"It Wouldn't Feed Snipe": Irish Immigrants in Janesville

If you had to guess where Irish ancestry ranked among Wisconsin citizens, what would you say?

Perhaps fourth--after Germans, Norwegians, and Swedes or Finns? No! In the 2000 census, 11% of Wisconsin citiziens identified themselves as Irish, making Irish ancestry second only to German in the state.

A Canadian man has written a new history of an Irish immigrant family that once lived in Janesville. Intrigued by several mysteries about his maternal grandparents' Irish roots, Thomas Baxter researched and wrote about John Regan and Mary Sheehan Regan in his 2009 book, It Wouldn’t Feed Snipe. Some of the author’s questions were:

--What made his grandfather decide to leave Ireland in 1907, long after the Potato Famine?

--What brought him (and his future wife, also an Irish immigrant) to Janesville in particular?

--Why did his maternal grandmother leave Ireland without saying goodbye to her family and fail to resume contact with them once she returned?

--Why did the family return permanently to Ireland in 1924?

--What kind of people were the grandparents he had never known?

The author has done considerable research. He discovered the Janesville places where his grandparents lived (406 and 496 W. Holmes; 218 S. Park St.) and where his grandfather worked (the Janesville Fire Department, the railroad, and as a stockman at the School for the Blind, among others), and provides a useful map of where his grandparents and their fellow Irish immigrants lived in Janesville’s Fourth Ward. He found out a lot about his grandmother’s difficult personality and ambitions, and shows the stark contrast between life in the U.S. and life in Ireland in the 1920s. Ultimately, however, he is unable to answer all the questions that prompted him to write the book, and what he does uncover about his grandmother’s personality is not very flattering. But his firmest conclusion—why the family returned to Ireland—appears to be related to the significance of owning land in Ireland. When the author’s grandfather was finally able to own the family farm in Ireland—even though its quality was so poor “it wouldn’t feed snipe”—the lure to return and to try to operate it proved irresistible.

One of the most interesting aspects of this family's story is how the Regans embodied many of the characteristics of other Irish immigrants described in The Irish in Wisconsin, by David G. Holmes (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2004). Like other people from Ireland, the Regan family passed on their Irish land only to one son, the eldest. Consequently, if one were a younger son--as John Regan was--one's career choices in Ireland were limited. There were few thriving businesses in the rural areas and virtually no free land to buy or rent. Such people believed that their only opportunity for a better life lay overseas.

Another characteristic of Irish immigrants is that, unlike other ethnic groups, women emigrated in roughly the same numbers that men did, and--another uniquely Irish characteristic--many of these women were single. The author's grandmother--Mary Sheehan--actually left Ireland on her own, without telling her family that she was leaving. And, like her future husband and most other Irish immigrants, she settled on Janesville as her ultimate destination when she met other Irish people who had already immigrated to the town or who were actually heading to that town and who encouraged her to join her there.

Author Tomas Baxter makes the point that Irish women in Wisconsin had a degree of independence unthinkable in Ireland, a situation that made life particularly difficult for Mary Sheehan Regan when she returned to her native country and her relatives, married and with three children, 17 years after leaving it.

The major difference between the author's grandparents and other Irish immigrants is
that, drawn back by the fact that his family's Irish farm had finally become available to him, John Regan and his wife returned to Ireland permanently, putting them among the fewer than 10% of Irish immigrants who went home for good.

A short book printed on glossy paper richly illustrated with family photos, maps, official documents, and family letters, It Wouldn’t Feed Snipe is a memoir about Irish immigrants who came to the United States but chose not to stay. You can read it at Hedberg Public Library.


Janesville High School Construction Photos 1922-23

In September 2009 the Janesville Performing Arts Center celebrated its 5th anniversary. JPAC is located on Main Street next to our library, in what was the original 'new' Janesville High School, which opened in 1923. J.P. Cullen of Janesville did the original construction. Here's how it appeared then. The auditorium is known for its superior acoustics. Singer Tony Bennett graced the stage for JPAC's grand opening, and marveled at the sound - as did the audience!

The label in the lower right includes "Vanryn & DeGelleke, Architects"

This next photograph is dated April 7, 1922 with
'J.P. Cullen & Son Contr's., Janesville, Wisc.'
written on the right side.

Another view from April 7, 1922, with the sign 'Marquette Cement Furnished on this Job by Fifield Lumber Co.'.

A rear view of the new building, from the other side of Rock River:

The view from the Racine Street bridge.

This new building was the third Janesville High School, from 1923 to 1955, when a new school opened on Randall Avenue. This building became Marshall Junior High. Note: the street is brick in 1923!

--posted by sb

From Madison to Janesville with a stop in Union, 1864

From Madison to Janesville with a stop in Union, 1864

Union Tavern, August 2009

The Janesville Gazette recently noted the celebration of Paul Milz’s 50 years of owning the Union Tavern in the tiny village of Union, Wisconsin (August 9, 2009, 2A) . Because I pass this tavern regularly on my commute to Hedberg Public Library, the article grabbed my attention.

