Cottonwood trees have the potential to live between 200-400 years if given the right environment.
The cottonwood tree that used to make its home along the Wisconsin River bank along Water Street in Sauk City was an integral part of the village’s development in 1845.
That’s why several individuals put their time and energy into locating the cottonwood tree that used to stand tall over the village of Sauk City.
Called a witness tree, the cottonwood was used by a surveyor to mark the original boundary lines for the village of Sauk City. Originally called Haraszthy, named for one of the village’s founding fathers, the Cottonwood bore witness to the village’s beginning.
With a lot of digging and research, the site where the witness tree was located was recently discovered. Along with that came the realization the tree was no longer there.
“With time the tree came down,” said Connie Konkle, a member of the Sauk City Historic Preservation Committee. “It could have been rot or exposed to the elements. From what we know, it stood there for a long time. The main thing now is that we’ve found it.”
The bank of the Wisconsin River used to come up much higher than it used to. Cottonwoods thrive on water, which is why it remained for so long where it was. However, Konkle speculated that when the dam was built and the river water receded, the tree didn’t have the water source it once did, and likely died as a result.
“It’s always something a lot of people speculated on,” Konkle said. “People knew behind a particular house a lot of old trees were still standing. A while ago a group thought they’d found it but never marked its location and never stated specifically where it was. So people have always had an interest in pinpointing it.”
With the help of the village’s historic preservation committee and people in Sauk County, the site marking the village’s origins is now known.
“We thought we’d be history detectives,” Konkle said. “I started by going to Baraboo to the Register of Deeds with a copy of the original plat of Haraszthy and asked for help.”
The register of deeds looked at the plat and had a parcel map of the area and was able to determine the general area it was in. Eventually a surveyor from Sauk County was hired, and the tree was located on a 1998 version of the plat.
“It worked out really well to have it identified in a survey,” Konkle said. “We drove a rod down into the spot so we will always be able to locate it again.”
Konkle is in the process of securing grant money to get a historical marker and signage to indicate the tree’s former location and its significance.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Fred Lauing of the tree’s discovery. The site of the cottonwood tree happens to be in the backyard of Lauing’s Water Street home he shares with his partner, Elise Moser.
“The history of this town is incredible for its settlers, the wine industry, Native Americans and the Battle of Wisconsin Heights,” Lauing said. “To have identified another significant, historical site right here in Sauk is fascinating. I’m glad people are paying attention.”