Tag Archives: History

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.

 

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.

Hanchett Hall

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

 

The Moundbuilders

When I began this blog my focus was on telling the stories of the communities and people that settled in this beautiful county, raised families and built communities. Milton was the first that I chose to write about, but some issues caused me to put this aspect of my overall vision for the blog on the back burner. I do intend to get back to telling the stores of who we were and how the communities began; some grew, some didn’t. But within each community there are amazing stories of men, women, bravery, hardship and joy to be told.

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It came to me that in order to tell our story in the most accurate way I must go back to the beginning. To a time before trappers began coming to the area and before the Native Americans that now live in what became Wisconsin, and tell the story of The Mound Builders. This group of Ancient Americans were here before the Native American cultures we know today. They lived in and around the southern part of the state, migrating with the seasons and the available food supplies. One of the most interesting things about this group of people is that they constructed earthen mounds that were a part of their spiritual and daily lives, perhaps they were even a form of communication between the various clans somehow.

There are several questions that come to mind about the mound builders. Who were they and how did they live? What about the mounds, what were they for? What happened to them?

So who were the Mound Builders

The Mound Builders lived in and around the midwest, including Wisconsin from about 7000B.C to 1700 A.D. This vast period of time breaks down into three groups defined by how they lived. These periods are:

  • The Archaic Period – 7000 to 1000 B.C. The people of this period were mostly nomadic hunter gatherers, living in semi permanent villages that followed seasonal food sources. The mounds constructed near the end of this period were dome shaped and used for burial purposes.
  • The Woodland Period – 500B.C. to 1300 A.D. This period saw a lot of change. Some of the clans settled into permanent villages and began farming. The bow/arrow and pottery had been introduced and the mounds began to take on animal shapes.
  • Mississippian Period – 1000 to 1700 A.D. The biggest change in this time period is the introduction of pyramid style mounds from a culture outside Wisconsin. The villages were more organized. They had a type of hierarchy within the community.

Artifacts like arrowheads and pottery have been found that place Mound Building cultures in South Central Wisconsin to the late Woodland and Mississippian periods. They were a people in transition.

The earliest settlers of this area appear to have been a melting pot of several races and cultures migrating to this area from different parts of the American Continent. These people are considered pre Columbian because they were here long before Columbus, the Spanish or any other people that found their way here. Some may have come up from South America through Mexico and South from what would be Canada.

Two different types of mound builders found their way to the Great Lakes area and South Central Wisconsin. The first group consisted of family clans that were mostly nomadic, hunter gatherers. They made their camps near a water source and followed the seasonal migration of animals and available food. These people are the main focus of this blog.

The second group was the pyramid mound builders of the Mississippian period. While this group is interesting their culture was more formal and advanced in that they built walled communities and had a governmental and spiritual leadership hierarchy. The Mississippians also did not construct dome or effigy mounds like the ancient people of this area.

In Wisconsin, the mound builders lived from about Green Bay across to the Mississippi and down. They lived near lakes and rivers in semi permanent camps that followed seasonal food sources. Several changes in the way the mound builder lived began at the end of the Archaic Period through the Woodland Period that altered their lives, and perhaps brought on their disappearance. During this time interactions between the mound builders and tribes moving west to get away from the white people coming from Europe encouraged trade. Two big things that were gained was the use of the bow & arrow and stronger pottery. Having these two tools made a big difference in the way they lived. With easier hunting and better food storage now possible less seasonal migration was necessary and some clans settled into more permanent villages and began farming vegetables such as squash, goosefoot (Lambs Quarters) and sunflowers. Lake Koshkonong had an abundance of wild rice which drew many birds and with deer and other small game this was a wonderful place to settle. The practice of mound building could very well have been something gained during trade between other native clans such as the Hopewell or other people from across North America.

Their homes were dome shaped, covered with bark and thatch. They had a small opening giving access into and out of the structure and also had openings at the top for ventilation that could be closed when not in use.

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This picture was taken at the Hoard Museum in Fort Atkinson

What about the mounds, what were they for

Near the end of the Archaic period something changed in the way the Ancient Americans lived. They began to construct and bury their dead in mounds that can be found across central and southern Wisconsin. The building of mounds was a very labor intensive task. All work was done manually one basket of dirt at a time. Conical mounds were the first type built. They varied in size from a relatively small, holding one or two deceased members of a clan to mounds that were in use over long periods of time and may have held generations of deceased clan members.

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At one point in time the area around Lake Koshkonong had about 13 groups with a total of about 500 mounds around it. Unfortunately with the coming of Europeans many went under the plow or were taken apart by weekend treasure hunters. Chances are that not much was found in the treasure hunts, as the mound builders did not often bury their clan members with personal items. The mounds that are left around the lake, if they still exist, are on private land and should not be approached without permission.

