NEW DIGGINGS ON THE FEVER 1824-1864
by
Margaret S. Carter

The book can still be purchased from:
Southwest Graphics, Box 96, Darlington, WI  53530  
   1-608-776-4042

"The Hub of a Busy Wheel of Industry"
Pages - 60-66

(PAGE 60)

In 1838, Geoge W. Jones of Sinsinawa was replaced as delegate to Congress by Judge Doty.  Since Jones and Henry Dodge were close friends, this development increased the bitter feeling already existing between Doty and Dodge.  In 1840, Doty published an attack upon the Van Buren Administration and declared his allegiance to the Whig faction, thus paving the way for his appointment as the second governor of Wisconsin Territory.  At the same time, the Democrats under Dodge took their first steps toward party organization in the Territory.  "It is significant", says historian Schafer, "that the beginnings were made in the lead region by persons who were ardent supporters of Governor Dodge."

Doty became the leader of the Whig opposition attacking the southwestern Democrats, who, according to Whigs, "vaunting their "patriotic and heroic services to the territory as exterminators of the Indian menace, arragantly tried to monopolize the political offices and dominate public affairs."  The Whig opposition under Doty's leadership was in the nature of a challenge to the lead region on the part of other sections of the territory, which were now rapidly being populated by eastern and foreign elements. 1

The personal feud between Doty  and Dodge, the leaders of the two factions, was carried on through the forties.  When Doty succeeded Dodge as governor, Dodge became delegate to Congress.  Nathaniel Talmadge, who succeeded Doty as governor for a few months, was replaced by Dodge, who then governed the territory until Wisconsin was granted Statehood in 1848.  Meanwhile, as the territory's population increased, the balance of party power shifted toward the east. Although Wisconsin's first state governor, Nelson Dewey, came from the southwest, the mining section from that time on steadily lost its influence.  Its day of political dominance had ended.  

However, these developments were not apparent as the roaring forties were ushered in.  These years represent a tremendously exciting and exhilarating era in the "new diggings".  Never again, except briefly during World War I, would the inhabitants experience anything to compare with this decade.  The future was bright with promise.  New diggings were rapidly

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being discovered and worked; the price of ore was up; people once again were flocking into the area.  all mines were yielding more abundantly; farms were being opened up and improved.  The cluster of cabins that had existed in Crossman's survey north of New Diggings Branch was now augmented by buildings to the south of the Branch at the foot of the Ridge, and the site of the present village became"the hub of a busy wheel of industry" where "the stir peculiar to an exciting phase of  life was everywhere apparent." Hotels, gambling houses and saloons sprang up overnight, while "the number of groceries was proportioned to the wants of the inhabitants:, says the county historian. "Gambling and drinking were usual," he adds, " and the saloons, where these accomplishments were held in high regard, were as numerous as lice in Egypt and equally as voracious."

Why was the earliest village site abandoned in favor of the south side of the Branch? The north side may have been chosen initially because of its proximity to timber and spring water as well as its less rugged surface.  But high water in the spring

(picture)  Masonic Temple - Olive Branch Lodge No. 6.  Moved and restored in 1949

(PAGE 62)  (picture) Masonic Temple as it appears since resortation.

may have been an inconvenience to men engaged in mining on the Ridge.  Then too, the land north of the branch in Section 23 became private property at the time of the first land sales, when it was entered by Amos Brown.  But the land to the south, although claimed by Champion and Dering, did not become legally theirs until 1847, by which time the village had spread up the hill and many lots had exchanged hands again and again.  Henry Potwin, William Baldwin and others had built their cabins and places of business south of the Branch on what later became "Main Street" and "Hill Street", and it was this area that now became "the center of a large business, numbering many merchants in its list of residents." 2

For a few brief years in the 1840's and early '50's, the village basked in the light of great expectations.  That the people

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of the various mining communities of that decade looked upon the New Diggings area as a locality with future can hardly be doubted when it is seen that such prominent citizens of the Territory as William Rudolph Smith, Samuel Crawford, and Montgomery Cothren took an active part in promoting its growth.  Smith, scholar and historian, who had arrived only recently from Pennsylvania and "was probably the best educated member of the bar in Wisconsin at the time", according to a contemporary, 3later became well know throughout the state for his active and efficient work in the organization of state government.  He joined with Montgomery Cothren, who was later for many years circuit judge of the 5th judicial circuit, to plat what became and is now the major part of the village of New Diggings.  Cothren hung up his shingle for practice of law in the village in 1843 alongside that of Samuel Crawford, later a member of Wisconsin's first Supreme Court.  Moses M. Strong, a member of the territorial council and later speaker of the state assembly, bought up unreserved lands in the neighborhood, kept a wary eye on what was reserved, and bought many tracts as they became available, some of them later paying him handsome returns.  Samuel G. Bugh, first Register of Deeds for Lafayette County and afterward clerk of the circuit court and chief clerk of the state senate, made his home for some time in the village.  

These men joined with local men in promoting and organizing Olive Branch Lodge No. 6, F. & A. M. in New Diggings in 1845, with Smith presiding at the consecration and installation services and delivering the dedicatory address, -- another event which hardly would have occurred had not everyone concerned looked toward a promising and glowing future for the village.  Three churches, Presbyterian, Catholic and Primitive Methodist, sprang into being within a period of three years, from 1844 to 1847, while a Free Methodist congregation organized a few years later.  

