Dodgeville History

 
     In 1827, Henry Dodge, his family and about 40 miners set up camp in the vicinity of present East Fountain Street.  Tales were told of lead deposits so abundant in the area that ore actually lay on top of the ground.  Upon doming to the area and seeing firsthand the rich quantity of lead, a pact was made with the local Winnebago Indian leaders and a crude fort was built near the present-day city hall.  A rough log cabin, located at 215 E. Fountain Street, is believed to be a structure from the original settlement.  From a crude smelter, Dodge processed and shipped tons of lead ore.  Within a short time, about 100 miners were working claims on the ridges of Dodgeville.

     Due to fluctuations of the lead prices and Indian scares, Dodgeville continued to grow slowly until 1833 at which time it consisted of two settlements.  Dodgeville was located in the present-day Fountain and Iowa Streets areas, and Dirty Hollow Minersville was located on the north end of Main Street.  The first residents were 'Americans' of English, Irish, Scotch, and  French descent, generally hailing from Kentucky, Missouri or adjacent states.  Within a few years, Welsh and Cornish miners arrived from the British Isles.  Around this time, in 1836, Henry Dodge became the first Wisconsin Territory Governor.

     After the rise of lead production in the area in 1845, many miners left for the California Gold Rush of 1849.  Those who stayed, notably the Cornish, used their mining expertise to extend the life of the  mines through hard-rock mining, water diversion and explosive powders.  After the Black Hawk Indian War and the Civil War, mining subsided and was replaced by farming and mercantilism.

     After many years as a township government, Dodgeville was finally organized as a village in the 1840's.  A successful attempt to wrest the county seat from Mineral Point was also undertaken.  The cornerstone of what is now Wisconsin's oldest courthouse was laid in 1859.  At this time, Dodgeville was a busy mercantile and wagon building center and had at least one opera house.

     The city continued to expand as a business and agricultural center as mining became less important to its economic well-being.  Today, the primary evidence of mining comes in the form of the Slag Furnace which was built in 1875 by the same men responsible for the construction of the courthouse.  The Slag Furnace still stands in Dodgeville in the 400 block of West Spring Street.

By Cindy Johnson
American Local History Network - Wisconsin
August 18, 1999