Muscoda, Hwy. Wis. 80
Muscoda, a Wisconsin River community with an estimated 2013 population of 1,277, plays a significant role as a shopping and service center for the surrounding area, but it also benefits from the lower Wisconsin’s recreational appeal. The river’s influence has always loomed large in this community’s history. With a name apparently drawn from Longfellow’s Hiawatha where there is a reference to "the muscoda, the meadow", the settlement’s beginnings date to the prosperous 1830s when it was known as English Prairie, and relate to the business enterprises of William S. Hamilton. Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, came into the lead fields of southwestern Wisconsin in 1827, having left West Point Military Academy and ventured west as a surveyor. He did very well for himself in the lead fields, an aristocrat in a mining frontier society of tremendously varied nativity, social class, and economic status. After some years of profitable mining, he built a blast furnace in 1835 at English Prairie, and it operated for a few years. Lead hauled from the nearest diggings and smelted into pigs went down the Wisconsin River by steamboat to Galena and thence to St. Louis.
A further boost came to Muscoda in 1841 when James Duane Doty was appointed as territorial governor by the new Whig administration in Washington. In short order there was a general shake up in all of the federal land offices in Wisconsin. Mineral Point, a hot bed of Jacksonian Democrats, lost its land office which was transferred to Muscoda. The need to buy federal land brought some business to the lead smelting site. One year earlier the settlement acquired a ferry to make it more accessible.
By 1847 the population had risen to 50 persons "pretty thickly stowed in a few log houses". The village was surveyed and platted in 1850. The first real growth came with the building of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad in 1856, unfortunately about a mile from the original site of the village. Nevertheless Muscoda expected great things and planned accordingly. A local paper boasted, "Muscoda will be, we think, the machine-shop and lumber-yard of Grant County." Stores, hotels, blacksmith shops, wagon shops and a variety of other establishments went into business, but high prices for lots tended to hold down development, and in the late 1850s efforts at milling businesses failed during the general depression.
Attempts to bridge the Wisconsin finally met with success in 1868, thus making Muscoda’s railroad connection available to people living on the north side of the river. That development plus good times in the late 1860s ushered in prosperous years of building and growth and a gradual transfer of much of the older town to the area surrounding the railroad depot where another village had been platted. Competing with Boscobel and Avoca for trade and commerce, Muscoda grew modestly, reaching a population of 733 in 1895, primarily German in ethnic origin. Modest growth seems to have been a forgone conclusion once the dream of becoming a port town on a heavily used Wisconsin River faded.