Tag Archives: Blog

A Little Bit of Background

 

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Many thanks to the RCHS

The story of Ole and Ansten Nattestad (Natesta is the Americanized version of their name) is not unlike many other coming to America stories. We are all descendants of people who made the journey because they wanted a better life than the one they left behind. But this is their story and one that must be told. Through these brave men many other Norwegian families found their way to America and a better life than the one they would have had in Norway at that period in its history.

Life was not at all easy in Norway during the pre-industrial era. The state of Norway itself was in its infancy. The financial system was not stable, bureaucracy was out of control and led by a very distinct class system of privileged aristocracy. If you were not a part of this “Upper Class” you existed in one of three groups:

  1. The land holding farmers
  2. Tennent farmers
  3. Servants

There was such a tight grip on the lives of these three groups that very little hope existed to move up in life. Ole and Ansten were born to a land holding farmer. On the surface this may seem like a good thing to us, but at that time in Norway’s history the only person to inherit was the first-born son. This left both Ole and Ansten out in the cold. The only hope they had was being a tenant farmer or eking out a living any other way they could. Ole attempted to save and buy land of his own but the very tight bureaucratic system did not allow it.

This left Ole and Ansten to find their own way in life. With very little options in front of them, America sounded like the best bet. So, they saved enough for their passage and in April of 1837 set out for Stavanger to join a group that was setting sail for America. Things didn’t go as planned. One evening on their journey a man came to them and said they had been given the wrong travel papers and if they continued and tried to join the group, the only future in store was prison.

With this knowledge the pair avoided Stavanger and went to Sweden. Once there, they found passage on a cargo ship headed to America where they would begin to build a life.

That story is for another day!

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The Jefferson Prairie Settlement

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Life sometimes gets in the way of things we enjoy doing. This blog is one of those things for me. I have rethought the process of sharing our lovely counties story and have decided to tell our stories one township at a time. I am beginning with Clinton Township in the south-eastern corner of the county with the story of:

The Jefferson Prairie Settlement

This story of this historical marker begins with a man named Ole K. Natesta (alternate spelling Nattestad). He was born in or near the Numedal Valley, in December of 1807. In 1836 Ole and his brother Ansten were visiting a neighboring city and learned of the opportunities in America. They liked what they heard so in 1837 the pair boarded a ship and came to check it out. I have conflicting information as to where they landed. One source said that they landed in Massachusetts and another said Rhode Island. In either case the two eventually found their way to Illinois later that year where they joined an existing Norwegian community.

In 1838 Anesten returned to Norway to let people know that they had found America a wonderful place to be. During this time the community in Illinois broke up due to illness and Ole moved North into what would be Clinton Township. He put in a claim for 80 acres of land five miles south of Clinton, and built himself what was described as a log hut. He then and went to work for a farmer named Stephan Dowers for his meals.

Ansten returned the following year with 100 emigrants. Some of stayed in Jefferson Prairie and others moved west to Rock Prairie.

There is more to tell, but that is for another day!

Sharon

 

 

Time for a Comeback

It’s been a very long time since my last post. I believe it is high time I get back to them. I could list all kinds of valid excuses like I have two blogs, five facebook pages to manage, a business I am trying to build and my Mother’s transition. All are valid but the main thing is doing good research is very important to me and this takes time. So, I will begin posting again on August 11th and will post the first and third Wednesday of each month going forward. I will eventually figure out the too many irons in the fire thing!! See you August 1st!!

Black Hawk Grove

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This historical marker highlights the second stop on Black Hawks journey through Wisconsin during the event that has come to be known as the Black Hawk War. 

In April of 1832 Black Hawk, angry about having his tribes home stolen from them, moved up the Rock River into Wisconsin with a small group of warriors, women, children and elders. They entered our state through Rock County. Their first stop was near Beloit at Turtle Village, an established Ho – Chunk community where the Turtle Creek meets the Rock River. Black Hawk and his people were offered some amount of help but the Ho-Chunk were not in any hurry to have the Government come down on them. They had enough problems of their own and didn’t need this on top of it. Accepting whatever supplies may have been offered, Black Hawk and his people spent the night then continued north and made camp along the bank of Spring Brook Creek in what is now Black Hawk Golf Course.  

With a water source right there and the bluff for protection from behind, this must have made a nice spot to stay and rest. It is thought that the band stayed for a couple of weeks, resting and hunting for food and needed supplies but these were in short supply. With Atkinson on their trail they moved north to Lake Koshkonong where they spent a good amount of time. As the white population grew in this area after the war there were stories that Tipi poles and camp fire pits could still be seen in the grove. 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.