According to Evansville historian Ruth Ann Montgomery, early Union settler “Samuel Lewis operated a hotel (sometimes called a tavern)” and an informal post office shortly after he and his family arrived in Union in September 1839. Very soon afterward, Union became the half-way point between Janesville and Madison on what is now Highway 14, and stagecoach drivers always stopped at the “Half-Way House” to change horses and drivers. By 1858, she says, the village of Union was large enough to sustain two dry good stores, one hotel or tavern, one physician, 1 district school with 45 pupils, a Baptist minister, 1 blacksmith shop, 1 tailor’s shop, a shoemaker’s shop, 1 cabinet shop, 3 joiners, 1 painter, 1 wagon maker and 2 masons. In fact, for many years, Union provided the only grocery store in the greater Evansville region (Evansville Review, February 27, 1975). Union seemed likely to outpace Evansville in population until the early 1860s when the railroad bypassed the village in favor of Evansville, and Union’s population started to decline.

Interestingly enough, in 1864 another Madison resident, Sarah Hobbins (Mrs. Joseph Hobbins, Jr.) made the same trip I regularly make from Madison to Janesville. Unlike my regular commute by car, this was a once-in-a-decade summer outing for her. Disdaining the railroad available at that time, she and her husband—“the Dr.”-- made the journey by horse and carriage, stopping in Union village to eat lunch at a “wayside inn”—possibly the Union Tavern itself! Her lunch is a contrast with my usual "dashboard dining" on a Veggie Delite sandwich from Subway. She described her journey in a letter to her mother:

"This is the first journey from home we have taken for pleasure alone during the ten years we have been in Madison, but the Dr. thought we both required a change, so on a fine June morning with little preparation except some sandwiches and some fine strawberries from our garden which Josephine gathered for us, we started in a south-westerly direction to Janesville about 40 miles from here. The most novel and attractive feature of the scenery through which we passed were the wide rolling prairies for miles and miles which reminded me of the ocean. The rich grass waving on them is very beautiful. Then there are vast tracts richly cultivated, where wheat and different varieties of grain were grown and looked most promising and luxuriant. We also passed many pretty residences. Again we seemed to be in regions quite wild, sometimes losing our way, for it is very difficult in a prairie region to select the right road, but the Dr. is very clever at this, seldom making a mistake.

About one o'clock we dined at a place called UNION. It was one of the wayside Inns where people are glad to put up where they can find refreshments of some kind for want of a better. The nicely broiled salt pork, fresh eggs, pies, cakes, doughnuts, and cheese was quite a tempting repast. The Dr. made his dinner of an egg and potato [and] cup of tea, and luckily I thought of my strawberries which the landlady smothered in cream…”

“In the evening we reached Janesville where we had as excellent accommodations for the night as we should find at the Astor House in New York. Janesville is very pleasantly situated on the Rock River, being mostly built on rising ground, about the same size as Madison. The Asylum for the Blind is here with some of the finest educational buildings in Wisconsin and some very beautiful residences.” (Mrs. Hobbins’ letter is from Three Hundred Years American: The Epic of a Family, by Alice F. and Bettina Jackson (State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1951, pp. 280-281.)

I love the description of the Hobbinses’ carriage ride through the prairie. Though it would be difficult in 2009 to lose one’s way on Highway 14, the rural character of its landscape—with corn and soybean crops replacing the wheat that once grew there--is still just as charming and peaceful as it was in 1864.

And I am longing to know: was it at the Union Tavern where the Hobbinses ate their lunch? Current Union Tavern owner Paul Milz stated that the original part of the tavern was built in 1846 and once served as a stagecoach stop, livery stable, and grocery store. He doesn’t mention its being a hotel or wayside inn. But as you can see in Montgomery’s description above, the lone tavern in the village in 1858 appears to have doubled as a hotel—a common occurrence on the frontier. Though Montgomery mentions that, at a later time, Union had a couple of hotels, one known—significantly enough--as the “Old Tavern” which was torn down in 1902, and another, known as the “Union Inn,” which was destroyed in a fire in 1934, both might have been built after the Hobbinses’s visit.

We’ll probably never know in which building the Hobbinses ate their salt pork, eggs, pies, and strawberries, but I like to think that it might have been Paul Milz’s Union Tavern that serves as a landmark on my own travels to Janesville.

Fair History in Rock County

Did you know that Janesville was the site of the very first Wisconsin State Fair on October 1-2, 1851? It was held on the banks of the Rock River and sponsored by the newly-formed State Agricultural Society. There were 461 total entries with a profit of $85.45. Popular features include a 200-pound squash and a quarter-acre plowing match.

(Click photograph to enlarge text)

The fairgrounds contained 6 acres and about 10,000 people attended. The fair was held just east of Upper Courthouse Park, now a residential area in the Courthouse Hill Historic District.

You can read more about it at Hedberg Public Library.
Our Local History Database contains many references
to the Wisconsin State Fair in Janesville here.
Or, email a Reference Librarian referencedesk@hedbergpubliclibrary.org or call us during open hours at 608-758-6581.


Civil War Rallies in Janesville

Civil War Rallies in Janesville

What do we know about this photo from Hedberg Public Library's Gruver Collection?

We believe that it is likely to have been taken on April 25, 1861. The Civil War had broken out on April 12, 1861 when Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter off South Carolina. Fort Sumter
surrendered on April 14, 1861, and on the following day, President Abraham Lincoln called out the state militias. On April 17th, Governor Randall urged Wisconsin men to "join him in making common cause against a common enemy" by enrolling themselves into military companies.

