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

5. Commerce,   pp. 95-117

Page 111

significant change in retailing in Janesville, they are historically significant and contribute to
the West Milwaukee Street Historic District. (National Register of Historic Places The vast
majority of Janesville's retail stores were located in the downtown commercial district between
1850 and 1950. But for people living more than a few blocks from downtown, neighborhood
stores, primarily grocery stores, served their needs. These neighborhood grocery stores were
located throughout the city's historic neighborhoods, and some of these buildings are still
extant. The most intact and significant of these neighborhood stores is the Roesling Brothers
Grocery and Meat Market (922 Rockport Rd.), built for Paul Rudolph around 1879. Nearby is
the stone-constructed Roswell Hill Blacksmith Shop (904 Rockport Rd.), built around 1855.
Both of these buildings are historically significant for their long history of housing
neighborhood businesses, and both contribute to the Old Fourth Ward Historic District.
(National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Old Fourth Ward Historic
Because the Monterey neighborhood was so far from downtown Janesville, other commercial
buildings were erected along Rockport Road near Center Avenue. They included a grocery store
at 822 Rockport Rd., a general store at 923 Rockport Rd., a retail building at 907 Rockport Rd.,
and the Jonas Tavern at 1020 Rockport Rd. Other retail buildings were erected at South Jackson
Street and Rockport Road, including a grocery store at 989 S. Jackson St., a general store at 972 S.
Jackson St., a restaurant and tavern at 974 S. Jackson St., and a barber shop and shoe repair shop
at 976 S. Jackson St. Other neighborhood grocery stores in Janesville included the Wedge
Grocery, 633 N. Washington St.; the Meunchow Brothers Grocery, 533 Milton Ave.; the James
Carle Grocery, 1308 Highland Ave.; the Frances Hilt Grocery, 701 S. Jackson St.; Sheldon and
Sons Grocery, 601-603 Glen Street, the Hessenauer Grocery, 1404 Mineral Point Ave.; and the
Adamany Grocery, 770 S. Main St. These grocery stores are not individually historically
significant but have historical interest in their own neighborhoods.
Before natural gas pipelines provided this energy source, many communities had commercial
gasworks to provide fuel for gas lights. Several Janesville residents incorporated the
Janesville Gas Company in 1853, and by 1856, a small gas plant (not extant) had been
constructed along North Parker Drive near the railroad tracks. The company operated for a
few years with varying success, but by 1862, it was facing bankruptcy. The gas plant was sold
after the company went out of business. (Butterfield 1879"570; Wisconsin Power and Light
Company, RCHS files)
Within a year, a group of Milwaukee businessmen reorganized the business into the New Gas
Light Company. It was incorporated in 1863, and in 1865, Hiram Merrill was appointed
general manager and superintendent of the company. The Merrill family invested heavily in
company stock, and by 1894, the family controlled the board of directors. In the 1890s, the
demand for gas production had increased to the extent that a major expansion program was
necessary. In 1894, the Merrills accepted a proposal from the United Gas Improvement
Company of Philadelphia to fund the improvements to the gas plant and its distribution
system. The Merrills continued to be the sole members of the board of directors, but the United
Gas Improvement Company sent a new superintendent to operate the plant. In 1896, the
improvements were made that increased gas production. (Wisconsin Power and Light Company,
RCHS files)
Hiram Merrill continued as president of the New Gas Light Company until his death in
September of 1908. Shortly thereafter, the other members of the Merrill family relinquished

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