ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Concordia Island

Tivoli Island

Tivoli Garden




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.


Timothy Johnson


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.


First Owner


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.




Map showing location


Concordia 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.


Bowling Alley


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.


Cross Reference:  The Concordia Society also purchased the Tivoli island, planted trees on it, built a pavilion, and painted it themselves.  In 1879 an octagon band stand was built on the island, forty feet in diameter and was first used for the band convention for which occasion Mr. Sleeper was director and Mr. Mulberger, field marshal.  Many concerts and picnics were held on the island, a windmill supplied water power for the large fountain, a garden, and a fine bowling alley helped make this a very popular place. 


Cross Reference:  Among the memories of 1938:  The days when Tivoli Island had a saloon, a bowling alley and a dance hall on it . . . and the swings at the far end [south end] of the island that seemed to carry you half way across Rock river at that point when you had them in full operation.  WDTimes, 08 16 1938




The Watertown Musical Society has commenced the work of sinking an artesian fountain in their pleasure grounds on Tivoli Island near the Rough and Ready Mill.  A flowing fountain will add much to the beauty of the gardens.    Watertown News



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.


       Uncertain date



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



       Unknown celebration (perhaps 4th of July).  May pre-date installation of fountain



-- --           FOUNTAIN PURCHASED

 [article, written on 03 03 1932, refers to 1882]  <>  H. B. Gaebler recently turned over to Col. W. F. Reichardt a letter written in 1882 relative to the fountain statute which graces the center of Tivoli Island, now the property of Col. Reichardt.


The letter was written by officials of the Wassall Fire Clay Co. of Columbus, Ohio from whom the statue was purchased by a local committee of which Mr. Gaebler's father, the late Max H. Gaebler was chairman.  The letter written in fine long hand is well preserved and the original envelope bearing a green 3 cent stamp with a portrait of Washington is still intact.


The Wassall Fire Clay Co. was at the time one of the leading manufacturing concerns of such statues and fountains and many of their works are still to be found in parks and on private estates throughout the nation.  The letter to Mr. Gaebler pronounced the fountain for Tivoli Island ready for shipping and the company was awaiting instruction.  For many years the fountain was the central attraction on the island and old timers as well as some of the younger folks of the community will recall the display it made with its streams of water shooting out from several places on the base.  The fountain at the time was considered the last word in such ornamentation and although it is still in position [1932], its glory has long been dimmed.


Col. Reichardt will preserve the letter.  Later on it could be passed on to the proposed museum which is hoped to be established.  At the time it was purchased it was known as the Concordia Island fountain.



E. A. Mendenhall has just taken the contract from the Musical Society to put up an Eclipse wind mill on Concordia Island to draw the water from the Rough and Ready Mill dam.  A 700-barrel tank will be erected which will furnish a supply of water for a fountain and all other purposes.     The Watertown Republican, 05 03 1882




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



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



  Portion of birdseye view


1886       FOUNTAIN AND PAVILION, Concordia Island Park, [Tivoli Island].  This building was removed in 1961

    looking south, 1886          


     looking north, ____       


    Concordia Island, pavilion and fountain, 1880's


   c1920 Remains of fountain?



08 03       LINCOLN GUARDS

The grand excursion and picnic of the Lincoln Guards, of Milwaukee, to be held at Concordia Island park next Sunday afternoon, Aug. 7. promises to be of the most attractive and enjoyable affairs of the season.  The guards are said to be a fine body of men and are noted for the beauty and precision of their evolutions.  We know of no more imposing sight than a well drilled body of soldiery, and present for our citizens a most delightful entertainment on this occasion.







The renowned Prof. E. E. Graig will make one of his marvelous balloon ascensions from Concordia Island next Sunday afternoon.   From the height of 6,000 feet the aeronaut leaps to the earth and by the aid of a parachute lands in seventy seconds, forming a most thrilling and wonderfully daring spectacle.   Read the last number of The North American Review.     WR



Prof. E. E. Craig made a beautiful balloon ascension from Concordia island Sunday afternoon.  He descended from a great height with a parachute, alighting at the Bohemian garden.   WR



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It is proposed to have our citizens partake of their dinner on Fourth in the city park, and enjoy a good old-fashioned Fourth of July time among the flowers and in the shade.  Let everybody come who can and spend a jolly time with some patriotic feelings and perhaps speaking and singing mixed in.  Bring your baskets well filled.  Seats and tables will be provided for the many.  Dinner will be ready to serve at 1 o'clock.  The ladies' committee will sell lemonade and ice cream for the benefit of the park fund.