Janesville did not hold back. The largest gathering of people ever convened in Janesville up to that time (History of Rock County, 1879) assembled at the Hyatt House Hall in downtown Janesville on the evening of April 20, 1861 to "take into consideration what could be done in the way of raising men and money to defend the flag of our country."

A few days later, on April 25, 1861, another large group gathered in downtown Janesville. The Janesville Gazette described the scene: "During the forenoon people poured into the city from the country. Not less than five thousand of the hardy yeomanry of Rock county were in attendance. The stores on Main and Milwaukee streets were tastefully beautified by almost innumerable flags of all sizes--some hung out of windows and others from ropes stretched across the street. There was a deep feeling manifested by all present. The excitement was intense and manifested itself in loud applause at the utterance of every patriotic sentiment in the meeting. The fine weather and the gay banners produced an animated scene well calculated to incite patriotic emotions."

Continuing, the Janesville Gazette reported that "the volunteer company of this city, commanded by Capt. Ely, marched to the Haytt House Hall [located on the northwest corner of W. Milwaukee and N. Franklin streets, this building burned down in 1867] at about 2 o'clock, followed by an immense multitude of people who soon filled the hall. The hall at the Hyatt House proving insufficient for the accommodation of the immense crowd, an impromptu meeting was held on the public square. Judge Armstrong of this city spoke with thrilling effect upon the duty of sacrificing all feelings of party, and uniting as one man for the defense of the country."

Horrified by the"acts and plunders of the southern robbers and traitors of the self-styled 'Confederate States of America,' the group organized itself into The Rock County Union and Relief Society to "enroll, organize into companies and drill such men in this county as are willing to enter into active service as volunteers, and to raise funds for the support and relief of such volunteers and their families."

We suspect that the uniforms worn by the soldiers in this photograph were their state militia uniforms, since it seems too early in the war for them to have been issued Union uniforms.

"The square was alive with the right spirit," according to the newspaper--"women standing there encouraging the speakers by waving their handkerchiefs." The paper concluded by
stating that these rallies were worthy of "old Rock [County]" and show "that the spirit of 1776
animates the people, as effectually as it did in the days of the American revolution."

Another Civil War rally is said to have taken place in Janesville on July 27, 1862, but we are still seeking confirmation of that date and details about its events.


"Layoffs Swamp Library"

This was a headline in the Janesville Gazette on April 30, 1980. Sharon Ebel, of the Gazette staff, wrote of the effects of layoffs at the General Motors and Dana Corporation plants in Janesville and Edgerton, respectively.

The two men in the photo are Guy Hinkle, left, and Scott Jordan on the right.

In 1980, Library Director Dan Bradbury said circulation skyrocketed in part due to area layoffs. More patrons - especially men - visited the library, and were observed reading to their children in the children's department.

--Janesville Public Library, c. 1982

Books about automotive repair, home improvement, garden and landscaping, and career opportunity materials were popular. The first three months of 1980 saw a 15 percent increase in circulation compared to 1979.

In 1980 the library's reference department received more requests for "8mm and 16mm movie projectors, which are circulated almost daily. "

"With many persons unable to take long vacations because of the energy and economy pinch, [the library] hopes to saturate library shelves with information describing Wisconsin tourist attractions."

Other patrons requested information about job opportunities, pay scales, resumes and educational requirements in other fields.

In 2010, job-seekers have even more options at the library:

  • Free computers to write a resume or search the Internet.

  • A "Job-Seekers" lab held monthly - no registration required - for help with job hunting.

  • A "Job Resource Center" with books, magazines and reference material located across from the Reference Desk. Find help with choosing a school, financial aid, selecting a career, studying for an entrance exam or writing that perfect resume.

See our online Job Resource Center for help - from home or at the library.

Contact the library Reference Desk if you have questions or need assistance.

Helpful library staff are available to assist with your information needs - just as in 1980.

We're here for you!

--posted by sb 9/17/2010

HOUSE HISTORY: The Lovejoy Mansion at 220 St. Lawrence Avenue

Lovejoy Mansion when it was the YWCA, c. 1981

The controver-sial renovations being made to the Lovejoy mansion at 220 St. Lawrence Avenue, detailed in The Janesville Gazette’s April 26, 2009 article, offer an opportunity to show how much material Hedberg Public Library has about this house, its architect, owners, and occupants. It also demonstrates the Reference Department’s ability to help researchers with “house history,” particularly when the house has been of historical interest for some time.

220 St. Lawrence Avenue around 1881.

THE FIRST OWNER: Allen P. Lovejoy (1825-1904) built the 10,000 square-foot mansion at 220 St. Lawrence Avenue shortly after his 1880 marriage to Julia Stowe. Born in Maine, Lovejoy began his working life as a teacher and a carpenter. He moved to Janesville in 1850 where he worked as a contractor and builder. He established a lumberyard in Janesville in 1859 and began investing in pine lands and sawmills in 1868, becoming one of the Midwest’s most important lumber barons. He was also involved in the Harris Manufacturing Company, the Janesville Machine Company—the largest agricultural implement factory in Rock County--and the Janesville Cotton Mill. A bank director as well, Lovejoy’s political career included being the mayor of Janesville for one year and also a state legislator for a couple of years.

