As you drive through Wyalusing today, it’s hard to imagine that folks once had high hopes for developing a major city at this site. The busiest place around here today is the attractive beach, which draws a crowd on weekends.
Direct your questions to the Grant County UWEX Office (866.472.6894/608.723.2125) or surf to the Grant County tourism website.
Good river access created optimism among speculators that a prosperous town would grow here. A town called Columbus was founded around 1828 and appears on an 1833 map, but nothing much came of it. Around 1843, several speculators bought 80 acres and laid out a town that had but a single, abandoned log cabin. The cabin had been built a few years earlier by some guys who called the area New Diskivery; travelers knew it as Loafer’s Retreat because the men used it as a hunting and fishing cabin. The newly platted village was known as Wyoming for its first three years, but when the post office was established in 1851, a new name was required because Wisconsin already had a town named Wyoming. Robert Glenn is believed to be responsible for choosing the name Wyalusing (there was a town near his home in Pennsylvania with the same name). Wyalusing is derived from an unspecified Native American language and means “where an old (holy) man dwells” or possibly “home of the warrior.” I couldn’t figure out which story was more legitimate, so take your pick.
The first person to build a home was Isaiah Cranston, who was given a lot gratis on the condition that he maintain a hotel, which he did for some 20 years. In 1860, Cranston’s hotel provided quarters for General Ulysses S. Grant. The Cranston property was purchased by N.W. Kendall who built a sawmill that attracted a steady stream of steamboats in the 1850s. With prospects for the town looking brighter, Kendall and two compatriots surveyed and platted the village of Wyalusing in July 1856. Alas, a short time later the railroads chose a route that bypassed Wyalusing and the town’s bright future fizzled away. The farm economy became the main factor in the town’s survival, as well as ferry service to Clayton, Iowa (a bustling service in the 1870s as it ferried settlers heading west).
Wyalusing Recreation Area (County Highway X; 866.472.6894) is on the west side of County Highway X; it has a boat ramp and a nice beach that draws crowds on summer weekends. It’s a good spot to picnic and for shore fishing.
Wyalusing State Park (County Highway X; 608.996.2261) is simply spectacular. Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers, the park overlooks the spot where Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette first caught sight of the Mississippi River on June 17, 1673. The park has a full range of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and swimming, plus a number of spectacular overlooks and a few Indian burial mounds. There is a signed canoe route on the Mississippi River and backwaters. If you’re bored here, you should just stay home. Several of the best hiking trails were washed out during monsoon rains in the summer of 2007 and probably won’t be rebuilt for a while. However, the 1.6-mile Sentinel Ridge and 3.5-mile Mississippi Ridge Trails both survived and have good views; the former is a moderately difficult hike because of the hilly terrain, while the latter is an easy, level hike. The Henneger Point picnic area is off the beaten path but it has a great overlook of the main channel of the Mississippi River.
Wyalusing is included in these products:
Getting Out on the River
You can rent a canoe or kayak at Wyalusing State Park (608.996.2333).
Wyalusing State Park (County Highway X; 608.996.2261) has two campgrounds. The Wisconsin Ridge Campground has 54 shaded sites (24 with electric) and a concession stand; the 20 sites on the north side sit on the very edge of the ridge with spectacular views. The Homestead Campground has 55 sites (9 with electric) that are bigger and offer more privacy.
The Landing (12014 County Road X; 608.444.3974) is a cozy one-bedroom house near the riverfront and within walking distance of the beach; it has a full kitchen, screened porch, AC, and satellite TV.
Heading upriver? Check out Bridgeport.
Heading downriver? Check out Bagley.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2009