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Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history
(1998)

7. Government,   pp. 129-146


Page 129

7.
Government
Carol Lohry Cartwright
ormal government came to Janesville during the earliest years of its settlement when,
in 1839, Wisconsin's territorial legislature established Rock County, with the county seat
at Janesville. Formal city government came in 1853, when Janesville was incorporated as
a city. During the early years of the city's growth, county government dominated the
community. City services were rudimentary, at best. But as the nineteenth century progressed,
Janesville's citizens paid more attention to its municipal government, establishing a modem
fire depariment, a water and sewer system, and the beginnings of a police department. The
culmination of the growth of city government in Janesville came in 1901-1902 when a large city
hall was erected. In the twentieth century, county government is still important in Janesville,
but city services like the fire department, police department, public works department, parks
system, bus system, and library have taken center stage in the community.
Federal and state governments have also been important in Janesville, even though they are a
small presence in the community. The federal government is represented in the city by the
development of the post office, a governmental program that touched all of Janesville's
residents during its history. The state government is also represented in the community by
facilities established for the School for the Visually Handicapped and the Wisconsin
National Guard.
Federal Government
Post Office
The post office is the most common arm of the federal government in any community. And
although it is now technically a private enterprise, the post office still remains closely tied to
the national government. Among the most important communications resources in the country,
local post offices often have long and interesting histories. They provide a service that
connects people and businesses around the world. And during Wisconsin's early years, they were
an essential link to less remote areas of the country. For this reason, post offices were one of the
first government services to be established in any community.
The first mail delivery to Janesville was in April 1837, two years after the first settlers came to
the area. A lone horseman rode into the settlement but found no post office or postmaster. The
mail he carried consisted of one letter for Henry Janes (probably notifying him of his
appointment as postmaster). It arrived before the Racine postmaster came to Janesville to make
the appointment official. The security of the mail was as important then as it is today. The
mail pouch was locked and only the Racine postmaster could give the key to Janes. ("Lone
Horseman Brought First Mail Here" RCHS files)
Janes established the first post office in his tavern/inn (located at the corner of East
Milwaukee Street and S. Main Street, not extant), as was the custom during that era. In fact,
most nineteenth-century post offices were established at the postmaster's place of business or in
another downtown location. Permanent post office locations were not common until the late
nineteenth century. Janes's post office reportedly consisted of a cigar box on a post in the tavern.
When stage lines were established in southern Wisconsin, the mail came by way of the stage-
coach. In 1849, the post office established daily service between Milwaukee and Janesville.
When railroads came in the 1850s, that method of transportation began carrying the mail.
Government
129


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