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Tobacco Field

Tobacco Field with Farmstead in Background (1874 ca.)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-26428

Tobacco: Hiestand-McCoy Farm

The recently completed Capital City bike trail winds along Nine Springs Creek south of Madison. Just east of the five mile marker there is an old brick farmhouse, its cupola and top story visible beyond a ridge and clump of trees a quarter of a mile or so south of the trail. Hiram Hiestand, a tobacco farmer who came to Wisconsin from Virginia, built the house in 1852. The cream colored brick was shipped from Tennessee via the Ohio, Mississippi, and Wisconsin rivers, then hauled overland to Dane County. During construction, a worker died and was buried in the basement under a stone crudely scratched with the letter “J.”

The first tobacco in Dane County was grown on this land in 1853. Hiram allegedly supervised the field hands as they worked from the cupola. He returned to Virginia at the start of the Civil War. William R. Williamson bought the house in 1874 and it stayed in his family until Dr. Elizabeth McCoy, the last owner, died in 1977. Dr. McCoy was a noted microbiologist who trained more than 50 Ph.D.s at the UW; she experimented with hybrid seed corn and soybeans on the farm. She left the house to WARF, which had no use for it. In July 1979 the house was nearly razed, but was ultimately spared from the wrecking ball.

At the time the house was built, Nine Springs Creek was known as Tarporah Creek, which means “breastbone” in Ho-Chunk.