Lafayette County
-Hidden Jem of the Hidden Valleys-

Lafayette County Communities
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Community Naratives

Lafayette County's communities, incorporated and unincorporated alike, have distinct and colorful identities that reflect the individuality of their own past and the optimism of the future. While they share numerous common qualities and histories, these communities have characteristics as unique as the hearty pioneers who settled them almost two centuries ago and the contemporary residents who now call these places home.

The Gateway to Yellowstone Lake, the village of Argyle is nestled in the rolling hills along the eastern edge of Lafayette County. James Biggs was the first settler in the area, arriving in the 1835, and the village was named after the Duke of Argyle, upon the suggestion of Allen Wright, a Scotsman who was the community's first postmaster. Argyle is the boyhood home of Robert "Fightin' Bob" La Follette, who was elected Governor of Wisconsin in 1900 and served as a U.S. Senator from 1904 until his death in 1925. The village is also home to the historic village hall, strikingly remodeled Partridge Hall, an F-86H Saberjet in Argyle Legion Park, and the meandering East Branch of the Pecatonica River. Argyle has a community-driven development group, and there are business facilities available in the village. More information about Argyle is available by calling the village office at (608) 543-3113.

It began as Belmont Station in the late 1860s, then New Belmont and is now simply known as Belmont. Located in the northwest corner of the county, the first lot in the village was sold to Charles Mappes in August, 1868, and, by the end of 1869, 68 buildings had been built. William A. Gardner, the founder and first postmaster of Belmont, had also constructed the first dwelling in the village. Descendants of many of Belmont's early settlers still live in the area. Just a few miles north of the village, in Leslie, is the First State Capitol Historic Site, featuring the restored Council House and Supreme Court Building where the territorial legislature met in 1836, while nearby is the prominent Belmont Mound, the inspirational namesake of the village. Bell monte is French for beautiful mountain. Local cheese plants produce and sell award-winning specialty cheeses like Brie, Camembert and feta, while recreational chances abound, and the village is home to a historic welcome center. Belmont has an area promotional group and land available for development for innovative businesses. More information about Belmont is available by calling the village office at (608) 762-5142.

Located in the southwestern corner of the county near the banks of the Fever River, Benton owes its creation to the mining industry. In the heart of the mining region that at one time produced over 90% of the nation's lead ore, the village was known as Cottonwood Hill until 1844, when it was renamed after Thomas Hart Benton. The village is home to the Benton Water Tower (on the National Register of Historic Places) and venerable St. Patrick Catholic Church. Of course, the history of Benton isn't complete without Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, the Italian pioneer priest who ministered to the early "badgers" of the region, established 40 parishes and built 25 churches (including St. Patrick). Benton has a local development organization and an industrial park with an incubator building available for varied business endeavors. More information about Benton is available by calling the village office at (608) 759-3721 or the Benton Community Development Corporation at (608) 759-3600.

Nestled in a scenic valley in the northeast corner of Lafayette County, Blanchardville traces its origins to an unusual source: the Mormons, who under Samuel Horner, established Zarahelma on the banks of the Pecatonica River in 1844. Horner dammed the river and built a water-powered flour gristmill. Alvin Blanchard bought the mill in 1855, the Mormon colony disappeared soon after, and the community took the name of Blanchardville in 1857. Blanchardville, a Wisconsin Main Street community, has business facilities available, a locally driven promotional group and numerous recreational offerings. More information about Blanchardville is available by calling the village office at 608-523-4521 or Blanchardville Community Pride at (608) 523-2274.

Located near the confluence of the Bonner Branch into the Pecatonica River in the central part of the county, Calamine was settled in the early 1830s but didn't begin to develop until the railroad reached the community. It was thought that Calamine, named after a rare mineral that is a combination of silica, zinc oxide and water, would become a primary industrial site because of the railroad and the river, but that prediction didn't materialize. At one time the community offered all the means necessary to support farming and a rural way of life, but rail passenger service ceased in 1950 and the depot was torn down in 1954, while the post office that had been established in 1857 was discontinued in 1957. The Catholic church still serves its parishioners, Calamine's former schoolhouse is now the Willow Springs Township Hall, and a cluster of homes keeps this once-promising burg from becoming a ghost town.

