Janesville's Past

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Janesville, located in southern Wisconsin near the Illinois border, was settled in 1835, making it one of the earliest communities in the state. In 2005, it was Wisconsin’s 11th largest city and one of the fastest growing in the 1990s. Its 2000 population was 60,200. Thirty-nine percent of the total Rock County population lives in Janesville. The photographs digitized on this Web site present views of Janesville from its earliest days in the 1840s to the 1980’s.

The 20th century is represented by the Gruver Photograph Collection. The photographs in this collection were taken or collected by amateur photographer Lowell “Bud” Gruver (1904-1997). Late in life, Gruver embarked on a project to record Janesville scenes and buildings, viewing contemporary Janesville through eyes that remembered the past. The photographs in this collection were significant to him, not just for what they currently recorded, but for what no longer remained. For example, an undistinguished gas station and convenience store were important to Gruver because they were located on land that had once housed part of the Janesville Coaster Wagon Factory. When he photographed the Case, Feed, and Produce Company on Rockport Road, his caption reveals that he was recalling the Roesling Bros. grocery store that preceded it. An avid collector of photographs, Gruver often paired an historical photograph of a Janesville scene with its contemporary image. Photos of Janesville’s downtown — particularly of Main and Milwaukee Streets — include both the way it looked in the past and the way it looked in the 1980s. Dramatic changes in Janesville’s cityscape particularly fascinated Gruver, and his collection includes several photos of fires, building demolitions, and street reconstruction projects.

Supplementing the Gruver collection are selected images of historical Janesville from the postcard collection that Debra Case, a librarian at Janesville’s Hedberg Public Library, generously loaned for this digitization project. Digitization of a series of walking tour guides of the city’s historic districts provides another link between the 20th Century and Janesville’s past.

City and County directories provide researchers residential, business and governmental information for both the 19th and 20th centuries.

Nineteenth-century views of Janesville and the Rock River come from George W. Wise’s Picturesque Janesville Illustrated (1888), The Art Work of Rock County(pre-1893), The Headlight Magazine (Souvenir Edition, 1896), The Janesville Fire Department Souvenir Album (1902), and a series of walking guides to Janesville historic districts produced by the Janesville Historic Commission (1986-1995). Together, these 19th- and 20th-century sources depict Janesville’s rich past.

Additional Resources

The Local History Database is Hedberg Public Library’s index to Janesville and Rock County history, through newspaper articles, photographs, books and essays
A partial index to obituaries in the Janesville Gazette
Rock County Genealogical Society
Rock County Historical Society
Milton Historical Society and Milton House Museum
Beloit Historical Society
Beckman Mill
Evansville, Wisconsin’s History
USGenWeb Project for Rock County, Wisconsin
Clinton (WI) Historical Society
Sterling North Society (Edgerton WI)
Luther Valley Historical Society (Orfordville/Footville/Hanover WI)


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Art Work of Rock County
Janesville Room 917.75 ROCK, unpaginated

 Art Work of Rock County, published in 1893, consists primarily of photographs of Janesville, Beloit and Evansville, Wisconsin, including public and commercial buildings, Rock River scenic views, residences, dirt road street scenes, churches, schools and other images. Many of the structures depicted here no longer exist.

Approximately 21 percent of the book’s pages present the unique early history of Rock County, Wisconsin, and the Rock River area. Indian mound and village locations and descriptions, Indian treaties affecting the area, and information about Chief Black Hawk’s local movements during the 1832 war are included in the text. The history of the earliest white settlement of the Rock River area includes the system of unwritten border law pertaining to squatters’ claims, steamboat and railroad development, pioneers, and town development. The text concludes in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War.

The Headlight Souvenir Edition: Janesville, Wis.
Janesville Room 977.587 H344, 34 pages

 The Headlight Souvenir Edition: Janesville, Wis. was a special issue (volume 10, no. 4, May 1896) of the serial publication Headlight: a Journal of Progress and Development.

