Our First State Fair

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This weeks Historical Marker is placed north of Court House Park, in Janesville Wisconsin and tells a brief story of Wisconsin’s first State Fair. The fair was planned by the Agricultural and Mechanics Institute; Partly to increase membership to the organization, and also because the process of farming was changing, and a fair could show off the new technology and agricultural products available.

The fair took place on the first and second day of October in 1851 on a six-acre plot near the Rock River. This was the first of its kind in Wisconsin, and was a terrific success. Attendance for the two-day event was estimated at 8 to 12 thousand people. There was such a large crowd that finding a room for the night was not an easy task.

For the cost of ten cents fair goers could enjoy farm machinery and product displays. There was also a variety of other things to see like produce, animals, and flowers among other competitions. The first was ploughing which took place east of the fairground; Each of the ten competitors had a quarter acre to work. The winner was J. Milton May, with a time of 26 minutes using his team of oxen, who later drew a lot of interest. The best job of ploughing was done by Alexander Ainslio of Rock.

Some of the other competitions and winners were:

Animals

Short Horn Bulls – E. Perkins of dodge Co.
S.A. Thurston of Racine

Oxen – H.H Simons of Janesville

Stallions – R. M. Wheeler of Janesville

Matched Horses – Addison Baker of Racine

Fruit 

Plums – Mr. J.C. Howard of Milwaukee

Apples – F.K. Paruix of Delavan who had a display of 35 variety’s
Harrison Ludington of Milwaukee

Flowers

Charles Gifford from Spring St. Nursery in Milwaukee
S. P. Beedier of Milwaukee

The winners of the competitions took home prizes ranging from $1.50 to $3.00 as well as bragging rights associated with being a part of our first state fair!

Before the fair found a permanent home in West Allis in 1892, it bounced around from city to city each year. Some of the host communities were Watertown, Fon du Lac, Madison, and Milwaukee.

In its 166-year history, the fair has only been canceled five times. The first three were during the Civil War of 1861, ’62 and ’63. The fourth cancellation was during the Columbian Expo held in Chicago in 1893. The most recent was in 1945, by request of the war department at the end of WWII.

As the fair grew each year new attractions were added. Drawing more interest to this state and people to the growing communities.

 

 

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Storrs Lake

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This Historical Marker, and the lake it talks about is one that I wrote about last year in a post about County Parks. The marker is mounted on the side of the barn at the Milton House. Storrs Lake is a mile east beyond the Milton House, and is a lovely natural space with nice hiking trails and fishing. This lake is a part of the Historical Marker system because General Atkinson spent the night by the lake while in pursuit of Blackhawk during the Blackhawk War/Massacre.

The post about Storrs Lake and Blackhawk can be read by following the links the links.

 

Burr Robbins Circus

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This historical marker tells the story of Burr Robbins, his circus and how it came to Rock County. You can find this marker alongside the parking lot at Dawson Field, 920 Beloit Ave, in Janesville.

Burr Robbins was born in the beautifully scenic town in upstate New York called Union in August of 1837. Robbins parents had hoped that he would be a minister when he grew up but he had a great head for business and a strong determination to make something of himself, and a desire for excitement. So, at the age of 18 he left home and found his way to Milwaukee in 1855. For the first couple of years he found work where he could then in 1858 the thrill of circus life found him. Burr Robbins became the property boy for bareback rider Charles Fish of the Spaulding & Rogers North American Circus out of St. Louis. For this he was paid $15.00 a month. The seed had been planted and the rest of his working life would be spent entertaining people.

His career spanned 29 years in the traveling show business and it all began in 1859 when he and a few other gentlemen formed a group called the Harmonium Bairds. This partnership only lasted a few months. After the separation of this group Robbins purchased McBullwell’s Panorama of the Revolutionary War.

The coming of the Civil War put the brakes on his plans for a while. General George B. McClellan saw what a good head for business he had and assigned him to be his wagon boss. He did well and at the end of his service he was the Superintendent of Transportation.

