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
July 27, 1911    

Courthouse 1.jpg

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 marshall was called on to settle the quarrel and the dam at the “burg” was 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 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 pledged 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 over looking 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 no 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, 139 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.