University of Wisconsin–Madison

Frautschi Point

Aerial photo by William Cronon.

Frautschi Point juts out into Lake Mendota as our northernmost parcel in the Preserve. This mixed-deciduous and conifer woodland holds ancient archaeological sites, and was more recently the summer cottage compound for the Jackson family.

The Frautschi Point area is considerably larger than its relatively well known lake-edge section. It extends all the way from the lake to the large agricultural fields south of the property and to the gully that separates it from Second Point Woods to the east. The biological communities of Frautschi Point are complex and much affected by long human use of the area.

The gift of this land to the University by the Frautschi family in the late 1980s provided the crucial link that tied together the western and eastern ends of the university’s Lake Mendota shoreline, making possible the eventual creation of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve.

With a convenient parking lot for cars and bikes, and a close bus stop, Frautschi Point is a great jumping-off point for either a short stroll down the former driveway to the water’s edge, or a more extensive jaunt along the Lakeshore Path or the Big Oak Trail.

Human History

Archaeological sites

Archaeology test unit. Photo by Daniel Einstein.

Lake Mendota, and the broader Four Lakes region of southern Wisconsin, was a center of human activity for thousands of years prior to European-American settlement in the mid-1800s. The Native peoples of this region left behind abundant evidence of their lives on this land. The nearby Indian burial mounds at Eagle Heights Woods and Indian burial mounds at Picnic Point are but a few of the many examples of how these early residents left their imprint on the land.

As part of a campus-wide archaeological inventory in 2004, extensive shovel tests were conducted at Frautschi Point to determine the locations of ancient and historic habitation sites. (It is important to note that these shovel tests were conducted in locations where no known burial sites are located. Burial sites are carefully protected under Wisconsin law.)

Four previously unidentified ancient habitation sites at Frautschi Point were located during the 2004 survey. Not surprisingly, the greatest concentration of artifacts was found near the shoreline. Indeed, Native American ceramics from about 1000 years ago were recovered from the same site chosen by the Jackson Family for one of their cottages.

To learn more about archaeology in the Preserve:

Read this comprehensive report: George Christiansen III “2004 Archaeological Investigations on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Campus, City of Madison, Dane County Wisconsin,” 2005. Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center. (10Mb)

A lakeshore summer retreat

In the early 1880s, Breese Stevens and Morris Fuller purchased the Heron Farm, a property that included the areas we now know as Picnic Point and Frautschi Point. At the time, Frautschi Point was generally identified as Second Point. (There are also references to “Breeze Point”—an apparent word play on the name of Breese Stevens.) Stevens and Fuller, wealthy Madison business partners, apparently planned to build a “fancy farm” at Second Point, but it is unclear if they ever erected any buildings or agricultural infrastructure on the site.

Following Stevens’ death, the property was inherited by his daughters Elizabeth and Amelia. It was Elizabeth and her husband, Dr. Reginald H. Jackson Sr. (founder of Madison’s Jackson Clinic) who built the first substantial residence here in 1921—a summer house that we now refer to as the Jackson Cottage. It was gradually expanded over the years, eventually becoming a rambling 4,450-square-foot structure used for summer retreats and for entertaining guests. The cottage eventually became the year-round home for Dr. Jackson’s son, Reggie Jr.

Reggie Jr.was an avid hunter and enjoyed shooting pheasants that he raised on the property. He also enjoyed sailing, fishing, and flying his seaplane around Lake Mendota. An unusual hangar with an inclined marine railway was built on the property to keep the seaplane safe between flights.

A second cottage was built a few hundred feet to the east for Amelia Stevens in 1924. Today we know this as the “Amelia Stevens House“—although family members sometimes called it “Aunt Amy’s cottage.”

The rustic stone wall and gate at the Lake Mendota Drive entrance was probably built in the 1930s. In the photos below you can see the same catalpa tree (with the twisting trunk) to the left of the entry in the 1930s and in 2006.

A special gift to the university

Photo by William Cronon.

With the death of Reginald Jackson, Jr. in 1986, came a critical moment in the history of Frautschi Point—and a turning point for what would eventually become the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Jackson bequeathed the property in equal shares to the Northwestern University Medical School and the State Medical Society of Wisconsin. Neither organization had any reason to retain this generous gift, raising the very real prospect that they would sell it to a developer to realize its financial value.