The Headlight was designed to attract new business and residents to Janesville. It was “intended to set forth the advantages of Janesville, Wisconsin, as an industrial location, [and] as a place of residence” with a “pictorial part — show[ing] a few of its many beauties.” In an era when the Janesville population was 15,000, highlights includes a brief town history; biographical capsules of the mayor, councilmen, and leading citizens; a summary of public schools and the Wisconsin School for the Blind; and information on early newspapers, financial institutions, and a leading Wisconsin law firm of the time. Hotels, including the Myers House, which was “one of the oldest and most widely known hotels in the Northwest,” are featured. Manufacturing companies are described, including those for corn planters, carriages, knitting and woolen mills, beverages, transportation, and farm machinery. Many photographs feature business interiors as well as exteriors. Janesville was also the center for the Wisconsin tobacco market with related industries. The Headlight also claims Janesville as “the commercial center of Southern Wisconsin” and describes the city’s virtues.

Janesville Fire Department Souvenir Album
Janesville Room 977.587 JANES 1902, 165 pages

 The Janesville Fire Department Souvenir Album, a book published in 1902 by the local newspaper for the Firemen’s Relief Association, is not only a pictorial history of 19th century Janesville firemen and their horse-drawn firefighting equipment but also a record of the residences and commercial establishments they protected. Business interiors — including local saloons and beer halls as well as Janesville retail and manufacturing firms — are a significant feature of this book.

The text includes the business cards of physicians, dentists, and many retail firms and commercial offices. A 50-year historical sketch of Janesville firefighting history is covered in two pages, while the last 16 pages provide the following lists: significant Janesville events from 1835-1902; Janesville churches; city and county officials and local postmasters; Rock County representatives in state and territorial government; labor and fraternal societies; state fairs held in Janesville; and even the location of Janesville fire alarm boxes.

Picturesque Janesville
Janesville Room 977.5 WISE, 53 leaves

Picturesque Janesville, published in 1888, consists of photographs of Janesville residences, schools, churches, street scenes, bridges and dams. Many of these structures no longer exist.

The author’s note states: “In presenting this work of Art to the public, permit me to say that in many respects it differs from any work ever offered to the people of Janesville. It is different not only as a work of Art but in the style of illustrations, and is a fair specimen of advanced photography, known among artists as ‘Photo-Graveure,’ or ‘Photo-Mechanical Printing,’ being printed on an ordinary printing press from negatives taken by myself. This collection embraces our most prominent buildings, residences and the scenery surrounding our home. In making the collection an effort has been made to select views that would be a fair representation of the best. It would have been a pleasure to me could I have enlarged the size of this work, but in such case it would have been too expensive to be within the reach of many. In offering you Picturesque Janesville, I give you a work of Art, believing that those who possess it would prefer looking elsewhere for a descriptive history of our city than have its pages encumbered with printed matter.”

There is no text apart from the name of the building or place featured in the photographs.

Walking Guides to Historic Districts

Prospect Hill & Conrad Cottages Historic Districts: A Guide. 1992

 Guidebook for a walking tour in the Prospect Hill and Conrad Cottage area of Janesville. Historic and architectural descriptions of residences and businesses are provided. Written and designed by Carole Zellie of Landscape Research, St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Janesville Historic Commission.

Prospect Hill Historic District surrounds one of Janesville’s highest hills and overlooks the Rock River and downtown. Early pioneers settled this area by 1845, though only 25 buildings were built before 1870. Another 39 buildings were constructed between 1870 and 1900. One reason for the delayed settlement of this area was its steep slope. The district, which spans approximately 15 blocks, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, the fourth historic district in Janesville to be added.

The Conrad Cottages Historic District is located near the Prospect Hill District. Included in this district are four similar cream-colored brick workers’ cottages built by Charles B. Conrad in 1882.

Old Fourth Ward: Historic District: A Guide. 1990

 Guidebook for a walking tour in the Old Fourth Ward area of Janesville. The area extends from the southwest edge of downtown to the Rock River. Historic and architectural descriptions of residences and businesses are provided. This guidebook was written and designed by Carole Zellie of Landscape Research, St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Janesville Historic Commission.

