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What Janesville, WI looked like in the Late 19th Century through Stunning Historical Photos

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.

#1 St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church before the convent was built behind it, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1899

St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church before the convent was built behind it, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1899

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#2 The YMCA building in Janesville, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1899

The YMCA building in Janesville, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1899

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#3 View down Madison Street with houses along sidewalk, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

View down Madison Street with houses along sidewalk, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

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#4 Looking northwest from the Methodist Episcopal Church, Main Street, with trolley track running down the center of the street, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

Looking northwest from the Methodist Episcopal Church, Main Street, with trolley track running down the center of the street, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

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#5 Several looms in the instructional weaving facility at the State School for the Blind, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

Several looms in the instructional weaving facility at the State School for the Blind, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

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#6 Exterior view in winter of the Wisconsin School for the Blind, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

Exterior view in winter of the Wisconsin School for the Blind, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

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#7 Interior of the State School for the Blind, perhaps a study or room for recreation, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

Interior of the State School for the Blind, perhaps a study or room for recreation, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

Included in the room are several tables with small models, a piano, and a large map of the Americas with geographic representations indicated in relief.

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#8 Music recital room at the State School for the Blind with seven rows of seating, a piano and cello, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

Music recital room at the State School for the Blind with seven rows of seating, a piano and cello, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1893.

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#9 View across street of City Hospital, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1892.

View across street of City Hospital, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1892.

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#10 The Lappin block, Ed Carpenter, proprietor, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1892.

The Lappin block, Ed Carpenter, proprietor, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1892.

Businesses on this block include: Bort, Baily & Co, Dry Goods and Carpets; AF Hall & Co, 'The Reliable Jewlers'; JW Brown, Fine Cigars and Tobaccos; SC Burnham & Co, Jewelry and Music House.

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#11 Exterior of the second Rock County Court House which stood from 1896 to 1955, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1875.

Exterior of the second Rock County Court House which stood from 1896 to 1955, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1875.

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#12 Milwaukee Street looking east in Janesville, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1870. The Myers House is located at the top of the hill.

Milwaukee Street looking east in Janesville, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1870. The Myers House is located at the top of the hill.

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#13 Elevated view over river of Dodge Street in Janesville looking west, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1870.

Elevated view over river of Dodge Street in Janesville looking west, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1870.

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#14 Jefferson School, built on the site of the first cemetery in Janesville, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1870.

Jefferson School, built on the site of the first cemetery in Janesville, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1870.

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#15 Elevated view looking down Court Street in Janesville toward the west, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1870.

Elevated view looking down Court Street in Janesville toward the west, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1870.

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#16 Elevated view of the busy streets of Court and Milwaukee, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1870.

Elevated view of the busy streets of Court and Milwaukee, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1870.

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

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#17 Elevated view of Milwaukee Street, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1865.

Elevated view of Milwaukee Street, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1865.

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#18 Milwaukee Street looking west with small dog in foreground, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1865.

Milwaukee Street looking west with small dog in foreground, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1865.

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#19 Elevated view of Janesville with a residential area in the foreground and the business district in the background, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1860.

Elevated view of Janesville with a residential area in the foreground and the business district in the background, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1860.

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#20 Bird’s-eye view of Janesville from the High School building, 1860

Bird's-eye view of Janesville from the High School building, 1860

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#21 View across street of City Hospital, 1892

View across street of City Hospital, 1892

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#22 The No. 1 Cotton Mill. Plank sidewalk in foreground, 1893

The No. 1 Cotton Mill. Plank sidewalk in foreground, 1893

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#23 Elevated view looking down Court Street in Janesville toward the west, 1870

Elevated view looking down Court Street in Janesville toward the west, 1870

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#24 Elevated view over river of Dodge Street in Janesville looking west, 1870

Elevated view over river of Dodge Street in Janesville looking west, 1870

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#25 Institution for the Education of the Blind, 1865

Institution for the Education of the Blind, 1865

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#26 Janesville City Hospital, 1893

Janesville City Hospital, 1893

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#27 Jefferson School, built on the site of the first cemetery in Janesville, 1870

Jefferson School, built on the site of the first cemetery in Janesville, 1870

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#28 The Kimball and Lowell Hardware Store located on the corner of Franklin and Milwaukee Streets, 1887

The Kimball and Lowell Hardware Store located on the corner of Franklin and Milwaukee Streets, 1887

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#29 The Lappin Block, 1892

The Lappin Block, 1892

The Lappin block, Ed. Carpenter, proprietor. Businesses on this block include: Bort, Baily & Co., Dry Goods and Carpets; A.F. Hall & Co., "The Reliable Jewlers"; J.W. Brown, Fine Cigars and Tobaccos; S.C. Burnham & Co., Jewelry and Music House.

