Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced Monday that Dane County will purchase approximately 74 acres of property surrounding Halfway Prairie School County Park in the Town of Mazomanie. This park is home to the Halfway Prairie School, the oldest existing rural elementary schoolhouse in Dane County. Acquisition of this land will provide a unique opportunity to protect the historic setting around the school and create a more diverse visitor experience.
“Since first opening nearly 60 years ago, Halfway Prairie School County Park has provided countless school groups and visitors the opportunity to step into the past and learn about our county’s history,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “By purchasing this property, Dane County will be better able to preserve this historical site and enhance its outdoor spaces for residents and visitors to enjoy year round.”
The acquisition of this 74-acre parcel allows Dane County to improve visitor parking and access from Hwy. 19, including creating better bus parking and ADA improvements. The additional land will allow for a new parking lot with a safer exit point further down the road and an improved field of view.
The property offers a mix of level cropland and steep wooded upland, including a vibrant prairie remnant surrounding the rock outcropping. The landscape and varied topography provide excellent opportunities for passive outdoor recreation such as hiking and bird watching.
The school was given the name “Halfway Prairie” because it was halfway between Mineral Point and Portage, a popular transportation route for early miners. The one-room school operated from 1844 until it closed as a result of consolidation in 1961. Three years later, Dane County accepted the building and surrounding land as a park site.
The Friends of Old Halfway Prairie open the well-preserved schoolhouse to visitors on holidays and Sunday afternoons. Those who visit the site get to experience how schooling was implemented when all grades where in one room. The building holds student desks, a teacher’s desk, chalkboards, a wood stove, and a piano. There are pictures of different classes that attended the school along with books and other historic documents.
Dane County plans to purchase the 74 acre property for $484,700 using the Dane County Conservation Fund. County Executive Parisi included $4 million in his 2020 budget for the Dane County Conservation Fund, which is used to continue the pursuit of preserving land with clear quality of life, conservation, and recreational benefits. A resolution to approve this purchase was introduced during last Thursday’s County Board meeting and is expected to be approved in the coming weeks.