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Janesville, Wisconsin
Downtown Janesville looking south on Main Street (2004)
Downtown Janesville looking south on Main Street (2004)
"Wisconsin's Park Place"
"Bower City"
Location in Rock County and the state of Wisconsin.
Location in Rock County and the state of Wisconsin.
Municipality City
Incorporated 1853
 • City 34.45 sq mi (89.23 km2)
 • Land 33.86 sq mi (87.70 km2)
 • Water 0.59 sq mi (1.53 km2)
 • City 63,575
 • Estimate 
 • Density 1,877.6/sq mi (724.9/km2)
 • Metro
Time zone UTC−6 (Central)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
Area code(s) 608

Janesville is a city in southern Wisconsin, United States. It is the county seat and largest city of Rock County and the principal municipality of the Janesville, Wisconsin Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 63,575.


The Janesville area was home to many Native American tribes before the settlement of people from the East. With the Indian Removal Act of 1830 many Native American peoples were uprooted and forced out of their homelands to make room for the American settlers, with many Native peoples, including the Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi, being forced onto reservations.

American settlers John Inman, George Follmer, Joshua Holmes, and William Holmes, Jr. built a crude log cabin in the region in 1835. Later that year, one key settler named Henry Janes, a native of Virginia who was a self-proclaimed woodsman and early city planner arrived in what is now Rock County. Janes came to the area in the early 1830s and initially wanted to name the budding village “Blackhawk" after the famous Sauk leader Chief Black Hawk, but was turned down by Post Office officials. After some discussion it was settled that the town would be named after Janes himself and thus in 1835, Janesville was founded. Despite being named after a Virginian, Janesville was founded by immigrants from New England. These were old stock Yankee immigrants, who were descended from the English Puritans who settled New England in the 1600s. The completion of the Erie Canal caused a surge in New England immigration to what was then the Northwest Territory. Some of them were from upstate New York and had parents who had moved to that region from New England shortly after the Revolutionary War. New Englanders and New England transplants from upstate New York were the vast majority of Janesville's inhabitants during the first several decades of its history. Land surveys encouraged pioneers to settle in the area among the abundance of fertile farmland and woodlands. Many of these early settlers established farms and began cultivating wheat and other grains.

As the population grew in the Janesville area, several new industries began cropping up along the Rock River including flour and lumber mills. The first dam was built in 1844.

Some of the key settlers in the Janesville hailed from the burned-over district of western New York State, an area marked by its abundance of Christian revival and awakening groups during the mid-19th century. These groups were also active in abolitionist and women’s rights movements.

Of these settlers was William Tallman who hailed from Rome, New York. Tallman came to the area in 1850 and bought up large tracts of land in hopes of inspiring his fellow New Yorkers to settle in the fertile Rock County. Tallman established himself as one of the most influential and affluent members of the budding Janesville populace. He was impassioned by the call for abolition and became a supporter of the Republican Party. One of the crowning moments in Tallman’s life was when he convinced the up-and-coming Illinois Republican Abraham Lincoln to speak in Janesville in 1859. The Tallman house is now a historical landmark and now best known as “The place where Abraham Lincoln slept”.

Janesville was very active during the Civil War. Local farms sold grains to the Union army, and Rock County was one of the counties in Wisconsin with the highest number of men enlisted. Thomas H. Ruger of Janesville served in the war, along with brothers Edward, William, and Henry, rising to the rank of brigadier general. Ruger later served as military governor of Georgia and commandant of West Point. He is memorialized at Fort Ruger in Diamond Head, Hawaii.

After the Civil War, Janesville’s agriculture continued to surge and a greater demand for new farming technology led to the development of several foundries and farm machine manufacturers in the area. Among these were the Janesville Machine Company and the Rock River Iron Works. With the boom in the farm service sector and establishment of a rail system, Janesville soon began to ship goods to and from prominent eastern cities, including New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. After decades of rigorous grain farming, the soil quality around Janesville began to degrade. The farmers responded to this issue by planting tobacco which became one of the most profitable and prolific crops grown in Wisconsin during the late 19th century.

Another development during the mid-19th century was the establishment of a women’s rights movement in Janesville. The movement was founded in the 1850s and was continued after the Civil War. One of the key focuses of the group during the 1870s was the Temperance movement.

In the late 1880s German immigrants began to arrive in Janesville in large numbers (making up less than 5% of the town before this time). They were the largest non-English-speaking group to settle there. Unlike other instances, they experienced virtually no hostility or xenophobia. Janesville's founding English-Puritan-descended Yankee population welcomed them with open arms, with many writing back to relatives in Germany enthusiastically. This led to chain migration which increased the German population of the town. Only one German-language newspaper was founded in the town known as The Janesville Journal, which began in 1889 and only ran for a few years.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Milwaukee Road and Chicago and North Western railroads had freight and passenger rail connections to the city. Passenger rail service continued until 1971.