HIS WIFE: Julia Stow Lovejoy (1849-1953) was a fascinating person in her own right. A thirty-year-old school teacher when she married Allen P. Lovejoy (who was 55 at the time), she became the first president of the Rock County Women’s Suffrage League, founded in February 1912. She was involved in the establishment of the first kindergarten in Janesville, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and Janesville’s first hospital. She also served for several years on the Janesville Public Library board. She celebrated her 100th birthday in December 1949, by which time she was referred to as “Janesville’s First Lady.”

THEIR ARCHITECT: The architect who designed the Lovejoy mansion was James Douglas. A Milwaukee architect, Douglas was born in Scotland in 1823. Forming a partnership with his brother, Alexander, as “J. A. Douglas, Architects and Builders,” he started out as a designer of churches, but later turned to domestic architecture. The Lovejoy mansion was described in a 1980 Janesville Gazette article as representing the “Late Picturesque” or "Queen Anne" style: “The cream brick veneer over a balloon frame includes protruding wings and steep-gabled roofs. Corner upstairs windows are hooded with overhangs. Decorative ‘bargeboards’ have crosses and curves punched into them, while brackets of the first story, wrap-around veranda have dot-encircled holes. Local quarry stone was used for the foundation below ground, with dressed Milwaukee stone above ground. It has several fireplaces, hardwood floors, fine quality wood moldings, plaster and glass.” Red oak, walnut and butternut are some of the woods used in the house but were painted over by the time the YWCA moved in. Door knobs and hinges were made of solid brass. Corn husks provided insulation in the walls. Because of Allen Lovejoy’s background as a carpenter, he is said to have sat on a camp stool, overlooking the work being done on his house to ensure that everything was built to his specifications.

SECOND OWNER: After Mrs. Lovejoy’s death in 1953, Joseph A. Craig bought the Lovejoy mansion but never lived in it. As soon as he bought it, he presented it to the YWCA. A prominent figure in Janesville business and philanthropic circles, Craig was responsible for the development of the General Motors Assembly Plant in Janesville. A manager of the Janesville Machine Company, he persuaded General Motors to acquire his company to establish GM’s Samson Tractor Company division. In 1919, GM built a large, new factory to produce tractors. When tractors failed to sell well, GM converted the factory to a Chevrolet automobile and Fisher body assembly plant.

THIRD OWNER: The YWCA occupied 220 St. Lawrence Avenue from 1954 until May 2001, when its new building was opened at 1735 S. Washington Street. According to the Janesville Gazette (21 May 2001, 1A), the YWCA put its building at 220 St. Lawrence Avenue on the market for $247,900 by Lee Sather & Associates, “who offered to sell the building for no commission.” YWCA staff reported that it was difficult to leave such a beautiful building.

NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES STATUS: In 1980, while the building still belonged to the YWCA, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was nominated for that status by the YWCA and the Rock County Historical Society. The local paper pointed out that being on the National Register of Historic Places meant that “any restoration, preservation or stabilization project involving the structure is now eligible for matching federal grants.”

FOURTH OWNER: In 2002, a religious group, the Ekklasia Foundation, bought the
Lovejoy mansion from the YWCA for $190,000. Brad Goodrich represented the Foundation, according to the Janesville Gazette (25 July 2002, 1B). What the future holds for this mansion
is not clear, but its past can be traced pretty easily.

How to find the history of your house: The Janesville Gazette for 27 Oct 2002, 1E (a copy of which is in Hedberg Public Library's Janesville Room in a binder, 720.9775 HISTO) has an excellent article on resources for doing house histories in Janesville. The Reference Department staff is always willing to help.

Janesville in 1919

Fred B. Welch was Janesville’s first health officer. He came to town in 1919 just as Janesville
began to experience the boom associated with Samson Truck and, shortly thereafter, General Motors. His recollections remind us that life was very different 90 years ago….

In the spring of 1919, I became Health Officer of the City of Janesville. In 1919, the City was undergoing a vast industrial expansion. The boom was on at the time, prices were high, and labor was dear. Hundreds of men were living in barracks at the Samson Plant and housing conditions were most deplorable. The great pan epidemic of influenza [the Spanish Flu of 1918] continued to take its toll, and to complicate matters, small pox occurred among the workers at the Samson plant. Vaccination eventually controlled this epidemic as it always does. Other common dangerous diseases of the day were whooping cough, diphtheria, and tuberculosis.

The outside toilet was a constant source of trouble during the summer months. In 1913 there were a total of 1528 outside toilets in the City and in the year 1919 less than 5 per cent of these had been eliminated, even after miles of sanitary sewers had been laid. Most of these outhouses were poorly constructed – not fly or rodent proof. The odor would be most offensive, and the contents would be exposed in a most unsanitary way—many times to overflow on the surface of the ground. From thirty to fifty complaints a month, on these nuisances, were common during the summer months.

