducing nutrient loading to Lake Mallalieu, in addition to increasing public awareness of upstream implementation efforts needed in the watershed. Specifics of the TMDL plan will guide nutrient reduction efforts for Lake Mallalieu and the Willow River Watershed well into their futures.