If that had happened, this piece of land would in all likelihood be subdivided and developed. Because this was the one remaining piece of the Lake Mendota shoreline between Shorewood and the Old Red Gym not owned by UW-Madison, the loss of Second Point would permanently eliminate the possibility that the university’s lands along Lake Mendota might be joined to form a continuous green space.

Only the timely intervention of the Frautschi family prevented this from happening. In 1988, Walter A. Frautschi, a prominent Madisonian with a long history of generous philanthropy toward the university and the city, received a very special Christmas gift from his sons. John and Jerry Frautschi decided to surprise their father by providing the $1.5 million needed to acquire the Second Point property and protect it for all time by giving it to the university.

In recognition of this wonderful gift, Second Point was officially renamed Frautschi Point.

The generosity and foresight of the Frautschi family was not limited simply to purchasing the property. Understanding the need for long-term stewardship of the land and its ecosystems, their gift of the deed was accompanied by funds to create a permanent endowment. The income from that gift will contribute forever to the care and restoration of this very special place.

Looking for ghost landscapes of Frautschi Point’s past

The residential structures and outbuildings that once stood on the former Second Point property were removed prior to final title transfer to the university. All that remains today are scattered bits of evidence that suggest the former presence of the Jackson Family compound.

There are also many subtle signs in the vegetation and landscapes of Frautschi Point that supply evidence for the history of past land use here.

As you walk the many trails that criss-cross Frautschi Point today, look all around and see if you can locate the former site of the boathouse, Amelia Jackson’s cottage or the outdoor fireplace and duck blind. Maybe you’ll also come across the gravestone of the Jackson family’s pet dog, Grennie.

Read these newspaper clippings announcing the Frautschi Family gift to the university:

“Frautschi Point: UW’s New Resource,” Wisconsin Week, August 23, 1989.

“Thank You Frautschis,” Wisconsin State Journal, December 30, 1988.

Cary Segall, “UW Gets Shoreline as a Gift,”  Wisconsin State Journal, December 28, 1988.

Natural History

Photo by Cathie Bruner.

The vegetation of Frautschi Point is a complicated patchwork.

Some natural woodland remains near the lakeshore, where there are a few large bur and white oaks along with the more numerous red oaks, as well as shagbark hickories, hackberries, and other southern Wisconsin trees. Many other large trees, most noticeably the evergreens, were planted as ornamentals by the Jackson family. Near the site of the former house, native understory shrubs and groundlayer plants are found together with introduced landscape plants, as well as invasive shrubs and forbs.

Woods

Frautschi Point has a different kind of woodland near the entrance at Lake Mendota Drive. Here, the canopy is largely made up of planted red pines, spruces, and white pines as well as red cedars and common catalpa trees. Although the woodland in this area is important as a cultural landscape, many of the species are not native to Wisconsin. Many red pines had to be removed in 2005 to control the spread of the Ips beetle.

Some hardwood trees—including sugar maple, hackberry, basswood, black cherry, and other southern Wisconsin trees as well as red elderberry shrubs—are filling the gaps in the canopy. Unfortunately, there are also many invasive buckthorns, honeysuckle shrubs, and several large non-native Norway maples—not to mention garlic mustard. The control of these invasive species requires constant vigilance.

In the southeastern part of Frautschi Point, there is a lowland woods characterized by the presence of large silver maples, hackberries, green ash, box elders, and at least one huge cottonwood. This woods adjoins the much older “Second Point Woods,” a triangular parcel of old dry mesic woodland that is evident even in the earliest aerial photo we have. (This photo dates to 1927 and is viewable on the interactive map using the “Historic Animation Tool” on the Air Photo menu). The separation between these two woodlands is a gully that runs from the swale in the open fields down to Lake Mendota.

The remaining wooded areas in the south portion of Frautschi Point are of relatively recent origin, especially those closest to the open agricultural fields. Much of the now-wooded edge strip was farmed and then mowed as late as the 1960s. The dense woodland near the field edge, marked by a straight row of mature open-grown trees indicate an old fencerow, now thick with non-native honeysuckles and buckthorns and large pioneer trees such as box elder, green ash, black cherry, and bigtooth aspen.