During the summer of 1919 a study was made of the fly incidence. Fly traps were constructed and placed in different parts of the City. On a certain day each week they were uncovered and the flies that were caught during the day were counted and recorded. This study, which was conducted for the purpose of ascertaining the part played by horse manure and decaying matter in the propagation of flies, proved of far greater value than anticipated. Late in the summer of this year an epidemic of bloody dysentery and cholera occurred and caused at least eleven deaths. This epidemic came shortly after the height of the fly incidence. In a meeting with the Board of Health, I pointed out that up to late in July 1919 we had practically no flies because of the prompt removal of manure piles [from city streets] by farmers. Then, when the crops needed more attention, the farmers could not haul it, and the horse offal accumulated. Then in myriads came the fly. The unsanitary outhouse was the other reason.

The automobile has eliminated manure from the city, municipal collection of garbage and refuse have eliminated decaying matter, and the rapid development of sanitary sewers has reduced the number of unsanitary outhouses. These preventive measures have done much in the prevention of fly-born epidemics.

In 1919 there was no municipal collection of garbage. Garbage from the “down-town section” was collected by farmers for hog feeding. In the fall and winter months this collection was fairly regular but in the spring and summer months, when farmwork was pressing, it was most irregular. The uncollected garbage in our alleys was most disgraceful and presented a never ending nuisance. The householders in the business district had no other place but the alley to place their garbage. No metal cans were used and garbage dumps filled alleys. The police had difficulty in making their night rounds—to pick their way through these garbage piles.

A description of the early unsanitary conditions would not be complete without mentioning the banks of the Rock River. As there were no city dumps or municipal collection of rubbish and ashes, most of these materials were dumped on Goose Island [now Traxler Park] or along the banks of the river. Dead animals, refuse from meat markets, decaying vegetable matter from stores, manure and other objectionable material was hauled by private scavengers and either dumped into the river or along its banks.

….Within three years of my arrival, the Board of Health introduced an ordinance which was adopted, eliminating the outside toilet, when sewer and water were available. They directed a clean up of the river banks, under the direction of the sanitary inspector. Goose Island was put in sanitary condition.

This brief report of the three years of work of the Board of Health in the City of Janesville constitutes a record of health progress of which the people of Janesville may well be proud.

--LG, who edited and condensed Fred Welch's 14-page report discovered in John V. Stevens's
Medical History of Janesville, Wis: 1833-1933, available at Hedberg Public Library (610.977587 STEVE).

My Life at the Jones Grocery, by Gerald Van Pool

Above, the Jones Grocery Store at 7-9 N. Main Street as seen in an Oct. 1, 1955 photograph from the Janesville Gazette, thirty years --and at a different location on the same street--after Gerald Pool worked there. The grocery store is behind the light pole and the car.

Above, Gerald Van Pool's Senior Class Picture from the 1923 Janesville High School Yearbook

Below is an excerpt from Gerald M. Van Pool’s wonderful memoir, I Remember Janesville, published in 1977. Born and bred in Janesville, Van Pool became a teacher and ultimately, a member of the Washington, D.C. staff of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

This excerpt tells of Van Pool's experience working at a local grocery store during his senior year in high school (1922-1923). It is illustrated with photos of Janesville grocery stores roughly from the period of time he describes.

My Life at the Jones Grocery, by Gerald M. Van Pool

I never said that John H. Jones (The Grocer) should have been named Ebenezer Scrooge, although…these two gentlemen had much in common. John H. Jones…was a hard man with a dollar as I found out when I worked in his grocery at 36 S. Main Street, Janesville, Wisconsin.

Pay and Hours: I worked at this store while I was in high school (in the early 1920s), getting there at 7:00 to open up and wait on early morning customers. They were usually men on their way to work and who wanted smokes, chewing tobacco, or something for their noon lunch. I worked for about an hour, then went to school, returned at the end of the school day, and worked until about 6:30 p.m. I also worked on Saturday from 7:00 a.m. until almost 11:00 p.m. and for some 30 hours of work, I received the princely sum of $5.00, which meant that I earned about 18 cents an hour, well below the minimum wage of 30 cents an hour required by the Wisconsin Child Labor Law. During the summer, I worked anywhere from 50 to 60 hours a week, a violation of the number of hours which a minor could work in one week. Yet, I was considered one of the lucky boys in school. I had a job that gave me spending money, bought some of my school materials, and even some clothes…

Physical Set-Up of the Store: The John H. Jones Grocery was located at 36 S. Main St.; it was rather narrow but quite deep, with two front windows, one at each side of the front door with a long aisle leading from the front door to the back of the store and storeroom. Up front on the right was a counter filled with glass jars and back of them the wall shelves were loaded with even more jars. Some of these goods were ordinary, but a few puzzled me: pickled walnuts, smoked oysters, capers, and other exotic items. Further back, still on the right, was another counter which held two or three wheels of cheese, the ice box, a screened room for sacks of flour, and lastly the back room.

Above, early 1900s photo of unidentified Janesville grocery store interior

On the left of the entrance were the glass-covered candy and tobacco counters; two counters for waiting on trade and for putting up orders; the bakery goods case; coffee mill; shelves of soaps and cleansers; walk-in safe; desk; toilet, and cold water sink. Along the front counters were boxes of lemons, oranges, grapefruit, and apples all tilted so that customers could see what was for sale. A stalk of bananas always hung in the window with a curved banana knife imbedded in the stalk.

