July 4, 2020 marked 50 years since the dedication of Caddie Woodlawn Historical Park, located on Hwy. 25 south of Downsville.
“I’m sure Caddie would have approved of what has been done,” observed Carol Ryrie Brink, the author who brought Caddie to life in her Newbery Award winning book Caddie Woodlawn, while speaking at the dedication ceremony. “I have great admiration for the people in the community who put this thing over,” she continued. “There is something firm and stable in a community that values its past. It makes me happy to know that my grandmother will always be remembered in Wisconsin as part of that cherished past. Caddie would have been proud.”
Published in 1935, Caddie Woodlawn was inspired by Brink’s grandmother, who raised and entertained young Carol with tales of adventure from her own life on the Dunnville prairie in pioneer Wisconsin. Caddie (Caroline Augusta Woodhouse) was four years old in 1857 when her family left Boston and moved to Wisconsin. The family lived here about a decade before moving on to St. Louis.
Today considered a classic, the book and its sequel continue to be read by thousands of children throughout the world. Other characters in the books are based on real-life residents of the Dunnville area.
The idea for a park had been around for several years before a committee was formed in 1968 under the auspices of Dunn County Historical Society. Once planning commenced, the project came together quickly. Author Carol Ryrie Brink donated the first $500, waived royalties on the play, and autographed labels for book sales. Fifteen area organizations met to brainstorm about the idea, and corporate gifts of services and supplies came on top of individual gifts from $1 to $100. The land and house was donated by members of the Flick family. The Kiwanis Club was initially responsible for physical development, using Green Thumb and other volunteer labor.
The State of Wisconsin erected an official historical marker and on July 4, 1970 the park was officially dedicated, with Carol Ryrie Brink and her family participating.
The Flick log home, a Dunnville quarry stone, and a memorial monument were added later. In the years since, many individuals have donated time and materials to maintain the park and bring the stories to life for thousands of visitors. In recent years, the local Rotary Clubs have undertaken major physical improvements, with support from the Historical Society for interpretive signage, the Community Foundation of Dunn County, Master Gardeners and the County Facilities and Highway Departments. The park has truly become a community project.