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

3. Agriculture,   pp. 52-57

Page 54

northern Rock County, and tobacco dealers and warehouses sprang up in Janesville, which
became an important trading center for this crop. Many farmers also cultivated sugar beets, and
a sugar beet factory operated for a number of years in Janesville. The production of vegetables
has remained a successful cash crop for Rock County farmers; a large canning factory still
operates in Janesville. (For further information on the tobacco trade in Janesville, see the
Commerce chapter; for further information on the sugar beet and vegetable canning factories in
Janesville, see the Industry chapter.) (Brown 1908:401)
Like most farmers in the state, Rock County farmers embraced dairying as their major source of
income by 1900. Between 1880 and 1907, the number of acres in wheat production fell from 18,637
to only 687. At the same time, dairy production increased dramatically. In 1880, about two
million pounds of butter and cheese were made on Rock County farms. By 1900, the total had
risen to 3.7 million pounds. In 1907, butter and cheese production in Rock County totalled
almost five million pounds. Over one million pounds of butter and cheese were still being
manufactured on farms, but the bulk of the county's milk production was going to 30 creameries,
which made 3.3 million pounds of butter, and 13 cheese factories, which made over 600,000
pounds of cheese. (Brown 1908:402)
Today, Rock County's economy is still largely based in agriculture. Dairying remains an
important part of the farm economy of the county, but livestock raising, vegetable production,
and cash grain production are equally important to the county's farmers. And, agricultural
practices in Rock County have changed dramatically since the nineteenth century. Small,
family farms of the pre-World War II era have given way to large, consolidated farm
businesses, and residential expansion near cities threatens to deplete the acreage of the highly
productive Rock Prairie.
The city of Janesville was established with boundaries that encompassed a great deal of land.
During the nineteenth century, much of the city's outlying land was made up of farms that had
not been platted for residential or commercial development. Eventually, these farms were
subdivided for urban uses and/or parks. Although most of the farmhouses on these parcels were
incorporated into the urban landscape, most farm outbuildings were not retained.
Initial research indicates that the farms within the city limits of Janesville during the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were typical of farms throughout the county. As a
group, they contributed to the important agricultural history of Rock County, but individual
farms were not historically significant for contributions to agriculture.
Rock County Agricultural Society
One of the most important events in Rock County's agricultural history took place in Janesville
on January 6,1851, when a group of farmers met in the Rock County Courthouse (not extant) to
form the Rock County Agricultural Society and Mechanics' Institute. One of the main purposes
of the organization was to establish an annual agricultural fair to promote the advancement of
agricultural practices in the county. The society held its first fair in October 1851 in conjunction
with the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society's first state fair, just east of the Rock County
Courthouse in Janesville. (Brown 1908: 403-404, 411)
In 1852, the Rock County Agricultural Society held its fair in Beloit, then raised funds to
purchase four acres for a permanent fair site, where the fair was held in 1853, 1854, and 1855
(location unknown). In 1856, the society purchased 10 acres of land in south Janesville for their
fairgrounds. In 1857, they added 10 more acres to the site and in that year, the society's fair
was held in conjunction with the Wisconsin State Fair. The society continued to hold fairs
through 1861, when, due to the Civil War, the organization disbanded. (Brown 1908: 405-408)

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