Editor’s note: Today in “What’s the Story,” we answer a question from a reader who wants to know how the Dutch Gap got its name.
Here is the answer:
Prior to the construction of the Dutch Gap in 1879, along with the deepening, widening and straightening of de Nevue Creek, the city of Fond du Lac was often plagued with flooding following torrential rains and the spring melt.
According to the book, “The History of Fond du Lac County,” flood waters originating from the southern edge of the city would sweep down the Martin Road area and the old fairgrounds, forming an open ravine that would eventually cross Main Street and find its way into the East Branch of the Fond du Lac River, often leaving behind a wake of destruction and debris.
In 1877, William Koehne, a member of the Common Council, proposed in 1877 that a wide ditch be cut from Martin Road westward to the Fond du Lac River that would lessen the torrential flow and drain the surplus water. This plan was met with much opposition due to the cost. However, after a few flooding events in which outhouses, wooden sidewalks and fences were left floating around, the proposition carried and the ditch was cut in 1878, according to an excerpt in “The Business History of Fond du Lac.”
The origin of the monniker for the man-made watercourse is debated. According to late historian Ruth Shaw Worthing, since the section of the city that would benefit largely was occupied by Germans, the ditch became known as the Dutch Gap. However, local history buff and former managing editor of The Reporter Mike Mentzer noted that the late Eugene McLane, longtime director of the Fond du Lac Public Library, claimed that the waterway may well have been named after the construction of the Dutch Gap in Chesterfield County by Union forces during the Civil War in 1864.
City records show that the Dutch Gap was also known as the South Ditch.
City of Fond du Lac Public Works Director Jordan Skiff said that major work was done on the Dutch Gap during the Great Depression by the Conservation Workers of America. Substantial work was also performed on the waterway during the 1980s. Improvements included the placement of rock walls and rock-filled gabions along the ditch.
“We also diverted the discharge point (of the Dutch Gap) toward the north to allow it to enter the river more smoothly,” Skiff said.
Mentzer, who lives along the Dutch Gap, says retention ponds built by the city over the years have also helped to minimize the impact of storm water moving through the ditch.
“When the Dutch Gap was the main drainage basin water would roar down through here like the Colorado River after a heavy rain,” Mentzer said. “Most of the time the water is about one-foot deep, but after a heavy rain it rises to six- to eight- feet deep and moves through here with tremendous velocity. When that happens, everything comes down the Gap — lawn chairs, firewood, anything left out close to the edge.”
Skiff said that the city continually watches for evidence of erosion along the waterway.
“We’ve put significant resources into repairs there every year. There’s at least one spot with erosion that we’re aware of right now,” Skiff said. “Due to budget constraints, we will likely not be cutting the vegetation from the waterway banks as often as we have in the past.”
Water running through a half-pipe flow line through Buttermilk Creek Park also empties into the Dutch Gap. The park was aptly named for the creek that once drained the Melrose Farm owned by the Galloway family.
Steve Kees, director of operations for the city, said at one time storm water collected in the ponds built in Buttermilk Creek Park. However, after much opposition from residents, the ponds were filled in and the half-pipe flow line was installed through the park, allowing the water to flow away quickly.
“There was talk at one time of the city filling in the Gap and running a huge culvert through here, but that would have come at an enormous cost,” Mentzer said. “Besides, it would take away the natural beauty of the area.”
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