The Last Village President
Peter H. Van Bergen (1809-1879) was Madison’s eighth and last village president. His term in office ended on April 7, 1856, when Jairus Fairchild was inaugurated Madison’s first mayor. In the 1840s, Van Bergen operated the Madison Hotel, which had originally been the Peck boarding house used by the workers who built the Capitol. He erected the original Congregational Church in 1846, and a stone business block in 1856 at 120-128 South Pinckney Street. The two upper stories of the block were converted into the first theater in Madison; the first entertainer to perform there was General Tom Thumb.
His wife, Verila Ann Starks (1811-1890), came to Madison with her mother Tryphosa, sisters Anna, Adaline and Ruth, and brother Johnson, in 1839. Anna, who was an Episcopalian missionary at Green Bay, married John Yates Smith, a newspaperman and real estate speculator. Ruth married Nicholas Smith, whose firm, Smith & Tredway, was one of Madison’s first dry goods stores. Adaline married Neely Gray, a merchant, politician, and member of the Constitutional Convention.
Peter’s brother Seth (1814-1900) was a farmer and real estate developer. He came to Madison in 1842, and operated several mail routes and a number of farms. At one time he owned all of the Greenbush neighborhood along what is now Mills Street. He was county superintendent of the poor, assessor in 1848, and a Dane County supervisor from 1856 to 1857. The stone house he built at 302 South Mills Street and later sold to James B. Bowen is a Madison landmark. His daughter Jessie, who died on October 24, 1858, was among the earliest Madisonians buried in the brand new Forest Hill Cemetery.
Both Peter and Seth served as aldermen on Madison’s first city council in 1856.
Their brother, William, went to California in the gold rush in 1850 along with many other Madisonians. He died of cholera at Sacramento in January 1851 while returning to Wisconsin.