The Back Room: The back room was a cheerless place; it was dark and cold, loaded with stock and canned goods, a big tank of kerosene, a bin of potatoes, barrel of soap chips, barrel of vinegar, bales of wrapping paper and bags—anything for which room could not be found elsewhere. It opened out into an alley about 8-10 feet below the back door and sometimes when we had too much junk, we just opened the back door and dumped the excess out into the alley. I don’t know what happened to it but it always seemed to disappear.

Stock: For the most part we carried only first class goods at high prices. As a result, we had what might be called “The Carriage Trade.” Many customers lived on The Hill and were willing to pay higher prices to get outstanding quality and service. Delivering one yeast cake to a Hill customer was the kind of service our customers expected, received, and paid for.

Housekeeping - Clean up: Cleaning up was a never-ending job; this meant taking jars or cans off the shelves and dusting them with a feather duster, which simply rearranged the dust. As all parts of the store were in constant use, things were bound to get upset and in need of constant straightening and rearranging. We were all warned to watch carefully to make sure than any cans or jars with a suspicious bulge were removed and discarded; a bulge meant that the contents had started to spoil and were unfit to sell.

Potatoes were usually bought from local farmers and stored in large bins in the back room and cellar. They kept well for a long time as both places were cool but toward spring it was necessary for someone (who else but me?) to climb into a bin and hand-sort the remaining potatoes looking for rotten ones. And there were plenty! I hated this job, partly because of the smell, but also because in sorting, my hand sometimes went deep into a rotten mess and so I had to stop and wash my hands and get rid of the foul matter.

Bulk Goods: Much of our merchandise was sold in bulk as there were not nearly as many packaged goods as are available now. When filling an order, the clerk (who might have just filled a can of kerosene) reached into the box with his bare hands and put the cookies in a bag. Usual result – kerosene flavored cookies. Some peanut butter came in a wooden tub and was scooped out with a wooden spoon and put in a little wooden (or cardboard) container. Lard was handled the same way. Dill pickles were fished out of a huge barrel with wooden tongs; oysters were kept in a metal container in the ice box or, in winter, on a rack outside the store. Packaged coffee was common even then but our best selling brand was simply bulk coffee at 35 cents a pound. Coffee beans came in a huge burlap sack and at regular intervals we had to grind up several pounds of these beans and put the ground coffee in 1-lb. bags.

Christmas Candy; Tobacco: At Christmas, we always ordered several wooden pails of Christmas candy –mostly hard candies with a small design in the center. The open pails were displayed prominently in front of the counters along with oranges and apples so that a customer had to pass it and we hoped would be tempted to buy. All kinds of tobacco were kept in stock: cigars, cigarettes (15 cents and two for a quarter), chewing tobacco, cigar clippings, pipe tobacco, snuff—everything. I did not smoke but was often asked to recommend a good cigar. Mr. Jones told me to recommend the Cremo, a good 5 cent cigar. It may have seemed odd for a teenage non-smoker to tell a confirmed smoker what cigar he ought to smoke but it appeared that the recommendation was a good one as many came back for more, sometimes buying a box.

Farm Trade: We had a large farm trade. Farmers usually came to town on a Saturday afternoon or early evening, and left a case of eggs and the week’s orders for us to fill while they went out on the town. In those days, Saturday night was the big night of the week with all stores open and hundreds of people in town; many of my own friends made it a point to visit me for a few minutes and perhaps buy a bag of candy. Farmers always had many errands to take care of and often did not return to the store until 10 or 11 o’clock. Every one of us had to stay until every customer had left and all orders were picked up.

Duties of a Grocery Clerk: In the winter, a fire had to be built in the large stove at the back of the store, the only source of heat in the whole place. Certain merchandise could be displayed outside: a barrel of brooms or snow shovels, a cask of oysters, a bundle of dried fish, and at Christmas, a few trees and wreaths.

L.C. Brownell's Grocery Store at 40 S. Main St.

Clerks were expected to wait on customers; prepare orders for delivery; keep shelves filled; grind coffee; sack up sugar, potatoes, and coffee; clean and dust; pick out spoiled fruit and vegetables; candle eggs [to make sure they weren’t rotten]; maintain inventory; deliver goods to nearby restaurants, cars, or homes; call homes to see if anything was needed; help to tap a barrel of vinegar; clean the windows; occasionally arrange a display; and bring in merchandise from the front walk.

Waiting on Customers: The practice of providing a customer with a movable basket and letting her wander all over the store as is common in today’s supermarkets was still a long way off. In our stores, the customer came up to the counter and was greeted by a clerk who asked her what she needed. She told him and he went to get it, put it on the counter, and asked what was next on the list. Many times, we wished that a customer would just give us the list and let us collect the items by ourselves. Finally all the goods were on the counter and then the clerk had to total up the purchases to see how much was owed. The order was then placed in a bag or box, depending on its size; some customers carried the entire order home; others left it for later delivery; a few asked that it be carried out to the car. Many times I have walked a whole block carrying a large box of groceries and with a sack of flour on my shoulder. No tip was ever offered and none was expected.

After I have written so much, complaining about long hours and low pay, it may seem odd for me to report that I actually enjoyed the work -- in fact, I liked it so much that I even discussed with John Jones's son, Harold, the possibility of my staying in Janesville so that, eventually, he and I might go into the grocery busines together. But in 1923, my good sense and better judgment prevailed and in September, as scheduled, I left Janesville to enter the University of Wisconsin.

