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DuPre’, Mike / Century of stories : a 100 year reflection of Janesville and surrounding communities

1900-1909: All aboard the, twentieth century,   pp. X-15

Page 2

working at a Janesville cotton mill went on
strike for better pay, they implored the Gazette
reporter not to describe their job action as a
The century started with the assassination
of President William McKinley in 1901, and
violence and assassination settled a political
score in Kentucky.
In Kansas, the question of alcohol vs. prohi-
bition sparked riots, spawned murder and
mayhem and fueled the burning of saloons
and at least one church in retaliation.
In the late 19th century, Janesville was
home to one of the leaders of the temperance
movement, Frances Willard. But in the 20th
century's first decade, four breweries and
more than 40 saloons slaked Janesville's thirst.
Many residents, both prominent and prole-
tariat, campaigned to prohibit alcohol, but dis-
putes were settled in court, not on the street.
Most of the drugs that are illegal today
were legal in the century's first years and of-
ten were included in the patent medicines that
were advertised as cures for virtually every ail-
Drug abuse occasionally was cited as the
reason for a crime or outrageous incident. Us-
ers of the Sears, Roebuck catalog could order
legal opium from one page and the cure for
opium or morphine addiction from another.
Then, as now, alcohol was the chief ac-
complice when emotions boiled into violence.
Lynchings, almost entirely of black men for
purported assaults on white women, were
common across the South and mid-South.
A scan of Gazette editions showed that
while Janesville had a hefty share of bar brawls
and street fights, most of the rare and serious
violence originated in domestic situations-as
it does today.
American-born, not immigrant, settlers
founded Janesville in 1835. In the mid-19th
century, Irish, English and Norwegian immi-
grants infused new blood into the community,
but a wave of German immigration made
Germans the largest immigrant segment of
Janesville's population by 1880.
Enough African-Americans settled in
Janesville after the Civil War to raise money
for a Methodist church, which was never built,
but by the 19th century's end, the black pop-
ulation in both Janesville and Rock County
had dropped significantly.
The turn of the century found the United
States emerging from a depression and experi-
encing a flood of immigrants. More than 12 mil-
lion immigrants arrived in the United States
between 1890 and 1910. In the century's first
decade, 9 million of them arrived looking for
work and a better life.
For those reasons-and one group's inher-
A turn of the century view of downtown Janesville, looking east down Milwaukee Street from
the bridge.
ent distrust of another-society was preoccu-
pied with ethnicity and race. At best, people
referred to and described others by their eth-
nicity and race. At worst, they heaped abuse
and scorn on the newcomers.
Irish immigrants suffered most of the indig-
nities that blacks had endured, and, in their
turn, blacks and Irish dished out the same to
It was a time when a mentally ill person
would be described simply as a "maniac" or
Janesville was no exception, and terms
that today are derogatory regularly found their
way into the Gazette's pages.
But Janesville appeared to be no worse and
probably a lot better than cities elsewhere.
No blacks were lynched here, and public senti-
ment was opposed to the barbaric practice.
In 1904, federal courts investigated lynchings,
and in reporting the story one of the Gaz-
ette's headline read: "They must protect the
And while the city's sensitivities were a long
way from where they are today, the city was
generous in its charity, raising money for the
victims of the San Francisco Earthquake, for
The Janesville Machine Co., the city's
largest employer during the century's first
decade, is a perfect example of the city's past
evolving into its future. With roots in a small
shop founded in 1859, Janesville Machine
made agricultural implements-plows, cultiva-
tors and the like-that were used by farmers
here and throughout the country.
In the century's second decade, the new
and growing General Motors Corp. would
buy Janesville Machine, and the city would
join the dozens of American communities
eventually dependent on the cyclical automo-
tive industry.
But from 1900 through 1909, Janesville's
economy was quite diversified.
Factories hummed and clanked on River
and Franklin streets downtown and near where
the GM plant is today, what was then the
"suburb" of Spring Brook.
Businesses, shops, offices, saloons and
pool halls jammed Milwaukee and Main
streets. Many were built on the wooden
bridge that carried Milwaukee Street traffic-
horses, buggies, wagons, pedestrians and a
grow-ing number of automobiles-over the
Rock River.
Farmers still harvested crops and raised
livestock within city limits.
Many of the Rock River-powered mills that
made the city prosper had closed or were clos-
ing, but city workers manufactured furniture,
barbed wire and porch shades. They made
clothes, shoes and fancy pearl buttons. They
brewed beer, bottled water and mixed soda
City companies warehoused tobacco, rolled
cigars and made the boxes they were sold in.
Janesville craftsmen made saddles and car-
riages. And they made cars-for Owen Thom-

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