1890s     Image of boys fishing along river bank



      Swimming hole, area SW side of Tivoli Island, looking south




The storm of last Wednesday afternoon in this vicinity did considerable damage.  Barns were blown down on the Reimmels and Klausche farms in the town of Watertown and on the farm Wm. Panchke in Farmington.  Hail stones fell during the storm rivaling in size any ever seen before in this locality.  Some of the stones measured over five inches in circumference and all averaged as large as hickory nuts.  Some glass was broken throughout the city, but not to the extent that might be supposed, owing to the fact that the hail fell in a slanting direction instead of perpendicular.  Loeffler Bros. greenhouse lost about twenty-five or thirty panes.  The water tank on Concordia Island was blown down with a loud crash and the tub broken into splinters.  This is a heavy loss on the Concordia society.



There will be an excursion next Sunday from Milwaukee by the American Legion of Honor and the excursionists will picnic on Concordia (Tivoli) Island and will have with them a first-class band to furnish music for concert and dancing. Admission to the Island is free.    WG



Not nearly as many as were expected participated Sunday in the excursion to this city of the American Legion of Honor of Milwaukee.  The day was fair and pleasant until 5 o'clock in the afternoon, when a heavy shower fell, proving something of a damper to the day's enjoyment.  The excursionists numbered 115.










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.



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







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



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



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.



By 1906 the bridge at Milford had begun to deteriorate, so the village of Milford auctioned it off.  Ernest and Fred Ohm acquired half of the bridge--two spans, one six feet longer than the other--and moved this shortened version to its current location, creating pedestrian access to the Ohms’ Tivoli Island bowling and beer garden on the Rock River.  The revelry ended with the advent of Prohibition, but in 1961, the city of Watertown purchased the island, established a city park, and redecked the bridge.


Historic American Buildings Survey, 1987, ["moved from Milwaukee" is an error], 15 pg pdf file

Historic American Buildings Survey, 1987, six images



   Beer Garden


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.


Tivoli Name

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

                Sixth Annual Homecoming    WG



08 06       Site of Homecoming celebration gathering


08 27       Labor Day / Union Labor Annual Picnic    WG



07 22       Homecoming Day reception   WG


08 26       Labor Day celebration   WG


08 26       Band concert and dance   WG




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







Emil Dobbratz of Lebanon has purchased Tivoli Island from A. Billmeyer, the consideration being $10,000.   WG




Considerable complaint has been heard from citizens residing at the east end of Main Street because of the disturbance caused by frequenters of the Tivoli Island dances when returning late at night.  If the city authorities are going to allow these dances to continue they should see that they are properly supervised by a policeman.  There should be no recurrence of the disturbances which have occurred in the past at 1 and 2 o'clock a.m. after these dances.     Watertown Weekly Leader




Tivoli Island, ho my harties,

An ideal place for picnic parties;

Open to public day and night,

You’ll always find things just about right.


Here are served refreshments galore,

Always on tap and then some more.

Proprietor is Sommers—none better.

And ranks A1 as a business getter.


Service and quality of the best,

Cheerfully given while you rest,

Family gatherings or no matter who,

Or social parties and a dance or two.


Tivoli island under the management of Mr. Sommers has become a choice place in which to while away the afternoon or evening.  It can be occupied as well by picnic parties and there is plenty of opportunity for dancing.   Advertisement,  The Watertown News, 09 03 1917




Tivoli Island, famed for years as a pleasure resort, is about to be converted into a model poultry farm according to the plans of Roy F. Knowlton of this city, its new owner.


Last summer the property was sold at a sheriff’s sale to satisfy a mortgage encumbrance and became the property of Greenwood’s Bank of Lake Mills, which held the mortgage.


A deal was consummated on Saturday whereby the same was sold to Mr. Knowlton and he intends to remodel the business house and dance hall into a residence, and use the other buildings in the construction of a first class hennery.


The premises have not been occupied since July 1, when Mr. Sommers, who conducted the same as a beer garden and recreation park for a number of years, decided to quit his lease.  The island consists of about four acres of land and the environments are such as to make it a paying proposition in the poultry line


11 08       Melvin Max Wolf was born on Tivoli Island.




