Revitalize Our Hometown

Our creative logo for the cause.

Markesan, Wisconsin, is my hometown and things are not what they used to be. Many people may not believe it, see it or want to admit it, but Markesan is heading down a road of destruction. I want to get a movement going to challenge the community to step up and make change. This isn’t something that can be done by one person or overnight. It will be a community effort that will take time. I don’t think it can be done…. I KNOW it can be done!

There are some crucial questions we have to ask ourself of our community. I think the first and foremost one is, are we happy and content with the status quo of the community? Also, do you think we have enough to offer for those living in Markesan to be content and enough to offer to bring people to our community!? The answer to those questions, in my opinion, is NO. Our downtown is in disrepair and offers nothing for people to come to our town. The buildings there are owned by an individual who, instead of promoting business to come in,  has converted the buildings into substandard apartment complexes, barring any interested businesses from moving in. Some argue that the old buildings are not suitable for todays kind of significant commercial interests, which is half-true. Does that mean we leave the gem of our city in disrepair and not try to promote more local shop keepers from potentially renting a space there? We lack other commericial and industrial bases as well.

Contact Mayor Richard Slate of Markesan and tell him you want him to revitalize Markesan and make it the Grand Community it is supposed to be! We don’t want excuses, we want results!

Richard Slate- Mayor of Markesan

I know our city is capable of much more, and its citizens are too! We need to come to terms with the limitations and work around them to get Markesan back to prosperity!  Like us on Facebook and post your comments, questions and concerns!

Let’s Revitalize Markesan!!

When the Railroad Arrived in Markesan

On September 16, 2012, I had an extraordinary time at the Markesan Historical Society’s annual Heritage Days. I was invited there to showcase and promote the book I recently published, Images of America Markesan. I was also distributing a historic tour map of our town. Another historical society member and I constructed a walking tour of Markesan that highlighted historical landmarks in town. If you would like some more information on that, you can do so by clicking here to take you to a post that I have already published about that project.

I was fortunate enough to meet the descendants of one of THE most prominent citizens in Markesan of the 19th century. Frank Densmoor, the great-great grandson of James Densmoor Sr., and other family members were some of the attendees of this years Heritage Days. From what I understand they make a regular appearance at the event annually.

There were a lot of people who made an impact on Markesan, but in my opinion, gathered from the research I have done, the Densmoor family had a significant impact on the community. James Densmoor Sr. played an important part in getting a railroad to town which brought prosperity. It was truly an honor for me to meet the descendants of that important figure in our community.

James Densmoor Sr.

If you are fortunate enough to have a copy of my book, Images of America:Markesan, I laid out an entire chapter on the railroad and industry of Markesan (Chapter 5). Markesan used to have an abundance of industry. A hemp mill, grain elevators, canning factories, creameries, and a granite quarry just east of town called Utley. These industries relied on a railroad to bring raw goods in and ship finished goods out. The latter of those listed, no doubt, was an important factor that actually got a railroad to Markesan, allowing it to flourish.

Shown below is a map of Marquette County in 1853, (Green Lake County was not established until 1858). If you look at the lower right corner of this map you will see the name “Grandville” , just under the “E” of Marquette. Granville ( this map incorrectly calls is Grandville) was the original village name of what is today Markesan. Granville was established in 1849, but in 1854 the citizens of that community received a notice from the U.S. Postal Service that they needed to change the name of the town. Ironically, another village of Granville existed down near Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, and the mail was getting mixed up. Some sort of contest was held to pick a new name for the village. A prominent village businessman submitted the name “Markesan” in for the running and that is how the name was chosen. From 1854 onward, Markesan was the name of our town.

Marquette County 1853 (Green Lake County not established yet)
(David Rumsey Map Collection)

Railroads began to emerge as a dominant form of transportation by mid-19 century. The Fox River was a source of transport, but constant work was done to keep the river clear from moving sandbars and debris.  Marquette County (soon Green Lake) had it’s first railroad line established to Berlin (upper right corner) by 1857. The Milwaukee & Horicon Railroad was established only 5 years prior and began to stretch their lines northward. That line was bought in 1863 by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad ( CM&STP ).

