Past Articles

Barn Raising in 1843

(Betty Cass in the Madison State Journal)

Vroman barn LR

Ninety-four years ago this summer, in 1843 (no one remembers the exact day or month) the most tremendous barn-raising ever seen in Dane county before or since was held on the Vroman farm near Fitchburg, eight miles from Madison, Joseph Vroman, who had come west from New York in 1840, built a log cabin for his family, and started to farm, had prospered, and the new barn, the largest in southern Wisconsin, was the outward and visible sign of his prosperity.

He and his helpers had worked for months, making ready for the “raising.” They had felled and hewn giant oak trees for the supporting beams, two of which were 36 feet long and 15 inches square. The solid oak planks were ready for the flooring and the wooden pegs which were to hold it together were stacked in neat piles waiting the mallet which would drive them home.

When the time came for the “raising” the neighbors from over the entire county gathered, George Stoner, after whom the nearby station was later named, was a small boy at the time and only stood by and watched, but in later years he remembered that some folks had come from fifty miles away for the long-looked-for Vroman “barn raising.

At any rate, two or three hundred people gathered. Entire families came… and stayed, some of them for two and three days. There was a mammoth picnic on the day of the actual raising, and barbecues, and, probably, (though no one is living who remembers) the traditional dance when the floor was laid and the roof on.

The main supporting beams of the structure, the two 36-foot ones, fastened together about six feet apart and supported by short cross-beams, took seventy-five men to lift and put in place. The hay mow, when completed, held sixty tons of hay, and the other end of the barn had a floor with quarter-inch cracks between the boards for shelling corn and threshing grain. The ears of corn were laid on the floor, an ox driven around and around on it, and the grains of corn fell through the cracks onto a solid floor beneath, The grain was also laid on the floor, was beaten with a flail, and the grain fell through the cracks, A few years ago this floor, displaced by modern methods, was replaced with an ordinary one.

Eventually Joseph Vroman passed on to join his ancestors and Hiram Vroman, his son, born on the farm, took his place. Today Hiram Vroman, 90 years old, sits peacefully in the twilight of his life in the home his father built, in the only home he has ever known, while his sons, Arthur and Elmer, the third generation of Vromans to till those acres, run the farm.

And all of these years the old barn, all solid oak except the siding boards, with its hand-cut 1843 in the topmost foot of the gable, has housed the Vroman livestock and hoarded the Vroman harvest—but now “It has outlived its usefulness,” Elmer Vroman says, “and Wednesday the carpenters will come to take it down,”

Some of the splendid oaken beams, with the marks of those axes of ninety-four years ago, will be used in the new buildings which are to take its place. Some of them will be sold . . . probably to antique collectors.

Wausau Daily Record-Herald, Wausau, Wisconsin June 24, 1937, p 12

As we head into road repair season and are starting to feel the effects on Fish Hatchery Road, here are two views of Fish Hatchery Road south of Greenway Cross looking north, one taken in 1988 and the other in 2019. The McDonald’s sign is on the right and gas station on the left further down the road.

FH Rd 1988 recent

Fitchburg Morns the Death of Town/City Leader

Doug.jpgDouglas Wayne Morrissette, the Town Chair from 1975 to 1981 and the City Mayor from 1993 to 1999 died Wednesday, October 16, 2019. He was also the southern director of the Department of Natural Resources at the Nevin Fish Hatchery in Fitchburg. His obituaries can be seen here and here and the Town Chairs/City Mayors can be seen here.

Gravestone Saga

The Saga of Thomas Burke’s Gravestone by Eric Amlie

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The old St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fitchburg was built in 1857 just west of what is now the Correctional Center on County Highway M. Next to the church was a cemetery where most of the Catholics in the area were buried between 1857 and 1898. In 1885, the St. Mary’s congregation moved to Oregon a short distance to the south and closed the old cemetery in 1898. At this time a new St. Mary’s Cemetery was established next to the Protestant Prairie Mounds Cemetery in the northeast part of Oregon and most of the remains were reburied in the new cemetery or in a Madison cemetery.  This appears to be when Thomas Burke was separated from his old gravestone.

