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Kohler-Andrae State Park

The history of the area we now call John Michael Kohler and Terry Andrae State Parks is a fascinating tale of ancient seas, mountain crushing glaciers, Native Americans, explorers and immigrants.


Kohler-Andrae's landscape is an interesting mix of river marsh, pine and hardwood forests, long beaches and beautiful sand dunes overlooking one of the largest bodies of freshwater on earth -- Lake Michigan. Looking at Lake Michigan today, you might think that this huge lake was always here, but it wasn't. Only during the last two million years when the Ice Age began, did this lake begin to take shape. Lake Michigan was affected by at least four Ice Age glaciers. The last Wisconsin glacier gouged out the present-day Lake Michigan basin.

Prehistoric Indians

As the last of the ice sheets melted some 9500 years ago, Glacial Lake Algonquin was formed. Climate and vegetation were much different than it is today. Spruce-fir forests and tundra dominated our landscape and the lake level was much higher than it is today. More than 50 feet of water covered parts of Kohler-Andrae State Park. On the edge of this cold glacial lake lived the Paleo-Indians who were nomadic hunters that followed herds of mammoths, mastodons, musk ox and other animals living in the region at the time.

Around 6000 B.C., the retreating glaciers to the north exposed a huge drainage-way between Lake Huron and the St. Lawrence Sea which caused a dramatic drop in lake levels of more than 400 feet from current levels. At this time Kohler-Andrae's beach would have been several miles east of our current shoreline due to the low lake levels. Another group of Indians called the Aqua-Plano Indians were living in the region then and like their predecessors, they were nomadic hunters.

The last of the great glacial lakes was Lake Nipissing, which existed here around 3500 B.C. This lake also covered parts of Kohler-Andrae, as evidenced by the remnant beach line of this ancient glacial lake still visible in the northwest corner of the park some 14 feet above the current lake levels. During this period, the Archaic and Copper Culture Indians lived in this region and hunted deer, bear and other game. The conifer forests gave way to deciduous woodlands. Indians began to have a greater dependence on local food supplies and the copper trade of tools, fish hooks and spear points began.

Historic Indians

Several different and interesting Indian tribes called the Kohler-Andrae area home beginning with the Early Woodland Indians around 1500 B.C. These tribes were different from the former inhabitants in that they began to garden in addition to hunting. Squash, gourds, maize and beans were grown to supplement the food supply of a growing Indian population. Between 100 B.C. and 1634 A.D., the Hopewell Indians became established. The Hopewell were the first known tribe to build elaborate burial mounds and create ceramic vessels and stone pipes. Later on, the Effigy mound builders inhabited the area and built larger earthen mounds in the shape of birds and animals. This culture mysteriously disappeared with later tribes abandoning the mound-building efforts. Several excellent examples of the Effigy Mound builder work can be seen in the local area, especially at Indian Mound Park located north of Kohler-Andrae.

In more recent times, several Indian tribes are known to have lived in the park area including the Chippewa, Menomonie, Potowatomi, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), Ottawa and Sauk. In 1833 the Indian tribes ceded to the U.S. government all lands along the western shore of Lake Michigan. Although by the terms of the treaty the Indians were required to leave the area, the Potowatomi continued to live along the Black River in or near the park as late as 1877.

Explorers and fur traders

Jean Nicolet was the first known explorer believed to have visited our area during his visit with the Ho-Chunk Indians near Green Bay in 1634. Later, between 1665 and 1670, Nicholas Perrot spent time in this region, much of it with the Potowatomi who lived here at the time. Father Jacques Marquette and several other missionaries were known to explore the western shores of Lake Michigan by canoe from 1673-1699.

In 1795, when the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians inhabited our area, a Frenchman by the name of Jacques Vieau visited the Sheboygan area to erect a Northwest Fur company post. This fur company and later the American Fur company dominated trade in the area until 1868. Trade goods and furs were transported by canoe along the lakeshore to Green Bay and Milwaukee. The Indians traded hides of bear, deer, moose and pelts of muskrat, beaver, lynx, otter and marten. In return, they received blankets, clothes, knives, axes and other goods.


