Tag Archives: Wisconsin

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.

 

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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 Against the Rail

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In May of last year I wrote a post about the Great Lakes Basin Transportation (GLBT) and their attempt to build a rail line from Indiana through Illinois to Rock County Wisconsin, just east of Milton. It’s been a busy year and currently the process is on hold waiting for Frank Patton to provide some information to the Surface Transportation Board (STB). He asked for, and was granted a suspension of the environmental review process last month in order to allow him more time to gather any information he needs to submit his application or give yet another update to the STB.

This isn’t the first extension he has asked for. It seems to me he is trying to back pedal a bit. I don’t think he anticipated the kind of opposition he would get. Apparently Mr. Patton underestimated the tenacity of us Midwesterners. We have a good life here and we are not willing to give it up without a fight so he can play trains!

The purpose of Patton’s rail line is to divert trains just passing through Chicago away from the congested rail yard. Chicago has the busiest rail hub in the country; 1300 trains a day work their way through the yard. It can take several hours to get through on a good day, so at first glance that sounds like a good idea, right? Simply provide a way for trains that have no need to pass through Chicago to go around and on their way. It’s not that simple though, on several levels.

GLB owner, Frank Patton, plans on using the eminent domain laws to acquire the land needed for the railroad across the three states and 11 counties. If you are unfamiliar with eminent domain, I discussed it in my original post. There are precious few people between LaPorte Indiana and Milton Wisconsin that are in favor of this project. It don’t think would be too big a stretch to say that there isn’t a single farmer on the path between Wisconsin and Indiana that is happy about losing their land. Farmers work hard. It’s not a 9 to 5 job, and they do it because they love it. To take their land and their livelihood to build an unnecessary rail line is ridiculous.

The issue is not just thousands of acres of lost farmland. Some of the trains on this toll line, yes it’s going to be a toll line, will be traveling at speeds up to 70 mph, so a derailment of a train carrying combustible or toxic material could be devastating to the surrounding land, the water table, animals and people living near the rail. Not to mention the noise levels. Patton anticipates multiple trains and hour, some miles long. Just imagine the sound of it, all day, every day, and the vibration that goes along with it.

The proposed rail line is for Class One railroads and there are six that currently pass through Chicago. They are the Norfolk Southern, CXS, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific, and the Canadian National. In my research I have not found any of these lines that have said they would love to spend money to get their trains around Chicago faster. What I have found is that two of the lines have stated they will not. One already has an existing way around, two are planning their own intermodal yards and one has not yet said yes or no. Mr. Patton wants to spend millions of dollars on a rail line that potentially will not be used.

The kicker to all of this is that in June of 2003 Mayor Daley of Chicago recognized that something must be done to make the rail traffic in and around Chicago more efficient not only for the railroads but for the people of the city that have to deal with the delays caused by the trains and the pollution they spit out every day. Mr. Daley called on the STB to help and they pulled a team together which included the city of Chicago, the State of Illinois, the U.S. DOT, and all six of the major freight carriers as well as Amtrak.

Together this team, called Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program (CREATE) worked out a plan to fix the congestion and have put millions of dollars to date into doing just that. Many of the projects are completed but there is still much to do. When all is said and done billions of dollars will have been spent but the congestion and time issues will have been taken care of. Isn’t that the point? It seems to me that if there is a plan under way to take care of the issues associated with trains getting through Chicago in a timely manner, there is no need at all for Mr. Patton’s rail line. Let Chicago finish their work. Yes it will take time, but let them!

One item remains to be discussed. What can we do to stop this project?

A lot actually. Spreading the word is the best thing we can do. Even after a year there are people who have no idea of the fight going on. So talk about it, share this post. Go to the Rock Against the Rail Facebook and Web Page 

Write letters and make phone calls to your elected officials. We can even write to the STB. The open access has stopped but they are still accepting letters and it can be done through email or regular snail mail. The address is:

To send an email go to: http://www.stb.gov

Go to the e-file tab, click it and then choose Environmental Tab, Docket # FP 35952
Choose Attention Kenneth Blodgett. Fill in the rest of the info and submit.

Snail Mail:

Ken Blodgett
Surface Transportation Board
Docket # FP 35952
395 E Street SW
Washington, DC 20423-0001

 

Get involved, the future generations of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana will thank you.