After the war he found work where he could until 1870. In that year the traveling show bug took hold again and he purchased the Magic Lantern show. In time he expanded by buying the Jim McIver side show and toured the Michigan fairs. The next couple of years were spent traveling and buying other shows.

1874 is the year Burr Robbins found Janesville Wisconsin. He liked it so well he decided to make it the winter quarters for the circus. Prior to this the winter quarters were in Paw Paw Michigan. He purchased the 100 acre farm from E. P. Doty, named it Spring Brook and set about building the winter quarters for his menagerie. Spring Brook was a self-contained circus village. In addition to living quarters there were buildings for repairing anything and everything.

Other buildings included a two story barn that housed 80 show horses and all their equipment. The second story was the canvas shop. Another barn held Cleopatra the elephant and the other animals. A third barn housed 50 horses. There was also a building called the Hippodrome that was used for training the acts.

As a young man Burr Robbins had been heard to say that he only wanted three things from life. He wanted a farm with a windmill, a steam boat and $50,000. When he retired from the circus in 1888 he had attained these things and more.

Burr Robbins had a reputation for being an honorable, civic minded man. His circus was one of the top three in the country.

After retirement Robbins moved to Chicago to find new opportunities and excitement. After a lifetime of hard work, travel and excitement he died at the age of 70 in 1908 with net worth of approximately 2 million dollars.

Burr Robbins was certainly a man with a vision and the dedication to make it happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tobacco Land

 

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This historical marker is a short distance south of Edgerton on highway 51 and tells the story of the rise of tobacco as a cash crop in Wisconsin. Growing tobacco is nothing new. People have been raising and using this plant for personal and spiritual purposes for thousands of years. The indigenous people of our state grew it for ceremonial use. For a time, remnants of their tobacco fields could be seen around Lake Koshkonong. Growing it as a cash crop rather than for personal use would be something entirely new to Wisconsin.

The first exchange of money for tobacco was in 1851. H. C. Russel attended the first meeting of the Agricultural Society & Mechanics Institute held in Janesville and brought with him a sample of his crop. For this he was awarded a prize of .50 cents. It wasn’t until a couple of years later and the arrival of the Pomeroy family that tobacco would be raised as a cash crop.

Ralph, Orrin and William Pomeroy were sons of Thaddeus and Margaret Pomeroy of Suffield Connecticut. The Pomeroy family came to the United States from England in 1630 where they made their living by blacksmithing and gun manufacturing. Thaddeus raised tobacco and passed the knowledge of raising this crop to his sons.

In 1838 at the age of 24 Ralph set out on his own and moved to Montgomery County Ohio where he introduced tobacco to the area. Orrin and WT followed and the three stayed in Ohio for 15 years. This is where the story gets a little smokey. Some of my research states that it was Ralph that first came to Wisconsin, other sources said that it was Orrin. Ultimately it boils down to a family issue because the fact remains that it was a Pomeroy, with decades of tobacco growing experience that moved to Dane County. While there he, with J.J. Heistad, rented a 10 acre plot of land south of Madison and planted a crop of Connecticut Seed tobacco. This produced an excellent crop with a yield of about 1 ton per acre.

Mr. Pomeroy built a two-tier barn and borrowed some fencing to hang the tobacco for drying. After curing and stripping he sold his crop to the Dewey and Chapin Company in Janesville for 3.5 cents per pound. Making this the first commercially grown tobacco in the state of Wisconsin.

After the sale of this crop Pomeroy contacted his brothers with the news of his success and bought a farm near Fulton. By 1860 they also moved to Fulton and tobacco became something of a family business.

The story of this family and their contribution to Rock County is quite interesting. I’ll share more of their story with you later.

 

The Decision

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Well the Surface Transportation Board has made its decision. It’s been a long road for hundreds of families along the proposed GLBT route. About 18 months ago Frank Patton decided he wanted to build a rail line to speed the processing of trains through Chicago’s busy rail yard. Some trains take several hours or days to get on their way, but this is an issue that the city has been working on for some time. The line would have begun in Indiana, bypassed Chicago then traveled up through Illinois into Wisconsin, coming to a stop east of Milton where it would branch out to existing lines.  