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In the 1960s the site of the old cemetery, overrun with weeds, was cleaned up and most of the remaining gravestones were collected. However, some of these remaining gravestones were taken by individuals passing by. The old Thomas Burke gravestone was one of these that went missing. Since a new Thomas Burke gravestone had be made for the new cemetery, the old gravestone was forgotten.

Fast forward to the mid 1990’s. The Fitchburg Historical Society board members became aware that the old Thomas Burke gravestone was located at an address near Rhinelander, WI. As I occasionally made trips to Rhinelander for my work, a co-worker and I stopped by to see the gravestone and figured the two of us could put it in the back of the station wagon. It quickly became apparent that the two of us were not strong enough to lift the gravestone. I made plans to return with better equipment and a trailer but as time passed the trip never happened.

A couple years ago, the FHS board was contacted by Stephanie Harvey who had the gravestone on her property near Clearwater Lake. Remembering my failed attempt 25 years ago, I was determined to make another attempt at retrieving the gravestone by myself using a 1000 lb. capacity dolly, a “come along” and a few other tools. I was sure I would be able to handle the gravestone and get it loaded into either my truck or a trailer.

Fortunately, as it turned out, my wife, Marge, decided that we should make an autumn vacation trip to Boulder Junction and while up there pick up the gravestone. On a rainy October 8, 2018, we headed over to retrieve the gravestone. We managed to get it on the dolly, but even with the two of us together we didn’t have enough weight to get the dolly tipped back so the weight was on the wheels. Working in the rain for the better part of an hour prying & blocking, we finally got the dolly tipped back. Once tipped back, it was not too hard to get it into the trailer, though I did have to use a “come along” to pull the dolly with the gravestone up a ramp and into the trailer.

Once we got it home, I contacted the Oregon Area Historical Society about the recovered gravestone as the Catholic church and new St. Mary’s Cemetery were in Oregon. They directed me to Our Lady of Consolation church in Oregon who in turn directed me to the Oakhill Correctional Institution who now is in charge of the old cemetery land. I told them of my plans to return the gravestone to the cemetery and they were supportive, even offering help if I needed it (I told them how heavy it is).


Someone expressed some concern about the stone tipping, as a couple of the old gravestones were tilted. To eliminate this concern, I decided to pour a concrete base for the gravestone. Unfortunately, the weather was getting too cold for concrete work so we kept the stone in our back yard through the winter. Spring was cool & rainy and then it turned very hot which kept delaying me from pouring the concrete base. Finally, during the week of July 22, 2019, we had a stretch of good working weather. I built a simple square form from 2 x 4s, excavated, mixed 3 bags of concrete and poured the base, making sure it was level and below ground level so the mowers would not hit it.

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While doing some volunteer work with the Verona Area Historical Society at the old Dane County Asylum cemetery in Verona, I mentioned the project to the VAHS president Jesse Charles. He expressed interest in being there and helping me set the gravestone.

We let the concrete base cure for a week and then on the evening of July 30, 2019, Marge and I met Jesse, his wife, and his son at the cemetery and we set the stone. As Jesse is a big man, it was very helpful having him there to help handle the weight of the gravestone.

The old stone is finally back “home” again.

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Old Thomas Burke gravestone

Fitchburg and The Fitchburg Historical Society Will Miss a Dear Friend

Kathleen “Kay” (Fahey) Harty was a wonderful Irish Lane neighbor and friend. Kay was raised on a small farm in Fitchburg with her two sisters, Elizabeth and Ellen.   She loved her sheep, horses and dogs when she was growing up (and her dogs as an adult!) and spoke often of them and the joy they gave her.  Kathleen was born to Thomas and Katherine (Keeley) Fahey April 5, 1932.  Her grandparents were John and Julia Monks Fahey, and her great grandparents were James and Bridget White Monks who came from Ireland and settled on Irish Lane in 1855.   Kathleen was married to Charles Harty in 1959 and has a son, Robert (Mona) Harty, and two granddaughters, Kamryn and Carolyn, who were very dear to her.

