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Kinney, Thomas P. / Irish settlers of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, 1840-1860

Fitchburg in the 1990s,   pp. 74-78 PDF (2.2 MB)

Page 75

Fitchburg in the 1990's
rom 1840 to 1860, the families of the Fox, Irish Lane,
and Stoner Prairie settlement areas formed a substantial
Irish community in the township. It is a credit to these
founders that, more than 150 years later, a strong Irish-Ameri-
can presence continues in these areas. Since 1860, about 30
percent of farmland owners in Fitchburg have been Irish Amer-
icans. Many of the present owners are descendants of the origi-
nal settlers.
Over the past century and a half, some members of the
pioneer families have moved to newly opening territories in the
West, including the Dakotas. The expanding job markets of
large cities have lured others. But there are those who stayed to
take up the family farms, and recently a number have built
houses on the old homestead woodlots and commute to work
in Madison.
In the 1990's, Fitchburg remains mostly rural with some
housing developments. Fitchburg's population steadily grew as
people sought to live in the township and work in Madison.
The number increased from 1058 in 1930 to a total of 15,648
in 1990 (see Appendix A). The township incorporated as a city
in 1983 to prevent Madison from annexing business and resi-
dential areas in northern Fitchburg.
Despite this new city's rapid growth, reminders of the
long-time Irish presence still abound. Irish Americans today are
quick to point out the number of major roads, in or bordering
Fitchburg, named after Irish families, including Byrne, Caine,
Lacy, Lalor, McCoy, McKee, Purcell, and Whalen. Wetlands
named after Irish pioneers are Lake Barney on County M and
Dunn's Marsh on Seminole Highway.
While the Irish Americans retain much of their pioneer
ancestors' land on roads that their forebears once cut through
the forests, the social fabric of Fitchburg has undergone dra-
matic changes since the frontier days. The gradually growing
commercial centers near Fitchburg-Madison, Oregon and
Verona-have drawn churchgoers, schoolchildren, and shop-
pers in three different directions. The growth of the villages in
the towns of Oregon and Verona was assured in'the heyday of
the railroads in the late nineteenth century because these vil-
lages boasted both railroad depots and major highways to feed
In the twentieth century, the one-room schools consoli-
dated. By the 1960's, the children of the Fox Settlement and the
eastern Irish Lane area were bussed to Oregon. The children of
the western part of the Irish Lane area were sent to Madison,
and those from Stoner Prairie were assigned to Verona. In
addition, a number of Catholic parents sent their children
to parochial and private schools outside Fitchburg. Parents
often belonged to churches near to where their children were
educated. Today, while children know many of the other Irish-
American offspring through school, church, 4-H, family rela-
tionships, or next-door proximity, the familiarity is not at the
same level as in the pioneer days, when nearly 90 percent of the
Irish youth attended Sunday Mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church.
One of the strongest bonds the Irish Americans of Fitch-
burg enjoy today is that many of them have neighbors of the
same heritage. Two vast ribbons of land tracts that are owned
by Irish Americans stretch across Fitchburg. One series of adja-
cent Irish farms runs from County M in the Fox Settlement,
through the Irish Lane area, to the intersection of Fish Hatch-
ery and Lacy roads. The other ribbon of farms covers much of
Stoner Prairie.
The Fox, Irish Lane, and Stoner Prairie settlement areas
retain in the 1990's some similarity to their nineteenth-century
composition, although changes have taken place. For instance,
at the Fox Settlement members of the Fox family continue to
reside at Fox Hall, which is on the National Register of Historic
Places. The farmland has been sold to the State of Wisconsin
which operates a correctional institution on the property. Irish-

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