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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Delavan's Circus Colony (Historic Marker Erected 1963)


Horton Park, Hwy. 11, Delavan, Walworth County

In 1847 two New York brothers, Edmund and Jeremiah Mabie, toured Wisconsin with their United States Olympic Circus. The circus stopped over in Delavan and the brothers took time off to hunt prairie chicken near Delavan Lake. They liked the area so well that they purchased 400 acres of land and established winter quarters for the circus here. Because this circus was the largest and most profitable in existence, circus performers and other show personnel flocked to Delavan. Twenty-six circuses winter-quartered here between 1847 and 1894, including Harry Buckley's National Circus and Roman Hippodrome, W. C. Cour-Dan Castello's Egyptian Caravan, Holland and McMahon World's Circus. The colorful days of the circus era in Delavan ended with the E. G. Holland and Co. Railroad shows. In 1871 the idea for forming the P.T. Barnum Circus was developed in Delavan by W. S. Coup, who also was first to put a large circus on rails and introduced the second and third ring to the performance. Delavan reached its peak as a "circus town" during the 1870's. About seventy members of the "circus colony" are buried in Spring Grove and St. Andrew's cemeteries.

[Source: Source: McBride, Sarah Davis. History Just Ahead (Madison:WHS, 1999).]

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