Soldiers Grove, on the banks of the Kickapoo River in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region, is known for lots of things – awesome outdoor adventures like hiking, camping, fishing, and canoeing the Kickapoo River; fun festivities, like the annual Driftless Area Art Festival; and much more – but did you know it’s also America’s first Solar Village?
Originally settled in the 1850’s and known as Pine Grove, due to the profuse stands of white pine that dominated the land, Soldiers Grove was renamed in 1867 as a tribute to those who camped in the area during the Black Hawk War of the 1830’s – but not only that.
Much of the land that was to become Soldiers Grove was deeded to U.S. war veterans in lieu of money, as was the custom at the time. The first settler in the area, for example, Joseph H. Brightman, was a veteran of the War of 1812. His 80 acres of government-deeded land would later become the downtown area of Soldiers Grove.
Unfortunately, the Kickapoo River had plans of its own.
The first major flood came in 1907, inundating the downtown area. It was followed by another in 1912, then again in 1917, and again in 1935. Clearly the flooding was no fluke but a common occurrence. Four more floods occurred by the late 60’s – yet the plan for a dam and levee system via the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seemed more expensive than effective. It was clear a radical solution was needed to save Soldiers Grove.
Why not use the proposed, Federal dam and levee funds to simply move Soldiers Grove’s downtown uphill, out of the flood zone?
This idea was not initially accepted but the flood of 1978 – the most devastating yet – hammered home the sense of the idea. Federal assistance was finally approved and, by 1983, the business district was up, out of the flood plain and open for business.
But that wasn’t all.
Flooding was not the only crisis on the minds of Soldiers Grove residents in the 1970’s. Two major energy crises drove the decision to remake Soldiers Grove as energy-efficient as possible: America’s first solar village. Over 20, solar-efficient buildings were built.
At the time, the nation had plans to move forward with solar everywhere. While this concept never saw fruition, it is fascinating, now some 40 years past, to see how well America’s first solar village, Soldiers Grove, has fared. Most of the solar buildings are still excellent examples of solar energy’s efficiency at work. An extensive survey in the 90’s showed that the great majority of Soldiers Grove’s solar buildings remain economically sound alternatives to traditional methods.
So, the next time you’re in Wisconsin’s Driftless region, be sure to stop by Soldiers Grove for a little history, a little fun, some time on the river, and a lot of sun!