At first glance, you might recognize this iconic Southeastern Wisconsin tower. Yet, under its wooden beams lies a rich foundation of Wisconsin’s history, including one of the state’s first scientists and a state agency responsible for construction works you probably use everyday. Perched atop the highest point in Waukesha County, the observation tower in Lapham Peak State Park (Delafield, WI) was constructed in 1940 by a crew from the Works Projects Administration (WPA). The tower consists of four long pine trunks at each corner, held together by a mix of wooden planks and steel bars. At nearly five stories tall, the structure towers over the old oaks surrounding it, offering unparalleled views of southeastern Wisconsin. The peak itself was named after Increase A. Lapham, an early Wisconsin scientist, naturalist, and author. Known as the “Father of the U.S. Weather Service”, Lapham’s work in meteorology helped to establish the U.S. Weather Bureau and gave rise to the study of weather and the atmosphere as we know it today.
The observation tower at Lapham Peak stands as a testament to the impactful work done by the WPA across Wisconsin and commemorates Increase Lapham’s pioneering scientific work in the state. Today, you can climb the tower and observe state icons from afar, including Holy Hill Basilica, the glacier-carved landscape left by the Laurentide Ice Sheet nearly 12,000 years ago, and even the Milwaukee skyline.
Written by Cole Roecker, September 2020.
Lackore, James. 1966. “The WPA in Wisconsin.” M.A Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Wisconsin Historical Society. “WPA (in Wisconsin).” Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS462
Carol Ahlgren. 1988. “The Civilian Conservation Corps and Wisconsin State Park Development.” Wisconsin Magazine of History 71, 3: 184-204.
Wisconsin Historical Society. “Lapham, Increase, 1811-1875; Wisconsin’s First Scientist.” Accessed on August 3, 2020. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS527#:~:text=Increase%20Lapham%20Examining%20a%20Meteorite%2C%201871%20ca.&text=A%20self%2Deducated%20engineer%20and,one%20of%20its%20foremost%20citizens.&text=Increase%20Allen%20Lapham%20was%20born,%2C%20on%20March%207%2C%201811.
Barquist, Barbara; Barquist, David. 1987. “The Beginning.” Haley, Leroy (ed.). The Summit of Oconomowoc: 150 Years of Summit Town. Summit History Group: 9.