By 1871, the Sheboygan & Fond du Lac Railroad (Formally the Sheboygan & Mississippi Railroad) stretched a line of track again into Green Lake County, this time connecting the village of Dartford (Green Lake) and Princeton. Those two villages were now on the railroad network and connected to larger markets. That line was later taken over by the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad (C&NW).

Green Lake County-1879
(David Rumsey Map Collection)

In 1856, citizens of Markesan clamored for a railroad in their town . They feared they were being shut out from the economic opportunities of their neighboring towns and tried hard to get a railroad line to build there. They understood the benefits that came with it and they wanted part in it. Berlin had benefited from the railroad coming to that town. It had transformed it into a central point of activity in the county.An attempt was made in the 1870s to get a railroad to Markesan, but things didn’t go as planned. Some money was raised and the work was started on laying a grade stretching from Ripon to Markesan, but funds ran out and the dream of a railroad with it. *

1882 was the big year of a securing a railroad line that would eventually reach Markesan. Approximately 6 miles east of the village, a deposit of black granite was discovered. Local businessmen, James Densmoor Sr. in particular, saw the granite deposit as an incentive for a railroad to branch off and head towards the location of the granite and then, hopefully, Markesan.

Picture from the top of Pine Bluff
(U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library)

The discovery sparked interest in getting a railroad out to the quarry to haul the rock out. The Green Lake County Democrat newspaper of Markesan published this on December 22, 1881.

Markesan is never behind the times on granite or anything else. There is an extensive ledge of rock a short distance east of this village, which has been examined by experts, and pronounced fully equal to any granite quarry in the country. There is a strong probability that a company will soon be formed to open up the hidden treasure. If enough can be sold to make it an object the St. Paul folks will lay a railroad track right over here, and the chances for the enterprise are favorable if the right course is pursued. Bring along the giant powder and blow old Pine Bluff open once, just for luck.

Densmoor took some samples of the granite to Milwaukee and Chicago to see if any business interests there would be interested in it. In spring 1882, Pine Bluff was a humdrum of activity. The early export method was by wagon to the nearest railroad in Brandon, Wisconsin, 6 to 7 miles east of the quarry.

Densmoor quickly got to work trying to negotiate with a railroad company to lay line to the quarry and Markesan. There were attempts to negotiate with C&NW to build a line from Juneau all the way up to Stevens Point, with several stops along the way including Markesan.  Negotiations fell through in mid 1882 when C&NW dropped the idea to build  line there. Densmoor turned his focus to building a line from the CM&STP line in Brandon.

Citizens of Markesan were discouraged that their neighbors, who had railroads, seemed to be trying to shut them out of their chances of getting their own line. The Brandon Times reported in June of 1882:

The Northwestern folks have frankly told the Markesan people that they can do nothing for them in the railroad line and that village is now pinning all its hopes on the Brandon line, and we fail to see any brilliant prospects in that direction, but probably they can

There was no doubt that if a railroad was laid to the quarry that it would prove used and profitable. That line was constructed and was profitable. A little town even sprang up next to the quarry. It was named Utley, after the railroad superintendent of the line. The issue was getting the railroad past there and into Markesan. Outsiders didn’t see the profit in doing so, and would be more expense that had no worth. Even so, the community would have to raise the money to bring the line to Markesan and if some saw that it was not going to be worth it, why would they invest?! Densmoor was determined, even though some thought it a folly.

In August 1882, a deal was brewing up. The CM&STP  made an offer earlier to those seeking a line to Markesan. The town had to secure the right-of-way from landowners, farmers were weary of this, and have a roadbed graded.  Densmoor had secured a contractor to build the grade in August of that year. The Markesan & Brandon Railroad Company was established and James Densmoor Sr. appointed president. Of course the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Company was going to be the owner of the line. The M&B Railroad Company was simply formed to be able to issue bonds to raise money for the construction of the bed. After the line was built, CM&STP would buyout the local company and take control.