Newlyweds have devised a new way of spending their honeymoon since the advent of the automobile tourist and last night 3 pairs of honeymooners arrived at the Watertown tourist camp on Tivoli Island.


Of course they have everything in camp equipment that would make a tourist honeymoon comfortable and cheerful and are able to go as far as they want to by any route they wish to take.


The newlyweds seemed much pleased over the advantages offered at the Tivoli Island camping ground.  One of the couples came from Michigan, another from Minnesota and the other from the northern part of Wisconsin.




Watertown’s tourist camp is drawing many visitors these days, the grounds at times being a regular tented city.  In conversing with these visitors one hears the general comment from them of the beauty, comfort and hospitality of the camp.


State inspectors of camp sites, here recently, say that it was one of the finest located sites they know of and outside of minor recommendations said that everything is O.K.


During the past few days there has been a general cleaning up about the premises.  Weeds have been cut, outbuildings and table tops painted and carpenters are building a kitchen.  In the kitchen will be Installed two-2-burner electric hot plates, to be operated on the coin-in-a-slot plan.  A quarter inserted in the meter gives about two hours service.  The work of installing the plates will be started today.  Heretofore, two outside brick fireplaces were provided for the use of the tourists, also a plentiful supply of dry wood.  Hereafter no more wood will be supplied but the stoves will remain.


To a veteran tourist camper the first sight of the grounds is most appealing.  The entrance is right off the main highway.  Coming in on No. 19 from the east, near the city limits, on the autoist’s right hand, looms up a large signboard bearing the legend: “You are in Watertown—A regular town,” and an advertisement of A. W. Bailey, ideal Ford dealer.  About three-tenths miles more and the driver crosses the beautiful new Memorial bridge.  Just after crossing, to the left, is the entrance to the camp site.  Here are two welcome signs, one addressed to everybody and the other erected by Watertown’s Elks, inviting visiting Elks to enjoy the hospitality of the local club rooms.


Crossing the bridge onto Tivoli island, is one of the prettiest groves imaginable and being surrounded by water, the scene is most pleasing to the eye.  There is plenty of room and many arrangements for comfort, such as cooking places; a large shed under which cars can drive during wet weather; electric lighted grounds, good water supply and toilets.  A couple of hundred feet away is the new gas and oil-station just completed by Arthur Bursinger.


The grounds are worth visiting by local residents—in fact many people drive down of an evening and eat a picnic supper there.  Evening is when most of the campers arrive.  Reaching there about sundown they pitch their tents, cook supper and remain for the night.  Up again with the birds, they get breakfast, pack camping equipment and take to the open road again.


When they cross the bridge to leave another sign says: “Good-bye, Come Again,” which has a tendency to make one think: “Watertown is a regular town.  It must be a fine place in which to live.”  And it is!




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.




Col. W. F. Reichardt Purchases Tivoli Island from Carl, Amelia, Max and Mary Wolf for about $7,500.00.  He has no plans yet as to what he will do with it.  He has bought two other pieces of real estate in Watertown in the last few years.



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.




“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.”




Tivoli Island, owned by Col. W. F. Reichardt, is this year carrying the message of the spirit of Christmas by means of a brilliantly lighted tree which is situated on the island.  One of the largest natural pine trees on the property has been equipped with 40 powerful colored lights and the tree presents a brilliant spectacle at night.  It can be seen for a long distance in every direction towering above the surrounding trees.  Motorist and others who travel the highway nearby have stopped to look at it at night when it is illuminated, and it is an impressive sight to behold.


Year after year the practice of equipping a tree out of doors with brilliant lights is growing and in many cities in the residential districts the practice is carried out on a large scale.


Tivoli Island this year presents a real holiday spirit when the large tree is illuminated, and it is a sight worth seeing.


Several smaller trees have been placed in front of residences here.  Among the prettiest is that to be found on the premises of the Dr. W. S. Waite home at 210 E. Water Street.




      Henry Schaller is new manager

Penny Shower Dance at Tivoli Island Tonight.  Alton F. Gritzner and his Casino Band will play.  Henry Schaller is the new manager of the island and this is the first of a series of special novelties.  The penny shower dance is something new in dances and hundreds of pennies will be given away during the course of the evening.