One of the key developments in Janesville’s history was the establishment of a General Motors plant in 1919. The plant was initially established to produce Samson tractors, a company acquired by GM co-founder William C. Durant. Durant was encouraged by Joseph Craig, the president of Janesville Machine to build a plant to produce the Samson tractors in Janesville, to which Durant agreed. In the years following World War I the demand for tractors plummeted and the plant shifted its focus to the production of automobiles.

One of the most prominent turn of the century figures in Janesville was George Parker who developed new pen technologies and styles and eventually established the Parker Pen Company. His developments included the “lucky curve” ink feed system, and the “trench pen” a pen commissioned by the U.S. Army for use in World War I. Parker designed and established a headquarters and factory in downtown Janesville. The Parker Pen Company was handed down to George’s son Ken who developed the revolutionary “Parker 51” in the 1940s. A Parker pen was used by Dwight D. Eisenhower to sign Germany’s Armistice agreement to end World War II in Europe, and subsequently General Douglas MacArthur used his 20-year-old Parker Duofold in the signing of Japan’s surrender at the end of the War in the Pacific. The Parker Pen Company was one of the top employers in the area for over 70 years. The company was eventually sold off in a leveraged buyout in the 1980s.

Another important figure in Janesville's history was John Nolen, who was hired by the city in 1919. Nolen was a city planner who saw the Rock River as a focal point for community and park development. His park planning established Janesville as the “City of Parks”.

Janesville was the site of the first Wisconsin State Fair in 1851, attended by approximately 10,000 people.

Lavinia Goodell, Wisconsin's first female lawyer (1874), lived in Janesville.

A tree that once stood in downtown Courthouse Park was the site of a lynch mob that hanged a convicted murderer in 1859. The location of a cross burning in 1992 is now "Peace Park" with a playground and a peace pole, said to be the world's tallest at 52 feet.

National Register of Historic Places

Twenty percent of Wisconsin's buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places are located in Janesville. The 1857 Lincoln-Tallman House, which models the Italian Villa-style architecture, is one of 34 sites on the Register. Abraham Lincoln slept there for two nights. The Columbus Circle neighborhood became Janesville's tenth historic district in 2005. The former Janesville Public Library, a Carnegie library built in 1902, was designed by J.T.W. Jennings. The Courthouse Hill Historic District was added in 1986. In 1976, the Lappin-Hayes Block, once the site of the cabin belonging to Henry Janes, was added. The Lovejoy and Merrill-Nowlan Houses, the residences of two Janesville Mayors, including Allen P. Lovejoy, were added in 1980. The Frances Willard Schoolhouse, partially built by Josiah Willard and named after his daughter, Frances, was added in 1977.

City flag

Janesville developed its first flag in 2015 in a design contest held in Janesville's schools. The winning flag was adopted by the city council in March 2015 and unveiled on June 15, 2015. The flag represents the community's past, present and future, with 1853 representing the year Janesville was incorporated, four stars symbolizing the city’s four original wards, a green background standing for the community's agricultural industry, and black representing the rich soil for which Janesville is known and the smoke that billowed from smokestacks as the community developed a manufacturing economy. The tree in the center is the city's logo, representing Janesville's slogan, "Wisconsin’s Park Place".


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 34.45 square miles (89.23 km2), of which 33.86 square miles (87.70 km2) is land and 0.59 square miles (1.53 km2) is water. The city is divided by the Rock River.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 7,703
1870 8,789 14.1%
1880 9,018 2.6%
1890 10,836 20.2%
1900 13,185 21.7%
1910 13,894 5.4%
1920 18,293 31.7%
1930 21,628 18.2%
1940 22,992 6.3%
1950 24,899 8.3%
1960 35,164 41.2%
1970 46,426 32.0%
1980 51,071 10.0%
1990 52,133 2.1%
2000 59,498 14.1%
2010 63,575 6.9%
Est. 2015 64,123 0.9%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 63,575 residents, 25,828 occupied housing units, and 16,718 families in the city. The population density was 1,877.6 people per square mile (834.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 91.7% White, 2.6% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 1.3% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 2.0% from other races, and 2.1% from two or more races. 5.4% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Of the 25,828 households, 30.4% had children under the age of 18 living in them, 46.6% were married couples living together, 12.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.3% were non-families. 28.2% of all households were made up of individuals, with 10.6% individuals aged 65 years or older. The average household size was 2.43 and the average family size was 2.95.

In the city, the population was spread out with 21.8% under the age of 18, and 13.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37.1 years.