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#30 View down Madison Street with houses along sidewalk, 1893

View down Madison Street with houses along sidewalk, 1893

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#31 Looking northwest from the Methodist Episcopal Church, Main Street, with trolley track running down the center of the street, 1893

Looking northwest from the Methodist Episcopal Church, Main Street, with trolley track running down the center of the street, 1893

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#32 Milwaukee Street in Janesville, 1865

Milwaukee Street in Janesville, 1865

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#33 View from along right side of bridge of Milwaukee Street looking east in Janesville, 1870

View from along right side of bridge of Milwaukee Street looking east in Janesville, 1870

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#34 The Rock River, 1868

The Rock River, 1868

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#35 Rock County Court House, 1875

Rock County Court House, 1875

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#36 Stereograph of the Rock County Court House, 1890

Stereograph of the Rock County Court House, 1890

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#37 Elevated view of the town with All Souls Church in the bottom right corner, 1893

Elevated view of the town with All Souls Church in the bottom right corner, 1893

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#38 View of the Janesville Countryside, 1860

View of the Janesville Countryside, 1860

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#39 View from the south, with a railroad in the foreground, a river in the middle distance, and Janesville in the background, 1893

View from the south, with a railroad in the foreground, a river in the middle distance, and Janesville in the background, 1893

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#40 Elevated view of Janesville with a residential area in the foreground and the business district in the background, 1860

Elevated view of Janesville with a residential area in the foreground and the business district in the background, 1860

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#41 View from the cupola of the old Jefferson School. The large building in the upper left is the Hyatt House, which burned in 1867.

View from the cupola of the old Jefferson School. The large building in the upper left is the Hyatt House, which burned in 1867.

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#42 Aerial view of a residential part of Janesville, 1865

Aerial view of a residential part of Janesville, 1865

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#43 Elevated View of Milwaukee Street, 1865

Elevated View of Milwaukee Street, 1865

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#44 An interior view of the front parlor at 165 N. High Street, 1898

An interior view of the front parlor at 165 N. High Street, 1898

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#45 An elderly man stands in a room holding a small girl, 1898

An elderly man stands in a room holding a small girl, 1898

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#46 Stereograph of the Rock County Court House, 1890

Stereograph of the Rock County Court House, 1890

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#47 Right side view of Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway locomotive engine no. 632., 1886

Right side view of Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway locomotive engine no. 632., 1886

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#48 Students and adults of the State School for the Blind pose for a group portrait in front of the building, 1893

Students and adults of the State School for the Blind pose for a group portrait in front of the building, 1893

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#49 Milwaukee Street looking west from the Jackman Building includes a horse and buggy, the Valley Chief Reaper Gun Shop, and a furniture store, 1850

Milwaukee Street looking west from the Jackman Building includes a horse and buggy, the Valley Chief Reaper Gun Shop, and a furniture store, 1850

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#50 Crystal Springs, a popular park 3 miles north of Janesville, 1850.

Crystal Springs, a popular park 3 miles north of Janesville, 1850.

Two people are in a row boat; a man and two children stand on a bank looking on; and a man stands on a wooden dam, also gazing at the boaters.

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#51 The First National Bank at the corner of River and Milwaukee Streets, 1890s.

The First National Bank at the corner of River and Milwaukee Streets, 1890s.

A horse pulling two people in a sleigh is in front. Conner and Hawes Law Offices are on the second floor. A sign saying "United States Depository" can be read on the front of the bank building.

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#52 Milwaukee Street, West, 1860

Milwaukee Street, West, 1860

The First National Bank is on the right hand corner. A harness shop is next to the bank. Horses and wagons are tied up along the unpaved street.

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#53 Hyatt House Hotel, 1856

Hyatt House Hotel, 1856

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.

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#54 First Congregational Church, 1860

First Congregational Church, 1860

First Congregational Church and the Rock River from the back of Bostwick's store, looking west up Dodge Street when Dodge Street was a dirt road.

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#55 Railroad roundhouse with wood-burning locomotives, 1860

Railroad roundhouse with wood-burning locomotives, 1860

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#56 Civil War soldiers lined up in Janesville, 1860

Civil War soldiers lined up in Janesville, 1860

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#57 St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, which was built about 1800 at 315 Cherry Street, 1864.

