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

Transportation routes,   pp. 14-27 PDF (2.8 MB)

Page 16

teamster route was also used by farmers to transport wheat to
Milwaukee. Today, farmers in and around Fitchburg are quick
to point out the roadbed and consistently identify it as "the old
lead trail."
Lead mining in southwestern Wisconsin attracted many
early pioneers. People of European descent took over the lead
mines from the Indians in the early 1820's, and the mines were
worked by the Welsh, Cornish, Irish, and others. The mines
contained rich deposits; when production reached its peak
about 1847 nearly 85 percent of the world's lead was being
mined in southwestern Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois.17
Lead was used in making products like paint, pipes, and bul-
lets. Most was marketed by shipping it on steamboats down the
Mississippi River, destined eventually for processing plants in
New York, Boston, and Great Britain. But from about 1836,
when some mine owners began looking for quicker and
cheaper routes to the East Coast, until the coming of the rail-
road in the mid-1850's, a substantial amount of lead was hauled
by canvas-covered wagons and four to eight yoke of oxen
across southern Wisconsin to Lake Michigan. Much of the lead
that was shipped via the Great Lakes was sent to Buffalo, New
York, to be processed into white lead, which was used in paint.
Not realizing how heavy lead could be, immigrants in southern
Wisconsin were said to have wondered why so many oxen were
required to pull what appeared to be almost empty wagons.18
On the return trip to the mines, the lead teamsters would bring
back dry goods or carry immigrants to the frontier.
Some of the major lead trails crossing south-central Wis-
consin included one going through northern Green and Rock
counties, one in southern Dane County, and a road through
central Dane County passing through Madison on its way to
Milwaukee.19 The trail through southern Dane County by way
of Fitchburg is difficult to trace at some points, because territo-
rial officials authorized different stretches of it at different
times, depending upon the stretches' usefulness in connecting
important area villages. Parts of the trail were abandoned in the
mid-1850's when trains replaced wagons for hauling lead. Sur-
veyors' maps have not been found for some stretches of the
trail, so the only remaining clues to their location are local
legend and angled fencerows lined by wagon-wheel ruts.
Southern Dane County's lead road probably came into use
between 1839 and 1841. The lead that was mined near the vil-
lage of Mineral Point was still being shipped to the East Coast
via the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Then 1839
turned out to be a dry year when the lowered water level of the
river exposed rapids that the lead boats could not navigate.
Mineral Point teamsters began searching out routes to Mil-
waukee with the fewest inclines and water crossings. Increase
Lapham wrote in his 1844 book about Wisconsin Territory that
lead was brought from Mineral Point to Milwaukee beginning
in 1839. These early shipments also were noted by newspapers
such as Milwaukee's Courier' By 1841, taverns began to appear
at watering holes along the lead trail in Fitchburg and neigh-
boring townships.
Although the southern Dane County lead road had a
number of branches and alternate routes, the primary track is
believed to have stretched from Mineral Point to Whitewater,
and from there to Milwaukee. A more direct route was built
later, running parallel for the most part to today's County A
through the towns of Perry, Primrose, Montrose, Oregon, Rut-
land, and Dunkirk (see Appendix C). An earlier trail was used
through the highlands of Fitchburg before the road over the
marshes was improved and the branches of the Sugar River
were bridged in the Town of Montrose.
Lead teamsters steered their heavy wagons clear of wet-
lands whenever possible. "Corduroy" roads could be made by
cutting down trees and laying them side by side to form roads
through marshes, but lead teamsters were being paid by the
shipment and preferred to spend as little time as possible build-
ing roads.
While maps from those earliest days are not available to
show the entire lead route that swung north toward Fitchburg
to skirt the Sugar River, existing somewhat later maps show
limited stretches of the road, and local traditions fill in many of

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