The original Crossman plat of the village was now supplemented by one drawn up by Smith and Cothren, who engaged Washington Hinman to survey the area east of Hill Street.  The plat was a network of irregular sized lots, due to the fact that buildings had already been erected in the area surveyed.  Hardly any two lots were of the same size and shape.  William Baldwin's lot, upon which is located the Primitive Methodist Church and parsonage of the present day, was in the Smith and Cothren plat but not of it.  This lot had thirteen sides, no two of

(PAGE 64)

which were equal, and thirteen corners, no two of which were of the same angle.  The widest streets in the plat were forty feet, and no two were, or are, parallel.  The north end of Church Street, which climbs the Ridge through the middle of the Smith-Cothren addition, was too steep for teams, a fact which led after the erection of the Presbyterian Church and district school on its east side, to the construction of a flight ow wooden steps more than one hundred feet long, which remained there over the years until the 1920's.  By that time, construction of a new schoolhouse near the top of the Ridge, - along with the advent of the automobile -- made this picturesque but time and energy consuming approach to the summit unnecessary.

At the head of these steps, where the land flattens out for a distance of a few rods before resuming its upward slant, the Presbyterians built their chpel in 1845.  The end of the decade saw the beginning of the end of this building's usefulness as a church home for the Presbyterians, but the beginning of its usefulness in several other capacities, as it became part of New Diggings' first district school, and afterward, after having been moved to the west side of Church Street, served as a Good Templars' Hall, a Free Methodist meeting place, a town hall, and a meeting place for Primitive Methodist organizations.  At present it is a restored and re-decorated part of Co-workers Hall of the Primitive Methodist Church.

Opposite the south end of Church Street, higher up on the Ridge, is the historic St. Augustine's Church, still standing in its original condition where it was built under the direction of the renowned missioner and priest mazzuchelli in 1844, its tall belfrey surmounted by a cross which serves as a landmark for the whole countryside.

An east-west road connects St. Augustine's with Hill Street which separates the Smith-Cothren addition from the Champion and Dering survey, also completed in the 1840's.  Hill Street, running north and south through the hub of the village, climbs the Ridge in the general direction of Old Council Hill in Illinois, tacking left and right to make the ascent less steep.  On the east side of the road as it nears the top of the Ridge, the Primitive Methodist in 1846 erected their church building of native stone, only the crumbling foundations of which now remain to mark the site.  On eighter side of the road at this point may be seen the pock marks and tailing piles of the Champion diggings.  The "old lode" lay to the east, behind the present schoolhouse.  The Mighty Champion, a mine still familiar to present generations,

(PAGE 65)  (picture)  Two buildings destroyed by fire during the 1940's, at the foot of Hill Street.  William Field's building is on the right.

lay to the west, where only a tailing pile now marks the site of the shaft and flotation plant of the huge producer that provided hundreds of employees with a living off and on over a period of nearly one hundred years.

Until recently, the meeting place or "temple" of Olive Branch Lodge No. 6 stood on a hillside site donated by Robert Champion and overlooking Hill Street from the west.  After more than one hundred years of service as "temple" and then as a town hall and a dwelling place, the building was removed from its lofty perch and taken to the old Masonic Cemetery Grounds, now Masonic Park, at the top of another of Champion's hills north of New Diggings Branch.  Here it was restored to some of its original splendor by Lloyd Newman, Joe Peacock and other local masons when the cemetery and adjoining picnic grounds became a shrine and park for tri-state area Masons in recent years.

The mouth of a tunnel, dug into the side of the Ridge within the village limits almost a century ago may still be seen at a point where Hill Street swerves a little to the west in the direction of Council Hill.  From this tunnel (or "adit" or "level") for many years, the water from Champion's Mine trickled down a ravine alongside Hill Street, crossed Main Street and emptied into New Diggings Branch.  The tunnel was built during Civil War days, enabling Champion to develop the rich lode lying below the water level from which he took millions of pounds of lead, thus furnishing material for many millions of the bullets "whose leaden hail helped put an end to the slaveholders' rebellion."

The north end of Hill Street meanders off in the direction of Leadville (now Leadmine) and Etna in north New Diggings.  The other streets in the village were in the early days and remain to this day short, narrow and hilly, making any sort of travel on the hillside except by foot difficult in bad weather.  To the east of the village, the road up Blackstone Hill, climbing the Ridge toward the south, is a dividing line between Sections 25 and 26, and leads to the local "Shawneetown" Cemetery and in the general direction of White Oak Springs and Scales Mound in Illinois.

The Main Street of the village, called "Prospect Avenue" in its heyday, runs east and west and is a portion of the highway connecting New Diggings with Benton, Buncombe and Hazel Green on the west and old Gratiots Grove and Shullsburg on the east, all of these within a six mile radius.  To those who are familiar with the New Diggings area it may be seen then, that the present village has not changed much in its physical aspects from what it was in the roaring forties of the nineteenth centruy, the change having occured rather in the attitudes and character of its inhabitants.

The "Littel  Mound" Schoolhouse  Pages 67-73

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