St. Patrick's Catholic Church, which was built about 1800 at 315 Cherry Street, 1864.

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#58 Railroad roundhouse, Chicago and North Western Roundhouse in south Janesville, 1864

Railroad roundhouse, Chicago and North Western Roundhouse in south Janesville, 1864

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#59 A marching band marching down Janesville’s unpaved Main Street in a Fourth of July parade, 1869.

A marching band marching down Janesville's unpaved Main Street in a Fourth of July parade, 1869.

Horses and buggies are parked along one side of the street, while onlookers gather under awnings on the sidewalks.

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#60 A horse-drawn float full of flower-bedecked women dressed in white riding in an 1869 July 4th parade in front of the Myers House, 1869

A horse-drawn float full of flower-bedecked women dressed in white riding in an 1869 July 4th parade in front of the Myers House, 1869

James Webb's jewelry store, located in the Myers House building, is also visible.

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#61 Early woolen mill, Janesville, 1870

Early woolen mill, Janesville, 1870

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.

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#62 D. D. Wilson’s Music Store and the Park Shoe Store, at the northwest corner of Court and Main Streets, 1870

D. D. Wilson's Music Store and the Park Shoe Store, at the northwest corner of Court and Main Streets, 1870

Later this was the site of the Court Street Methodist Church, and still later a Penney's Department Store. In 2005 this is the location of Rock County TV and Appliance, 34 South Main Street.

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#63 Rock County Jail, 1871

Rock County Jail, 1871

The actual hanging took place near the Court House in 1870. The old jail is no longer extant. An earlier jail was located in the old Janesville City Hall. The tree used to hang David Maybe was cut down after the incident to stop any future mob actions.

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#64 Rock County Courthouse, 1871

Rock County Courthouse, 1871

This photograph is taken from a distance and at an elevation and shows the courthouse surrounded by trees, with a boardwalk in front and an unpaved street. A large house can be seen behind the courthouse.

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#65 Monterey Rock, 1875

Monterey Rock, 1875

Apparently taken in winter, since the river appears to be frozen, the rock is surrounded by men and boys in coats and hats.

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#66 Myers House Hotel and Todd’s Brewery on Milwaukee Street, 1875

Myers House Hotel and Todd's Brewery on Milwaukee Street, 1875

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#67 Myers House Hotel from South Main Street. Photo includes an unpaved street, a horse and coach, 1875

Myers House Hotel from South Main Street. Photo includes an unpaved street, a horse and coach, 1875

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#68 St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 1876.

St. Mary's Catholic Church, 1876.

The original wooden building in which St. Mary's Catholic Church was begun in 1876 at 313 East Wall Street (no longer extant in 2005) to ease overcrowding at St. Patrick's and to provide German language services to German Catholics in Janesville.

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#69 Myers House Hotel, 1880

Myers House Hotel, 1880

It was built in 1859 on the corner of Main and Milwaukee Streets by Peter Myers. U. S. Grant is said to have stayed overnight at the hotel on September 8, 1870.

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#70 Janesville Machine Company, 1880

Janesville Machine Company, 1880

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#71 Claremont S. Jackson home in Janesville, 1880

Claremont S. Jackson home in Janesville, 1880

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#72 Railroad Hotel that was once located near the railroad yard on Beloit Avenue in south Janesville, 1880

Railroad Hotel that was once located near the railroad yard on Beloit Avenue in south Janesville, 1880

The photo shows that the hotel offered rooms for $1.00 per day and served meals for 25 cents. A. Holt was the proprietor.

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#73 Milwaukee and Main Street, 1882

Milwaukee and Main Street, 1882

Photo is taken from the Milwaukee St. bridge showing unpaved streets, horses and buggies; Sea Side Oyster House; W. C. Holmes, Merchant, Tailor; John Griffiths' Hardware; ads for King's Book Store and News Depot, and the Daily Recorder.

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#74 “Enterprise” steamboat and “Bower City Belle” boat on the Rock River, June 1884

"Enterprise" steamboat and "Bower City Belle" boat on the Rock River, June 1884

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#75 Janesville Cotton Mills building at 216-220 North Franklin Street, 1888

Janesville Cotton Mills building at 216-220 North Franklin Street, 1888

The mills were at that site from 1875 on. The building is still extant in 2005 and has been converted into apartments.

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#76 Janesville residences, schools, churches, street scenes, bridges and dams, 1888

Janesville residences, schools, churches, street scenes, bridges and dams, 1888

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#77 William Henry Tallman House at 440 South Jackson Street in Janesville, 1888.

