Park and start at Krakow Fishing Area, number 1 on the map. You can take the tour on the mobile app or print out the pdf tour before you begin. Enjoy walking historic Montello.
Start at Krakow Memorial Fishing Area named for Andy Krakow, a Conservation Warden killed while answering a domestic disturbance call. The historical kiosk located here will tell you about the rich history. Read about the creamery, mill, and locks on the kiosk.
Now walk along the dredge bank road. This is called the dredge bank, because it was built up from silt and sand dredged from the bottom of the Fox River. It's also called Sunset Drive because every evening, you can view a beautiful sunset over Buffalo Lake. Best place to view is the parking lot by the boat launch.
This couple picked an unusual backdrop to their romantic photo. That's the dredge in the back, forming the road you are walking on. The Fox River always had a widening that formed Buffalo Lake, but when the dam was put in, it increased the depth to allow barge and steam boat traffic, but not enough without constant dredging. Below is another photo of a dredge working near the entrance to the locks. The barge is headed towards the lock. The dredge is forming what is now the little island by the dam. The island was called Wheaton's Island for many years, for the locktender of the time. This dredge photo is from 1908.
This is a photo of the Fox, one of the many steam boats that travelled through Montello locks and that worked the waterway between Portage and Green Bay.
There were many other boats on the river besides steam boats and barges. These small canopied boats acted like taxis, taking people to Packwaukee and Marquette and other stops on the river. There were also pleasure boats that took folks on picnics and other activities.
We believe this was an excursion from Montello to Packwaukee for a reunion of Civil War Veterans in Marquette County. You would have seen boats like this on the River in Montello regularly.
Find the Montello Library. It is located in a warehouse building used by the railroad that once came through behind the building. Trains travelled from Packwaukee on the spur to Montello and backed out to return. The station was farther to your right if you stand by the library, along
with, in 1880, a large, well appointed hotel, the Perkins
House. To the left of the Library down by the lake was a large and busy Norcross lumber yard for many years.
Walk to the big cottonwood tree on Underwood Avenue. This was once measured as the biggest tree in Wisconsin, but has lost some of its limbs and no longer holds that title. On the hill behind the tree is the Richter house that is on the National Historic Registry. It was built in 1912 by Charles S. Richter who was the President of the Montello Granite Company. The two Montello granite columns on the porch required 6 months of polishing. Turn and look to the south of the tree and you are looking about where the Perkins House (then Montello House) stood. It burned in 1906. Take a side trip through the Montello Cemetery to view many beautiful monuments made of Montello granite that stand on some of the early settlers’ and founders graves. There was once a brick yard located along the lake where the cemetery now is located. Walk out on the point into Well’s Park just past the cemetery for a beautiful view of Montello Lake.
Now walk along Park Street and stand in front of the Courthouse. This is the second courthouse in Montello (the first burned and was located on Main St.) for Marquette County and was opened in 1916. The building is on the National Historic Registry as is the jail building behind it. Before the courthouse, there was a hotel on the hill, formerly the home of Stephen and Julia Perkins, owners of the woolen mill. It was known as the Dartt Hotel or Hotel on the Hill.
Across the street is the old city hall, today TW Designs. The building housed a community hall in the upper floor where dances and celebrations were held. Take note also
of the Veterans Memorial that incorporates some
of the monuments placed by the War Mothers after World War I.
Pause at the bridge. Montello Lake is to the north and the Montello River to the south. The lake is really a mill pond. The first dam was built by earliest settler Jason Daniels. The water powered a woolen mill and a feed mill, then the massive machinery of the granite companies. It also provided power to the City of Montello for the first street lights. The hydro building was built in 1914. Today it is a privately owned hydro power plant.
