Madison's Past


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Effigy Mound Builders

Effigy Mound Builders, P. Hefko (1997)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-33815

Madison's Past - Early History

The four lakes region was formed by the glaciers when they retreated about 13,000 years ago. Between 300 and 1,300 AD Native American "mound builders" occupied the area. Of the thousands of effigy mounds that once surrounded the lakes only a few remain to remind us of this unique culture. By the time the Yankee settlers began to arrive, the Ho-Chunk Nation called this area home. They were forced to move west of the Mississippi River after the Black Hawk conflict of 1832 but many stayed behind and others filtered back into the area and continued to camp near the lakes into the 1940s.

James Duane Doty, a territorial Judge and land speculator, traveled through Madison's Isthmus in May 1829 and liked the site so much that he bought 1,200 acres for $1,500 and platted a grid of streets. In 1836, he persuaded the territorial legislature meeting in Belmont (a small town 50 miles southwest of what is now Madison) to designate Madison, then his paper city, as the site for the new capital.

Doty named the city Madison for James Madison, the 4th President of the U.S. who had died on June 28, 1836 and he named the streets around the capitol square for the other signers of the U.S. Constitution.

In April 1837, Eben and Roseline Peck moved to the Isthmus from Blue Mounds and built a log cabin boarding house near South Butler Street to accommodate the workers who came from Milwaukee to build the Capitol. Roseline gave birth to Madison's first non-Native American baby and her public-house guests named the child Wisconsiana Victoria.

Nine years later when the Village of Madison was incorporated the population had reached 626. Wisconsin became a state in 1848. Madison became a city in 1856 and boasted a population of 6,864. The first settlers were Yankees from the eastern states. They were soon followed by German, Irish and Norwegian immigrants. Italians, Greeks, Jews and African Americans also found a home here after the turn of the Century.

King Street and the East Main/South Pinckney Street sides of the Capitol Square were the first commercial districts. The first residential districts were along Gorham, Gilman, Langdon and Wilson Street. The growth of state and county government, the University of Wisconsin and a few industries such as Oscar Mayer, French Battery Co. (Ray-o-Vac), L.L. Olds Seed Co., Gisholt Machine Tool Co. and the Fauerbach Brewery provided employment and stimulated Madison's growth.