Madison: Illustrated Sesquicentennial History

Stuart Levitan's comprehensive history of the City of Madison from 1856-1931 is something to be savored. This book took me more than two months to read, not because it isn't gripping, but because it is so packed with information. One needs a bit of time for it to sink in. The author devoted a year of his life to researching and writing this book, and it shows in all of its meticulous detail.

Anybody who's lived in the city for any amount of time is familiar with the names chronicled in Madison because the streets and other locations are named for prominent people featured in the book: Doty, Nolen, Olin, Bascom, Fairchild and more.

Speaking of Fairchild, Jairus Cassiusus Fairchild served as Madison's first Mayor as well as Wisconsin's first State Treasurer. What was truly remarkable about Fairchild and the other early leaders of the city is that they often held multiple prominent positions over their lives.

Fairchild, who opposed Lincoln and the Civil War, had three sons volunteer to fight, nonetheless. In fact, his son Lucius lost his left arm at Gettysburg and would begin a storied political career of his own, becoming the state's first three-term Governor.

In similar contrast, city residents twice voted against Abraham Lincoln, some calling him a war monger. Despite that opposition, Madison sent more than its share of men to fight for the Union.

Madison, in coffee table style, boasts dozens of photos and sketches, documenting how Madison grew up to be the jewel she is today. Public drunkenness, polluted lakes and prostitution were all part of her history. But great leaders, often from the University of Wisconsin, helped overcome these problems and helped the city mature.

Remnants of the early era of Madison's history remain in the historic mansions of these early leaders that still stand in the streets surrounding the Capitol, on Campus and in other parts of the city. Read Madison and then better appreciate these structures, street names and public gathering spots named for them.

Posted on December 24, 2013 .