The Old Fourth Ward is one of Janesville’s largest and oldest residential sections, composed of more than 900 structures in central Janesville. The district is actually a mixture of three historic neighborhoods: Near Downtown, Monterey and Rockport. The structures in Near Downtown are a mix of the Greek Revival and Italianate homes of the city’s business leaders and cottages of quarry workers. Most date from the 1850s. Development of Monterey began in the 1840s around the ferry and bridges that spanned the Rock River between Center Avenue and Rockport Road. Ira Miltimore, an experienced mason and engineer, established the Monterey Quarry on the south side of the river in 1845. Quarry workers lived in small cottages on the north side of the river. Rockport was established as a separate village after the Civil War. First settled by Judge William Holmes in 1836, the village was platted by Holmes’ son, Thomas. The plot he set aside as public land for a courthouse is Fourth Ward Park.

Court House Hill Historic District: A Guide. 1986

 Guidebook for a Janesville walking tour of the Courthouse Hill Historic District. Historic and architectural descriptions of residences and businesses are provided. Written and designed by Carole Zellie of Landscape Research, St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Janesville Historic Commission.

Rising above the city of Janesville on the east side of the Rock River, this historic district contains outstanding examples of the architectural styles seen throughout Janesville from its founding in the mid-19th century through 1930. The 30-block district contains 219 properties and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Many of the blocks were contained in Henry Janes’ original claim.

Main & Milwaukee Janesville’s Downtown Historic District: A Guide. 1989

 Guidebook for a Janesville walking tour of the Downtown Historic District. Historic and architectural descriptions of residences and businesses are provided. Written and designed by Carole Zellie of Landscape Research, St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Janesville Historic Commission.

Main and Milwaukee streets are the heart of the city. Janesville’s central business district reflects the city’s origins as a river city. Close study of many of its buildings reveals information about their past uses, previous owners and architectural styles.

Benton Avenue Historic District: A Guide. 1995

 Guidebook for a walking tour in the Benton Avenue area of Janesville. Historic and architectural descriptions of residences and businesses are provided. Written and designed by Carole Zellie of Landscape Research, St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Janesville Historic Commission.

A small area of urban bungalows is the focus of the Benton Avenue Historic District. Built following World War I during a decade of substantial economic growth and development, Benton Avenue offered low-cost tract housing to the workers of Janesville’s General Motors factory.

Look West Historic District : a guide. 1987

 Guidebook for a Janesville walking tour. Historic and architectural descriptions of residences and businesses are provided. Written and designed by Carole Zellie of Landscape Research, St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Janesville Historic Commission

A part of Janesville’s old First Ward this neighborhood is in the heart of the city. The architecture of the area shared by Nineteenth century railroad workers, businessmen, carpenters, clerks, mayors, and judges reflects the occupational and social diversity of the times.

Columbus Circle Historic District: A Guide. 2005

Guidebook for a walking tour in the Columbus Circle neighborhood of Janesville. Historic and architectural descriptions of residences are provided. Included is a history of the Rock County Fairgrounds. Written and designed by Carole Zellie of Landscape Research, St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Janesville Historic Commission

A residential neighborhood arranged around a central oval and three small parks the area is one exception to the city’s grid-plan street layout. Developed by the Parker Pen Company, the area includes popular styles of architecture in Janesville in the 1920’s. Examples of advertisements from the 1931 Janesville City Directory are included.

Gruver Photograph Collection

The Gruver Photograph Collection: A Collection of Historic and Current Photographs of Janesville, Wisconsin collected by Lowell (“Bud”) Gruver of Janesville, Wisconsin

 In 1986, Lowell “Bud” Gruver, a longtime Janesville resident, local historian, and avid photographer, donated his collection of over 1,000 historic photographs of Janesville people and places to the Janesville Public Library. In donating the collection to the library, Gruver’s goal was to share Janesville history with all interested residents and visitors. Digitizing much of his collection on the Web extends Gruver’s reach to an even larger and farther-flung audience. An unusual aspect of this collection is the knowledge of Janesville’s past that Gruver brought to his project. Photographing Janesville buildings in the 1980s, Gruver recalled (in narratives accompanying the photos) the buildings and businesses that had preceded them and often tracked down older photos of those establishments, which he paired with the contemporary ones.

