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City of Fennimore celebrates 100 years
Old Fennimore Main Street
Fennimore is celebrating a special anniversary this month. A century ago, the City on the Move, officially became a city.
Fennimore was well established place by the time it was voted on by the Common Council to become a city in 1919. It was incorporated in 1889 with the president of the village at the time being Gottlieb Wehrle.
The history of Fennimore has been shrouded in mystery during the early days of its inception.
In the 1980 version of Fennimore Then and Now, Sophronia McGhan, toured as one of the areas early settlers shared her family’s account off coming to the area.
Sophronia shared that her father “felt the call of the West” and bought a land patent off of an Revolutionary soldier and took off on his journey.
After much travel, her father  and his nephew reached their original destination. However they decided to travel further to Wisconsin to visit more relatives.
Upon arriving to a prairie near Fennimore, they decided then and there that it would be the ideal place. They made their way over to Mineral Point where the government land office was located and Silas McGhan entered 160 acres of land one mile east and a half mile south of where the main street of Fennimore is today.
The McGhan family traveled by wagon until they were able to take a steamer up the Great Lakes to shorten the trip. The family made it to Milwaukee and began their wagon travel once more.
They traveled to Madison through Blue Mounds and Mont Fort until they reached Military Road, which they traveled to the new farmstead.  There was an old man who lived there by the name of Fennimore. Sophronia recalled he was a trapper by trade.
“The Territory embracing the townships of Hickory Grove, