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Zellie, Carole; Janesville Historic Commission / Look West Historic District : a guide

[The Look West Historic District],   pp. [1]-5 PDF (2.5 MB)

Page [1]

The Look West Historic District is part of Janesville's old First Ward,
a neighborhood in the heart of the city which has always existed
closely with the city's rail and manufacturing interests. In the nine-
teenth century, railroad workers, businessmen, carpenters, clerks,
mayors and judges shared the area, and the architecture of Look West
reflects its original occupational and social diversity.
The Historic District currently contains 15 blocks and 375 properties.
It was listed on the National Register in 1987 after architectural sur-
veys made in 1975 and 1981. Listing on the National Register gives
national recognition to the special character of the area, and provides
properties with limited protection from any federally-funded, li-
censed, or permitted actions. National Register listing also makes re-
habilitated income-producing properties eligible for federal invest-
ment tax credits established by the Economic Recovery Tax Act of
1981, as amended.
A portion of Look West is perched on a bluff on the west bank of the
Rock, and the District lies just north of a section of the river once lined
with mills and factories. Rail lines first laid in the 1850s, and a four-
lane highway (U.S. 51) separate it from the city's business district.
The streets of Look West were platted as additions to the original plat
of Janesville made in the 1840s, but no dwellings appear to have been
constructed here until the 1850s.
From its beginnings in the mid-1830s, Janesville grew to a settlement
of 3,100 by 1850, and was incorporated as a city in 1853. A nineteenth-
century historian noted that of 157 houses in Janesville in 1845, only
4 were situated west of the Rock River. However, the construction
of bridges and mills brought increased development to the west side
and it surpassed that of the east side by 1850.
Janesville's nineteenth-century residents were primarily native-born,
with the largest group from New York and New England. Look
West's population reflected that of the rest of the city, and included
a small concentration of Norwegians as well.
In addition to its early houses, the railroad tracks, relics of depot
buildings, and tobacco warehouses are testament to Look West's
beginnings and growth. Between the arrival of the railroad in
Janesville in 1853 and the Civil War, 101 houses were constructed
here, primarily in the eastern portion of the neighborhood. Although
North Chatham, Pearl and Terrace Streets are shown as laid out on
early maps, with few exceptions these blocks were not fully sub-
divided or built up until the 1880s.
Above: An early view of Look West, taken from Courthouse Hill about 1868.
Look West, from Map of the City of Janesville, A.B. Miller and Robert
S. Inness, 1860.
Not all of the early buildings in the area were dwellings. An elemen-
tary school was constructed near the corner of Ravine and North Pearl
Streets about 1855. It was replaced in 1866 by the First Ward School
on Washington Street, later known as Washington School. A large
frame building, constructed about 1855 as a house, was moved to
Mineral Point Avenue in 1886 and used as the City Hospital until
about 1898. This building is just outside the northern boundary of
the Historic District.
Cover: the Oliver Van Kirk house, 206 Madison Street.
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