Near the end of the Woodland period that something changed again within the culture of the ancients and the mound builders began constructing effigy mounds. Several animal shapes have been found such as birds, turtles, bears, panthers and even human figures. These mounds were built in harmony with their surroundings. Some mounds seem to be placed where they conform to the land the best. They also appear to depict the spiritual beliefs system of the Ancient Americans. Near the higher elevations of an area bird mounds were constructed representing the upper world. The middle elevations are where bear, panther, deer and human shapes are found representing the middle world at the lower elevations, usually near water turtles and other types of water creatures can be found.

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Even though there is a great deal of time between the construction of conical and effigy mounds, they can usually be found near each other. Which makes one think that these locations had significant importance and were visited frequently for ceremonial purposes.

When the mounds began to be identified there were several ideas floating around about who might have constructed them. Stories of a lost race were spread. Some even speculated that it was the Ancient Romans, Greeks or even the Aztecs. Nobody wanted to believe that it was Native Americans. Their culture was so different from anything that the Europeans knew that they couldn’t believe any Native American was capable of constructing the mounds.

It was Increase Lapham that made the connection between the mounds and the Ancient Americans. Lapham was born in Palmyra N.Y. in 1811. He went to work at the age of 13 and worked his way from a laborer to become an engineer. At the age of 25 in 1836 Lapham moved to Wisconsin and in time became Wisconsin’s first scientist. He wrote about 80 books and pamphlets on subjects covering the flora and fauna of Wisconsin. His book “The Antiquities of Wisconsin” was a study of Wisconsin’s Indian Mounds.

Any idea of what the mounds purposes could have been beyond being a burial sight is  speculation. It is thought that because mounds were built in groups that seemed to have specific placements, it’s possible that they served as ceremonial places or seasonal meeting areas for clans to meet and practice their spiritual beliefs. Some evidence has been found to indicate this is the case.

In my research I found a terrific website by Andrew Khitsun which documents the mound sites here in Wisconsin. You can find that link here.

In the Rock County area there are a couple of different mounds sites. Between Milton and Fort Atkinson is the Jefferson County Indian Mounds and Train Park. Within the small park eleven mounds can be seen, both conical and effigy. There were originally as many as 72 in this group that was spread out over a mile. Whitewater has a site at 288 S. Indian Mound Parkway  that is a little unusual because there is no water source of water nearby. There may have been when this group was constructed and the lake or creek dried up.

Fort Atkinson has a very rare mound, as a matter of fact it is thought to be the only remaining one like in the country. It is a Panther Intaglio. A Intaglio is a reverse effigy. Instead of building a mound up, it is dug out, like a pit. It can be found along the Rock River.

What happened to the mound builders?

This is one of those nobody really knows for sure questions. The transition from the Late Woodland to the Mississippian period brought more trade and more change. The coming of Pyramid Mound builders up from the south introduced corn and beans to the local peoples as well as a way of life that was totally different from what they knew.

The pyramid mound builders are thought to be outposts of the Cahokia people from western Illinois near St. Louis. This culture, like the mound builders of this area, had no written language so it is not known what they called themselves. At it’s peak the community was as large as six square miles and was home to as many as 20,000 people with more living outside the city. They were a melting pot of races living peacefully from various areas of the south. The Cahokia people had a well established system of government and their community was enclosed as was the community that settled on Crawfish River at what is now Aztalan near Lake Mills.

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Aztalan was only inhabited for a period of about 300 years. The city was then abandoned for reasons unknown. It could be that they were driven off by mound builders native to the area, but the question remains. What happened to our mound builders? They also mysteriously disappeared.

There are a few different scenarios to consider. The first is that the two cultures merged over time and became one group. Around 1200 ad there was a cooling off period in the weather. This would have made it difficult to raise crops so perhaps they moved out of the area. A final possibility is that the mound builders were driven off by more aggressive native Americans moving west.

Perhaps the Ancient Americans were the ancestors of the Native peoples of Wisconsin, like the Chippewa, Winnebago and the Sauk. Whatever happened to them, the ancient Americans left us a legacy of their culture in the landscape we call Rock County.

 

Back to the Beginning

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I stopped by to tell you guys that I appreciate you all so much and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. As you know I haven’t posted in some time. I do intend to get back to something similar to a regular schedule soon, but it will most likely be a monthly post not a weekly one. My Rock County Park posts are on hold till Spring. I have another cool and interesting Rock County History thing lined up to begin in the spring as well and  there is a post in the works that I am hoping to have completed soon.

When I began this blog it was with the intent to speak to the history of the County and how it’s towns and villages began and grew from what some would consider a wilderness to what we are now. I hit a bit of a research snag and that portion of my project was put on the back burner for a bit. I do have every intent to get back to that aspect of my project, but the snag was actually a good thing.

What I first thought was a roadblock was actually a detour that led me back to the beginning. I recognized that although white people didn’t begin coming into this area until the late 1700’s, there were people already here before the trappers began to arrive! And, this is where Rock County’s story must begin.  I have been researching these Native Americans and they are an interesting group of people with a story that should be told and I hope to have this post ready for you soon.

Have a Wonderful Holiday ❤ Sharon