Case Postcard Collection

 Postcards from the collection of Debra Case on loan to the Hedberg Public Library for the purposes of this digitization project. Copies of the postcards are available at the library, though the originals remain in the collector’s possession. The cards represent views of the city prior to the 1930s.

City and County Directories

These directories are listings of Rock County residents and businesses. Some of the volumes only cover specific communities such as Janesville or Beloit, while others contain listings for the entire county. The 1878-79 directory also contains La Crosse Wisconsin.

Many of the directories provide a historic look at the community at the time of publication. Information includes but is not limited to: city and county officials, fire department members and fire box locations, schools and teachers, Library Board members, judges and court information, ward boundaries, banks, churches, newspapers, benevolent societies, clubs and organizations, public halls, and cemeteries. The section headings for this information vary. Some of the terms used are Miscellaneous, Janesville City Directory, City of Janesville, and City Government. Advertisements for local businesses of the time are scattered throughout.

1857 1859-60 1862 1866 1870 1876 1878-79 1880 1884-85 1889 1889-90
1892-93 1894-95 1896-97 1898-99 1900-01 1902-03 1903 1905 1907 1909 1911
1913 1915 1917 1919 1921 1923 1925 1927 1929 1931



Historic materials covering the history of the City of Janesville and important institutions in the community include: a 100-year selective chronological history of the community and surrounding area (1900-2000); a history of medical services in Janesville (1833-1933), the public library (1884-1984), public schools (1839-1987), an historical chronology (1835-1935), personal narratives and recollections of citizens, and a 1998 book published by The Janesville Historic Commission with chapters reviewing major aspects of the community. Five of the ten books include photographs, illustrations or graphs and charts. Most are indexed in the Hedberg Public Library online Local History Database.

By Mike DuPre, published by The Janesville Gazette, includes maps, photos and illustrations. A chronological overview of Janesville and area history by decade from 1900 through 1999, this book includes annotated, dated entries of articles from The Janesville Gazette newspaper. Entries from the book lead to the complete article on microfilm, available at Hedberg Public Library. Text and photographs.

City on the Rock River: Chapters in Janesville’s History
977.5887 CART, 268 pages, c1998

 By Carol Lohry Cartwright, Scott Shaffer, Randal Waller. Forward by Carole Zellie, and published by The Janesville Historic Commission, this book includes photographs, illustrations and maps. Detailed chapters about Janesville commerce, agriculture, manufacturing, education, government, transportation, religion, social and political organizations, landscape architecture and planning, architects and builders, and notable people. A 2006 reprint includes some different photos from this 1998 edition. Text, photographs, illustrations.

History of Janesville, 1835-1935
977.587 HULIC, 39 pages, c1935

By Mary Ann Bostwick Hulick. Being a member of one of Janesville’s early pioneer families, Mary authored this 100-year history of Janesville for the Janesville High School yearbook, “Phoenix”, in 1935, her senior year. A note in Mary’s 2005 obituary alerted library staff of its existence. Mary’s obituary and senior photo from the 1935 yearbook are included. Text and photographs.

History of Janesville
977.587 FENRI, 27 pages, c1969

By Raymond E. Fenrick. While a student at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, Fenrick wrote this paper for his Wisconsin History class with Dr. Edward J. Morgan. It is a chronological narrative text, typed and double-spaced. The bibliography includes unique items. Text only.

History of the Janesville Public Schools, 1839-1987
370.9775 SCHOO, 178 pages, c1959-1988.

