Tent Colony Woods

Photo by William Cronon.

Walking today along this narrow strip of land between Lake Mendota Drive and the shoreline, it’s hard to imagine that these woods once gave shelter to as many as 300 graduate students with their spouses and children all living together in wall tents.

Each summer between 1912 and 1962, these “tent colonists” erected temporary homes (cobbled together from canvas, tar paper, wooden frames, and bug screens) to create a unique student housing community known as “Camp Gallistella” —complete with mayor, recreation director, constable, and sanitary commissioner! The camp even had its own occasional newspaper.

The tent colony came to an end in 1962 with the construction of the Eagle Heights Apartments, which became the year-round alternative to this former summer colony. But if you look carefully, you may be able to relocate one of the concrete footings for an old tent platform or water pump station.

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