Known as the Pearl of the Pecatonica, Darlington is located in the heart of Lafayette County and is the county seat. Jamison Hamilton claimed the land in 1836 and 14 years later sold it to an agent representing Joshua Darling. Many of the city's streets bear the names of the wives of Darling and his business associates. The Pecatonica River has added a rich history to Darlington, from transportation to recreation to vocation. Around 1900, the Pecatonica was considered one of the major pearl producing rivers in the country and buttons were made out of the discarded shells at a riverside factory. The community was also home to the Parson Brothers Circus, which had in its employ Al Ringling, who would later purchase the circus and go on to produce the "Greatest Show on Earth." The city has ample opportunity for business growth, recreational fun and leisure time activities. Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County, a county-owned facility rated as one of the top small hospitals in the nation, is located in the community. Darlington, a Wisconsin Main Street community, features the county's largest business park, as well as a local promotional group and development corporation. More information about Darlington is available by calling the city office at 608-776-4970, the Darlington Chamber-Main Street organization at 608-776-3067, or the Darlington Development Corporation at 608-776-2497.

Elk Grove
Located in the west-central part of the county, Elk Grove is a small, unincorporated hamlet in the township that bears the same name. An unnamed Frenchmen and his family were credited with establishing the first settlement in 1820, but a Mr. Collette and James C. Wright settled in the township seven years later, building a log-fired smelter and several dwellings. The township was home to Fort De Seelhorst, which served as the fortified headquarters for a company of volunteer fighters during the Black Hawk War of 1832. In the 1850s there were several attempts to incorporate the settlement as a village but all failed, the final one doomed by the money crash of 1857. The small community, named after the vast tract of timber that stretched through the township and the majestic animals that frequented it, has several small businesses, adjacent farms and a number of residences.

First known as Fayetteville, it's one of Lafayette County's earliest settlements and was a stop on the Monroe-Mineral Point stagecoach line. The "ville" was dropped long ago, and the unincorporated community of Fayette lies on the western edge of the Yellowstone watershed. The discovery of lead in the 1820s brought the first settlers to this area, with upwards of 300 miners digging the ore, but true settlement didn't begin until after the Black Hawk War of 1832. Most of the community's development is now history, but don't be deceived, Fayette still plays a vital role in the county. Recreation is prominent as the community is adjacent to Yellowstone Lake State Park, with its 455-acre man-made lake, campgrounds and nature trails, and the Yellowstone Lake Wildlife Area. Fayette also offers first-rate horse-riding trails and several recreational trails for both ATVs and snowmobiles.

Located in the south-central section of Lafayette County, Gratiot was initially called Wolf's Ford because the settlement was at the junction of the Pecatonica and Wolf rivers. In 1828, Henry Gratiot, who had come to the area searching for lead three years earlier, built a gristmill and followed that with a sawmill, and the settlement took his name in 1838. The community, with a population that had swelled to 1,500 people during its heyday, boasted three hotels, three general stores, three grocery stores, three warehouses, three blacksmith shops, two harness shops, two wagon shops, two butcher shops, two shoe shops, a bank, a lumberyard, a newspaper, a train depot, and numerous other mercantile stores at one time. Gratiot is a shadow of its former self, but the village is still home to a number of diverse business endeavors and recreational opportunities. More information about Gratiot is available by calling the village clerk at 608-922-6611.

The unincorporated community of Lamont is part of the same-named surrounding township that was formed in 1889 from portions of Fayette and Wiota townships. It was the last Lafayette County township created. The Lamont store, located at the crossing of two well-traveled trails, dates back to 1839 and operated until the early 1970s. The present town hall was built in 1938 as a Works Progress Administration project, and the post office was established in 1886 but discontinued in 1907 when rural delivery from Darlington and Argyle took over. In 1876, the new Methodist Church, aptly named Centennial Church, was built at the community crossroads. The church, the town hall and the former Osterday garage are all that remain of Lamont's "commercial district."

The village of Leadville or Democrat, now known as Leadmine in the southwest part of the county, grew in the 1870s from a cluster of miner's cabins to a settlement of some size by 1900. There was a post office, a town hall, two stores, a school, several churches, and a fraternal lodge. After 1900, however, the unincorporated community dwindled down to a mere shadow of its glory days, and it is now home to just a handful of homes, small businesses and nearby farmsteads.