Birthday certificate solves mystery of finding dead baby.  Father of dead baby found on Tivoli Island was P. J. MacKinney.




Nestled in an elbow of the winding path of the Rock river at the eastern limits of Watertown rests Tivoli Island, known earlier as Concordia Island, pleasure spot of the past, playground of children, meeting-ground of their elders, an arboreal retreat of old.


Tivoli Island today is little changed materially from what it was in the late nineties and early part of the present century, however, for no longer does it play the part in the community life of Watertown that it did in its earlier years.  To the return of beer, now, the island looks for its "new deal" hoping that with the advent of the legalized beverage former visitors to this sylvan paradise will regain some of that lost spirit of gemütlichkeit which was ever evident in the past.


Prospects Seem Appealing


While its present owner, Col. W. F. Reichardt, has planned nothing definite for the future of the island, prospects of its transformation into a typical European biergarten present themselves as all the more alluring as each new day comes and goes.


What of this island paradise of which Watertown residents speak with a hushed awe, a sigh and a twinkling eye?  Whence did its appeal come?  How did it grow to be one of the most famous resort spots in the state, a mecca for the tired city residents searching a quiet spot for re-pose and relaxation, a haven for the people of Watertown in the simple life of a simple era?


Recall Early Period


Turn back the calendar, invert the hourglass and let the sands of conquering time flow backward.  Put aside thoughts of present trying times and journey back 50 years to a Watertown of another era, a Watertown whose days and nights are spent in hard, careful work, and simple homely entertainment.  Step away from the era of the automobile, the radio, the speakeasy, the airplane, the motion picture and stroll down the road of the past back to the island!


The year is 1881.  Watertown is a city of 8,000, a bustling little railroad center and city of small industries.  Much of its population comprises retired farmers and their families.  The city offers few amusements other than those which nature itself provided.  Yet even in this small community there is a spot that is as much of an institution in the life of the people as in Schlitz and Pabst parks in Milwaukee, "Over the Rhine" in Cincinnati or Coney Island in New York.


It is a Sunday afternoon in late July or early August.  It is warm, yet not intensely so.  From a clear, sparsely clouded sky a summer sun shines down on the brown gravel road that leads eastward from the trading center of the city.  Down the road moves a family of five, a father, mother, one son of about 19, another of 10 and a daughter of 12.


Group Dresses Simply


Clad in a black suit and straw sailor hat, an uncomfortable stiff collar and plain-hued tie the father walks with his wife, assisting her over the edge of the road with his free hand while the other carries a large basket covered with a linen cloth.  On the other side of his mother jogs along the elder son, dressed similar to his father, yet his attire revealing more of the spirit of his youth.  The mother wears a long, light summer dress, simple in adornment, high leather shoes scarcely visible from under the long ruffles of her gown.  Her head dress is a large bonnet of straw bearing garland of highly-colored cloth flowers.


The young lad wears dark pantaloons, white shirt open at the neck and romps along hatless.  The daughter wears an abbreviated copy of her mother's garb, her long blonde braided tresses, with ribbons tied to the ends, falling out from under her little hat and draping over her sleeved shoulders.


Buggies Roll Past


Occasionally a horse-drawn buggy rides by and there is an exchange of nods.  Only a few pass during the walk to the picnic spot at the out skirts for buggies are costly and wealth is rare in this small city.  The passage of a rubber-tired buggy is almost a call for a bow of respect.  Only the absolute aristocracy can own buggies with soft tires!


Soon the quintet reaches the hill far in the outskirts and as the crest is crossed, the tall tops of the giant elms come to view.  Concordia island is but a few hundred yards away.  The lad puts on a final spirt; sister, with childish eager takes up the chase to cross the narrow bridge and find the best spot for the picnic.  The elder son in affected dignity stays behind with his parents, nursing in his quickening heart that a certain "she" will be picnicking this day too.


Trees Adorn Site


Once there the island soon reveals all its natural attraction.  Here, surrounded on all sides, by the rippling waters of the gurgling Rock river is a plat of ground that Providence must have set aside for just the purpose the early Watertown folk chose.  Adorned with a few man-made buildings, nature had blessed it with an abundance of verdant shrubbery, tall, white birches, stately elms and green, fuzzy evergreens.