The first true European-American settler in the park area was David Wilson. Mr. Wilson was born in New York and arrived here with his family from Ohio in 1840. Next to follow in 1845 were two brothers, James and Leonard Osgood. These and other "Yankee" families from the east coast were drawn to this region to set up fisheries. Fishermen in small skiffs out on the lake netted fish using hooped pound nets and lifted them by hand. Lake trout, white fish, lake herring and chubs were taken by this method.

Fishing in the 19th century was backbreaking and often dangerous work. Both David Wilson and the Osgood brothers drowned in Lake Michigan while fishing. In the 1850s, '60s and '70s, a large influx of German and Dutch immigrants came into this area. Most were farmers by trade and moved inland to better farmlands. Along the lakeshore, however, fishing was still the predominant occupation, along with a few coopers and boat builders.

Marine history

Lake Michigan has a long and interesting marine history including many shipwrecks. In the Kohler-Andrae area alone more than 50 vessels have sunk including an 87-foot schooner called the "Challenge." The "Challenge" was built in Manitowoc in 1852 and was a historic sailing vessel because it was the first centerboard "clipper" type schooner. In 1982 a section of this ship's keel washed to shore at Kohler-Andrae and is now on display outside the Sanderling Nature Center.

Two state parks are established

Before World War I, lakeshore property was offered for one dollar per foot with no buyers. The land was sandy and could not sustain crops or livestock grazing. With the advent of the automobile and the growing popularity of motor touring and recreation, land prices rose quickly as wealthy people from urban areas like Milwaukee sought country escapes from city life.

John Michael Kohler State Park

In April 1966, the people of the state accepted the gift of another park donation which was 280 acres in size. This parcel was donated by the Kohler Company of Kohler, Wisconsin, as a memorial to John Michael Kohler, the founder of the Kohler Company. Born in Austria in 1844, John M. Kohler emigrated to America with his family at the age of 10. In 1871 he moved to Sheboygan, married Lillie Vollrath and joined his father-in-law's machine shop and foundry. In 1914 this business became The Kohler Company, the name it still retains. The company is now the leading industry in Sheboygan County and is the second-largest plumbing manufacturer in the nation. Mr. Kohler made many civic contributions to the Sheboygan area including social and cultural centers. The memorial donation of property just to the north of Terry Andrae State Park resulted in the establishment of John Michael Kohler State Park today.

Terry Andrae State Park

In 1924 Frank Theodore (Terry) Andrae purchased 92 acres of lakeshore property from a retired fisherman and later purchased another 30 acres. Mr. Andrae was president of Julius Andrae and Sons' Electric Supply Company in Milwaukee. He and his wife Elsbeth built a two-story house overlooking the lake in the area where the present-day campground is. This second home was known as "Henriette Lodge" and the Andraes often entertained guests there. Mrs. Andrae had a strong interest in botany and horticulture and at considerable expense, hired several forestry consultants and began to reforest their property. After her husband's death in 1927, Mrs. Andrae donated all 122 acres of her "pine dunes" lakeshore property to the State of Wisconsin to be known from then on as Terry Andrae State Park.

Kohler-Andrae today

In the years following both the John M. Kohler and Terry Andrae donations, the state of Wisconsin purchased an additional 600 acres of property, bringing the total acreage of both parks combined to about 1,000 acres. Although still considered two properties with adjacent boundaries, the parks are managed as one unit by the Department of Natural Resources.

Considerable development has been undertaken in the park, such as campgrounds, picnic areas, a bathhouse, nature center, trails and roads. Improving facilities and programs is an ongoing effort. A master plan was developed to assure that future property management and development plans will be consistent with the needs of park visitors while protecting the park's natural resources.