Black Earth History

Enjoy these articles and photographs of historic Black Earth

Field Days 1948: the iconic Black Earth photo

The year 1948 was a big deal in Wisconsin as the state celebrated its centennial and Black Earth was no exception. The photograph below shows the Field Days parade line up of local farmers and tractors (all reportedly Massey) on the south side of the Black Earth School (has since been torn down). A cropped version of this almost-famous Black Earth photograph tops the home page of this website. Randolph Michaelis is driving the 3rd tractor from the right. Photo was given to the Black Earth Historical Society by Jane Michaelis. If you can identify others, please contact the webmaster at Thank you.


Downtown Black Earth

Photo is dated 8 February 1909, which puts this on a snowy
Monday in busy downtown Black Earth several years prior to the Great War and the automobile becoming commonplace.

Black Earth Train Depot: Existing Building Built ca. 1868,
Now Restored as the Black Earth History Museum

  Just how old is the train depot in downtown Black Earth on the west side of Mills Street? The Black Earth Historical Society describes the train depot, now Black Earth History Museum, as a 1860s depot because the origins are a bit complicated. Here's how Historical Society President Wayne Barsness described it:

  "The Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad constructed the railroad through Black Earth in early 1856. The first train of cars on a regular schedule passed through the village June 7, 1856. Initially, Black Earth did not have a depot. In February 1857, the citizens of Black Earth appealed to the railroad board and obtained the privilege of constructing a private depot with regular train stops. Sometime between 1859 and 1861 a depot building was constructed along the tracks on the east side of Mills Street. This depot probably operated as a private facility until the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad was sold to the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company December 31, 1867. The new company entered into a large scale rebuilding program along the rail line in 1868 and 1869. The original depot building was moved to its present location between 1861 and 1873, probably in 1868 or 1869 which correspond to the hiring of the first depot agent Thomas H. Taylor in 1868."

  The Wisconsin State Historical Society describes the depot building as Italianate architectural style with clapboard siding. Below are some historic photographs of the train depot. Note the 1979 photo depicts it in severe disrepair, then owned by Milwaukee Road. The Historical Society was formed in 1992 and restored the train depot as a historical museum for the Black Earth area. The Historical Society owns the property and continues to act as its steward. The museum underwent a renovation with new roof in 2021, exterior painting in 2022, and the planting of native flowers along Mills Street in 2022. The colorful depot is now a bright spot in downtown Black Earth and home to fascinating displays of the heritage of Black Earth for all to enjoy. It would be hard to imagine Black Earth without it. 

Above photos l-r: 1922, ca. 1922, ca. 1924, 1979 in disrepair.

Heiney's Meat Market:
National Register of Historic Places #84003642

  The village of Black Earth currently has only one property that is listed on the national register of historic places: Heiney's Meat Market at 1221 Mills Street built in 1869. The former meat market qualified for the register due to its Italianate architecture.

  Henry Piper built the home in 1869. David W. Heiney purchased it for $300 in 1888 and made extensive improvements. Heiney first opened the meat market in the basement of the home. In 1911, Heiney built the commercial addition to the north of the family home. Over the next 15 years, Heiney constructed an icehouse, chicken coops, lard-rendering operation, smokehouse and horse barn on land near the building. A brick home was constructed next door in 1922 by David's son Ervin Heiney, just south at the corner of Mills and Park Streets. After David died in 1926, Ervin and his brother Wilford ran the meat market using the family mettwurst and bologna recipes until Ervin retired in the 1960s.

  Once the last of the Heiney family passed away in 1967, it was sold to Herman Hoesly and Wendall Anderson and converted to a television repair shop, then sat vacant for some time. In 1977, Carol Schumann and Donna Obright purchased the property to operate an antique shop but after three years renovated it into a cocktail lounge and restaurant called Carodonn's Meat Market Restaurant. The two owners listed the property on the National Register as Heiney's Meat Market in 1984, after the original butcher shop owner. The building was sold in 1990 to Tom and Karen Keyes, who operated it as Keyes West Supper Club. Then, in 1994 it was sold to Scott and Maxine Patchin. The Patchins operated it as David W. Heiney's Dining & Spirits. In 2014, it was converted into apartments. Above photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Other nearby sites on the register:

  For information on other local historic sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a map may be found at, searchable by place. Five other sites near Black Earth include:

-Mazomanie Downtown Historic District #92000406 for 28 buildings of classical revival, Greek revival, and Italian architecture constructed from 1857 to 1942.

