Baraboo Before the Civil War

Written for the Sauk County Historical Society by Mrs. T.W. English

“Baraboo News”, Aug. 3, 1911.

“Our People of the Fifties: Picture of Baraboo as a Village in the Decade Before the Civil War”

“Our People of the Fifties: Picture of Baraboo as a Village in the Decade Before the Civil War”

 “Our People of the Fifties: Picture of Baraboo as a Village in the Decade before the Civil War”

Written for the Sauk County Historical Society by Mrs. T.W. English

One of our American humorists has said, “It is better not to know so much, than to know so many things that are not true.” No work of history ever yet escaped error, but I have at least tried to make this a true and interesting account of “Our People of the Fifties.”

 Previous to 1850 Prescott Brigham, a county commissioner purchased a quarter section of section 35 with his own money, there being no funds in the county treasury, and subsequently deeded it to the county.  The county commissioners platted it in a village and called it Adams, in consideration of Mr. Brigham’s high regard for the renowned Massachusetts family by that name.  The survey was made by Charles O. Baxter.  The village on the south side never had the name of Adams.

The name was changed to Baraboo in 1852.  Two men, Harvey Canfield and C.C. Remington, were appointed commissioner and clerk to conduct the sale of lots and soon about $4000 was realized.  With this money a wooden courthouse and jail were subsequently put up on the north side of Fourth Avenue facing what is now the park.   

The courthouse was two stories high and completed in 1848 by Col. Edward Sumner, the contractor.

Reedsburg Had Ambitions

But Baraboo did not long enjoy her county seat laurels in peace and quiet.  About 1850 Reedsburg became an aspirant for county honors.  The Reedsburg people claimed that their town was nearer the center of the county as it was then divided.  The contest waxed warm for some time and finally reached a climax in the spring of 1851 when the citizens of Reedsburg took the position that no rafts or logs should pass over their dam enroute for Baraboo.  The U.S. deputy marshal was called on to settle the quarrel and the dam at the “burg” as partially cut away and the logs went down the river to Baraboo.

The question again arose as to the county seat.  It was brought up at Legislature, and the Baraboo came off victorious.  Charles Armstrong of Baraboo was a member of the legislature at this time.  We lived where the Bender house now stands 135 Walnut Street.

It became necessary to have a new and better courthouse.  Sixty prominent citizens of Baraboo pledge themselves to raise $3,000 to defray a portion of the expenses.  In the fall of 1855 a contract was let to P.A. Bassett for the erection of a two story brick building 40x60 feet in the center of the public square.  The structure was completed and formally accepted by the board on the 1st of January 1857.  This was the pride of Baraboo. The second story was not only used as a court room but a school room, church and lecture room.

 On the night of July 4, 1859 the old courthouse (then the property of Peter Van Wendall) was destroyed by fire.

 At one time D.K. Noyes had a printing office in the upper story, later Mr. Van Wendall bought the old building, moved it a short distance to the east and built a new front to it which gave it a very different appearance.  It was then turned into a saloon.

 In 1857 a hexagonal stone jail was built near the corner of Second and Broadway overlooking the river and picturesque hills.

 J.E. Donovan was the first sheriff to occupy the new jail.  They lived in the D.K. Noyes house for a few months while the jail was being built.  Col. Sumner was the contractor. 

 About this time the citizens of Baraboo turned their attention toward the improvement of the public square.  A number of the native oaks were left and among them were planted other shade and ornamental trees, mostly the elm.

“The elm in all the landscape green

   Is fairest of God’s stately trees,

She is a gracious mannered queen

   Full of soft bends and courtesies.”



In 1850 Cyrus N. McLauglin, a practical printer, found his way to Baraboo with a few cases of type and an ancient hand press.  He was soon joined by H.A. McFadden.  The vacant loft of Morehead’s tin and hardware store was secured for an office and June 25, 1850, the first number of the Sauk County Standard was issued. In 1851 a change took place.  Mr. McFadden retired and Mr. McLaughlin purchased his interest, M.C. Wait acting as editor. About every year the paper changed proprietors, Col. Vittum being a partner with Mr. McLaughlin at one time.

 In 1854 again it changed.  Col. Vittum sold out to Victor Peck and James Dennis.  Then the name of the paper was changed to the Sauk County Democrat.  The office was closed and the paper discontinued in November, 1856.  The Baraboo Republic made its appearance in 1855.  Silas Noyes established a Whig paper in Portage, called the Northern Republic.  He was not successful there, so he came to Baraboo and took his brother, D.K. into partnership.  In the fall of ’55 Silas Noyes withdrew.  Soon the names of Henry Perkins and John Blake appeared as publishers, their office in the old courthouse.  In January, 1856, the editor, D.K. Noyes having been chosen to represent his district in the assembly, N.W. Wheeler acted as editor.  He was a well-known lawyer here.

The next year Ansel L. Kellogg became associated with Mr. Noyes as contributing editor; after two years Mr. Noyes bade adieu to his friends and supporters.  Mr. Kellogg was the originator of the auxiliary plan of printing and acquired a large fortune after leaving here and going to New York City.