--LG, who re-arranged some of the material in this excerpt.

Frank Lloyd Wright and George S. Parker - The Janesville Connection

March 10, 2009

This month, Hedberg Public Library is featuring a display of architectural models of three Frank Lloyd Wright designs, created by Ron Olsen of Janesville.

Did you know that Mr. Wright and George S. Parker, founder of the Parker Pen Company in Janesville, were friends?

A fascinating chapter about their relationship can be read in the book Parker Duofold, by David Shepherd and Dan Zazove, available at Hedberg Public Library.

"On April 11, 1930, George Parker
wrote to Wright about the color of barns in Wisconsin. This seemingly bizarre topic was the start of a close friendship between the two men..."

"Dear Mr. Wright,

I noticed in the Associated Press dispatches yesterday that you are in favor of red barns versus my somewhat antagonism to them.

As I know that you have a good deal of fame as an artistic person, I would be exceedingly interested in knowing why you favor red barns. Do you not think that a barn painted white or straw color with proper trimmings is much more artistic than red?"

See Parker Duofold for the entire letter....

Other evidence of their friendship includes this notation from a Taliesan Preservation, Inc., Visitors Guide:

"Notable Visitors:George Parker and his wife. Founder of the Parker Pen Company, of Janesville, Wisconsin. The Parkers were friends of Frank Lloyd Wright's and visited Taliesin frequently during the 1930s"

We found a delightful account of a visit to the Parkers' summer home in Janesville, from July 25, 1935. Wright's apprentices were known as The Fellowship, and they were invited to visit Mr. and Mrs. Parker.

"Upon arriving in Janesville, Mr. Parker had a grand dinner spread over the lawn of his country home - Stonehenge, and we divided our time between eating and feeding the Parker's pet monkey, Benito. We made our home at a new camp of Mr. Parker's, about a half mile from Stonehenge. It was a new type of vacation.....bunched together in "Camp Cheerio," with our activities reduced to reading magazines seated in soft lounge chairs, the Fellowship grumbled and quarreled. This being together, indulging in several hours of non-activity was a new one on us....The next morning after breakfast we were shown through the Parker Pen Company's factory. We followed the operations of the manufacture of the pen through its five thousand stages. The Ford assembly line idea is used in assembling the pen. They start the barrel moving along the assembly line, and each worker adds a part, fitting and polishing all the while, until the pen reaches its final glory labeled, recorded, tested, packed: it's all done but the selling.....even the selling is accounted for in the recording office, where each retailer has a card, duly punched and kept on file, telling of the quantity and types of pens in his stock. If one found a pen and wanted to trace its owner, it could easily be done by sending the pen number to the factory. Within a half hour the dealer who sold the pen could be sifted from any one of the many dealers, there being thousands spread through sixty-eight countries. The peculiar part of the merchandising of the Parker pen is that half of them are exported. We then went back to dinner....."

As noted in Parker Duofold, their friendship "...was warm and genuine, even though they existed in different worlds and the contact was infrequent and sporadic. The letters, meals and other meetings continued until George's death in 1937 when Wright wrote a glowing tribute to his friend...."

Parker Duofold includes the text of Wright's tribute to Parker, written four days after Parker's death on July 19, 1937.

On April 21, 1951, Kenneth Parker, who had succeeeded his father at Parker Pen, announced that a new plant, Arrow Park, was going to be built on 28 acres of land at the northern end of Janesville. Kenneth Parker had remained friendly with Wright after George's death, and had considered seeking his services for the design...."a battle of egos was sure to ensue"....so, after much consideration, Parker chose architects Flad & Associates of Madison, Wisconsin.

The new Arrow Park plant was dedicated on October 15, 1952.

Wright died fifty years ago on April 9, 1959, at the age of 91.

Imagine, what might have been!


Rock County was the only Wisconsin county with two courthouses....Not anymore.

The first Rock County Courthouse was built in Janesville in 1842 when Janesville had a population of 215. Described as of “wood construction, and…graced by great white pillars on the west entrance,” the building was destroyed by fire in 1858.
(Image above from Fiftieth Anniversary of the First Congregational Church, Janesvillle, Wisconsin, 1895, p. 39)

Between 1858 and 1871, county business was conducted from several small offices around Janesville’s Courthouse Square, with the courtroom located in the Myers Block.

By 1871 Janesville had toppled from its former position as the second largest city in Wisconsin. So when the second courthouse opened its elegant doors in February 1871, “the new…courthouse was a long-awaited declaration of Rock County’s intention to resume its proper place in the scheme of state politics and government.” Constructed of cream brick and cut stone, its west entrance and portico reminded some of the entrances to early southern mansions.

Courthouse terrain:

The second courthouse was constructed directly below a high embankment halfway up Courthouse Hill. Before the dedication, the Janesville Gazette told a story about a stranger who came to Janesville just to see the new building. “A stranger in the city spent nearly an hour yesterday in endeavors to find the new courthouse….He was finally assisted in his efforts by one who knew the exact spot where it was sunk; and he expressed the surprise which many others have felt, that so fine a structure should be partially hidden by surrounding hills."