It seemed like the dream of the railroad had finally come true for Markesan! By September 1882, Densmoor had the right-of-way purchased and the construction of the railroad grade began. Trouble was brewing and then came to a head in November of that year. Legal issues had halted production for almost two weeks. Fortunately, for the citizens of Markesan, they were resolved and construction was completed and the first train came into town on December 28, 1882.

On January 5, 1883, Markesan held a big celebration to commemorate the hero who brought the railroad to town. The Green Lake County Democrat reported that:

The town was crowded all day, with our own people and from neighboring towns. Everything passed off pleasantly, and not a row or disturbance of any kind during the entire day and night. The evening exercises at the hall consisted of speeches and music, and a grand love feast was held.

To show their appreciation for Densmoor’s hard work and determination, the townspeople presented him with a gold pocket watch, rocking chair and walking cane with a gold head and on the head was inscribed:

Presented by the citizens of Markesan and vicinity to James Densmoor. President of the Markesan and Brandon Railroad Co. Jan 5th 1883

The cane that was presented to James Densmoor Sr. with the inscription at the head.

Cane and gold watch in a display case

Markesan enjoyed the prosperity of a railroad for many years. After its arrival, business and industry moved in to help expand the community. Those were times of economic prosperity in Markesan. Before the mid 20th century, as the automobiles and paved roads were made popular, passenger trains to and from Markesan were less frequent and then eventually stopped all together. The line was still used for bulk goods being hauled out, but even industry went out to relocate next to the superhighways emerging in America. The prosperity that the rail brought seemed a distant memory.It must have been something to see the old iron horses steam into town.

Green Lake County 1889-addition of Markesan line shown
(David Rumsey Map Collection)

Markesan Depot Activity circa 1920s

Today, the old depot has been moved and relocated next to the Markesan Historical Society’s Grand River Valley Museum. Visitors are able to walk through the old depot and see history first hand where passengers and cargo were checked and loaded on the trains. The rail line still exists in town as well. It serves our one and only canning factory and our agronomy center for transporting chemicals and grains. Markesan is a sleepy little farm community slowly withering away in history. The town is desperately in need of another James Densmoor figure to pave the way for new opportunities and prosperity.

For more information on the history of the railroad visit these pages:

*A history of Markesan and VicinitySamuel Smith

Historic Markesan

For Markesan’s annual Heritage Days I put together a brochure to guide people around some historic spots in our community. Another historical society member helped get the brochures printed and ready for the event. The brochure has numbered locations, as well as some historical anecdotes for each location. The locations on our historical map correspond with sections of my recently published a book, Images of America: Markesan.



Noble Owl Popcorn Co. Pictures

Here is a series of pictures taken over the course of this year showing the planting, growing, harvesting and early shelling process.

Planted in late April and began to emerge from the soil in May

The popcorn as it looked in August

Cobs that picked and left out to dry for test popping

These were test cobs to determine whether the corn was suitable for popping

A batch of successful Ruby Red Popcorn

Our current method of packaging the product

Noble Owl Popcorn Company

My fiance’ and I decided to undertake a fun project this year. I grew up on a farm and love everything that comes with the territory. Mom and Dad had a lot of projects for us kids growing up. Growing fruits and vegetables in the garden, raising chickens for eggs and butchering, milking cows and goats and growing canning and cash crops. I love the farm and the outdoors, which made moving to the city, to go to college, hard for me.

My fiance’ grew up in the Milwaukee metro area. She is used to the hustle and bustle of city life and shopping and other things to do around every corner. She enjoys crafting, scrapbooking, photography and many other useful and interesting hobbies.  She doesn’t hate the farm, although she loves the baby animals on the farm and doesn’t like it when they end up in our freezer, but she gets bored with it. That’s when I knew we needed a project that would be the best of both worlds for us.

We both love growing and taking care of plants. I have been working on trying to grow a pineapple plant for the last couple years. I had one, but I killed it…accidently. (That is another blog topic) Molly loves growing flowers and she has a little tree like plant that she has successfully been taking care of for the past 2 years. I guess I need to start taking lessons from her!

