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March 2006 Odd Wisconsin

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...
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Posted in Madison on March 31, 2006

First House Never Occupied

Madison's first house is usually considered to be the Peck cabin, built near the intersection of Butler and Wilson (a little uphill from the modern Cleveland's Diner), pictured here. But in fact that was the second house constructed in the newborn town. The first one was never occupied. When he was stranded by a blizzard across Lake Mendota in February...
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Posted in Madison on March 30, 2006

Origins of Madison Street Names

In 1836, James Doty named his imaginary city after former president James Madison, principal author of the U.S. Constitution, who had recently died. Doty named its main streets after some of Madison's colleagues from the summer of 1787 who had worked with him to frame the world's first blueprint for democracy. We give below very brief notes on each of...
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Posted in Madison on March 29, 2006

Madison & Other Imaginary Cities

The land that would be Madison passed from the Ho-Chunk to the U.S. in 1832, and was surveyed and mapped into parcels that settlers could buy in 1834 by Orson Lyon. Like nearly all newly surveyed land, it was sold for $1.25 an acre, which put a 40-acre farm within reach of any settler who had $50.00. It also put...
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Posted in Madison on March 29, 2006

How Madison Became the Capital

On July 4, 1836, Wisconsin Territory was born. President Andrew Jackson appointed Henry Dodge as governor, with responsibility to conduct a census, hold elections, and convene a territorial legislature. Dodge acted quickly. The census was taken in August and found 11,683 non-Indian residents between Lake Michigan and the Dakotas. Elections were held October 10 to choose delegates for a territorial...
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Posted in Madison on March 28, 2006

Madison's Fur Traders

The first white residents of Madison were not the pioneers who came to build the capitol in 1837 but rather three fur traders who established posts about 1830. These were Wallace Rowan, who built a cabin where Gov. Nelson State Park is located on Lake Mendota; Olivier Ammel, who erected a temporary shanty, half brush and half canvas, on Johnson...
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Posted in Madison on March 28, 2006

Black Hawk Retreats through Madison

Madison enters the historical record during one of Wisconsin's great tragedies. In early April, 1832, the Sauk chief Black Hawk led roughly 1,200 people across the Mississippi River to re-occupy their homelands in northern Illinois. They were met by soldiers who forced them out of their former village and refused to honor their attempts to surrender. Black Hawk fled with...
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Posted in Madison on March 27, 2006

What 150th?: How Madison Became a City

Doesn't Madison date from 1836? Although it was chosen the capital in 1836 and founded in the spring of 1837, Madison remained a small village for its first twenty years. In the spring election of 1839, only 54 people voted. A year later, the village contained only two stores, three public houses, three groceries, one steam mill for cutting lumber,...
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Posted in Madison on March 26, 2006

Happy 150th, La Crosse!

This week La Crosse officially turned 150 years old, though like many Wisconsin communities its roots stretch back further than 1856. The first settler to take up residence there was 19-year-old Nathan Myrick (1822-1903), who arrived on Novermber 9, 1841, and built a log cabin from which he hoped to launch a fur-trading business. Myrick told his own story beginning...
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Posted in Curiosities on March 15, 2006

Sarah Hardwick, hermit

In 1906, middle-aged Sarah Hardwick inherited five acres of remote woods alongside the Mississippi. No road led to the top of the bluff where she set up housekeeping in a crude shanty. She came and went from the river along a footpath worn through the brush. She went into seclusion there, growing vegetables in clearings amidst the trees and getting...
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Posted in Odd Lives on March 11, 2006

Louise Williams, First Woman Notary Public

As a girl in the 1840s, Louise Westover joined her family in reforms centered around Milwaukee's First Congregationalist Church -- the so-called "Free Church." They welcomed into their congregation impoverished immigrants, sailors from the docks, and other social outcasts. "I can remember vividly at one service the portentious silence after the sermon," she later recalled, "when the Rev. Curtis stepped...
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Posted in on March 8, 2006

Lights, Camera, Action! Wisconsin Theaters 100 Years Ago

Yesterday's New York Times reports that phone companies and entertainment giants have begun talks about streaming MTV, Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," and other video content directly to consumers' cell phones. That's just the latest development in a process that began more than a century ago. In 1908, Milwaukee entrepreneur O.L. Meister decided to take a chance on a new-fangled...
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Posted in Curiosities on March 5, 2006

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