There are times I find myself driving through areas of the city or in the country and wondering what these areas used to look like. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard how there was a structure that stood in an area that is now a parking lot, or how a road used to run in a different location than now. There are a few tricks I have learned over the past few years to investigate these curiosities in local history.
The University of Wisconsin Digital Collections (UWDC) has been a great source of old maps, pictures, plat books, and histories. It was in their collection that I found some interesting bits of history worth exploring further. I found an old plat book (circa 1923) showing the layout of the intersection near the farm I grew up on. I have heard from neighbors how the intersection used to be quite different, and how the road was routed differently than today. I went to an earlier plat book (circa 1901) that also showed a creamery being in the middle of our intersection. I really wanted to find out what this old road looked like, and the creamery occupied the middle of this intersection. Both of these were somewhat of a challenge, but I never turn down a hunt for history!
The 1901 map I found of our township listed the creamery as “Groose Creamery Station.” I did a search on UWDC’s website and turned up some of the Wisconsin Food and Dairy Commission reports from 1896, and there is a Groose & Haas Creamery listed. When I did a search in the 1900 edition that creamery was not listed. A local historical society website had it listed in one of the gazetteers in its collections. So I have some base information on this creamery. Perhaps a visit to the Kingston Historical Society, or looking through some Markesan Herald newspapers will help piece together some of the missing puzzles.
After my search for the former creamery was done, I turned my attention to finding evidence of the old roadway that ran through the area. Finding this information can be tricky, because it is not as easy as looking on Google Maps. A great deal of time could be spent looking at local historical societies or asking older neighbors. I found a very, very helpful website that was exactly what I was looking for. The Wisconsin State Cartographer’s Office has a finding tool called the Wisconsin Historic Aerial Image Finder that allows you to go to an exact location and look at aerial photographs of that area from the past. I zoomed into my neighborhood and brought up a photograph from 1938.
As you can see from the 1938 picture, it appears as though the creamery was demolished by 1938. It is stunning how much the intersection changed. I believe the highway was worked on in the mid 1950s, and this intersection was made the way it looks today. The road was also re-routed to the other side of our neighbor’s property. It is amazing what resources are available on the internet to find information like this.
Do you have some local history that these resources might be useful for? Where are you from, and how has your neighborhood changed?