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History of Janesville

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Old Janesville MapThe United States government surveyed the west bank of the Rock River at the present-day site of Janesville in 1833, following the resolution of the Black Hawk War. As word of the fertile lands along the Rock River spread east, settlers retraced the soldiers' steps and the development of Janesville began.

The first settlers arrived in the Summer of 1835. John Inman of Philadelphia and William Holmes of Ohio, who were both living in Milwaukee at the time, set out together on July 15th, to look for land in the Rock River valley. They came upon the remains of Black Hawk's camp two days later. Finding the land to their liking and no other settlers in the area, they returned to Milwaukee to gather supplies and make plans for settlement. Three months later, Inman, Holmes and his brother Joshua, and George Follner returned to the banks of the Rock River. There they built a log cabin -- the first permanent structure on the site of present-day Janesville. In December, 1835, Samuel St. John and his family of five arrived at the cabin, and all nine settlers wintered together in the single cabin.

More settlers arrived the following Spring and several land claims and "paper towns" were platted on lands near Inman's cabin. In 1836, the territorial legislature established the county seat on the claim of Henry Janes' -- a small tract of land on the east bank of the Rock River that is marked today by the intersection of Main and Milwaukee Streets. Janes applied for a post office on the site, recommending himself as postmaster and "Black Hawk" as the name for the office. Amass Kindle, then US Postmaster General, granted the office and appointed Janes postmaster, but renamed the office "Janesville".World War 1 Veteran's Parade 1924

The county seat, Janesville was important as a center of government. The City's early prosperity was also based on the development of the Rock River for water power. In the 1840's dams, bridges, lumber, grist, and woolen mills were built along the Rock River. The success of agriculture, particularly wheat, and the construction of three railroad lines propelled growth prior to the Civil War.

Janesville was incorporated as a city in 1853. In the decades which followed, flour milling, woolen and cotton production, cigar, shoe, and brick manufacturing, stone quarrying, tobacco warehousing, agricultural implement manufacturing and eventually automobile manufacturing underwrote the expansion of the economy and population.

From a settlement of less than 300 persons in 1840, Janesville grew to 3,000 persons in 1850; 8,789 in 1870; 13,185 in 1900; and to 22,186 in 1925. During the 19th century, most of Janesville's population was comprised of natives of New York and New England states. The largest group of European immigrants were natives of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Old City HallBy 1900, Janesville was a small but modern city. The commercial district boasted concrete curbs and gutters, electric lighting, and electric street rail cars. Over the next decades, the city's reputation was based on its manufacturing enterprises, notably the production of automobiles and fountain pens. General Motors' Chevrolet plant and Parker Pen became the area's principal employers. Concern for the development of the community led to the formation of the Janesville Advancement Association in 1905 for the purpose of attracting new industries. In 1920, the Janesville Chamber of Commerce hired city planner John Nolen of Cambridge, Massachusetts to develop a park and planning scheme for the City.

Nolen recommended a thoroughfare system, the development of the Rock River for park and recreation purposes, and the adoption of a zoning ordinance. The influence of Nolen's early plans for Janesville can be seen today in the patterns of growth in the community and the continued recreational development of the Rock River corridor.

City of Janesville FlagCity Flag

The City of Janesville Common Council adopted the first city flag on March 23, 2015 following a design contest held among Janesville’s students by the City of Janesville and School District of Janesville. The winning flag design was created by Craig High School Senior Maggie Gorman. The city flag was unveiled and first raised in front of City Hall during a ceremony on June 15, 2015.

Janesville’s city flag is a symbol of the Janesville community’s past, present and future. 1853 is the year in which the City of Janesville was incorporated. The four stars stand for the original four wards in the city. The green color represents the farm fields which provided a foundation for a healthy agricultural industry. The black color represents the rich soil for which the Janesville region is famous as well as the heavy smoke that billowed from the smoke stacks as the city developed into a manufacturing economy. The “squiggly tree” is the City of Janesville’s logo and symbolizes Janesville’s identity as “Wisconsin’s Park Place”. Finally, the circle represents the unity of Janesville, a community that is united in working together for a better future.

Helpful Links

Rock County Historical Society
State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Hedberg Public Library
Janesville Convention and Visitor's Bureau