Back from the bridge that spans this natural moat is a fountain, babbling its aquatic melody to vie with that of the rolling river nearby.  Still farther back is the main pavilion, the bandstand and the bowling alleys where the ancient game of ninepins rules the hours.  Scattered about these buildings are other small family parties, picnicking, chatting and exchanging greetings and conversant over important subjects the day.


Family Secures Dining Spot


Having chosen a site under a large, shady tree the party of five settles down to enjoy one of those typical afternoons at the island.  Once at ease, the father removes his coat, lounges for a time on the green, fragrant sod; the mother busies herself with unpacking the basket.  The younger children restlessly roam about. The elder son sits stiffly and uneasily; he has not espied "her" as yet.


Despite the simple pastime, the day seems to pass speedily.  Only a few minutes seem to expire before the warm sun starts to descend beneath the horizon of Richard's hill.


The call to lunch comes, but the mother finds her family scattered.  Johnnie, the younger boy, she knows, has pulled off his stockings and started wading along the edge of the stream for crabs.  The last she saw of Emma, the daughter, she was running races with some of her schoolmates while not dabbling her hands in the cool water of the fountain bowl.  Father has been dividing his time between the ninepin alley and the bar, rattling with the knock of large steins upon the wood and echoing the sound of the foamy beer as it spouts from the keg.  William, the elder son, is dividing his cake, but not his attention.  He has joined "her" family for the day and is lunching from that basket.


Hours Invigorate Appetites


After the family once again has been reunited the pleasant task of disposing of the food is cared for quickly.  Crab fishing, bowling and running feed fuel to burning appetites.  And even though some of the gossip may have taken mother's breath away, her longing for food still lives.


The luncheon has ended. The entire family joins to help clean and dispose of the slight waste.  Once arranged, the party disperses for a time to previous amusements, while mother stays behind and works at her crocheting until the growing dusk makes it impossible.  As the caretakers stroll about to light the huge kerosene lamps to illuminate the grounds for the evening, the parties one by one gather up their belongings to return westward along the road.  As they cross the bridge with lagging feet at least one from each group says, as he turns back to look at the lighted haven, glimmering there in the reflection of the rolling waters:  I wish it was next Sunday already.”  Tis the end of a perfect day.


Boasted No Formality


Concordia Island to the Victorian era gave Watertown persons many days described in the above fashion.  This quiet spot where friend met friend and neighbor conversed with neighbor offered the city a valuable aid in development of its democratic community life.  It boasted no pomp, pleasures and amusements to appeal to a simple folk who worked hard, led simple lives and were really happy.  To them an afternoon such as this contained a measure more of thrills and pleasure than does one of this era replete with modern inventions and twentieth century comforts.


The island was not wholly as beautiful by nature as it appeared to the hundreds who assembled there.  It took great planning and long hours of labor to develop it to the stage where it stood at the apex of its popularity.  The Concordia society, musical organization of early Watertown, supplied that labor.


Members Erected Buildings


According to members of the society, the charter group purchased the land and set about to level it into the woodland paradise that it was.  These rugged men, putting aside their singing talents during spare hours, worked with hand and body, toiled fervently and inspiredly to erect a natural monument to their organization and its friends.  Many of the singers were carpenters; others knew landscaping; still others were handy at plumbing.


With these expert tradesmen directing the work, others donated their help in erecting the spacious pavilion, the bowling alleys, the fountain and the bandstand.  From all appearances the playing waters of the fountain seemed to be fed by an underground spring.  So carefully had these pioneers worked to preserve the pristine naturalness of their meeting ground that they secluded the huge water tank which kept the fountain at play.  A windmill pumped the water into the giant container.


Planted Trees, Landscaped


Those white birches, stately elms and bobbing spruces were not always as kempt and pruned as they appeared to visitors at the island.  The early Concordians planted them and landscaped the soil over the tract.  These shapers of nature's mold knew well their task.


Not always was the island just a retreat for the people of Watertown and the immediate vicinage.  Now and then the society would be host to a saengerfest, a musical festival in which most of the singing organizations of the state would take part.  To the islet they would come with their families, to partake of a sylvan picnic at Watertown’s pleasure spot them all to assemble in a mass chorus to sing the melodies popular at the time.


