One Man’s Love Affair With Ice Boating And Lake Mendota

December 16, 2016


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Don Sanford feels a deep connection to water, from sailing to ice boating. His summers spent as a child on a lake in upstate New York left a deep impression on him that followed him to Madison and Lake Mendota.

“Anybody who has grown up on any body of water, that’s imprinted on you. That memory of growing up on that water and what you did on that water, you’re stuck with it,” says Sanford. “I rarely think about baseball games I played but I always think about things I did afloat.”

When he moved to Madison, Sanford joined the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club and traded stories with longtime members about the lake and its social history. Those stories led him to write a book about the history of Lake Mendota, called On Fourth Lake: A Social History of Lake Mendota.

Among the stories he tells is of the the ice boaters who came before him.

In the late 1890s, the father of Madison ice boating, Charles Bernard, saw an ice boat from New York. He thought he could improve on the design and took that idea back to his boat shop in Madison. He developed a new boat that came to be known as the Madison Style. 

“These things were, for the time, cutting edge technology,” describes Sanford.

Sanford has ridden in one of these Madison boats.

“They were a little scary. Maybe a lot scary,” Sanford says, with a laugh.

Learning the story of Lake Mendota has given Sanford a deeper appreciation for Madison and its history. The stories he uncovered, while specific to Lake Mendota, are the types of stories that all of Wisconsin’s lakes hold.

“On any lake in any part of the state, there are stories like this,” says Sanford.





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