-Mazomanie Town Hall #80000126 built from fieldstone in 1878 at 51 Crescent Street.

-Adam Dunlop Farmstead #01001242, established in 1849 on Dunlap Hollow Road in the town of Mazomanie.

-Friederich Kohlmann House #74000075, a Germanic fieldstone/stucco farmhouse established in 1867 on Highway 19 east of Marxville in the town of Berry.

-Frederick Schumann Farmstead #93001426, established in 1878 on Highway 19 in the town of Berry. The Schumann house is a rare example of a true saltbox design in Wisconsin with 18-inch thick walls made with locally-quarried limestone rubble and limestone lintels crowning the doors and windows.

Interested in listing your property?

For information on how to list a property on the register, visit How To List A Property at


Commercial House

Harry Stubly, Bill Clist, Ole Foss

Online Maps of Black Earth

  Maps are valuable resources for local historians and genealogists as they recorded snapshots in time. Fourteen historic maps of the Black Earth area on online through the Wisconsin Historical Society including Dane County plat maps and four Sanborn fire insurance maps for Black Earth from November 1894, November 1899, January 1905, and January 1915. The oldest online Black Earth area map from the state historical society is an 1847 map showing parts of Iowa, Dane, and Sauk Counties.

  Maps made by the Sanborn Map Co. helped fire insurance companies assess the risk of insuring a building. The detailed Sanborn maps show building footprint and materials, roads, waterways, railroads, businesses and proprietors. They also recorded population, whether streets were paved, lighting sources, water availability, and type of firefighting equipment available. For example in 1899, Black Earth's population was 500 with unpaved roads, oil lights, western prevailing winds, and a hand fire engine with private & public wells/cisterns available to their volunteer fire department, according to the closeup shown at right. Other closeups from the maps shown below details (1) the Henry Rolf Flour Mill; (2) the fire department, blacksmith & wagon shop, lumber yard, railroad depot, hardware & tin shop along Mills Street; and (3) a 1905 overall map of the village. Last closeup (4) is an 1861 Dane County map, also available online.

  Finding the maps online is a bit tricky trying to navigate the Wisconsin Historical Society website. To view the maps, go to> Explore Our Collections>Maps and Atlases In Our Collections>About Our Maps>then enter Black Earth in the advanced search box. Or, click this Black Earth maps for a quick link.


Patrons' Mercantile Coop

In 1894, the oldest farmer/consumer supply cooperative in the nation opened by a few town of Vermont farmers in a rented building in downtown Black Earth after experiencing a depressed economy in the early 1890s. It was located at 1103 Mills Street in a two story brick building that now houses The Shack bar & grill, see the 1981 article in the Wisconsin State Journal below. Just three years later the co-op moved south to 1131 Mills Street, currently the site of the Black Earth Children's Museum. Fire destroyed the co-op in 1933 (shown below in the black and white photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society), but it was rebuilt that same year. It operated at this site until 1994, according to an historical marker erected by the Dane County Historical Society. In 2000, the co-op merged with Mt. Horeb Farmers Cooperative and the name was changed to Premier Cooperative after major consolidation throughout the area's farming community. The headquarters of Premier Co-op was then moved to Mt. Horeb. The old co-op building in Black Earth was purchased by Aaron and Karen Carlock in 2014. After improving the site, opened as the Black Earth Children's Museum on June 12, 2017.

Fickle Municipal Beginnings:
Township Formed First

Town of Black Earth

  What is now the town of Black Earth incorporated as part of the town of Farmersville (along with present day Berry & the southern half of Mazomanie townships) on 2 August 1848, just months after Wisconsin became a state. The present-day northern half of Mazomanie township was added to Farmersville days later. Two years later in 1850, Berry was removed to become its own town. Population for Farmersville was 206 people, according to the 1850 census.

  The following year in 1851, the town's name was changed from Farmersville to Black Earth. It was only known as Farmersville for about three years. To further complicate the town's origins, the present-day town of Black Earth section split off from the then-larger town of Black Earth in 1858 and called itself Ray township. This was due to a perceived competition between the two railroad villages of Black Earth and Mazomanie existing within the same Black Earth township. It seemed the town wasn't big enough for both. However, this short-sighted split resulted in the village of Mazomanie being surrounded by the town of Black Earth and the village of Black Earth being surrounded by the town of Ray. The next state legislature ended the confusion by re-naming the towns Black Earth and Mazomanie as they exist today, with both villages within their namesake townships. The short-lived town name of Ray only lasted a matter of months.

