History of the Community
The Past - and Future of Elroy
Thomas Brown and Thomas Riddle made the first claim and settlement just north of the present City of Elroy in March, 1851. Two months later three Fowler brothers and a nephew that also made claims settled in this same area. When winter came, the community had grown to eight families, and the next spring a school was organized with Miss Emily Fowler as the first teacher.
The settlement grew and the need for closer communication with the outside world was required so an official post office was established. This office, which was named Fowler's Prairie, opened on July 16, 1857 in the home of Reuben A. Fowler, the first postmaster. It was just east of the present Elroy-Sparta Trail and about one-half mile west of the present city limits.
In 1855, James Hutchinson bought from the U.S. Government much of the land that would later make up what is now the City of Elroy. The next year, James Brintnall came to the area, bought land from Mr. Hutchinson and set up a saw mill. In 1858, Mr. Brintnall along with a J.M. Bennet of Hillsboro Township surveyed and plotted the first section of Elroy. Streets and alleys were designated as the law required.
In 1859, John Hutchinson came to the area and along with his brother James, bought Brintnall's saw mill so they could build a grist mill.
This mill stood where the last bridge as you come into Elroy from the south on Hwy. 80 & 82 is now located. Remnants of the dam which was built may still be seen under the railroad bridge which is now on the "400" Trail. This location was at the narrowest point of the Baraboo River so less material would be needed. After the completion of the mill the farmers did not have to spend a day or two going to the Lemonweir Mills south of Mauston. Because of the mill other places of business sprang up and the infant community was doing well and now it needed a name.
The post office had been brought down from Fowler's Prairie but that name did not fit the new area. The office was located in the home of Mr. James Brintnall, which is still standing as the first home on Lincoln Street. The name LeRoy was suggested and all twenty-five residents concurred, but a letter came back from the Post Office Department with the information that there already was a LeRoy in Wisconsin so Mr. Brintnall's daughter suggested turning the first two letters around and the OK came back for Elroy. Jonathon Carter came to town with a stock of goods and built a store just north of the mill. The Bickford blacksmith shop opened as did Hagerth's wagon shop, a livery stable and an inn.
The community prospered but it took the news that the railroad was coming that really caused the boom! By August 5, 1872, when the first train appeared, Elroy had doubled in size and as the railroad went on west and north Elroy became ready to incorporate. The community became a village on December 13, 1879, and on April 7, 1885 Elroy was a city and continued to grow until in 1905 the population was over 2,000.
Five years later a more direct line between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities through Adams which was much flatter was built and much of the railroad business was lost. Railroading continued to decline and in 1964 all of the service west was discontinued and the rails were removed. The land was sold to what became the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and it was developed into the first hiking and biking trail of its kind in the world and became the "Granddaddy of all Trails". The thirty-two mile trail with three tunnels goes on through Kendall, Wilton and Norwalk to Sparta. In the 1980's all railroad operations ceased between Reedsburg and Camp Douglas. The portion between Elroy and Camp Douglas was sold to Juneau County and the "Omaha" Trail which is twelve and a half miles long began operating in 1992. Two years later the twenty-two mile "400" State Trail was developed. It begins in Elroy and runs through the communities of Union Center, Wonewoc and LaValle and ends in Reedsburg.
The three trails meet at the Elroy Commons in downtown Elroy which is operated by the Tourism Committee of the City and has several employees. Trail passes are sold, bikes rented, T-shirts and other souvenirs as well as refreshments are sold and information given freely. Questions on places to stay or where to eat, what is going on in the nearby communities, names of shuttle drivers are often asked. It might be well to call the Commons Trail Shop at 1-888-606-BIKE (2453) before getting too far on your trip to Elroy. Incidentally, Wisconsin Dells, with a more exciting adventure is only thirty miles from Elroy.
The City of Elroy bought the old railroad depot and converted and remodeled it into Elroy's fire station. The land on which the twenty stall round house stood since 1900 as well as most of the railroad yards in the City was also purchased and is now the location of several industrial buildings.
For many years the economy of Elroy would hang on every move the railroad made even though agriculture was also very important for the community. With several companies employing more people things are looking good for the Elroy economy.
This article was written by Elroy Historian and booster Tilmar Roalkvam who passed away in 2005.
Below is a copy of the front page of the first Elroy newspaper. You can look at the full paper or any printed from 1873 - 2011 on our Digital Archive site.