Popcorn is where we both found an interest. Molly was amazed of the whole process of how popcorn is grown and harvested. I had planted popcorn in our garden a couple of times. One year Dad thought he would help by opening all the husks to dry, but the birds got their fill before we had a chance to harvest it. Last spring we planted a small plot of popcorn again. All a person has to do is head to the store and buy a bag of popcorn, which you would normally eat, but instead of eating it you plant it. We got A LOT out of that crop; considering we lost about half of it due to our lack of weed control.

Molly and I decided on planting some popcorn at the farm and harvesting it and maybe trying to sell it locally to help us get through our last year of college. Mom and Dad agreed to let us do this, as long as we were there for the harvest and shelling process. The only dilemma we faced was choosing which breed of popcorn to plant!

Something most people may not know is that there are a lot of varieties and colors when it comes to popcorn. Big, small, yellow, white, red, black, blue, big hulls, small hulls, no hulls, etc. Like I said earlier, we had planted the yellow variety the year before. It makes your standard popcorn when popped. We wanted to try some something unique. We went with the Ruby Red variety. It has, as the name suggests, a red kernel and is smaller in size. When popped it is also smaller, crisper treat. We like it because the kernels are not so big and don’t get stuck in your teeth. It also has a different taste to it.

Dad planted a small plot and helps us maintain it. Meanwhile, Molly and I ran into another dilemma. What would we name our popcorn business? I had originally been thinking something a little more traditional. I wanted to name it after the town I am from, Markesan. Molly wasn’t so enthusiastic about the name, and we both agreed that it had to be something that we both could agree on. We thought it over, but nothing seemed to pop out at us. Finally, out of pure creativity, I ask her if she liked something with an owl on it (Molly loves owls) and her eyes lit up. I designed a logo and put some things together. We both liked the logo with the owl in the middle and the name  around the outside. However, we needed an adjective to describe the owl that was the trademark of our little popcorn business. The “Good Owl Popcorn Co.” just didn’t flow and the ” Wise Owl Popcorn Co.” seemed to cliché’. I can’t remember who thought of it, but finally we had the right adjective when we decided on the  “Noble Owl Popcorn Co.”

With the name established, it was time to get our name out for the public. Facebook is a great way to get ideas out to a mass audience. We set up a page where we post pictures and updates of our popcorn. We even established an email address, incase we hit is big time and need to fill some big orders. You can find us on Facebook by searching Noble Owl Popcorn Co. and staying on the up and up of our project. (

Molly and I paid frequent visits to the farm to see how the popcorn was growing this summer. We were worried that the crop may not turn out, due to the little rain we had this summer. Dad was even a little worried, but we were all pleasantly surprised that each stalk had 2-3 cobs on it. By early August the red pigment began to fill in the kernels, which up until that time were yellow. We realized that this was going to be a BIG popcorn harvest and that we were going to have lots of popcorn to sell.

The first week of September, before school started for us, we paid a visit to the farm to check on the crop. By then the kernels had been completely transformed from yellow to red, except for a few yellow kernels that must have been mixed in during the planting. Mom and Dad had picked three or four cobs a week and a half before we had come and had them out drying. Molly and I decided to see if our project would actually pop, so we shelled it off the cobs and popped them. We were amazed to see all the kernels popped and produced a wonderful batch of fresh home-grown popcorn.

The stalks are not completely dry yet, so more waiting must be done before we can go in and start the harvest. We plan on hanging them to dry in mesh bags and then testing a few cobs here and there to make sure it is at the correct moisture. We hope we will gain some interest in our product. We will keep our followers updated.

An Oshkosh Legend Returns

If you find yourself doing nothing on September 22, 2012, I suggest you get over to the Fox River Brewery/Fratellos in Oshkosh for this book signing & beer tasting event. Not only will you be able to buy a book detailing the history of Oshkosh’s breweries, but you will get to taste a beer that shares the city’s name! It will be an event you cannot miss.

Breweries of Oshkosh and Chief Oshkosh Poster 9