Lauderdale Lakes Dam

The Lauderdale Lakes Lake Management District maintains the dam on the Lauderdale Lakes chain while its operation is controlled by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The dam is located just down the road from the Lauderdale Lakes Marina on Sterlingworth Drive.  The dam is inspected on a regular schedule, has a fixed spillway, and its water flows easterly into Honey Creek toward Burlington and ultimately flows south as it joins the Fox River.

Built in 1839 by Mr. Bigelow, the dam dates back to the first sawmill on Lauderdale Lakes.  The sawmill provided lumber for many of the first homesteaders in the area, and Mr. Bigelow designed the dam to control the water flow to create more hydraulic pressure to run the mill.   Flashboards were used to increase the depth of the water so that enough water would accumulate to start the turning of the mill wheel the next day.  Water levels on all three lakes were controlled with the dam.  Before the dam’s creation, water levels on the lakes were about 18 inches lower than they are now, and during dry spells, water levels sometimes dropped as low as three feet below its current level.

Records from 1915 show that W.A. Sharp owned the dam, which at that time had one hand-adjustable gate for lake level control.  In the early 1920s Mr. Dennison was the owner of the dam, and used it primarily for lake level control.  The location of the dam at that time is thought to be where the present culverts are located.

The mill building with the dam in its current location is first pictured in 1930, with documents from 1928 referencing its change of location downstream (north) about 200 feet from its original location.  Sometime prior to 1942, the hydro-power was removed from the building, and records indicate that by 1961 the Lauderdale Lakes Improvement Association owned the dam.  The two existing spillways were added in 1962 and still look the same today.

The Lauderdale Lakes Lake Management District took ownership of the dam in the early 1990s and the fixed height of the spillway still functions today as it did back in the 1960s.  This has led to a relatively stable water elevation in the three lakes for the last 6 or 7 decades.

Early in this millennium, we noted that the lake elevation was rising significantly after large rainfalls.  The Lauderdale Lakes Lake Management District studied the issue and found that the old culverts running under Sterlingworth Drive were outdated and undersized, and were actually blocking the outflow of Lauderdale Lakes resulting in high lake water elevations.  The Lake District used environmentally-friendly large bladders full of water to coffer back the lake, dry the area and replace the old culverts with larger, new ones.  Since then, the dam is the single control of the lake level and the water elevation has been more stable.

LLLMD is now working with the DNR to improve the safety of the dam by modifying the old mill building behind the spillway to allow water to flow open to daylight, which will result in a more positive water flow.  Plans are now underway for this upgrade which will be the most significant change to the dam since the early 1960s. 

LLLMD Commissioner Jack Sorenson oversees this project.