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Madison — Celebrating 150 Years

Exhibits and Public Programs

Stories from the Start: Early Life in Madison
Exhibitions by the Wisconsin Historical Society
April 4–June 17, 2006

Madison officially became a city in 1856. In honor of the city's 150th birthday, the Wisconsin Historical Society is sharing stories that connect us with the Madison of the 1850s. Explore maps, drawings, and photographs of the fledgling city. Visit the Peck family who ran Madison's first hotel. View a map showing the location of effigy mounds built by the region's first residents. See the buildings designed by August Kutzbock and photographs by John Fuller, Madison's premier landscape photographer. Learn how Madison became a city and how its citizens lived. Meet Leonard Farwell, an entrepreneur responsible for much of the city's early development. All of these stories and more are represented in temporary exhibits at the Wisconsin Historical Museum and the Historical Society headquarters building.

The third Wisconsin Capitol (the second in Madison) as it appeared shortly after the construction was completed.
WHI 23403

Exhibits at the Wisconsin Historical Museum

Views of Madison: Before the Camera
Investigate a rich selection of Madison maps, sketches, and drawings, all from before the Civil War.

A Slice of Life
A ceremonial fire trumpet, a young boy's dress, a local militia uniform, a well-used boot scraper — each item has a a story, and together they tell us a little about Madison 150 years ago. Preview the exhibit online.

Settlers' Stories
Rosaline Peck was the first white woman in Madison. Alice Hough moved with her family to Madison in 1853 and became a teacher. German immigrant Levi Havemann worked on the new state Capitol. See their possessions and learn their stories. Preview the exhibit online.

Coming in August . . .
We Hurry to the Rescue: The Early Years of Madison Firefighting
August 1–September 16, 2006, at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. This exhibit features objects and images from Madison's early fire companies. The highlight is a newly conserved silk flag commissioned in 1857 by Engine Company No. 2, a predominantly German-American company. Funding for conservation was provided by Firefighters' Local 311.

The Wisconsin Historical Society Headquarters in Madison.

Exhibits at the Wisconsin Historical Society Headquarters Building

First People 
Native Americans have lived along the shores of Madison's lakes for 12,000 years. Learn about their communities and see centuries-old artifacts from the area's first people.

Architect August Kutzbock
German-born architect August Kutzbock settled in Madison in 1855. He designed at least 19 of the finest buildings in the city, including the third Capitol building and Governor Farwell's famous octagon house. The exhibit highlights remaining Kutzbock buildings and several buildings no longer in existence.

Leonard Farwell
More than any other single individual Leonard Farwell made Madison a city. Learn how he did it.

From Village to City
It took an act of the Legislature for Madison to become a city. See the original bill and other documents.

The Wisconsin Historical Society: In the Beginning
Founded in 1846, the Wisconsin Historical Society was housed in the Baptist Church. Its first director, Lyman Draper, was actively documenting the city in 1856. See the walnut bookcase that housed the Historical Society's first collections.

Who Lived in Madison?
Yankees, Irish, Norwegians, Germans — they all had a hand in founding Madison.

Life and Death in Madison
Life was fragile, education was important, and city services were meager. Get a taste of life in Madison at its founding.

Politics was a Spectator Sport  
The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided who would be governor after a disputed election in 1855. Slavery was an important issue. For Madisonians the world of politics was at their doorstep.

Early Madison Photography by John S. Fuller
A new gallery of Madison photographs by John S. Fuller allows us literally to see the past.

For More Information
Contact the Wisconsin Historical Museum at: 608-264-6555. You can also view the brochure (PDF, 510KB).

The Wisconsin Historical Society and the city of Madison are presenting special programs throughout 2006 to honor the city's sesquicentennial. For further information, visit
The Wisconsin Historical Society Headquarters in Madison.

Other Public Programs


  • WHS display table at the Sunday, April 9, birthday party at Monona Terrace in the Hall of Ideas, 1-6 p.m.
  • Stories from the Start: Early Life in Madison, at WHS Headquarters and at the WHS Museum on the Square,
    April 4–June 17, 2006
  • We Hurry to the Rescue: Early Firefighting in Madison, at the WHS Museum on the Square, August 1-September 16, 2006


  • Celebrate Madison History: Our State Capital
    An outreach kit for Dane County 4th- through-8th-grade classrooms contains maps, photographs and other materials illustrating the history of the capital city's early years. The focus is on the people and events that led Madison to be named the state capital. After 2006, the three kits will be retooled to travel statewide. For rental information, call
  • Then and Now Photography
    This program for youth ages 10-15 focuses on the history of photography. Participants compare and contrast downtown Madison's past and present appearance. The tour includes a walk around the Capitol Square and in the Capitol building, weather permitting. The program will run every Friday morning in July and lasts approximately two hours. Cost is $4 per person. For more information and to register for youth workshops please call 608-264-6557.

Public Programming

History Sandwiched In series
Tuesdays, 12:15 p.m. — Suggested donation $2

  • Tuesday, May 2: The Murphy Site: Life in Four Lakes Region Around A.D. 1000.
    Hear archaeologist Marlin Hawley talk about the Native American peoples who were living in Dane County more than 1,000 years ago.
  • Tuesday, May 16: Madison in the 1930s & '40s.
    A slide-illustrated lecture about postcards from the 1910s and 1950s by Ann Waidelich, past president of Historic Madison, Inc. and current volunteer with the Wisconsin Historical Society photo archives. She is also a curator and board member for the Historic Blooming Grove Historical Society.

Madison In Focus

  • Free screenings of Madison-focused films presented by WHS, the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, and Wisconsin Public Television. Offered during the fourth week of the month at noon and 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturdays, June through December 2006.
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