Beloit’s History is fascinating and full of surprises!
Beloit’s history begins when it was founded in 1836 when Caleb Blodgett purchased the land from a French trapper named Joseph Thiebault for three “looks”, a standard Native American unit of measure. Essentially, Blodgett had to hike as far as he could see three times and stake claim at the borders of his new territory. When the New England Immigrating Company arrived from New Hampshire later that year, they bought the land from Blodgett and invited family and friends to move to the area.
Only eleven years later, the cornerstone was laid for what would become Beloit College, where you can still find Native American Indian mounds preserved on campus. Plans were drawn for churches and schools, mills ran along the river, and businesses thrived in the village. It’s been said that the name Beloit was coined from a French word meaning “handsome ground”. Today, our beautiful town still sits along the banks of the Rock River, just north of the Wisconsin/Illinois border.
Since it’s inception, Beloit has seen nearly 180 years of American history unfold. The town played a role as a way station on the Underground Railroad and participated whole-heartedly during the Industrial Revolution, thanks to the ingenuity of its citizens. Fast-forward a century to find Beloit’s workforce helping to meet production demands during WWII and the invention of Korn Kurls making big waves in the food industry.
Innovation is still thriving in Beloit; only now, there’s a little more fun involved. Tech-savvy, forward-thinking businesses are building their enterprises in the little town that could and Beloit College is now the oldest college in Wisconsin, boasting more than fifty majors and a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Take a look at the historical timeline below to view some of Beloit’s rich history.
French trapper Joseph Thiebault came to the Beloit area to trade with the Ho-Chunk Native Americans in the 1820s
Hundreds of Ho-Chunk Native Americans lived in the Beloit area in the early 19th century. They abandoned the settlement after the Black Hawk War, in 1832.
Beloit was born. The first permanent settler, Caleb Blodgett, arrived and bought land from Thiebault. Dr. Horace White of The New England Immigrating Company purchased land from Blodgett in the same year. White’s friends and family then started settling in Beloit.
Beloit College, the oldest continuously operated college in Wisconsin, was established. This private liberal arts college is famous for its curricular innovation, international programs and cultural events.
Orson E. Merrill, from Vermont, established The Merrill and Houston Iron Works with partner, George Houston. The Iron Works supplied iron products such as water wheels, horseshoe nails, saws, and spokes.
The Beckman Mill, a historic grist mill, was built on the east bank of Coon Creek, approximately six miles west of Beloit. It has since been restored as a county park, visitor center, and picnic spot!
Beloit was well-known as the center for cigars in Wisconsin and had more than one hundred cigar makers.
The Stateline Family YMCA was established. In 2017, a new 80,000 square foot complex was constructed, and it now offers youth and adult sports, swimming pools, gymnasiums, childcare and many other programs.
Four former employees of Merrill & Houston Iron Works purchased the company and renamed it Beloit Iron Works. In four years, the company grew from ten to one hundred employees and began selling paper making machines to Japan and China. Beloit Ironworks employed 7,000 people at its peak.
The Warner Instrument Company began producing devices for automobiles. Later, the company also made devices to be used in World War I.
Hotel Hilton opened in 1904 and became a major force in Beloit commerce for decades, playing host to many famous visitors – three times Presidential hopeful William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, John Phillips Sousa, Frank Lloyd Wright, Rookie Brown (actor turned basketball player/coach, Harlem Globetrotters), Booker T. Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt, Satchel Page, Barney Oldfield (John F. & Jacqueline Kennedy, Richard Nixon, golfer Jack Nicklaus, and poets Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost.
Over the century, the building has seen numerous renovations and today it houses Turtle Creek Bookstore, Beloit College’s official bookstore.
Stanton Shoes, located in historic and beautifully renovated Downtown Beloit, opened its doors in 1907. Since then, the store has not only been specializing in quality shoes for all ages, but it has also remained in the same location and continues to be run by the founding family.
The Speedometer was invented by Arthur P. Warner and produced by Warner Instrument Co. in Beloit, Wisconsin.
