Part three of a three-part series
“The Stone Lady” or the “Lady on the Hill,” a unique hand-stacked landmark on a hill in Black Hammer Township has surveyed the landscape ever since the late 1860s or 1870s. Black Hammer Hill was the most pronounced feature of the topography, overlooking to the east where the Winona-Fort Atkinson Indian Trail crossed an older trail between the Beaver and Riceford valleys. “It appears that this hill was an observation post and a gathering place for Indians before the arrival of the white man,” wrote area historian Percival Narveson. “We can easily turn our fancy back to the time when dusky warriors kept surveillance over the nearby trails from this vantage point.”
Thus, the hill had many visitors before the arrival of immigrant farmers, one or a few of which built The Stone Lady and according to the late Martin Ike (born 1880), three other human figures, which have not survived. And the hill would receive many visitors after her construction, partly due to her presence. Since the early decades of white settlement, the hill was on private property, but “The Lady” hosted many public celebrations, picnics and bowery (outdoor) dances.
Narveson related one Fourth of July story when the late-evening celebration was halted by a thunderstorm. “…people rushed pell-mell down to more sheltered places below the hill. One man who had carried the celebrating a little too far became entangled in a wire fence in his panic – except his “hangover” the next day was a little more severe.”
Among the hill’s feathered visitors were the occupants of the turkey sheds that existed in years past on the south side of the hill. After a season of fertilizing one area, the sheds would be moved for the next year’s flock.
In the mid-1900s, the heyday of town team baseball, the Black Hammer team played its Sunday home games on a diamond just northwest of Black Hammer Hill. This created an amphitheater effect with fans sitting on the hillside above the action on the diamond. In later years, after the town team era had passed, the baseball field became a farm field. The farmers referred to “planting the diamond.”
For her first 80 or 90 years, The Stone Lady was surrounded by grass. It had been a prairie fire that gave the hammer-shaped hill the charred appearance that led to the name Black Hammer. But now, Black Hammer Hill is covered with trees and underbrush – except for the area that has been repeatedly cleared surrounding The Stone Lady. The transformation began around 1960, when as a Boy Scout project, young Eric Evenson and Rolf Hanson planted hundreds of pine seedlings. It was a two-day task before and following an overnight campout.
No longer the site of large public gatherings, The Stone Lady is still visited by small groups of sightseers. In older photographs, she appeared white in color. But the Lady has darkened in time and to the naked eye from the highway, blends in with the dark evergreen background. However, the current owners, in about 2014, erected a sign on the highway to help visitors locate the site. Through the years, there have been several clean-up visits by the local 4-H youth to prevent The Stone Lady from being overgrown with brush and brambles. Most of that young labor was by accomplished with hand tools. But a few years ago, the current owners decided to bring in heavier equipment. It took a half day with a bulldozer to remove stumps and other undesirable growth and create a walking path up the hill.
From the cemetery on the west edge of Spring Grove, take County Highway 4 north for 3.1 miles where the sign is on the left and west side of the highway. Or from the Houston area, head south on Highway 4 through the village of Black Hammer and then for another 1.3 miles where the sign is on the right and west side of the highway. From the sign, walking west along the fence line will provide a better view of the venerable landmark. With proper footwear, visitors can then walk uphill along the steep primitive footpath to stand beside her and enjoy her commanding view.
If readers have any Stone Lady stories to share, Lee Epps can be reached at email@example.com.