The Cultural Landscape

Pleasant Valley Conservancy is in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, an area that remained completely unglaciated when the massive continental ice sheets were covering so much of northern United States. It is part of an area called the "Ridge and Valley Province", with a scenic but agriculturally challenging topography. Politically, it is part of the Town of Vermont, one of the most rural townships in Dane County. In the township's six square miles there is not a single municipality, not even a general store. The only business in the township is the Tyrol Ski Basin, which is only open in the winter.

Probably because of its difficult topography, the Town of Vermont was settled later than most of the rest of Dane County. The area near Pleasant Valley Conservancy was settled in 1845 by a band of English farmers who called themselves the British Temperance Emigration Society. English surnames included Lockwood, Booth, Lynch, Warner, Reeve, and Caldwell. The one-room school, built in 1865, was called Booth School. (The structure still exists, but has been remodeled into a garage and utility building.) The major road intersection near Pleasant Valley Conservancy, where there was a post office, was called Peculiar Corners.

The land that is now Pleasant Valley Conservancy was settled by one of the Lockwoods. The patriarch of the Lockwood clan was Charles Lockwood, one of whose children, James, settled the land that is now the Conservancy. James had two children, Irene and Harold. Harold had a daughter Gertrude, who never married. Irene married a Booth and settled nearby to raise a family. Harold and his wife divorced in 1937 and in his later years Harold lived at Pleasant Valley Farm by himself. See Land Use History.

Later the Town of Vermont experienced a major influx of Norwegian settlers, and Norwegian surnames abound, both in descendants of the original settlers, and in the names of town roads. Norslein, Dybdahl, Sorensen, Skalet, Haugen, and many other such Norwegian surnames are common. The Vermont Lutheran Church, built in 1868, the only remaining church in the township, retains much of its Norwegian character. A major event in the church and the township is the Lutefisk/Meatball dinner held every October. Over 1000 diners are served in an event that lasts over eight hours. A survey I did of the 1930 Federal census showed that over 30% of the residents at that time were of Norwegian extraction, including a number of first-generation Americans. Dairying was the principal industry, and there were numerous small cheese factories, many of which have now been remodeled into residences.

A log house built in 1867 by a Norwegian farmer in the Town of Vermont.

 

Because of the hilly terrain, much of the land in the Town of Vermont is poorly suited for farming. The hills served primarily as pasture, with row crops in the bottom land and on the ridge tops. The wetlands along the creeks were tiled and drained for crops.

Farming was the principal activity in the Town of Vermont through the end of World War II. By the 1950s, agriculture in the United States had become big business and the small farms in the Town became unprofitable. Good roads made it possible for residents to commute to Madison, and gradually the character of the population changed. By the end of the 1960s, very few active farms remained and a lot of the land was allowed to return to its "natural" state. At present, the Town residents are primarily commuters, but enjoying the rural character of the Town.

There are no longer any schools in the Town of Vermont. The Town is split: in the southern half the children go by by school bus to Mount Horeb. In the northern half, the children attend schools in the Wisconsin Heights School District, which also receives pupils from the villages of Mazomanie and Black Earth, and the Towns of Mazomanie and Black Earth.

The Town of Vermont Land Use Plan

The land use plan for the Town of Vermont, adopted in 1997, has as its principal objective the maintenance of the rural character of the Town. To achieve those ends, the plan has three main objectives: 1. To limit the density of new residential development; 2. To encourage design and location of structures that are compatible with their natural surroundings; 3. To encourage opportunities for residents to make a living within the township.

To achieve these objectives, residential development in the Township is limited to one potential development right per 35 acres of land, based on land ownership as of Jan. 1, 1985. The last clause was needed because there were numerous land parcels smaller than 35 acres, including quite a few which already had houses on them. An additional restriction is that no multi-family or multi-unit dwellings are permitted.

Commercial development is also restricted to small enterprises consistent with Agricultural and Residential zoning. Commercial developments must demonstrate minimal impact on neighbors. Heavy industrial uses are incompatible with these restrictions. Agricultural production is encouraged.

Protection of the environment is specifically emphasized by the following clauses: 1. To recognize and respect the natural environment as an irreplaceable resource. 2. To protect and improve the quality of surface and groundwater within the town, including protection of floodplains and wetlands. 3. To encourage the use of soil conservation practices in farming operations and any development of the town. 4. To encourage the management and preservation of woodlands, wetlands and prairies as an economic land use, an environmental protection area, and a means of preserving the natural beauty of the town. 5. To encourage sensitivity to native plant communities.

Roads

Pleasant Valley Conservancy borders two roads, County Highway F and Pleasant Valley Road. County F is a principal access road to many parts of the Town, and receives a fair bit of traffic during the daytime, but little at night. Pleasant Valley Road is a Town road and has limited traffic. Because of topography, most of the people who use Pleasant Valley Road are residents on this road or on another town road to which it connectes.

Population

At the time of the 2000 Federal census, the population of the Town of Vermont was 839 people, which is about 140 people per square mile. Estimates show that the population is growing at about 2-3% per year.

A view from the top of the ridge emphasizes the rural nature of the landscape surrounding Pleasant Valley Conservancy. Despite the openness, the Conservancy is only a 30 minute drive from Madison, Wisconsin.