The Great Migration, the relocation of more than 6 million African Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North, Midwest and West, lasted from about 1916 to 1970. Beloit was one of the destination cities; this lively manufacturing center welcomed African Americans to relocate and take up factory work. During the First World War, Fairbanks-Morse, a manufacturer of machinery and industrial supplies, was experiencing a manpower shortage. By offering jobs and housing, Fairbanks recruited Southern African American men to become a part of the company. To meet the rising housing demand brought about by new workers, the company built the Fairbanks Flats in 1917. These apartments were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Old Fashion Bakery, the oldest bakery in Beloit, began its journey. Still in operation, the bakery offers traditional and fresh baked delicacies – doughnuts, brownies, cookies, eclairs, cakes, and more.
Riverside Park and the adjacent lagoon were created between 1932 and 1939. The riverside has since been popular for fishing, picnics, events, paddle boating, and festival grounds.
Lewis Dalvit founded the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra (BJSO) – Rock County’s professional symphony orchestra. The BJSO is in its 65th year and hosts numerous concerts and events featuring live orchestra music.
Henry Odell, John Oliver, and Ken Taylor founded a company called Beloit Tool and set up in a roller rink in Beloit. Today, Regal Beloit Corporation or simply “Regal” is a leading manufacturer of electric motors, electrical motion controls, and power generation products serving markets all around the globe. In 2017, Regal employed nearly 24,000 people, reaching revenues of over $3 billion. The company has presence in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, and Asia and is headquartered in Beloit.
Beloit held its first farmers’ market. Since then, it has become an annual tradition. Every year, May through October, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, Beloit Farmers’ Market welcomes nearly one hundred vendors. It is currently the second largest market in the state and offers fresh seafood, organics, produce, artisan crafts, gourmet popcorn, fresh flowers, and more!
Beckman Mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Diane and Ken Hendricks founded ABC Supply, the largest roofing and vinyl siding wholesale distributor in the United States. They are also the founders of Hendricks Holding Company – an investment and business development group headquartered in Beloit. Diane was named America’s richest self-made woman by Forbes magazine in 2018.
The Beloit Brewers franchise was founded in Beloit and later would undergo a name change and become the Beloit Snappers in 1994. The Snappers were affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers between 1982 and 2004, and then with the Minnesota Twins between 2005 and 2012. They are now the Class A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. The Beloit Snappers are 1 of only 160 affiliated Minor League Baseball (MiLB) teams in North America and one of only two in the state of Wisconsin (the other being in Appleton).
Civic and business leaders focused on community development formed Beloit 2000. The main project focused on revitalizing the river front, the results of which include Riverside Park, a children’s playground, a 3.5-mile paved trail, two new bridges, an indoor community center, and more. In 2004, the organization was renamed Beloit 2020. The City Center Plan – Beloit 2020’s development strategy – aims to renew and further develop the historic core of Beloit. As part of the plan, the former Wisconsin Power & Light Building at 500 Public Avenue is being further renovated to house the 34-room Hotel Goodwin and the European-themed Velvet Buffalo Café.
Beloit Corporation closed its doors and filed bankruptcy. It was previously known as Merrill and Houston Iron Works and later – Beloit Iron Works.
Ken Hendricks passed away on December 21 in a tragic accident in his home. In 2008, the Downtown Beloit Association awarded him the “20 Year Award of Excellence” in recognition of his contribution to developing Beloit’s business district.
The inaugural U.S. Kubb Open was held in Riverside Park, Beloit. The U.S. Kubb Open has been organized annually through a collaboration of Kubb United, Visit Beloit, and the City of Beloit Parks & Recreation Department. Two-player teams from around the world compete in this Swedish lawn game for cash prizes and the title of the U.S. Kubb Open Champion. A Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament is held in conjunction with the event every year to add to the excitement. The first kubb event in Beloit (Rock, Paper, Kubb) was held in 2014.
Nature At The Confluence, a new urban environmental center, was opened at the confluence of the Rock River and the Turtle Creek. The beautiful campus offers a 10-acre prairie restoration, learning gardens, pollinator gardens, environmental education classes for both children and adults, and nature-themed community events.