This pleasant little village of about 500 inhabitants is situated in the midst of a fertile agricultural region, in the southern part of the county, ten miles from the capital city, and is the second station on the Madison division of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. A drive on the highway through Lake View to the City of the Lakes in summer is most delightful. Green meadows and waving fields of grain are seen on every side, and neat white farm houses dot the landscape in every direction; and here and there are to be seen a few of the ancient landmarks of the mound builders, some still intact, while others have lost their distinctness by being put to useful purposes by the husbandman, to which occasional glimpses of the glistening waters of the lakes Waubesa, Monona and Mendota and the city in the distance with its Capitol, University, Churches and other public buildings are brought into view, presenting to the traveler a scene of pastoral beauty unsurpassed in the state.
The first settlement of this town begun in about the year 1842, thirty-six years ago. Prominent among the first settlers may be mentioned C. P. Moseley, Robert Thompson, J. S. Frary, S. J . Pratt, Abraham Kiersted, W. S. Bedford, Roswell Babbitt, Phineas Baldwin, R. P. Main and E. W. Dwight. The Boyces, Tipples, Johnsons, Hooks and Foxes were all pioneers and early identified with its history, having witnessed its gradual development and improvement up to the present time.
The surface of the country is slightly undulating, with a good soil of sandy loam, specially adapted for agricultural purposes, consisting chiefly of oak opening, diversified by small prairies and marshes.
The little settlement first took the name of Rome Corners, being a central point of the surrounding towns, which were known only by numbers, as town No. 4, 6, etc.
I. M. Bennett, now of the banking firm of Bennett & Pullen, of Evansville, Wisconsin, kept the first country store in a little log building where now stands the Oregon Exchange, and which was the objective point of trade for the scattered settlers. J. B. Runey, one of the oldest pioneers, settled near the center of the township in the spring of 1842, and built the first log house on the old territorial road running from the lead regions near Dodgeville to Milwaukee, and which was a stopping place for teamsters drawing lead to market. The nearest house was five miles distant, in what is now known as the town of Fitchburg, and was also kept as a tavern by the name of Quivey. Mr. Runey was killed a few years later while returning home from Madison, by the overturning of his wagon near the Nine Springs marsh, on what was afterwards called Break Neck Hill. The Devines, a family of six brothers, emigrated from Pennsylvania about he year 1845, and settled together near the center of the town, and are now thrifty and prosperous farmers. Mr. Joseph Devine at one time traveled with an ox team as far as Delavan to mill, sixty miles distant, and frequently to Janesville, at a later period. There were not other mills in that section, with the exception of the Badger Mills, where a small business was done. The nearest market was at Milwaukee, ninety miles distant, a trip with an ox team consuming ten to twelve days, the teamsters often camping by the roadside. Wheat only brought from 20 to 25 cents per bushel. Dressed pork, $1.25 per hundred pounds, and frequently the proceeds of the sale would not amount to more than the expenses of transportation. A story is told of a man who hired a load of wheat taken to market, agreeing to pay twenty center per bushel transportation. When the teamster returned he asked his employer if he had a quarter of a dollar, remarking as he received it, “Now that makes you and me square.” The load of grain did not pay the expense of transportation. Almost the only way that anything could be realized from a trip, was to bring back emigrants or a little merchandise for the country stores along the route.
Nathaniel Ames, for two years and a half a soldier of the Revolution, and present at Tarrytown at the execution of Major Andre, and whose portrait adorns the State Historical rooms, settled here at an early period, and also many of his descendants. He died August 27, 1863, at the advanced age of 102 years, and was buried with Masonic honors.
The business transacted in this town is quite large, it being the nucleus of trade for a considerable section of country around, and is an extensive shipping point for livestock to the Chicago market, the shipments exceeding those of any other station between there and Chicago. During the shipping season twenty-seven car loads of stock have been shipped in one day, but the usual number is about fifteen per week. It was at one time a great market for wheat, as many as 100 carloads being shipped monthly. The grain shipments are now confined mostly to oats, of which a great many are received at this station. A fine brickyard, owned by J. B. Munger, is in successful operation, and where are manufactured a superior quality of white brick, said to be equal to the famous Milwaukee brick, large shipments being made annually to all parts of the country. There are two hotels, the Oregon Exchange being the principal one, kept by Richard Chandler, familiarly and widely know by his friends as “Dick,” is one of the best country hotels in the state, and travelers find here a comfortable and home-like stopping place, with a genial host ever ready to minister to the wants and comfort of this guests. The religious element is represented by two churches, one of the Presbyterian and the other of the Methodist denomination, presided over by able pastors. There is also a fine school building consisting of four departments, in charge of capable and efficient teachers, and a Masonic and Good Templars Lodge, both in a flourishing condition.
The Pioneer meeting and picnic here in July, 1875, was a gratifying success in every particular, it being the first assemblage of the kind ever held in this section. Fully four thousand people were here in attendance from the surrounding town and villages. The governor of the state and other distinguished personage arrived on the morning train from Madison, and were welcomed by a large concourse of the tillers of the soil, with music and banners. At about ten o’clock, a large procession was formed with a detachment of horsemen in front, followed by every conceivable kind and description of vehicle, loaded with sturdy yeomanry, taking up its line of march to a beautiful grove near the village, where appropriate exercises were held, consisting of music and short speeches commemorative of the early settlement of the country.
A prominent feature of the procession were the ox teams drawing full loads of pioneers, with their wives and blooming daughters. To one was attached a sled, used by one of the oldest settlers when he first came into the country, upon which were seated the wife and two grandchildren. In one of the wagons drawn by oxen, was the governor and other invited guests. The weather was most auspicious, and every one seemed happy and determined to make happy all those around them. At the close of the date, the expression was universal that is was the most social and enjoyable gathering ever brought together, and an event long to be remembered in the history of Oregon.
Among the business establishments may be enumerated the following:
There are also two physicians, an insurance agent, three blacksmith shops, and a livery establishment.
The hardy pioneers who suffered all the privations and hardships attending the settlement of a new country, and who have witnessed its gradual growth and development, now enjoy the fruits of their labor, as the well cultivated farms and comfortable homes attest their growing prosperity and happiness.
Ref. Thompson, T. E. (1877). Oregon. IN “History of Madison Dane County and Surrounding Towns,” Publ. by Wm. J. Park & Co., Madison. WI, pp. 512-518. 1977 Reprinted version.