Tag Archives: Rock county Our Story

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Airport Park

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The first of Rock Countys Parks I visited this year is Airport Park on the corner of Knilans Rd. and Hwy. 51 south of Janesville. The park is not very big; it’s just about two acres in size. I must say there really isn’t much going on at this park. Dogs are allowed in posted areas but I didn’t see where that was. There are a few picnic tables provided and that is about it as far as amenities go.

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There is evidence that at one time there was a pump for water but that is gone. There are no grills, wash rooms, trash cans or playground equipment for children to enjoy. Being two acres though, there is plenty of room to organize games.

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Parking might be an issue if there were several people attending a family event. There isn’t a paved lot, just a circular drive. I suppose if necessary people could park in the grass at the back of the drive.

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The one fun feature of this park, for those that like airplanes, is its proximity to the Rock County Airport. If you know the schedule of planes taking off and landing you can have a wonderful view of that happening from just across the road.

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This park is open for use from 5am to 10pm. As there are no trash containers please take with you all that you brought to the park so that it stays clean for everyone to enjoy.  See you next time for our next Rock County Park!

 

 

Rock County’s Tar Problem

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Rock County’s Tar Spot Problem

While traveling our beautiful county over the last year, doing research for my blog, Rock County Our Story, I’ve noticed that many of our Maple trees have a fungus on them. I did some research on the issue and wrote an article that was later published in the Courier. I thought that as I have two trees on my property with this issue and it’s the perfect time of year to take some action toward clearing the fungus from our trees, I would write another post.

There are several types of this fungus that fall into the group known as Rhytisma. While this is a cosmetic issue and not a condition that is fatal to trees, it is something I have been trying to clear from my trees. This fungus generally affects Maple trees like the Norway Maple, Sugar, and Ash Leaf Maples, but has also been known to infect Willow and Tulip Trees.

The fungus, commonly known as Tar Spot begins in the spring. As the days warm and new leaves open, small needle-shaped fungus spores also begin to emerge from the previous seasons leaves that have overwintered on the ground. The spores are sticky and when they take flight, they attach to and infect budding leaves in the path of the windblown spores. Creating pockets of infected trees across our communities.

If your tree has been infected, you will see it manifest first as small light green or yellow spots on leaves in late spring. As the season warms into summer and fall, the spots become larger and darker with a yellow ring around them. These lesions can reach a diameter of up to 1.5 inches and when looking closely at them, small fingerprint type lines can be seen. By the end of the season trees can look like someone dripped tar all over them. In some cases the leaves will brown up and prematurely fall of the tree.

The Tar Spot fungus was first discovered and studied in Europe in the late 1800’s. Eventually it was introduced to America. It has since spread through the Northeastern US and the Great Lakes region, where Maple trees are quite common.

Clearing the fungus from trees and returning them to their beautiful healthy condition can be done in one of two ways. Fungicides can be used by spraying the infected tree. This can be a difficult process if the tree is mature as its size may prevent one from covering the whole tree, so consulting a professional for what type of fungicide is best and how to safely apply it is recommended.

I contacted Todd Lanigan of the Wisconsin DNR and asked about ways to clear the issue.  In his response to my query Mr. Lanigan said “Tar spot is a cosmetic issue that really does no harm to the maple. The best control in a yard situation is to rake up and destroy the infected leaves that fall on the ground.”

The infected leaves can be disposed of by burning, burying, or they can even be placed in a mulch pile. If mulching is the disposal method of choice, the pile should be turned in the spring before any spores can be released. If the homeowner is diligent about keeping leaves off the ground the tar spot problem can be cleared from the tree in just a couple of seasons.

The main difficulty is that when a homeowner works to clear their trees and the neighbors aren’t doing the same we fall into a cycle of reinfection. It really needs to be a neighborhood effort. I spoke to City Hall about sending a flyer with the water bill explaining the Tar Spot issue and how to clear it but there didn’t seem to be any interest as I never saw a flyer.

If you think that you might have a tree with Tar Spot a University Extension article can be found at hort.uwex.edu/articles/tar-spot. I found this to be a helpful resource.

Good luck. If we all work together we can clear our trees.