William Henry Tallman House at 440 South Jackson Street in Janesville, 1888.

As of 2005, this home has been open to the public as part of the Rock County Historical Society for many years. Abraham Lincoln slept in this house one night in October 1859.

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#78 Janesville City Hospital, 1890

Janesville City Hospital, 1890

Established in 1883 by Dr. Henry Palmer at 1005 Sutherland Ave.

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#79 Kate and Ellen Nelson on Park Avenue with an older couple, 1890

Kate and Ellen Nelson on Park Avenue with an older couple, 1890

The photo includes a horse and buggy, a dog, a fence, and an older couple, in addition to the two adult sisters.

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#80 A building with a mansard roof at the corner of Franklin and Milwaukee Streets in Janesville, 1890

A building with a mansard roof at the corner of Franklin and Milwaukee Streets in Janesville, 1890

The photo includes an advertisement for a dentist, City Drug Store, M. and B. Conant, and City Bakery. Horses and buggies and a cow are in the foreground. The Congregational Church steeple is in the background. This building was not extant in 2005.

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#81 West Milwaukee Street near Jackson Street looking east, 1890

West Milwaukee Street near Jackson Street looking east, 1890

The photo includes a man driving a horse and wagon, women walking on the sidewalk in long dresses and hats, and assorted buildings and telegraph wires.

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#82 Elks Carnival Parade on Milwaukee Street in August, 1890

Elks Carnival Parade on Milwaukee Street in August, 1890

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.

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#83 Rock County Courthouse in Janesville is taken from a street in winter, 1890.

Rock County Courthouse in Janesville is taken from a street in winter, 1890.

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.

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#84 Hotel Corneau on the corner of Main and First Street in Janesville, 1890

Hotel Corneau on the corner of Main and First Street in Janesville, 1890

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#85 Kate and Ellen Nelson in front of their house with dog and horse-drawn carriage, 1890

Kate and Ellen Nelson in front of their house with dog and horse-drawn carriage, 1890

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#86 Main Street as seen from Milwaukee Street in the 1890s

Main Street as seen from Milwaukee Street in the 1890s

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#87 Fourth Avenue bridge looking south down the Rock River, 1890.

Fourth Avenue bridge looking south down the Rock River, 1890.

The Courthouse is visible in the background as are many warehouse buildings, and a boat. One book identifies this scene as the steamboat launch landing at the Fourth Avenue Bridge above the dam.

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#88 Corn Exchange fountain, 1890

Corn Exchange fountain, 1890

The photo includes many people, horses and buggies, and a streetcar. The fountain was not extant in 2005.

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#89 Jackson Street merchants with their wares, 1890

Jackson Street merchants with their wares, 1890

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).

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#90 Five men outside their grocery store on River Street in Janesville, 1890.

Five men outside their grocery store on River Street in Janesville, 1890.

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.

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#91 The Chicago and North Western Railroad depot in Janesville with a steam locomotive on the track, 1890

The Chicago and North Western Railroad depot in Janesville with a steam locomotive on the track, 1890

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#92 Palmer Memorial Hospital, Washington St., Janesville, 1895

Palmer Memorial Hospital, Washington St., Janesville, 1895

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.

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#93 Janesville, from the north, 1898.

Janesville, from the north, 1898.

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#94 Janesville, Rock River Valley above city, 1898

Janesville, Rock River Valley above city, 1898

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#95 Janesville, from the south, 1898

Janesville, from the south, 1898

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#96 Janesville, from the north, 1898.

Janesville, from the north, 1898.

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#97 Janesville, from the north, 1898.

Janesville, from the north, 1898.

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#98 Old Janesville P.O., Custer County, 1888

Old Janesville P.O., Custer County, 1888

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#99 Janesville, Rock River Valley above city, 1880s

Janesville, Rock River Valley above city, 1880s

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#100 Valley of Rock River above Janesville, 1898

Valley of Rock River above Janesville, 1898

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#101 Janesville from the north, 1880s

Janesville from the north, 1880s

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#102 Janesville, 1898

Janesville, 1898

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#103 Valley of Rock River above Janesville, 1898

Valley of Rock River above Janesville, 1898

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#104 Janesville from the railway bridge, 1898

Janesville from the railway bridge, 1898

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#105 Janesville from the railway bridge, 1898

Janesville from the railway bridge, 1898

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#106 Janesville from the south, 1898

Janesville from the south, 1898

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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