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Friday, 11 September 2015 12:22

Walk back to bygone days in Janesville

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West Milwaukee Street in Janesville is bustling in this 1882 photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society. A free walking tour of the West Milwaukee Street neighborhood is set for 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. Two other walking tours finish out the season on Oct. 3 and Oct. 17. West Milwaukee Street in Janesville is bustling in this 1882 photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society. A free walking tour of the West Milwaukee Street neighborhood is set for 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. Two other walking tours finish out the season on Oct. 3 and Oct. 17. Wisconsin Historical Society

JANESVILLE  MESSENGER -- Taking a stroll on a late summer morning could lead to a bit of a history lesson.

The Rock County Historical Society hosts Historical Walking Tours every other Saturday from June to October. Each tour begins at 9 a.m and lasts about an hour. During the tours, participants learn about historical homes, buildings and people of a particular area.

“(The tours) highlight the architecture of a house, when it was built and what architecture was popular during that time period; maybe it changed from the current look of the house versus what it looked like in the past,” said Meghan Walker, marketing and outreach coordinator for the Rock County Historical Society. “In addition to learning about the homes and architecture, you may learn something about the history of the people who built the homes, too.”

2015 Tours

9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, West Milwaukee Street tour, meet at the Corn Exchange at Franklin and West Milwaukee streets

9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, Look West tour, meet on the front porch of the Lincoln-Tallman House, 426 N. Jackson St.

9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, Courthouse Hill tour, meet at Jefferson Park

“There’s a few historic houses on Milwaukee Street. I recently took a walk around the Look West district, and there were a lot of commercial buildings that are historic and then some really nice homes that are featured,” Walker said. “Courthouse Hill is really popular, too, because everyone knows the courthouse. It has some really beautiful homes. That’s a popular tour, the Courthouse Hill district.”

Tours are based on community interest and some of the areas are featured more than once during a season, although different homes and buildings are featured, she said.

“There’s a lot of community interest in Courthouse Hill, which is why it was featured three times instead of once. ... (W)e also want to make sure we’re featuring all the historic districts,” Walker said. “If we have a lot of historic homes in an area, it’s going to take more than an hour (to see all the homes). In districts that have many historic homes, you have to do them more often to hit them all.”

Walker said the walking tours usually are well attended.

“One of the first tours this year, we had 30 to 50 people turn up,” Walker said. “The nice thing is some of the people who attend the tours come to them regularly ... We don’t have the same tour guide every time, so sometimes the tour guides learn something from the people who continuously go on the tours. So it’s nice that the community gets involved and enjoys learning about Janesville’s history and sharing what they know.”

Historical society officials plan to continue the walking tours next year and are hoping to recruit more tour guides, she said.

Residents who are interested in serving as a tour guide may contact education curator Nathan Fuller at 608-756-4509 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“If someone is interested in being a tour guide, we teach them the information, and they get to lead and (the tours) are about an hour long,” Walker said.

Sandi Walton, who works as an office manager at the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, began serving as a tour guide this year. She has conducted tours of the Courthouse Hill district, Columbus Circle and Main Street district this season.

“The Courthouse Hill area is beautiful. You see a lot of beautiful houses in that area. Columbus Circle, you see a lot of historic buildings,” Walton said. “I really enjoyed the Main Street tour. Most of the tours focus on the architecture of the buildings, whereas with the Main Street area, the focus is more on the history and the stories behind the buildings.”

The historical society has books about each historical district that Walton said she uses to prepare for her tours. She said she also conducts her own research on the historic districts.

“I have copies of some of those books. Some of the information I look up online. I also have maps of some of the areas,” Walton said. “With the walking tours, we’re not going to see all of those stops because we keep (the tours) to an hour. With the Main Street tour, I focused more on the business and the economy.”

Walton said she enjoys conducting the tours. At the end of each tour, she shares information about upcoming events in Janesville.

“It’s really interesting because you meet a range of people, and I enjoy interacting with them and presenting the information,” Walton said. “Some of the people have attended the tours multiple times. I have two men who come to almost every tour and they bring their own photos, so I share their information, as well.

“It really becomes more of a conversation than a presentation. We have fun and learn.”

Walton said she plans to serve as a guide for next year’s walking tours.

The tours give people an opportunity to learn more about Janesville’s history and how it has changed over the years.

“It really helps paint a picture of what Janesville has been and what it’s still becoming today. I think it’s very common for communities that are growing to have different pockets of time periods in which it was developed,” Walker said. “For instance, we have the Lincoln Tallman House that has been standing here since the 1860s. Then in my neighborhood, I have homes that were built in the 1950s. There’s a whole different picture of what Janesville was from the 1860s to the 1950s when my house was built and what architecture was featured in my house versus what it was like in the Lincoln Tallman House.”

Walker said residents can research the historical society’s archives to learn about the history of their homes.

For more information about the Historical Walking Tours, go online to or call 608-756-4509.



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