Cassville’s location off the main highways hasn’t helped its economic fortunes in recent years; if you get here, it’s because you meant to come here. It is worth meaning to get here, though, as Cassville has good hiking and historical attractions nearby.
Direct your questions to the Cassville Department of Tourism (877.891.8298/608.725.5855).
The town was named after Lewis Cass, the one-time governor of the Michigan Territory (which included Wisconsin for many years). It is not clear who actually named the town, but it was probably Martin Thomas, the Federal Superintendent of Mines; he used the name on his 1827 Map of Public Mines. Most of the early settlers were from Philadelphia and New York. Their claims were purchased by speculators from New York in 1836, around the time Wisconsin became a territory, who were betting that Cassville would become the new territorial capital. In 1836, these speculators tried to advance their cause by building a large five-story hotel to house the legislators—before there was even a legislature. The building really stood out, as there was essentially nothing else in Cassville at that time. (The Denniston House, as it came to be known, is still around.) By 1837, the plan had failed—Madison won the capital by just a single vote over Cassville—and the town’s prospects did not look good.
Slowly, though, things begin to happen. In 1843 Cassville’s population reached 125, but the town continued to grow very slowly for another dozen years. One barrier was that land titles in town had very murky lineage, a legacy of the failed attempt to make Cassville the capital. In 1856, former Governor Nelson Dewey stepped in and purchased much of the property in town and, in the process, straightened out the titles. With that barrier removed, Cassville’s fortunes looked bright again: 50 houses were built in 1856 alone. The town’s population grew from 149 in May 1855 to over 800 just three years later. Cassville did a good business exporting wheat, and the arrival of the Chicago, Burlington, and Northern Railroad in 1886 also provided an economic boost. Throughout the 19th century, Cassville had a diverse economy: sawmills, a brewery, and robust industries in canning and pearl harvesting. Today, Cassville retains a surprisingly diverse economy for a town of its size, with jobs in shipping (river barges), power, tourism, and farming, although two of the power plants closed in late 2015.
The hiking can be challenging at Cassville Bluffs-Roe Unit State Natural Area (Sand Lake Lane; 608.784.3606) but the varied landscape (bluffs, upland and lowland oak-hickory forest, and goat prairies) and has a bird-shaped effigy mound make it worth the effort. The trails are groomed a few times during the year, but you will probably still find yourself hiking through thick brush. To get there from Cassville, head north on Highway 133 to Sand Lake Lane (near the bottom of the descent from the ridge to the flood plain); turn right. Drive 0.4 miles until it ends; the gate is on the left. Park near the gate, and do not block any of the nearby residences.
- Read more about my experience hiking at Cassville Bluff here.
Riverside Park is a nice place to hang out and watch the river or to catch a ride on the Cassville Car Ferry (see below).
Give yourself at least two hours to explore Stonefield & the State Agricultural Museum (12195 County Road VV; 866.944.7483/608.725.5210), located just north of town on County Highway VV. This is the original estate of Nelson Dewey, the first Governor of Wisconsin. The site includes a replica of a 19th-century village, original buildings from the Dewey farm, and a collection of antique farm implements. When organizing your time here, keep in mind that three buildings are visited via guided tour only and are on a timed schedule; pick your tour times for these before wandering around the grounds.
When you are finished at Stonefield, jump across the road to explore Nelson Dewey State Park (12190 County Road VV; 608.725.5374). One of several outstanding Wisconsin state parks along the Mississippi River, it offers good hiking and great views. The short 0.2 mile hike along the Prairie Trail through Dewey Heights offers a glimpse of the bluff-top prairies that were once common in the area.
Getting Out on the River
Upper Mississippi River Adventures (105 W. Amelia St.; 608.732.6184) offers several different types of river cruises between mid-April and mid-October, mostly on weekends, including a one-hour sunset cruise and a two-hour eco-tour. Advance reservations are required.
William Walker operated the first ferry at Cassville in 1836 and the Cassville Ferry is carrying on the tradition more than 170 years later (608.725.5180).
Eagles Roost Resort (1034 Jack Oak Rd.; 608.725.5553) has two fishing boats for rent. At Schleicher’s Landing (7110 Closing Dam Rd.; 608.725.5216; April to October), just north of Cassville, you can rent a 16’ fishing boat, pontoon boat, canoe, or paddleboat.
Entertainment and Events
Cassville hosts a Farmer’s Market in Riverside Park on Saturday mornings from May to mid-October (608.724.5400).
Like many towns along the Upper Miss, Cassville hosts Bald Eagle Days at the end of January in honor of the once-endangered species (608.725.5855). The first Twin-O-Rama (608.725.5855; mid-July) was held in 1929 and has been held most years since; this is primarily a social event for identical twins and their families, a modest number of whom turn out for the celebration. Stonefield’s Railroad Days (608.725.5210; mid-August) celebrates all things railroad, complete with a hobo camp.
Eating and Drinking
With 17 years in the business, the folks at Vogt’s Town Pump (118 E. Amelia; 608.725.5175) know a thing or two about service. Part small-town tavern and part small-town restaurant, the Town Pump has something to please everyone, whether it’s ice cream, a burger, or a cold beer. The food covers the range from hearty breakfast items, to burgers, to a few steak and fish entrées on the dinner menu.
There are two campgrounds north of Cassville. Whitetail Bluff (8973 Irish Ridge Rd.; 608.725.5577; open year-round but some services only available from April 15 to October 15) is a full-service campground on a flat, treeless plain atop a ridge, a bit of a drive from the nearest towns. Most of the 98 sites have full hookups, but a few are primitive. Big “H” Campground (4929 County Highway N; 608.725.5921) has 50 sites in a ravine next to the Mississippi backwaters, although about half are occupied by seasonal campers; most sites have water and electric. In Cassville proper, K7 Korral Campground (10895 Jack Oak Rd.; 608.725.2267/608.732.3690) is at the northern end of town next to the backwaters with hiking, fishing, and a place to dock your boat. There are usually a few overnight sites available with hookups and several tent sites. Nelson Dewey State Park (12190 County Road VV; 608.725.5374) has 46 shaded and spacious campsites. If you don’t mind a short hike, the park also has four walk-in sites that are along the edge of a bluff and have spectacular views but are a good hike from the shower house.
The Sand Bar Motel (1115 E. Bluff St.; 608.725.5300; WiFi) is a good budget option with ten clean rooms equipped with a small fridge. Eagles Roost Resort (1034 Jack Oak Rd.; 608.725.5553; WiFi) has five tidy, well-maintained motel rooms.
Whitetail Bluff (8973 Irish Ridge Rd.; 608.725.5577) has two basic cabins without a bathroom and a cabin with bathroom and kitchen. Eagles Roost Resort (1034 Jack Oak Rd.; 608.725.5553) has six nicely equipped cabins next to the Mississippi River.
Major’s Inn (109 W. Front St.; 608.725.5232) is a two bedroom ranch house in good condition next to Riverside Park that would be a good spot for a family or group traveling together. The house has all the amenities one expects from a house, like a full kitchen, cable TV, and central heat and air.
Upper Miss River Adventures (105 W. Amelia St.; 608.732.6184; WiFi) has two highly recommended units for rent. Contemporary (think flat-screen TVs) with historic accents (clawfoot tub), the units are spacious, comfortable, and beautiful.
Post Office: 205 E. Amelia St.; 608.725.5136.
Eckstein Memorial Library: 1034 E. Dewey; 608.725.5838.
Heading upriver? Check out Glen Haven.
Heading downriver? Check out Potosi.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2009
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