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Territorial and State Roads

Between 1836 and 1848, over 240 territorial roads were created under the authority of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature. Earlier roads may have been constructed under the authority of the Michigan Legislature. The 1836 Legislature specifically directed that no territorial funds should be paid for laying out, surveying, opening, or constructing the territorial roads. Instead the expense had to be assumed by individual towns or local and private support.  Many of the roads constructed during this period branched off the already-constructed military roads and ran from various settlements along Lake Michigan to the Wisconsin River, as well as to Mineral Point and the lead region in southwestern Wisconsin.

Three territorial roads were constructed in 1836. One linked Jane's Ferry (Janesville), Rockport, Centerville, New Mexico (Monroe), and White Oak Springs with the Illinois state line. A second connected Southport (Kenosha) to Jane's Ferry. A heavily traveled third route connected Milwaukee, Madison, and Blue Mounds. More than 200 additional roads were constructed during the next 12 years.

The territorial roads, along with the county roads opened by local government units and communities, created a road network clustered in the southeastern portion of the state.  Farmers relied on these roads to travel into town.  Those living and working in the lead region relied on them to transport minerals to Lake Michigan shipping centers. Occupants of the less-settled areas of the state had to rely on crude trails. During this period, only one road traveled as far north as Oshkosh, and one road traveled as far west as Muscoda.

Following statehood in 1848, roads authorized by the Legislature were designated "State Roads."  Commissioners appointed by the Legislature were authorized to adopt any part of previously established town, county, or territorial roads as part of the newly designated state road system. State roads were established in the less-populated southwest and western portions of the state, but only reached as far north as Danbury in the west and Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the east. Together with the previously constructed territorial roads, state roads formed a comprehensive road network across the southern half of the state. Between 1848 and 1891, the Legislature enacted 560 separate laws pertaining to the chartering and opening of "State Roads." Responsibility and costs for road care, however, were still delegated to local units of government — a condition that was to last until the early 20th century.

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