Walk east on Park Street. This area was once all connected to the granite quarries. Men making paving blocks lined the street. The quarry hole was one of three quarry sites in Montello. Different granite companies owned each pit at one time. The quarry hole you see is about 150 feet deep. The small office building on Park and Doty St corner was built in 1919 and housed the granite company office. The 70 foot chimney was built in 1944 and used 23,000 bricks. Today it is used by migrating Chimney Swifts as a roost. The Elite Marble building was the polishing shed of the granite company built in 1951 after a disastrous fire.
Now take a walk east on Park Street to Clay St. You will pass a granite wall built in 1936 through the Works Progress Administration or WPA. That Montello granite wall put 22 men to work during the depression.
Story of the granite wall from Betty, Blanche and Beulah Love Marquette County in the Marquette County Tribune
Take a walk along Park Street in Montello and you’ll see a beautiful Montello granite wall in front of the school athletic field. That wall as well as the athletic field was constructed through a Works Projects Administration job in 1936-1938. It’s part of Montello’s history and part of the nation’s history.
The stock market crash of 1929 was devastating. Banks closed, businesses went bankrupt, and by 1933 more than 12 million Americans were out of work. That was 25% of the labor force. Wisconsin had 400,000 residents on relief. To address this national crisis, Congress authorized the Works Progress Administration, later changed to the Works Project Administration, but commonly called the WPA. The $5 billion appropriation ($82 billion in today’s dollars) was meant to put people back to work and it did, all across Wisconsin and the US.
WPA projects ranged from construction of dams, building of parks, planting of trees, through arts and culture projects like painting murals, recording folk lore and documenting life through photography. WPA workers were paid approximately 60% of the going rate for the work had there been jobs to be had at that time.
Most WPA projects had to have a local sponsor, like the then Village of Montello or County of Marquette, to share a portion of the cost of the work. The Wisconsin State Historical Society tells us that in Wisconsin between 1935 and 1943, WPA crews built 22,889 miles of roads, erected 1,456 new buildings, laid 1,588 miles of water pipes and sewers, constructed 504 dams, built 17 airports, and planted 63 million trees. Between 1935 and 1940, professional and community service WPA programs taught 9,437 people how to read and write, served 3.1 million hot lunches to school children, gave citizenship classes to 3,611 immigrants, and manufactured or repaired 4.5 million articles of clothing or bedding. On average, 43,000 people were employed each year through WPA projects in Wisconsin.
The WPA was phased out as industry geared up toward World War II and jobs became readily available. But the WPA got America through the great depression by giving work to over 8 million Americans
Marquette County benefitted from WPA projects between 1936 and 1941. Records of WPA Wisconsin projects stored at the Wisconsin Historical Society describe WPA jobs county wide as well as in Montello, Oxford and Westfield. Only one was turned down in 1936, only to be approved in 1941. That was to dig marl, crush lime stone and deliver that and paper mill pulp to farmers around the county to spread on their fields. The WPA budget paid out $11,300 for that work.
Another project in Marquette County in 1936 was to build small dams on Federal land as well as State and private lands. It was approved for $100,000. Outdoor privies got upgraded when $17,400 was granted to pay wages to workers to construct new outhouses to improve sanitation in rural Marquette County in 1936.
In 1938, Marquette County was approved for $71,560 for general conservation work including planting trees, building shelters, building game bird feeders and more. Montello, Oxford and Westfield all had WPA projects approved for curb, gutters, sidewalks, street improvement and sanitary sewer improvement. Oxford also got improved park and school grounds with tables, benches, bleachers, a baseball diamond and landscaping. Some of the manhole covers in Montello may still be from the 1938 WPA project that improved street drainage and constructed manholes and catch basins.
Then there’s that beautiful granite wall in front of the athletic field in Montello. That granite wall put 22 men to work during the depression. The entire project was approved for 10,202 man hours. The WPA funds paid $5,352 and the Village of Montello paid $592. Besides the wall, the project developed the athletic field with a football field and cinder track. Money was also available to build a new field house, but Montello citizens must have voted down the extra money the village would have had to put in for the building. It would have cost the village an extra $2,000, their share of the total cost, for the new field house. I could only find records that show the WPA completed the athletic field improvements and built the granite wall that you can still see today which also includes a small corner building with fireplace.