Kay received her start in education in Fitchburg Center School, one of Fitchburg’s one-room schools before the consolidation of rural schools. The school was located on the corner of Fish Hatchery and Whalen Roads with grades one through eight, and is now a home.  It is there that she attended grades one through six, and then transferred to Edgewood Campus School in Madison and was placed in eighth grade.  A story she often told about her Fitchburg school days, was when she came to school riding in her pony cart one day and one of the boys untied the pony from the fencepost when no one was around, and the pony and the cart went home, much to the “chagrin” of her mother when she saw it coming!  Her mother did not have a car at that time, and the school did not have a phone.  One can only imagine her concern…………..

Kathleen loved the rural setting of her home, and would frequently ask a nearby neighbor, Bill Kinney, to please keep the rather large honeysuckle bush that grew along the line fence cut down, as it was blocking her “east view” of the countryside!

As an educator, Kay excelled in the field of education as an elementary school teacher, a specialist in reading and early childhood education, a principal of Midvale Elementary and Gompers Elementary Schools in Madison, to name a few of her achievements.  She obtained her undergraduate and graduate degrees from UW-Whitewater, and a Ph.D. from UW-Madison.  Arthritis eventually caused her great discomfort and she retired early.  She continued to remain active in various organizations.

The Fitchburg Historical Society appreciated Kathleen’s presence on their Board with her suggestions for programs for the annual membership and other meetings, and her sharing of her historical knowledge of the Fitchburg community.  Kay was always open to new things, and willing to do her part in contributing to the successful growth of the Fitchburg Historical Society.  Her name will be added to the plaque of former Board members that is hanging in the Fitchburg Room on the second floor of the Fitchburg Public Library.

Carole S. Kinney
Archivist of F.H.S.
January, 2019

Click to view Kay Harty’s obituary

Ann O’Brien Interview on the Doll Hospital

Doll hospital.jpgAnn O’Brien, longtime Fitchburg resident, experienced a unique childhood.  Her mother ran a doll hospital in Madison in which Ann was intimately involved working alongside her mother and uncle.  Dolls were brought into the hospital with broken limbs to be repaired, hair to be replaced, or perhaps needing a new outfit uniquely designed for each doll.  Teddy bears were made and sold along with various accessories available to enhance the appearance of beloved dolls.  Experience Ann’s first hand account of running a doll hospital with the hard work and creativity required to operate a successful family business catering to the special needs of doll lovers.

Click here to view the video

Fall FHS Meeting a Success

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Jason Himebauch answering questions after the presentation

On Sunday, October 28, Jason Himebauch, foreman at the Nevin Fish Hatchery in Fitchburg described the inner workings of the fish hatchery and its role in harvesting eggs, rearing fish and stocking and monitoring fish in Wisconsin.  His duties not only involve the rearing of the fish but managing the machinery, reacting to natural events and controlling predatory animals that enjoy free meals from the fish raceways and ponds.  A link to the video of the presentation made be FACTv will be placed on our Video Presentations webpage as soon as it is made available to us.

For those that would like to take a self guided tour of the hatchery at 3911 Fish Hatchery Road in Fitchburg, they are open Monday through Friday (except holidays) from 8 am to 3 pm.  Stop in office to ask questions.  For guided tours of 15 or more people contact the office at 608-275-3246.

Complete Images of the 1903 Signature Quilt Now AvailableQuilt FR

The 1903 signature quilt is still on display in the Fitchburg Room of the Fitchburg library and it is periodically refolded to show other names. For those that cannot come to the library or want to view all the signatures in detail, we now have added a complete set of high resolution images of the quilt to our website.

Click to view signature quilt images

Annual Meeting Sunday, April 22Annual meeting

The Fitchburg Historical Society had its annual meeting April 22. At the meeting, 4 board members, Rich Eggleston, Kay Phistry, Catherine Schneider and Allan Tereba were each reelected to another 3-year term. Adrianne Imilkowski presented a short background presentation on the 1918 influenza pandemic and Professor Mary Hayney (picture at right) from the UW Pharmacy School presented the keynote address on how influenza virus works, how it caused the 1918 pandemic and how we are dealing with influenza virus today. The meeting had over 50 people and generated a large number of thoughtful questions.