Railroad Talk 

In 1852 the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad was much talked of as coming through Baraboo.  P.A. Bassett and James Maxwell were sent to Washington, D.C., as delegates but to no avail.  The road passed through Kilbourn, leaving Newport and Baraboo to one side.

Again in 1856-57 negotiations were opened with the C. & N. W. railroad company, of which William B. Ogden was president.  Mr. Bassett was again sent as a delegate.  Mr. Ogden promised the route should be surveyed the following spring and the work commenced as soon as possible.  But the crash of 1857 ruined the company’s calculations and our people were obliged to draw by teams all our supplies from Kilbourn, that being our nearest railroad station.

Baraboo Valley farmers drove all their hogs and cattle, either to Portage or Kilbourn for shipment. The Sauk County Agricultural society was organized in 1855.  The first meeting was held in Taylor’s hall, 147 Third Street, in the village of Baraboo.  A premium list was arranged and Oct. 16, 1855, set for the date of the first fair to be held in Baraboo, but there is not record of such a fair being held.  But the next year there seems to have been a reorganization of the society and fairs held at the appointed time.


Village Business Firms 

In 1857 Baraboo could boast of one bank called the Sauk County Bank; Simeon Mills, president; Terrill Thomas, cashier.This bank deserved a mention of weathering the storms of this so called panic year of ’57.  Several other banks of the state failed this year.

This same year we had 8 dry goods stores, 5 groceries, 3 hardware, 3 drug stores, 2 flouring mills, 1 tannery, 1 pottery, 1 jewelry store, C.E. Ryan’s (and he is still in the same business), 1 book store, 5 hotels, 1 livery, 2 meat markets, half a dozen physicians and as many lawyers.  About the same number of clergymen, 2 dentists, 2 daguerreotypers, 5 or 6 painters, as many shoemakers, and blacksmiths, 5 cabinet makers, 2 gunsmiths, 2 harness makers, 1 milliner store conducted by Miss Cytheria Jackson, afterward Mrs. Harrison.  Col. Maxwell’s store was where the First National Bank is now, 500 Oak Street.  C.E. Ryan’s jewelry store was in about the same place as now.  At one time his store was nearer the corner but as the Burington Bros. wanted more store room, Mr. Ryan moved a little farther north to accommodate them.  They then owned the corner.  These men are both dead but their heirs own this property.

The J.R. Davis store was where the Goldbarb fruit store now stands, 416 Oak Street.  Where the Fisher drug store stands, 516 Oak Street, was the Grota building, a clothing store.  Ransom Jones had a tin shop where W. Nehs & Son are located, 510 Oak Street, near here Peck & Orvis kept a drug store.  The stores were small frame buildings and scattered so it is difficult to tell just where to locate them.  West of where Donovan’s drug store now is a man by the name of Jim Brown, kept a grocery store, also pipes and tobacco, a place for some to loaf and tell yarns.  In 1850 John Taylor came, built several buildings, among them two stores that are in fairly good condition now.  “Headquarters” was one place and once occupied by P.A. Bassett as a dry goods and grocery store.  This was the largest and best store on the hill.  It was later owned by M.J. Drown now occupied by J. Briggs & Co. as a seed and grocery store, 138 Third Avenue.  The other building was a little to the west of “Headquarters” on the corner of Broadway and Third street.  On the first floor T.T. English carried on a hardware store, upstairs was a large hall used for dancing, lectures etc.  In fact this was our first opera house.  The whole building was called Taylor’s hall.


A.A. Noyes conducted a private school in Baraboo in an early day.  Later he studied medicine and entered the Iowa State college, graduated about 1850 and returned to Baraboo and practiced thirteen years.  He is now a resident of Mason City, Iowa, and is the oldest practicing physician in the United States, being 90 years old.

Miss Phebe C. Clark came to Baraboo with her parents and at the age of 17 in the year 1850, opened a select school, which she taught about three years.  Later she married Rev. E.C. Miner of Boston, Mass.  She was a sister of Mrs. C.B. Alexander and mother of Mrs. Elizabeth Gillet.

Miss Eliza Chapman taught school in 1855; also her sister, Harriet, was a teacher. In 1850 a large school house was built which served for union purposes until 1865.  This was called the “Old district schoolhouse” and stood near the present high school, about south of the annex, facing south on Flint street.

Rev. Cochran opened a select school with the view of founding a college in Baraboo.  Money was raised and a building erected for this purpose.  The school was known as the Collegiate Institute and it flourished until the graded or high school was built in 1870.  The building has been converted into a dwelling house and the old bell is now the property of H.H. Halsted and is at his cottage at Devils lake.  The school was first in charge of Rev. Cochran and later conducted by Profs. Pillsbury, Hobart, Kimball and Miss Almira Savage.  A.L. Burnham, at different times was the teacher in mathematics.  In 1856 the Baraboo Female Seminary, a school of high order for the education of girls, was organized by a Miss Mary A. Potter as principal.  She taught one year.  Miss Mary Mortimer was then placed in charge by the trustees, this school being supported by the Presbyterian church in accordance with a resolution passed by the Presbytery.  Miss Mortimer taught here five years and was succeeded by Rev. H.H. Kellogg and daughter, Miss Julia. 

