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Larkin House

Irene and Ella Larkin House (3/16/16)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-55320

Larkin Street

Larkin Street is the first west of the Mineral Point-Speedway-Glenway intersection near Glenway Golf Course. The land west of Glenway was originally purchased from the federal government by Alanson Sweet, a Territorial Council member from Milwaukee, days before Madison was named the capital in November 1836 (Sweet was one of the legislators who worked closely with James Duane Doty to ensure Madison became the capital). The following June, Sweet sold the land to Charles Henry Larkin, with whom he was involved in several business deals in Milwaukee. In October 1837 Charles sold the land to his brother William, who was living in New York at the time. William came to Madison (along with his parents and siblings) shortly thereafter and farmed the land until his death in 1889. He was a town assessor in 1846, and helped A. A. Bird build South Hall at the UW in 1854-55. In 1891 his heirs sold the farm to E. C. Hammersley (Hammersley Street intersects Larkin Street, and is named for him). A few months later Hammersley entered into a partnership with John Olin. In 1916 they sold the farm to the Owen Park Land Company, and within a decade the farmland was platted and houses were erected.

When William came west, so did the whole Larkin clan. His father Jonathan had been engaged in the Newfoundland fisheries in his youth; later, he was a prominent farmer in Erie County, New York. He, his wife Nancy, and their children arrived in Madison in 1837. He bought a tract of land west of present-day Edgewood that he farmed. A house built by Jonathan’s grandson Franklin in 1888 still stands on Woodrow Street. Jonathan, his son Jonathan Jr., and A. A. Bird built Madison’s first jail and the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad depot in 1853. Jonathan’s funeral was held in the Capitol in December 1846.

One of his sons, Jonathan Jr., also farmed along Mineral Point Road, and served as Territorial treasurer from 1847 to 1848. Samuel Chase married his daughter Helen, and in 1873 built a white house on the shore of Lake Wingra at 938 Woodrow Street, which is also still standing.

Another son, Benjamin Franklin, operated the Mountain Ash Farm on Mineral Point Road, just east of the intersection with Segoe Road. He was the town collector in 1848, a Dane County supervisor in 1856, and chief of police in 1866. Two of his daughters, Ella and Irene, were teachers in Madison schools.

Irene was born on the farm. She taught the primary grades from 1872 to 1899 in the First, Second, Third and Fourth Ward schools. “Hundreds of pupils were her loyal friends. She made a place in the hearts of many with her eager interest and quick sympathy.”

Ella taught for thirty-eight years, from 1868 to 1906. She was in the third female class to graduate from the UW normal school (1867). As a teacher she presided over the primary, grammar, and intermediate departments, as well as the first and second grades, at the Fourth Ward, Third Ward, Second Ward, First Ward, University Addition and Little Brick schools, plus the high school model department. Ella started the juvenile library by having each child bring two cents to school every week. At the time of her retirement she was the senior teacher in the district by eight years, at a time when the citizenry was decrying the lack of experienced teachers. She lived on her father Benjamin’s farm; every morning she drove to Madison in a one-horse surrey after doing chores. “She had an infectious laugh.” Henry Casson eulogized her when she died in 1922:

        One of the real primary education centers of Madison was known as Little Brick and Miss Ella Larkin was its teacher. What a teacher she was!
        The thousands of little ones who passed through the first and second grades with her will always hold her in the fondest of memories. We had no juvenile courts in those days, but even if such things existed at that time there would have been no need to send Ella Larkin’s pupils to see the judge. In simple language, she taught us.
        She told us of Washington and the great Lincoln and anecdotes of their lives. She had one book which she used to read to us and that was a history of Barnum’s favorite elephant Jumbo.
        She lived on a farm near Forest Hill Cemetery, now the Anna M. Vilas home, and she and her sister, Miss Irene, drove to town daily in a two-wheeled gig, drawn by a roan horse, which while the sisters were at school was stabled in the old Hayden livery.
        Madison has had good primary teachers but never any better than Ella Larkin and never did a finer-grained, better woman ever have charge of a school of youngsters.