In 1818, a young man name Jesse Shull began buying furs for John Jacob Aster of the American Fur Co. He was sent to the Fever River in the summer of 1819 and built a trading house where Perry Street in Galena Illinois is now. From this Galena IL trading house, he followed the Indian trails in search of better locations. His first camp, where Shullsburg WI is now located, was made in 1820-21. During this time he was also investigating the mining lands of the area and in the summer of 1826 he was shown by Indians locations of rich ore deposits. A migration of miners followed, the first of which were called Badgers because many lived in holes they dug in the ground.
Galena Illinois, often referred to as The Old Diggins', was getting too crowded for new miners. As the migration moved north towards Shullsburg, many small towns sprang up around the newer diggins'. Some towns survived - Scales Mound, Hardscrabble, Cottonwood Hill, Council Hill, Leadmine, New Dublin, and of course, New Diggings. Some of these survivors changed their names - Hardscrabble became Hazel Green, Cottonwood Hill became Benton, and the Irish Diggins at New Dublin became Shullsburg. Some towns did not survive - Gratiot's Grove, Veta Grand, and Natchez show no visible remains; Buncombe has one old rock foundation showing, and Etna has one rock building still standing.
The first recorded public voting in Shullsburg WI took place in August 1827. From this time to the Civil War, lead mining was the reason Shullsburg Wisconsin grew and prospered but hard times fell upon the town during and after the Civil War. But by 1880, the mines were again being worked. The yield was great enough to bring the railroad to town, creating another era of growth and prosperity. Most of the brick commercial buildings were built during this decade of the early to mid 1880's. Shullsburg WI continued to do well for several decades as many of the mines operated through the 1940's. The last mining operation came to a halt in the 1970's, marking the end of 150 years of mining industry, economy, and way of living.
In the late 1980's a quiet transformation began to occur. A few old abandoned commercial buildings on Water Street were being fixed up and occupied. Through the 1990's, more buildings were restored by daring entrepreneurs. Now only a few buldings are waiting their turn for restoration.
Today, Shullsburg Wisconsin, only an hour from Madison WI, is unique, boasting many well restored and gainfully occupied buildings from the first two periods of growth and prosperity - 1840 to 1860 & 1880 to 1900. We once again have a thriving business district, and we are proud of it.
Travel, as the first prospectors did, the road from Galena Illinois to Shullsburg Wisconsin. Discover the unexpected: Wonderful businesses and quaint "watering holes" dot the countryside and small towns. The scenery is surreal and intriguing and the road truly takes one back in time.