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.