Janesville station
Janesville Bus Station

Janesville operates a bus system, the Janesville Transit System (JTS), which also connects with neighboring Beloit and Milton. Van Galder Bus Company (a Coach USA company), based in Janesville, operates a regional bus service between Madison and downtown Chicago, Chicago O'Hare Airport, and Midway Airport.

Major highways

Interstate 90/39 passes through Janesville, as does U.S. Hwy 14 and 51 and state Hwy 26 and 11.


Janesville is served by Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport (KJVL), which provides general aviation and air cargo services. The closest airports with commercial air service are Dane County Regional Airport in Madison and Chicago Rockford International Airport in Rockford, Illinois.


The city is served by three freight railroads: Union Pacific, which has two daily freight trains between Janesville and Chicago; the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad, a regional carrier that provides freight service to cities throughout southern Wisconsin; and the Iowa, Chicago and Eastern Railroad, a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway, that operates a weekly train to Chicago.

Hedberg Public Library

The library began in 1865 as a privately supported reading room for the Young Men's Library Association. After a referendum passed in 1884, it became a public library that was housed in rented quarters. In 1903, a new building was constructed with $30,000 from Andrew Carnegie and other donors. The city also agreed to appropriate $3,000 for library operations. The library then moved to its first official home across from the Rock County Court House on Main Street. When it outgrew these quarters in the early 1960s, a new library was built in 1968 at 316 S. Main Street.

Just 20 years later, the library began planning for expanded space. With $4.6 million donated by Don and Gerry Hedberg, local philanthropists, as well as city and other donated monies, an expanded and completely renovated library was opened in 1996. Janesville's public library was then renamed Hedberg Public Library in honor of its largest contributors.

Parks and recreation

Rock Aqua Jays

Janesville is known as "Wisconsin's Park Place". Its 2,590-acre (10.5 km2) park system includes 64 improved parks, as well as boat launches, golf courses, and nature trails. This is one of the highest acreages per capita in Wisconsin.

Janesville has a public, internationally themed botanical garden, Rotary Gardens, that was created from an abandoned sand pit.

Traxler Park is home to the Rock Aqua Jays, a water ski team. The RAJ's are the most successful water ski show team in the world with 62 total tournament victories including 19 U.S. National Championships. The team originated and regularly hosts the National Show Ski championships, and was the host of the first ever World Water Ski Show championship, with teams competing from Australia, Belgium, Canada and China. Traxler Park is also the site of the city's annual Fourth of July festivities.

Other major parks include Riverside Park, a recreational park along the Rock River including a golf course and a segment of the Ice Age Trail; Rockport Park, largely undeveloped, including the municipal swimming pool and Peace Park; Monterey Park, including the Big Rock, an early natural landmark signaling a good ford of the Rock River (and the namesake of the county, but not the river), as well as a sports stadium used by the school system; Lustig Park, used for a disc golf course; and Palmer Park, which includes a 9-hole golf course and CAMDEN Playground (an accessible play area, considered the largest accessible/integrated playground in the world and the most accessible/integrated playground). Most of the hiking and biking trails in the city are connected to the Ice Age Trail, which will eventually connect to the west with the Sugar River State Trail, north to Milton and Fort Atkinson and east to the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Janesville also has a nearly 500-acre greenbelt system to provide areas for surface water runoff and habitat for a diversity of plants and animals.


There are four Roman Catholic parishes in Janesville, all part of the Diocese of Madison. The oldest is St. Patrick's, established in a log chapel in 1844 when there were only six Catholic families in Janesville. A Priest arrived in March 1845 and celebrated mass. St. Patrick's present church was built of cream colored brick in 1863 and is located at 315 Cherry Street. Located on a hill near the center of town, the architecturally prominent Nativity of Mary church (St. Mary's) was organized in 1876 by German immigrants who wanted a parish of their own. The present red brick structure was completed in 1902. The remaining two Janesville parishes include St. John Vianney, located on East Racine Street, and St. William on the near west side.

The city is also home to many other Christian churches including Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Baptist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others. The First Baptist Church of Janesville was organized October 13, 1844, and founded by the Rev. Jeremiah Murphy. The Seventh Day Baptist General Conference has its offices in Janesville; the denomination's nearest church is in nearby Milton. All Saints Anglican Catholic Church a part of the continuing Anglican movement, is located in a historic church near downtown that was built by German Lutherans in the 1880s.

There are four cemeteries in Janesville: Oakhill, a municipal cemetery, Mount Olivet, a Roman Catholic cemetery, Dillenbeck Cemetery, and Milton Lawns, a non-demominational private cemetery.

The Gideon Bible organization was founded at the Janesville YMCA in 1899 by Janesville resident John H. Nicholson and a Beloit man after they had shared a Boscobel hotel room.

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