Only 15 minutes away, Governor Dodge State Park is an easy day trip from Mineral Point. In the summer our family often hikes the Stephens’ Falls Trail to the base of the waterfall, where we enjoy a temperature drop of at least 10 degrees. A picnic and a hike along the valley stream is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
But exactly who are the Stephens of Stephens’ Falls? Now we can find out, thanks to a recent addition to the park’s 40 miles of trails.
To get to the Homestead Interpretive Trail, follow the trail to the falls but make the first left, pass the Rock Spring House (the Stephens’ old refrigerator), walk up a gentle hill and you are there.
“There” is pretty much a clearing in the woods, but the many signposts that follow the loops through the old farmstead take you back in time. We learn that in 1854, Hellich Sjulsen Rostad of Norway purchased 166 acres, married Martha Nelson, raised 10 children and farmed the land. (Hellich changed his name to Alick Stephenson, then finally to Alex Stephens in the mid-1860s.)
Lucky for us, Irene Stephens, Alex’s granddaughter-in-law, took hundreds of pictures with her Kodak Brownie camera. These photos, paired with the text on signposts, take us back to the days before electricity and iPhones, when a good time was relaxing in the yard with a picnic.
Four generations of Stephenses farmed the land, from 1854 to 1943. More than 150 years after Hellich left Norway and farmed the hilly Southwest Wisconsin land, families are still picnicking, hiking and enjoying the waterfall.
– Contributed by Susan Webb