Birds and other wildlife

Red-tailed hawk. Photo by Glenda Denniston.

Frautschi Point is a favorite location for birders in all seasons, but especially during the fall migration period. This is because it is the most easily reached landfall reached by migrant birds flying southward across the lake. The migrants tend to land on this northernmost point of the Preserve and then follow woodland corridors along the lake edge. Migrating birds also travel along wooded Lake Mendota Drive and the few clumps of trees and shrubs that remain in the open field near Eagle Heights Community Gardens. After replenishing their fat reserves in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve (while giving birders many opportunities to view them), they continue their long journeys to winter feeding grounds.

Mammals are abundant on Frautschi Point. Apart from common species such as eastern gray squirrel, eastern chipmunk, and eastern cottontail, most of our mammals are elusive or largely active after dark. They are thus more likely to be “seen” by their tracks, scat, and other sign than by actual sightings. Raccoons and opossums, and occasionally red foxes, coyotes and deer are seen and sometimes photographed here, as are smaller mice, voles, shrews, and various bats. American toads and leopard frogs, painted and snapping turtles, and even one Blanding’s turtle have been seen in this area. Thousands of different insects and other invertebrates are common here.

Restoration and Plans

Current and future management of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve is guided by the 2006 Master Plan. Development of the plan was led by the Preserve Committee with extensive campus community and public input. The plan articulates the Preserve’s stewardship responsibility to “protect and interpret the biological and cultural resources of the landscape in conjunction with the UW-Madison’s educational mission.” Frautschi Point’s rich cultural and biological resources will receive ongoing management, funded in part by a generous stewardship endowment from the Frautschi family.

In an effort to retain some of the cultural landscape features of the former Jackson estate, the new Master Plan does not call for vegetation restoration resembling that of the pre-settlement era—though it does call for eliminating all invasive species in this area. Some non-native landscape plants will be allowed to grow alongside plants more characteristic of pre-settlement conditions.

In some cases, native vegetation returns naturally when invasive alien species are removed. For example, in the few sections of Frautschi Point where buckthorn and honeysuckle shrubs have been removed near the lake edge, native forbs and sedges are regaining their former prevalence.

In other parts of Frautschi Point, though, when buckthorns and honeysuckles are removed, native species are planted in their place. Volunteers from the Friends of the Preserve and from the UW-Madison student community, have already made dramatic progress with the Big Oak Trail Restoration project, along the Big Oak trail and along the southern edge of Frautschi Point where the woodland meets the former mowed agricultural fields. Native plants have been purchased using funds provided both by the Frautschi family and by the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. The agricultural fields closest to Frautschi Point and Second Point Woods are all destined to become prairie, and the boundary between this prairie and the woodlands will become a savanna transition zone.

Recreation in Frautschi Point

Photo by William Cronon.

There are several walking trails that traverse the Frautschi Point woodlands. The Big Oak Trail was established in 2004 by Volunteer Steward Glenda Denniston. To accomplish this work, Glenda had to cut her way through a tangle of invasive shrubs to reach the oak trees. To complete the trail, students and volunteers from the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve laid down wood chips to prevent soil erosion and planted more than 2000 native plants to begin restoration of the ground layer plant community. To reach the Big Oak trailhead, start at the entry gate at the Frautschi Point parking area. Follow the old road approximately 75 yards toward the lake and you will see a sign on your right marking the beginning of the trail.

Getting Here

Frautschi Point is located at the northernmost point of the UW-Madison campus. Most visitors will choose to access this area through the gate opening in the stone wall adjacent to the Frautschi Point parking lot off of Lake Mendota Drive.

By bus

Campus bus #80 makes regular stops along Lake Mendota Drive near the Frautschi Point parking lot.

By bicycle

Cyclists can easily reach Frautschi Point along Lake Mendota Drive. A bike rack is available at the Frautschi Point parking lot. Please remember that bicycles are NOT permitted on the trails at Frautschi Point.

By foot

Hiking the many trails at Frautschi Point is a favorite activity. Many visitors start their walk from the stone wall gate at the parking lot. You can also reach Frautschi Point by following the Lakeshore Path from the east (Picnic Point) or the west (Raymer’s Cove.)

By car

Free parking is available at the Frautschi Point lot along Lake Mendota Drive while you are visiting the Preserve.