After the Black Hawk War was over in 1832, the United States government surveyed the west bank of the Rock River at the present-day site of Janesville. In the following years, settlers retraced the soldiers’ steps and developed Janesville along the Rock River. In the summer of 1835, the first settlers arrived. Inman and Holmes, living in Milwaukee then, set out on July 15th to search for land in the Rock River valley together. They came upon the remains of Black Hawk’s camp two days later. The settlers found the land to their liking, but there were no other settlers in the area, so they returned to Milwaukee to gather supplies and make settlement plans. A few months later, Inman, Holmes, Joshua, and George Follner returned to the Rock River banks. The first permanent structure on the present-day Janesville site was a log cabin. In December 1835, Samuel St. John and his family of five arrived at the house, and all nine settlers spent the winter together.
The following Spring, several land claims and “paper towns” were platted on lands near Inman’s cabin. The county seat was established in 1836 on a small plot of land owned by Henry Janes on the east bank of the Rock River, which today is marked by the intersection of Milwaukee and Main streets. Janes applied for a post office on the site, recommending himself as postmaster and calling it “Black Hawk.” Janes was appointed postmaster by Amass Kindle, then US Postmaster General, but the office was renamed Janesville.
As a county seat, Janesville was an influential government center. Water power development along the Rock River also contributed to the City’s early prosperity. Along the Rock River were built dams, bridges, lumber mills, grist mills, and woolen mills in the 1840s. Before the Civil War, wheat and three railroad lines propelled growth. Janesville was incorporated as a city in 1853. In the following decades, flour milling, woolen and cotton production, cigar, shoe, and brick manufacturing, stone quarrying, tobacco warehousing, agricultural implement manufacturing, and eventually automobile manufacturing contributed to the economy’s and population’s expansion. From a settlement of less than 300 people in 1840, Janesville grew to 3,000 in 1850, 8,789 in 1870, 13,185 in 1900, and 22,186 in 1925. In the 19th century, most of Janesville’s residents were natives of New York and New England. English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh immigrants constituted the largest group of European immigrants.
Here are some stunning historical photos that show Janesville from the 1850s to the 1890s.
Three prominent buildings in view are: Court Street Methodist Church on the far left (b. 1868), with stores on the ground floor; (Lamont & Fuller); the Meyers House (fourth tall structure from the right); and the Young America Hall (to the right of the Meyers House). The Smith Block, NE corner of Main and Milwaukee (across from the Meyers House) does not show, but was constructed c. 1871, which dates the picture 1868-1871
Janesville's Hyatt House Hotel and its environs before the hotel burned down: A. Hyatt Smith built the Hyatt House on the site of the old Stevens House Hotel on the west side of the Rock River around 1856. The Stevens Hotel burned down on April 1, 1853. West Milwaukee and Franklin Street is the 2005 corner on which this hotel stood. Five stories high and built of brick, the Hyatt House was the most elaborate of the city's nineteenth-century hotels. Its dining room could seat 400-500 guests at one time. The building was destroyed by fire on October 12, 1867. Chester A. Arthur is said to have stayed at the Hyatt House in 1857, before he was president, when he was on a tour of the West on a prospecting trip. Stephen A. Douglas, a Democratic candidate for President against Abraham Lincoln, gave a campaign speech at this hotel.
PJanesville's first woolen mill built in 1849. Men, women, and child laborers stand in front of the stone three-story structure, said to be on the site of what became the Panoramic Corporation and thus the longest continuously occupied industrial site in the city. This may be the oldest photograph in existence showing a Janesville labor force at its place of employment. The mill was constructed in 1849 as the Whitaker Mill. F. A. Wheeler and Sons then ran it. Payne, Hastings, and Co. took over the mill sometime between 1866 and 1870. In 1873, the company was reorganized as the McLean Woolen Mills. Around the turn of the twentieth century, it became known as the Rock River Woolen Mills. The stone building in this photo burned down around 1881 and was replaced by a new structure which was still standing in 1982 as part of the Panoramic complex. A JANESVILLE GAZETTE article from March 11, 1871, described what went on on each floor of the mill: the lower level was used for storage.
Photo one, on the corner of River and Milwaukee Streets, includes views of the Hall, Sayles and Fifield Jewelry Store, Sarasy Drugs, and Kimball Undertaking as well. In the street are horse-drawn carriages, stores with awnings, and a man on a bicycle are seen: Photo two shows the parade crossing Milwaukee Street bridge. Chauncy Miltimore leads the parade on horseback followed by a a marching band.
The trees are bare, and there are two men in dress coats and hats on either side of the three-tiered fountain in front of the courthouse in the area called Lower Courthouse Park. The first courthouse, a wooden affair, was built in 1842 but was consumed by fire in 1858. The second courthouse opened on February 1, 1871 and was razed in 1957 to make way for a third courthouse.
A street scene of merchants on Jackson Street standing outside their stores with many of their wares, including baskets and barrels. Hanley Bros. Fruit Dealers, Skelly and Wilbur Wholesale and Retail are the stores identified by their signs. John Hyzer is said to be one of the men in the photo. The street is unpaved. This batch of retail stores later became the Cain Ashcraft Building (11 South Jackson Street).
The scene includes baskets of fruits and vegetables, including bananas and pineapples, and an ad for Hires root beer! It also includes what appear to be gas lights and an ad for a printer. The men identified in the photo are Harry Dorn, Wally Nash (proprietor, 3rd person) and his father (with beard), James Clark, and Walter Taylor.
This hospital was established by Dr. Henry W. Palmer at this location in 1895, and taken over and renovated by Dr. W. H. Palmer -- Dr. Henry Palmer's son -- following his father's death on June 15, 1895. The hospital was named "The Palmer Memorial Hospital" at the time the son took it over.