The first section was published in 1959, compiled by Miss Bernice Cadman, history instructor at the Janesville Senior High School from 1930-1957, and covers 1839-1958. Includes a list of Superintendants from 1849 through 1959, and the total number of students in each graduating class from 1858 through 1959. Photographs of some schools are included. The second section was published in 1976 and compiled by Cecilia Howe, former Social Studies teachers from 1925-1965, and covers the years 1959-1976. Detailed charts and statistics list federally funded programs, a twenty-year list of administrators and school board members, school budget expenditures, school enrollment, salary schedules, and a detailed narrative describing many aspects of school curriculum and philosophy. The third section was published in 1981 and covers 1977-1980. Compiled by Marian Nickol, former English and journalism teacher from 1957-1966, this section details teaching methods of interest, the retirement of Superintendent Fred R. Holt, a survey of school needs, administrative policies and staff changes, federal programs and statistics. The fourth section was published in 1988, compiled by Jean and Dick Weaver, and covers 1980-1987. Charts, graphs, statistics, and a list of principals at all Janesville schools from 1980-1987 are included. Text and photographs.

Janesville Public Library: A Centennial History, 1884-1984
027.4775 PIERCE, 190 pages, c1984

By Janice Kay Pierce. Completed for the 1984 Janesville Public Library Centennial Committee, this book chronicles the history of the library from its antecedents from 1856 to 1883, through the opening of the Carnegie library in 1903, the new library location and building of 1968, up to the 1984 city centennial celebration. Appendices compare the 1968 and 1903 building facilities, list library board members in five-year increments through 1984, and list historical documents used in an historic exhibit of the Janesville Public Library. Text.

Janesville’s Early History
977.587 JANES, 109 pages, c1950

Compiled primarily by Janesville teachers, students and residents, each chapter covers a specific topic. Local authors include Lola Webb, Margaret Chenoweth, Olive Feirn, L.R. Creutz, Abbie Atwood. Some material compiled from other sources. Chapter titles include: The Story of Blackhawk, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, Early Days in Janesville, Brother Dutton, The Story of Dr. Heath, The Holmes Family, Mrs. Frances M. Ford, Author of The Little Engine That Could, Dr. William Pitts, author of the hymn The Little Brown Church in the Vale, Rock River and Rock River Camp Sites, Frances E. Willard, the perfume business in Janesville, Indians and the Early Settlers in Southern Wisconsin. Indexed by Laura Moss Gottlieb, Reference Librarian, Hedberg Public Library, in 2007. Text and graphs.

Medical History of Janesville 1833-1933
610.977587 STEVE 74 pages, c1933

By John Vosburgh Stevens, 1851-1938. This history of the early Janesville hospitals includes references to and photos of the Detention Hospital, Pinehurst Tuberculosis Sanitarium, Palmer Hospital and its predecessors, the Rock County Home, Mercy Hospital, and Mercy Hospital Nurses’ School and Home. The book purports to list all the doctors – with some biographical sketches – and several of the dentists and nurses from the early days of the city. It lists diseases common in Janesville at the turn of the twentieth century, and provides vivid descriptions of the unsanitary conditions of the Rock River and Janesville. The book depicts Janesville when it had unpaved streets, horse-drawn wagons, no municipal garbage collection, little or no public water system, many outhouses in town, and a huge number of flies during the summer. Indexed by Laura Moss Gottlieb, Reference Librarian, Hedberg Public Library, in 2007. Text and photographs.

Reflections from a Warming House Window

278 pages, c2001(?) Compiled by Virginia E. Leffler, this labor of love documents forty years of history of Janesville’s outdoor skating rink at Traxler Parker, formerly Goose Island, from December 1920 through January 1960. Virginia’s father, Leonard “Hans” Wagner , spent 17 years as custodian and caretaker of the rink and warming house. The articles and majority of the photos were compiled from The Janesville Gazette. Leffler hired a local professional photographer, Dooley Photography, to retake photographs from the original articles, with help through the Rock County Historical Society. Published by The Janesville Gazette. Text and photographs.



Digitization of Janesville’s Past is a collaborative project completed by the UWDCC and the Hedberg Public Library and was funded, in part, through matching grants from the Hedberg Public Library Foundation, Janesville Firefighters Union Local # 580, a 2005 Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, a 2008 LSTA grant, and a 2011 LSTA grant. LSTA grants provide financial support for public libraries to digitize and make available online, their local library resources. For more information about LSTA grants in Wisconsin, contact the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Division for Libraries and Technology or visit the LSTA grant Web site at http://pld.dpi.wi.gov/pld_lsta.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.