Patton’s bypass would have been built on land gained by claiming eminent domain. Putting farm land and wildlife habitats along the 261-mile route out of service and permanently unusable. Some farmers would have lost land that generations of their families before them worked. That in itself was a bad enough but this line running full speed could have had as many as 110 trains a day passing by their homes at high rates of speed.  

The announcement was made yesterday and happily Patton and the GLTB was denied permission to build! This decision was based on lack of financial information provided to the board, and it leaves me wondering if there is a possibility that all of this might begin again if Mr. Patton decided to be a little more forthcoming about the financial end of his plan.  Going forward, what can be done to protect farmers and their land? What can be done to protect wild life habitats?

This is an issue that can’t or couldn’t be dropped. The question, What Now, must be asked. The first thought that came to mind is that the eminent domain laws should be rewritten to protect natural habitats and the livelihoods of private citizens. There must be options out there. 

For more information or to read the document released by the STB you can check the Rock against the Rail Facebook page. 

 

 

 

 

Happy Hollow Park

 

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Our County Parks

I have to say that this park was a let down. The name, Happy Hollow, put the vision of someplace almost magickal in my mind. Unfortunately this was not the case. Getting to the park was complicated. There were turns I couldn’t find because they no longer exist. This park is located at 1731 Happy Hollow Rd., about half way between Janesville and Beloit. Once I knew I was on the right track I was expecting a large sign like the other parks have to welcome visitors but there wasn’t one.

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The road into the Happy Hollow was rather epic. It reminded of a drive up to a large Antebellum home. What I found was not at all epic.

When you reach the park, what you find is space for maybe two cars to park, two picnic tables and a pit toilet rest room. Near the table is a covered seating area that once had a water pump. I noticed a small sign that pointed the way to a bridal path but there was not place to park a horse trailer. The county parks I have previously visited had a station with park maps available to visitors which show hiking and horse back trail routes but there were none to be found.

There were no trash can in sight but I did see some damage to the lawn. My normal habit is to check out the cleanliness of the restroom but the torn up lawn and lack of parking left me so disenchanted I didn’t want to know. I noticed the drive went around a corner so I kept going to see that was next.

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After a couple of curves that took me a good quarter-mile further I wound up at a fairly large parking area with two overflowing trash bins at the far end and a small boat launch to the Rock River. This lot could accomodate horse and boat trailers. Fishing is allowed on the river and from shore. There is a board with catch limits and boat launch fees posted. Envelopes with a secure drop site is near the board. This end of the park had one picnic table but no rest room facilities.

I must admit that the scenery and the river was lovely. The area is peaceful and listening to the birds singing was nice, but that is about all that I can say about this park that is positive. I intended to take a hike up a path from the parking area until I found several alcohol bottles and evidence of drug activity. The remoteness of this park must make it quite the party spot. I would like to say that this is a park I would visit again but I simply can’t. This is a park I would never go to alone.

Like all the county parks this site is open from dawn to dusk.

 

 

Our Historical Markers

 

Rock County has many stories to tell. Some of these are points of interest marked by the state with Historical Markers. Like many people I’ve driven by more than one without taking notice. Then the history of our County took root in me, I began this blog, and decided to research the stories these markers have to tell. So, I begin this series of posts with the story of…  

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The Lincoln Visit

This roadside marker on Hwy 51 So. of Janesville discusses Abraham Lincoln’s two visits to Wisconsin. He traveled this same route both times but for vastly different reasons.

As a young man of 23 in 1832 Abraham Lincoln was working as a store clerk. He heard about a call from the Governor of Illinois for volunteers to join the militia in an effort to track down Blackhawk and a group of Sac Indians that were in violation of a treaty which called for them to stay west of the Mississippi. Lincoln joined the group of volunteers on April 21, 1832 and served three tours of duty before being released from his service in June of 1832.