These pieces of history teach us about the past and how we have gotten where we are today. That granite wall helps us understand our local and our country’s history. In 1936, the US was in a deep depression. Besides establishing the WPA, President Roosevelt’s New Deal included the Rural Electrification Administration. In 1938 the Marquette Adams Electric Co-op was formed and many rural residents got electricity for the first time. In 1937, the entire Marquette County budget was $40,000. The only county lower was Florence.
The WPA workers were taken off their jobs in 1936 to fight a large marsh fire three miles south of Montello. Fires were raging all around the state that year. That was the same year two large stills were found in the town of Newton and US Treasury agents chased the suspects across the corn field as they drove away trying to escape. The following winter, 1937, ice storms and floods destroyed the wild rice beds in Lake Apuckawa (Puckaway).
I drive by that granite wall almost every day and barely glance at it, but not anymore. That wall is a part of our history. The granite was quarried right in Montello. Men shaped the granite and placed it, block by block to make the handsome wall that was praised in the paper for its beauty. Around the county, people were getting hooked up to electricity. The WPA was building new outhouses for rural folks and in the villages, WPA workers were putting in sewer lines and curb and gutter.
So, take a walk on Park Street in Montello and put your hand to the granite. I’ll guess the rock still hums with the energy of those who built it and those who got us through the great depression.
Now turn south on Cass St. It’s a little climb, but stop at the intersection of Cass and Clay St. The top of the granite hill (private property now) was special to the Indians who inhabited this area for thousands of years. Settlers built a Catholic Church (see photo). there that was sold to the granite company in 1903. A new church was built down Clay St. A High School was built in 1881 that burned in 1895. Another was built in 1896 (see photo) but burned in 1926. The building you see now was built in 1914, the addition in 1939. Memories include sledding down Cass and Clay streets and a set of steps to get to the high school that ran up the granite hill by Kwik Trip today. Take note also of the white Victorian house on the top of the hill. That was built by Dr. Edward Bass who moved to Montello in 1887 and practiced here until his death in 1916. His wife Ada hosted visiting celebrities and temperance and suffrage meetings in her home here.
Walk down Cass to Montello St and turn right/west. The Trinity Methodist Church, now Reader’s Realm Books, was built in 1875. Keep walking toward downtown/west and view the Montello Theater. It was built as an opera house before 1878 and was known as Dodge’s Opera House. It’s been remodeled several times, but has continuously been a theater since it was built.
Many of the houses on this street were built when the quarry was in full operation. Frank Dodge, of Dodge’s Opera House lived at 28 Montello St. The photo shows him and his family on the porch. Frank lost his leg in an accident at the quarry.
Next, stop in Daggett Park and view the quarry. The waterfalls are man made, but the water fills the 80 foot hole naturally. The quarry was started in 1879 and closed in 1976 due to high cost of operation and difficulty of quarrying in the middle of a city. Numerous monuments are made of Montello granite including General Grant and Mrs. Grant’s sarcophagi. At its peak, the Montello Granite Company employed over 200 workers. Citizen, realtor and Christmas tree grower Irv Daggett bought the quarry in 1977. In 1992 he built the waterfalls and placed the land in trust for public enjoyment.
Start at the Montello River and walk toward Buffalo Lake. There used to be a building that hung out over the river. It was the fire department and later a Doctor’s office. Next to it is a barbershop
that has been continuously a barbershop since about 1909. The building was first a grocery in 1890, then a confectionary.