Band concerts, too, were frequent.  Often Bach's or Clauder's bands, musical groups which had established far-flung reputation by their playing in Milwaukee's parks, would journey out to Concordia island for a concert, a meal, a few hours of exchanged greetings with acquaintances here.  Conviviality was the spirit of the hour; affected formalities were hurled to the winds.


Visiting Clubs Used Site


When Watertown staged one of its early homecoming festivals, the island was a favorite rendezvous and former residents who returned to the community found it quite the same as it had been when they left.  For years it figured in gatherings of this type, not only to organizations from the city but from the entire state.  Unions, clubs and trade guilds would find their way to the city to rent the use of this natural park for the day.  Here they would find the privacy and carefree gaiety their own localities had failed to provide.


For many years the society operated the island and found it profitable venture.  Conditions changed, the appeal declined with the alteration of modes of living and methods of work and play.  The society sold the favorite haunt to private operators and for some time continued as an amusement place. The name changed to Tivoli.


Hope For Revival


In later years it fell from use and now stands deserted except for the wild life which still finds it the happy playground that previous human generations did.  A sudden change in living modes again offers the island new hopes of restoration.  If this scenic resort of another era can be revived once again, all who strolled out to the land in former years join in hopes that it will be reincarnated with the spirit which it fostered in the simple days of long ago.


WDTimes / 03 29 1933



     Fountain pretty much ruined by this time




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.



Jan           CAUGHT IN THE ACT

     Officer Leonard Braunschweig feeding the ducks at Tivoli island




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.



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




Development of Tivoli Island, once the city’s outstanding recreation and picnic grounds, known throughout Wisconsin, has been proposed by the City Recreation and Park Commission.  It has been suggested to the commission by one of its members that a master plan of city parks also be undertaken and that professional help be engaged for this purpose.  Dega and Stluka Associates of Madison and a representative agency are to be invited to meet shortly with commission members to discuss such steps.



A $30,000 item providing for the restoration of Tivoli Island which was deleted from the city’s general budget at Tuesday night’s meeting was restored at an adjourned session of the common council last night at which the 1969 budget was finally adopted.




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.



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City park and recreation department employees are continuing their work on the initial steps for the improvement of Tivoli Island.  The diseased trees have been cut down, and the men cleared the area of fallen trees and brush.  The next step will be the planting of grass and trees.  A sum of $30,000 was placed in the budget this year for the project, half of which it expects will be replaced by the federal government.



Members of the city council on Monday evening will discuss a proposed resolution which would obligate the city for approximately $11,858 for the development of Tivoli Island.  The projects will cost approximately $23,716, however, under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, the federal government will pay half of the cost.  The project will be accomplished with matching Federal Funds, during the three-year period from 1970 to 1972.  The project calls for the installation of sanitary facilities, a shelter building, water supply and park equipment.  The resolution also calls for the park and recreation department to make application with the State Conservation Department to seek the federal assistance for the program.



Mayor Kenneth Wilkes Tuesday evening cast the tiebreaking vote to defeat a three-year plan for the development of outdoor recreational facilities on Tivoli Island.  The proposed resolution called for the city to obligate $11,858 in funds which would be approximately 50 per cent of the total cost of the first stage of the plan.  The other half would be paid by the federal government under the Land and Water Conservation act of the federal government.





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Park department employees re-planking the steel span that links Tivoli Island to the "mainland."  Daryl Schuett, Rod Berkers, Daryl Kulcinski, Roy Pulman, Dave Hackbarth, Tom Sindermann.



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.


Hiking Trail


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




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




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




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.




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.




The Izaak Walton League invited teens from the Watertown Recreation and Outreach Center (ROC) to join them in their yearly sprucing up of Tivoli Island.  “The island continues to be a wonderful place for people to enjoy as they are able to walk all over the island on groomed wood chip trails,” Rev. Tim Mueller, director of the ROC Youth Center, said.  “Folks can walk and enjoy nature on Tivoli Island, especially now, as many varieties of birds and baby ducks are visible and the spring flowers are in full bloom.”  Every year the Izaak Walton League cleans up and spreads new wood chips over the many trails.







How to Build an Island:  An Environmental History of Tivoli Island, Jesse Koehler contribution (Word doc), 2010

Homecoming Day celebrations, Tivoli Island site of

Smith Bridge




Table of Contents 

History of Watertown, Wisconsin