  Today, this explains why the two present townships of Black Earth and Mazomanie are much geographically smaller than most townships in Wisconsin. Will the two towns ever combine again? If so, what should they call themselves? What about Farmersville (again)? In the year 2023, the town of Black Earth will be 175 years old if referring back to the original Farmersville name from 1848.

Village of Black Earth

  The village of Black Earth incorporated in 1857 . . . pretty cut and dried compared to Black Earth township. It was the first incorporated village other than Madison in Dane County. In the year 2032, Black Earth village will be 175 years old.     source: Black Earth: A History; photo below village Black Earth 1920 Mills Street

A Brief History of Black Earth
by Tony Schreiner-former president, newsletter editor, original member of the Black Earth Historical Society

Early Settlers

Prior to European immigration to this area, evidence of Indian settlements dot the Black Earth Valley. One prominent symbol was a “Man Mound.” This particular mound had a torso oriented east-west and was approximately 100 feet long. The legs were estimated to be about 600 feet and each arm extended in a north-south fashion at an probable length of over 300 feet. The head was twenty-five feet in diameter and, along with the torso, was over five feet high. A house currently resides where the chest of the effigy mound was located. The first recorded settlement of European immigrants in the Black Earth valley dates back to 1843. These early settlers were mainly comprised of members of The British Temperance Emigration Society. Approximately twenty immigrants from this Society settled in Black Earth between 1843 and 1850. The first “wave” of English emigrants was followed by Irish and Norwegian settlers, who moved into surrounding locations within the Black Earth valley. In August of 1850 the village was platted. At that time it consisted of six blocks. Additions were successively made in May 1854, December 1855, and March of 1856, and by 1857 Black Earth had become the first incorporated village in Dane County outside of Madison. George High served as the first president of the village board.

Notable Businesses

Early on, agriculture and agricultural-related businesses became a prominent fixture of this community. In 1850 John B. Sweat built a grist and flour mill located at the current site of The Shoe Box on the corner of USH 14 and STH 78. During the 1860’s and 1870’s, at its peak, the mill had three runs, and was producing two grades of wheat flour and grist, or cattle feed. By 1858, one year after the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad linked the states largest city to the Mississippi River, Thomas Barber opened a hardware and implement store. It was located at the current site of The Black Earth State Bank. On April 9, 1894, the Patrons’ Mercantile Company opened its first store at the current location at the corner of Mills and Ray Street. In 1897 it moved to a store at the corner of Spring and Mills Sts. This co-operative, which changed its name to The Patrons’ Mercantile Co-operative in 1960 (name changed to Premier Co-operative in 2001), is the oldest ongoing consumer co-op in the United States, if not the world. The co-operative was originally established to stabilize the Black Earth economy and to insulate the local markets from wildly unpredictable outside influences. From the beginning the co-operative prospered, with the exception of 1933 when a fire destroyed the store and nearly all of its contents. A new store was built on the same site in less than ten months, and the organization continues to thrive to this day. Two other notable businesses to prosper briefly in the village were: Barsness Manufacturing Co. (1920’s and 1930’s) – Designed, manufactured, and sold barn stancheons. Headquarters, corporate and manufacturing, located on Center St. just north of the Black Earth Elementary School. Lakeside Manufacturing Co. (1920’s) – Manufacturer and sellers of the Lakeside and Family Electric Dishwasher. Corporate headquarters were located in Madison; manufacturing plant was located in Black Earth (present location of the Black Earth Municipal Building).


Recreation, historically, has, and still does, play a special role in the village. Home Talent baseball has had a home in this community since the inception of the organization, back in the early 1930’s. Trout fishing along the world-famous Black Earth and Vermont Creeks has been an annual tradition since the 1890’s. During the 1870’s, the Wisconsin Valley Agricultural Society, an organization similar to the Grange, established a local fair. The host site alternated with the neighboring community of Mazomanie. By the turn of the twentieth century another local festival, Field Days, had already been established. With the exception of a brief period during World War II and the late 1950’s, this ongoing celebration has been an annual event.

The Black Earth Historical Society

More recently, August 1992 to be exact, The Black Earth Historical Society was organized. Affiliated with the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, it has two charges: to preserve and to educate the history and inhabitants of the Black Earth valley, respectively. Since its inception, and with the help of local government, businesses, and citizens, this Society has restored and refurbished the Black Earth Depot into a local museum. It is open during the summer months on Sundays 1-4 PM and by special appointment.


Native American Map
of Wisconsin