Odd Wisconsin Archive
The First Madison Lodgings
The spring after Madison was declared the capital, Roseline and Eben Peck headed for Madison from Blue Mounds, to establish an inn for the workers who would be coming to construct the capitol. "We were well aware what our business would be when settled," she recalled, and so "we provided ourselves accordingly and purchased at Mineral Point over one hundred dollars worth of groceries, as I have the bills now to show; among the items were: one barrel of pork, two of flour, one of crackers, one of sugar, half barrel dried fruit, one box of tea, and as good a sack of coffee as was ever brought into the state; besides a half barrel of pickles put up by myself, also a tub of butter, and jars of plums and cranberries collected from Blue Mounds thickets."
After being caught on the trail by a howling storm, they finally arrived in Madison, where the spring blizzard pursued them: "Well now, here we are at Madison on the 15th [of April, 1837], sitting in a wagon under a tree with a bed-quilt thrown over my own and little boy's heads in a tremendous storm of snow and sleet, twenty-five miles from any inhabitants on one side (Blue Mounds) and nearly one hundred on the other (Milwaukee). What is to be done? — just build me a pen under this tree and move in my stove and we will crawl in there. Sure enough, we soon had it completed and a fire built." Her first guests arrived two weeks later before her house was built, and though she had no beds for them, "Well, we had a spacious dining-room — under the broad canopy of heaven."
About a week later, James Doty himself appeared on the scene to observe how his theoretical capital city was progressing. Seeing that its only house was unfinished, the future governor of Wisconsin personally helped chink the logs with mud and clay in order to make the place habitable. By the end of the day, "we were all comfortably situated in the kitchen... the size of this room was twenty-four feet long and eighteen or twenty wide — the same length of the dining-room and situated immediately back of it — wherein they used to dance cotillions three sets at the same time. The other two buildings were joined on the northeast and southeast corners of the kitchen, leaving a passage where afterwards was erected a frame dining-room in which many a weary traveler and hungry wight was fed."
The Peck cabin became the first shelter that most of the city's first residents found when they came to Madison. It was located about where Butler St. meets E. Wilson, just behind the modern "G.E.F." state office buildings above the north shore of Lake Monona. The first lodger at the cabin was a visiting British geologist named George Featherstonehaugh, who left a very disparaging description of it and its landlady in a popular travel book that promtped Mrs. Peck to write down her own recollections.
You can see it here in a painting made long after it was gone, with the help of old settlers who had known it well.
You can also see some of Mrs. Peck's household objects and furnishings in our "Settler's Stories" online exhibit.
Mrs. Peck hosted every important social event of Madison's infancy, including dances, parties, holiday feasts, and boating parties. She only stayed in Madison until 1840, when the family moved to Baraboo. There, her husband having abandoned them all to seek his fortune further west, Mrs. Peck farmed and supported her family as a single mother for many years. She died in 1899, at age 91.
[Sources: The quotes from Mrs. Peck's memoirs are taken from Daniel Durrie's 1874 History of Madison. Her recollections begin at the foot of page 54.]
For the next few weeks we'll feature episodes from early Madison history, not all of them odd, to help celebrate our state capital's 150th anniversary.
:: Posted in Madison on March 31, 2006