Here are some of the early businesses:
Address Used to be Built in
13 W Montello Barber Shop Pre 1895
15 W Montello Saloon Pre 1895
17 W Montello Harness Pre 1895
21 W Montello Post Office/Jewelry 1900
25 W Montello General Store 1884
29 W Montello Saloon 1885
31 W Montello Restaurant 1884
35 W Montello Bank 1885
37 W Montello Store 1886
43 W Montello Store & Hall Odd Fellows 1886
47 W Montello McCudden Furniture 1885
49 W Montello Millinery Pre 1895
55 W Montello JP Vaughn Blacksmith & Hall 1912
Cross the street, south side
24 W Montello Saloon J D Cotter 1950
28 W Montello O’ConnorFarm Store 1905
30 W Montello J O’Donnell Store 1899
36 W Montello Mrs. G KruegerSaloon 1899
38 W Montello M O’DonnellSaloon 1899
44 W Montello C John Saloon G W Lange 1894
46 W Montello H A Freitag Butcher Shop 1893
48 W Montello Gorske Shoe Store 1894
50 W Montello Krentz/WildeSaloon 1901
60 W Montello Mrs. J Gilroy Hotel 1893
66 W Montello Czeskleba Hardware 1890
70 W Montello Weseloh & Just Gen Merchant 1890
30 E Montello Dodge Opera House 1878?
Although there are several theories of when and how the IOOF first started, the organization itself relates on its web site that it began in England in the early 1800s but moved quickly to America, establishing deep roots in New England and spreading across the United States. IOOF is a benevolent organization, calling its members odd fellows from a heritage of helping others for no purpose other than the desire to care for fellow human beings. This behavior was seen as odd in the industrializing England where poverty and disease plagued many and most well-to-do people did not want to leave their more comfortable surroundings. The three links in the logo of the IOOF symbolize Friendship, Love and Truth. Some of the early movers and shakers of Montello belonged to the Odd Fellows like Stephen Perkins and his brother Loring who owned the Woolen Mill.
Walk south on Main Street toward Krakow Park
1 Main Bank 1899
5 Main Murphy Bros Saloon 1899
15 Main Mrs. J Wincell Saloon 1899
17 Main D Wilde Hotel 1899
29-33 Main County Court House/Offices 1863/1880
2 Main M Smart Mercantile 1909
10 Main M SmartDrug Store 1896
14 Main H Pahl Bakery 1893
18 Main Grocery 1893
20 Main S GriffinBoots & Saddle 1904
22 Main Masonic Lodge/ Furniture 1905
38 Main QuantiusFlour & Feed 1895
Milwaukee Daily Journal, (Milwaukee, WI) Thursday, October 16, 1884
The Opera House and Bank Burned. Millinery and General Merchandise Store and One Dwelling Destroyed-Losses About $35,000-supposed Work of Incendiaries
Montello, Wis., Oct. 16 [Special] At 2 o'clock this morning a fire was discovered on the roof of a general merchandise store at this place, and it gained such rapid headway as to consume property to the amount of $25,000 above insurance. The bank, Opera hall, a general merchandise store, millinery store and one dwelling house were completely destroyed. The fire is supposed to have been the in-work of cendiaries, but no one has yet been arrested. This is a sad loss to the village, which contains about 800 inhabitants.
Later-the losses are distributed among the following persons: Dr. Beck's office and drug store; Mrs. Shueber's millinery store and residence; Mr. Roskie's large general merchandise establishment; the Montello bank, owned by John Teny; Fitzpatrick's tailor shop. Three dwellings were destroyed, but the owner's names cannot be learned.
Montello is the county seat of Marquette county, and was incorporated as a village in 1868. The granite quarries constitute the largest industry, supporting several hundred people. A bank, mill, several stores, both brick and frame, and good school-house comprise the solidity of Montello. The town is reached via the Packwaukee branch of the Wisconsin Central and in season is headquarters and general distributing point for a large section of country that affords excellent shooting-the hunters sometimes remaining there for weeks without changing headquarters. Montello is twenty-four miles from Portage and within a couple hours drive of the club-house owned by members of the Milwaukee club.