James Madison Park
622-1/2 E. Gorham Street
In the days before individual boat ownership became widespread, renting pleasure boats for lake excursions was a significant summer business in Madison. Numerous commercial enterprises developed here in the nineteenth century to cater to the demand, the first being the one German native Charles Bernard started on this site in 1855 as a fishing station.
Gradually, Bernard's business expanded to include both boat and fishing gear rentals.
By the 1890s Bernard was building his own boats as well, including several large, steam-powered excursion boats that operated on Lake Mendota. Bernard ferried picnickers to his private park (gone) near Mendota State Hospital. After his death in 1907, son William ran the business. William and his son Carl became known across the United States as avid ice boat builders and racers.
In 1911 the Bernards replaced the original buildings with a larger frame structure. Four years later that building was destroyed by fire and was replaced with the present frame building. Carl Bernard sold out to Harry Hoover in 1943; Hoover continued to operate the board livery and gave excursion rides until 1968 when he sold the property to the City. Today the Bernard-Hoover boathouse is the only survivor of the early days of Madison's love affair with pleasure boating.
The boathouse was designated a City of Madison landmark on October 18, 1976
and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
More Information: Landmark Nomination