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The legend of Avon Bottoms
Times photo: Anthony Wahl -- The tiny village of Avon appears half-deserted. Abandoned cars and broken-down barns give it the look of a horror movie set.
TOWN OF AVON - More than 40 years later, Scott Laube remembers his brush with the Avon Bottoms swamp monster.

He was a teenager and out driving with some friends when they heard a growl underneath a bridge on South Nelson Road. Before they could get a good look, the swamp monster went crashing off into the woods.

"The swamp monster has been around forever. He really has," Laube said.

The beast is rumored to be a rotten-smelling Sasquatch look-alike with six toes on one foot and a stature of 7 to 8 feet, covered in marsh weeds, mud and slime.

It is one of the many spooky and scary legends - some fictitious, some awfully true - that abound in the eerie swamplands of the Avon Bottoms Wildlife Area and surrounding Town of Avon in the southwestern tip of Rock County near Brodhead.

Growl or gas?

The story of the swamp monster comes with a wink. It originates in the Christmas tree farm where Laube trimmed branches as a kid. Paul's Tree Farm, 16239 West Beloit Newark Rd., abuts Avon Bottoms to the south.

Owner Paul Schilling dates the first sighting of the swamp monster to about 1970. One of his tree-trimmers was the first to spot the creature. The legend grew over the years, with more and more sightings adding legitimacy. Schilling collects the many colorful tales of sightings on his website,

"Of course I went along with it," he said with a grin. "We're just letting it run." Late last year, he even captured on film an image of what he suspects is the swamp monster - or it could just be his friend Tim wearing an old sniper outfit from the Vietnam War.

Ears and eyes aren't always the best guides to reality when a healthy imagination is involved. Mike Moore, chair of the Town of Avon, says the panoply of natural sounds in this remote, state-owned wildlife area may fool some.

"There's a lot of interesting sounds down there at night," he said. Even the usual sounds from nearby a dairy farm may trick people into hearing phantom growls. That "growl" could just as easily be a cow passing gas or belching, he added.

In any event, the swamp monster "hasn't come and drug anything away" from his home, so he isn't too worried.

Bayou of Rock County

The swamp monster is far from the spookiest aspect of this area. In fact, swapping tall tales about a monster may be a coping mechanism for locals to laugh in the face of real danger.

The tiny village of Avon appears desolate and half-deserted. It was established in the 1840s with the promise of being on railway corridor, but got passed over for Brodhead.

"If (the train) would've come through here, there would've been a town. And we wouldn't be a tree farm," Schilling said.

Nowadays, Avon can't be much bigger than it was 150 years ago. It consists of a handful of residential streets off West Beloit Newark Road, about a mile and a half east of the Green-Rock county line. Abandoned cars and broken-down barns give it the look of a horror movie set.

A former church hall, built in 1858, now sits empty and in decay. The doors on the limestone building are unlocked, and the roof is caving in. At one time the hall was home to 4-H meetings, ice cream socials and chicken dinners. Schilling and his wife, Helen, hosted their wedding reception here in 1963.

"Avon is the least populated area of the county," said Brian Knudson, supervisor for the southwest quadrant of Rock County. The swamp and thick vegetation along the Sugar River in Avon Bottoms make the area even more mysterious and impenetrable.

"A lot of people call it the Southern Bayou of Rock County," Knudson said. The Department of Natural Resources notes on its website that this floodplain forest harbors diverse bird life, rare southern-ranging species and "unusual reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates."

Legend has it the swamps were a dumping ground for offed Chicago gangsters in the 1920s and 1930s. At least one person has committed suicide in these backwaters. More recently, the body of a stabbed Racine woman, 33-year-old Kristin Miller, was dumped here in a ravine early last year. Her body wasn't found for a month.

A message board on is abuzz with rumors of "Hell's Playground," a haunted spot off South Nelson Road now blocked off by boulders.

"Supposedly some kids were murdered back in there," Knudson said.

Watch out

Years ago, Brodhead vet Ray Pawlisch found an abandoned canoe sunk in the leg of the Sugar River that bisects Avon Bottoms. He turned it over to Brodhead police but no one ever claimed it.

The meandering backwaters, running sloughs and temporary ponds in Avon Bottoms confuse even seasoned outdoorsmen.

"Hunters have gotten lost down in there," he said.

Pawlisch has never actually laid eyes on the swamp monster but he's sensed it. "I've gotten a whiff of him. It smells like a rotten moss," he said. "I think it's more about where he spends his time - and not taking a bath. It is pretty muddy down there."

He trusts the eye-witness accounts of tree trimmers at Paul's Tree Farm who've seen it.

"They confirm my story that you've got to watch out for it," he said.

Don't go looking for their boss, Schilling, in costume for Halloween. He enjoys spooking people but doesn't celebrate Halloween.

"I consider it Satan's Day and I'm a Christian, so I don't do anything with it," he said.