His first enlistment found him voted Captain of a rifle company by his fellow volunteers. Although he had no previous military experience he was placed into the rifle company serving under Col. Samuel Thompson. Lincoln and his men tracked Blackhawk up the Rock River, through our county, spending a night near Storr’s Lake then moving north. He found himself in trouble a couple of times but after being mustered out it was said of him by his superiors that he was a very capable leader.

Lincoln’s second enlistment began in May of 1832 immediately after being released from his first. Replacement troops were not ready to serve and a call was put out to those leaving to re-enlist. He did and served under Captain Elijah Iles as a private this time.

The third enlistment was in June of 1832. Again as a private serving under Captain Jacob Early.

During these enlistments Lincoln did not take an active part in battle. His regiment was on site after the fact for the battles at Kellogg’s Grove and Stillman’s Run. To record and bury the dead.

The second time Abraham Lincoln came to Rock County was 27 years later in October of 1859. Lincoln was campaigning for his first term as president and had been invited to speak to the Agricultural Society at the Wisconsin State Fair. This was an invitation that he initially did not want to accept because of his busy September schedule. He did change is mind and on September 30 of 1859 he was in Milwaukee to deliver his speech.

An attorney named Matthew A. Northrup learned that Lincoln was going to be at the state fair and wrote to him requesting that he stop in Beloit and speak to the Republican Club. Mr. Lincoln accepted this invitation and on the morning of October 1, 1859 he boarded a train in Milwaukee and arrived in Beloit at noon.

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 He was met at the train a large group of cheering citizens and a band. It was a busy afternoon for Mr. Lincoln. He was taken by carriage from the station to Bushnell House to have dinner with the city leaders and attend an informal reception. At 2 o’clock they moved to the newly completed Hanchett hall to a packed crowd. The plan was to have his speech presented outdoors but it was quite windy that day so the event was moved to the third floor of the hall.

Hanchett Hall still stands today at the corner of State and Broad Street in Beloit.

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A.A. Jackson, secretary of the Janesville Republican Club saw a small announcement in the Janesville Daily Gazette on September 30th stating that Lincoln would be in Beloit the very next day to give a speech. He thought it would be wonderful if Lincoln could speak to the Janesville Republican club as well and took action.

On October 1, 1832 Mr. Jackson set out to Beloit with his companions William Tallman, Daniel Wilcox, publisher of the Janesville Daily Gazette, John B. Cassoday and J. H. Burgess. The group set out to hear Abraham Lincoln speak and to try to encourage him to return with them, that evening, to Janesville. At a gathering after the speech the gentleman approached Mr. Lincoln about their desire to have him speak in Janesville. Mr. Tallman offered a relaxing room in his home for the weekend and Mr. Lincoln agreed. On the trip back to Janesville Lincoln recognized the route and shared stories of his time in Wisconsin during the Blackhawk War.

Prior to the gentleman leaving for Beloit arrangements were tentatively made for his speech to be given in the Young American Hall of the Myers Hotel which was under construction on the corner of Milwaukee and Main St. The Myers Hotel is no longer standing, but a marker was erected at the edge of the parking lot of the Johnson Bank building to commemorate the event.

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 Word spread fast of the possible visit of Abraham Lincoln and when the group arrived that Saturday evening there was a fairly large crowd waiting considering the short notice. Dr. Treat, president of the Janesville Republican Club introduced Mr. Lincoln and he was greeted with cheers from the audience. Lincoln’s appearance, lack of formal education and political polish was apparent to the audience but once he began talking his knowledge and unexpected wit won the day.

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After the speech, hand shaking and political talk that takes place after this type of event, Lincoln joined Mr. Tallman at his home, where he spent two nights with the family. The following Monday he boarded a train and returned to Illinois. He was elected our 16th president just a few short weeks prior to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 and never again came to Wisconsin.

Thank you for stopping by
See you next time ~ Sharon