Annual meeting 2

Obituary ProjectStudents LR 4

At our board meeting Saturday, April 7, our collections advisor Elizabeth Leith and her six students, Megan Bernards, Kelsey Breen, Virginia Fetzer, Jackson Rohde, Onah Rongstad and Caroline Schlingsong presented a progress report on our project to digitize our substantial obituary collection and obtain other genealogical Students mural 4 LRinformation on people associated with Fitchburg. The students should finish scanning over a thousand obituaries by April 13 and will continue to gather information from these obituaries for inclusion in our FHS FileMaker Pro Database and on our website. This project was funded in part by a grant-in-aid from Wisconsin Historical Foundation, Inc., administered by Wisconsin Council for Local History, Inc. The students are volunteering as a service learning course project. Before the meeting the students discussed the preservation and restoration of wall murals such as our Village of Fitchburg mural in the Fitchburg Room.

A Spring Check-up On Our Collections

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This spring, several students from the University of Wisconsin did a “Preservation Review” of our Collections. It was a learning experience for them, and an opportunity to review our archival procedures. After receiving their report in May we have been working in our basement storage area of the Fitchburg Public Library to make sure that items stored there are in archival quality containers, and that items close to the floor are in waterproof containers in the event of water damage.

Other suggestions are in the process of being implemented including the backup of our Collection Records and organizational documentation in multiple secure places. Our mini grant will provide the funds for an external hard drive to assist in this process.

Our Photographic Collection has undergone a real transformation this past year, and will continue to be emphasized as we implement our digitization process, another facet of the Preservation Review. The Obituary area receives constant updates and a list of available obituaries is on our Website. In addition, various articles are added regularly to our paper files, and a careful digital and paper inventory is kept of all our Collections.

Many hours have been put into updating the archives, and the report from the U.W. students was both useful and encouraging.

FHS Hosts Networking Meeting


Some of the networking meeting participants

On September 23 the Fitchburg Historical Society hosted the renewal of the Dane County Historical Society networking meetings. Presentations discussed the development of Websites and Facebook and highlighted the roles they play in interacting with the public. The Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Council for Local History also presented updates. Many of the more than 30 participants took advantage of the time devoted to personal interactions between the local historical societies.

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Grand Army of the Republic Flag Holder

Flag Holder LR.jpgIn 1987  the Oak Cemetery Association, which had been formed in 1853, was left with only two aging members. With no prospects of acquiring new members the cemetery was turned over to the City of Fitchburg. The cemetery was closed to new burials and the Parks Department took over the chore of mowing and keeping the cemetery neat and orderly. They also took responsibility of placing flags at the veterans’ graves each Memorial Day. During the original clean-up process they found a broken and rusted remains of a Grand Army of the Republic flag holder. With no knowledge of whose grave this was from they turned it over to the Fitchburg Historical Society. The relic has been sandblasted and is now kept in the archives. The words over the center pictorial read: Grand Army of the Republic, and below: 1861 Veteran 1866.

F. H. S. Board of Directors Honor Plaque

Honor plaque LR.jpgA special plaque to honor members who served so faithfully on the F.H.S. Board of Directors in the past, and have now passed on, can be viewed in a prominent place on the large desk in the Fitchburg Room of the Library.  A number of the members listed were Charter Members, and are noted as such.

Map of Cultural Resources in Fitchburg

Culturl map SLR.jpgCome and see a beautiful 2 ft x 3 ft map of the “Cultural Resources of Fitchburg” prepared by the Fitchburg Planning and Zoning Commission in September of 2008, and recently framed and hung in the Fitchburg Room of the Library by the Fitchburg Historical Society.  The map includes places on the National Register of Historic Places, other historic buildings, and historic schoolhouses.  It also shows locations of a lead mine, stone quarries, Indian camps and trails, and a Mound group.

This well done Fitchburg Cultural Resource Map is a “must see” for anyone interested in the history of this growing community.