Following the dedication of the 1871 courthouse, work began on grading the terrain and smoothing the "hills" around the building. The Janesville Gazette took the opportunity to reminisce about the first courthouse: "The remnant of the original ‘courthouse hill’ is fast disappearing under the plows and shovels of the workmen employed to grade the park. It seems but a short…time since its site was occupied by a grassy green knoll, steep and high and slightly bald on its crest, surmounted by an unpretentious white frame building….Our early settlers can say that when first they planted their cabin stakes in the garden of the west, that hole in the ground was a high hill.’”

Ground breaking for Janesville’s third courthouse began March 5, 1955. The second (1871) courthouse was demolished during March 1957, so the two courthouses must have been located in slightly different locations on Courthouse Hill.

By 1996, more room was needed, and ground-breaking for a new addition to the third courthouse began in March 1996 (see below). The addition opened in February 1999, and was followed by remodeling of the older parts of the building.

Beloit Courthouse (below):

The origins of the 1964 Beloit Courthouse, known officially as the “Rock County Administration Building,” lay in state legislation passed three years earlier.

In 1961, the state legislature voted to convert all municipal courts in Wisconsin into county courts effective July 2, 1962. At the time, Beloit had one municipal court, so—to comply with the legislation and to provide county offices that were scattered around Beloit in rented space, a new building—the Rock County Administration Building--was built.

Informally known as the “Beloit courthouse,” this building opened in the summer of 1964 and was home to County Court Branch 3 (formerly the Beloit municipal court), and to the newly created County Court Branch 4. (Janesville was the home of County Court Branches 1 and 2.)

By 2000, only one full-time judge worked in the building. So, in a cost-cutting move, the Rock County Board voted in September 2000 to shutter the building and move the courts to the Rock County Courthouse in Janesville. Rented by several other organizations for a time, the building was sold at auction in 2006.


What's in a name? How did Rock County and the Rock River come by their names?

Sources differ on this question.

Rock County was created in 1836 when Wisconsin was still a territory. At that time, "Big Rock" served as a landmark for Indians, traders, and early settlers. In the days before bridges, this massive rock was located near, and thus identified, a shallow part of the Rock River that could be forded safely. This enormous rock -- complete with cave -- is now within the Janesville city limits and is more commonly referred to these days as "Monterey Rock."

(Above, 1875 photo of "Big Rock" from Gruver photo collection at Hedberg Public Library)

Another source
speculates that the
county may have drawn
its name from "Rock Prairie,"
the rocky prairie within
the county's borders.

Still others believe that the
county was named for the river
that runs through it: the Rock, a
285-mile river that originates in
Fond du Lac County and flows through Janesville into northwestern Illinois on its way to the Mississippi River.

But how did the Rock River get its name?
The Rock River may have drawn its name from the rocky character of the soil through which it flows.
Others say that Indians living in the 1700s referred to it as Riviere de la Roche, meaning "river of the rock," perhaps because the river dropped over at least two large sets of rocks in Janesville, causing dramatic rapids.

We'll probably never find a definitive answer to how the county and the river came by their names, but it's fun to think about the possibilities.

The Photo That Launched HPL's Local History Database

The library director was insistent: she needed a photo of the three-tiered fountain that once stood in front of the Rock County Courthouse in Janesville, Wisconsin--and she needed it as quickly as possible. It was around 2001, and she was heading a committee to turn a green space between the library and the Rock River into a public park with sculpture, trees, park benches, and--possibly--a fountain. If the park were to include a fountain, how about one that would recall the one formerly at the Rock County Courthouse?

As usual, the Reference staff was eager to please. The fountain was no longer extant at the Courthouse, so we couldn't just take a picture of it. We asked long-time residents of Janesville if they remembered what the fountain looked like. We pored through published books of photographs about Janesville. We combed through 12 volumes of photographs of Janesville that had been donated by local photograph collector, Lowell "Bud" Gruver. We spent hours and hours, days and days, searching for such a photo.

And, finally, we were successful.

An amusing photo of druggist George King, standing jauntily in his summer hat, vest, and shirtsleeves, beside his handmade canoe or kayak, clearly showed the three-tiered fountain spurting water.

Another photo turned up in a colleague's private postcard collection--some of which were later digitized on the library's website.

The reference staff had been successful: we had found the image that our director had asked for.

But we weren't happy. Why not? Because the search had taken so long to accomplish. It frustrated us that we couldn't immediately put our hands on images we knew were probably in our collection.

And thus, the Local History Database came into being.

One of the part-time librarians -- who happened to be a professional freelance indexer in her other life -- decided to apply her indexing skills to her work at the library. With the help of the library's computer technician and her colleagues, she developed an online index to local history items in the library.

Articles from the local newspaper; photographs from the "Gruver Collection" as well as from books about Janesville and Rock County; pamphlets donated to or collected by the library; memoirs and reports about Janesville; information about historical houses and buildings and local people: all of these kinds of materials could be indexed online -- and accessed by anyone, anywhere, in seconds.

A work in progress, the Local History Database now contains over 31,000 entries on the topics above. It inspired other library-made indexes as well: one on Janesville High School Yearbooks and one on obituaries from the Janesville Gazette.

These online indexes not only help the reference librarians meet their patrons' information needs quickly--but make us look smart as well.

That's what we like!

And the three-tiered fountain in the park?

It has yet to be built.