Religious Organization

The Methodist church was built in 1854.  Previous to this time services were held in the old slab church which was built on the same lot.  It consisted of rough boards for the frame, the earth for floor with sawdust for a carpet.  This was the first church in Baraboo and stood at the southeast corner of Broadway and Fifth avenue.  A few years later a frame building was built on this site.  It burned January 24, 1899. 

The Baptist church was organized by Rev. Conrad in 1847, consisting of five members, and through his efforts in 1851 there were forty members.

In the early days of the church a burial place was purchased.  It formally belonged to Ira S. Angell whose mother, a member of the church, was the first to be buried here.  Her name was Mercy, so the cemetery was called Mount Mercy and was on Cheek’s Hill.  In 1855 the cemetery was moved to where it is now and called the Baraboo cemetery.

Land was bought of John Crawford and the first trustees were R. G. Camp, Ransom Jones, Irwin Crain, Thos. T. English, Edward Summer, J.B. Crawford and Benjamin L. Purdy.  Mr. Purdy at that time was undertaker. Rev. Father Gaertner was the first priest to officiate in Baraboo.

 He came from Sauk in 1850 and said mass in the Wisconsin house for a time, but the accommodations here proved too limited so the place of meeting was transferred to Mrs. Gray’s house on the South Side, later called the Lavoo house, north of the Johnston warehouse.  He came over from Sauk City on foot, traveling through snow and mud, and put in an appearance with remarkable regularity for one of his age.  In 1858 59 the Catholics purchased the little red brick church for $500.

When the first courthouse was completed the Congregationalists, in common with the Methodist and Baptist, held services there.

 But, Mr. Cochran was anxious for progression, and said to his parishioners, “We can build a church of our own.”  He set about it, helping the teamsters to scrape the clay from the hillside and mold it in to brick.  The church was finished and served the members for a number of years.  This was the little red brick church that stood on the corner of Second and Oak streets, where the postoffice is.

The Catholics bought the building and held mass there until 1874 when they built a new church now called the old church, a Catholic school building at present.

Rev. Cochran was a good man and did a great deal for Baraboo.  He had his idea of duty, and thought everybody should follow him.  He was a man of very decided and positive character and was very much opposed to amusements, especially dancing.  He sought to make Baraboo just what New England village was, not considering that our population was cosmopolitan, and could not all think alike.  He, being a Congregationalist, sought to unite the Presbyterian with the Congregational churches.  It seemed to progress favorably for a time, but there was Deacon Brier possessed of all the rigid prejudices of the old Scotch-Irish character also Judge Camp and Deacon Clark who had something to say.  Deacon Marvin Blake, a very quiet man, tried to make peace.

Dr. Cowles sided with Rev. Cochran.  One Sunday Rev. Cochran took for his sermon “Prejudice”.  He said: “There are those in this congregation, who, if they were transferred to Heaven, would walk the Golden streets of Jerusalem, and gaze on its pearly walls; they would pick the pearls and deliberately turn around and say: “We have as good an article as these in Litchfield.”  This was a hit on Judge Camp and Deacon Clark who came from Litchfield, Conn.

The Presbyterian denomination date the organization of their church from the early part of 1851.  Rev. James Kasson was their first minister, and like the other churches, held services in the school house.  During the fall and winter a frame church edifice as erected and occupied Feb. 22, 1852.  It stood on a knoll north and a little west of the Y.M.C.A. building.  Quite a grove of oaks grew north of the church where the people tied their horses during the services.

“The Old Hesperian club” was the first literary and debating society organized in Baraboo, some time in latter part of the 50’s.  The members took an active part, collected books and established a library.  Some of the books were in possession of the Public School.


Col. Edward Sumner built a small one story frame house, and called it “Adams House”.  He rented it to a man by the name or Watson and went to California, returning in 1852.  Twice he enlarged the hotel and finally called it the “Western”. This was now the finest and most modern hotel in Baraboo.

In 1855 Col. Sumner sold the “Western to Dunn & Davis. Dunn soon sold his interest.  (being subsequently mortgaged to J.E. Wright of Prairie du Sac) to William Wallace, who was proprietor for many years. 

The “Baraboo house” was built by Lyman Clark and stood where the brewery now stands at the northwest corner of Lynn and Water Sts.  This was considered the best hotel on the South Side.  The Clarks were good citizens and made many friends among the early settlers.  Their daughter and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. George Van Orman, visited Mrs. Katie Train last summer.

 The American house stood where the Urban does now.  One of the first proprietors was J.W. Jackson.  He built this building in 1850.  At one time Mr. Sharp was proprietor.  His daughter, Isa, married Ira Scott; his father, mother, brother Tom, and a sister came here in the early 50’s.

 The “Exchange” was built in 1856 by Mr. Moore, father of Volney Moore.  This building is now owned by the Ringling Bros. and used as a boarding house for their men during winters.  It stands on Water St.