New Diggings
New Diggings, near the Illinois border in the southwestern section of Lafayette County, was the first mining site in Wisconsin's lead region. In 1824, the lead rush was on and prospectors traveled up the Fever River from Galena - the "old" diggings - to seek their fortune in the new diggings. The first settlement was called Natchez and the present community of New Diggings is about mile and a half north of that site. The county's first recorded marriage took place in New Diggings in January or February of 1828, while some 22 years later the village grocer had the questionable distinction of receiving the county's first liquor license. The community's most prominent claim to fame is St. Augustine Church, built in 1844 by Father Samuel Mazzuchelli. The Italian priest constructed many churches throughout the region, but St. Augustine is the only one that has been preserved as he left it. Several residences and eclectic businesses remain in the burg.

Wisconsin's third oldest city, Shullsburg was founded in 1827 as a lead-mining boomtown. The community, located in the south-central region of the county, was named after trader Jesse Shull, who, according to folk legend, had stopped beside a spring to eat his lunch, saw some badgers digging in the hillside and noticed the animals had exposed some pieces of mineral ore. And the rest is, as they say, history. Through the 1840s and '50s, Shullsburg prospered as the region led the nation in the production of lead ore. The community underwent a second boom in the early 1880s as the railroad came to town. Many of the historic buildings of downtown Shullsburg, so prominent today with the diverse stores, eclectic shops and fine restaurants fueling the latest boom, were constructed during these two bustling periods. Father Samuel Mazzuchelli named the city streets Judgement, Virtue, Truth, Hope, Charity and Peace after the Biblical virtues he had wanted to instill in the residents. History is alive in the city, 44 buildings on Water Street are listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places. Shullsburg has a locally driven promotional group, and commercial property is available for business opportunities. More information about Shullsburg is available by calling the city office at 608-965-4424.

South Wayne
The village of South Wayne, located in the southeast corner of the county, was originally named Collins, after the local railroad superintendent, in the 1880s. Since there was another Collins in the state, the village's name was changed to South Wayne, in honor of the Revolutionary War hero and minister "Mad" Anthony Wayne, with the "south" added to distinguish it from the community of Wayne in northeast Wisconsin. The township around the village was called "Lost Township" because the official government survey was lost on its way from the U.S. Land Office. The railroad that was vital to the creation of South Wayne has now been replaced with a recreational trail that brings thousands of visitors to the village year round. A mile or so west of the village is the memorial marker that commemorates the Spafford Creek Massacre, where Sauk Indians killed four men in the 1832 Black Hawk War. The town's sleepy look belies the hustle and bustle of commerce and recreation. More information about South Wayne is available by calling the village office at 608-439-5395.

Initially called Hamilton Diggings, the unincorporated community of Wiota is one of the oldest in Wisconsin. Col. William S. Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, led a group of miners to the area in 1828 and found a large amount of surface lead. With the threat of an Indian war in early 1830s, Fort Hamilton was built to protect the miners and farmers. The surface lead was depleted by the late 1840s and many miners left the area for the California Gold Rush. Wiota, thought to be an Indian word for crossroads or land of deep snows, is home to the oldest Norwegian Lutheran Church still in use in the U.S. The small burg still stirs with agriculturally related enterprises.

The unincorporated village of Woodford has been nestled along the banks of the Pecatonica River in eastern Lafayette County since 1887. The "wood" half of its name comes from the stacked cordwood that was hauled to the community from surrounding areas for shipment out by rail, while the "ford" half originated from the practice of pioneer travelers crossing the river at this location. Just north of the village is Black Hawk Memorial Park, a gem of a county park and campground that includes the river as well as Horseshoe and Bloody lakes. The park is the site of just one of the three Wisconsin battles fought in the Black Hawk War of 1832, and a monument commemorates the hand-to-hand combat that left 17 Kickapoo and three settlers dead. This off-the-beaten-path town features a laid back, bucolic way of life to its residents and entrepreneurs.

© 2006 Lafayette Develpment Corporation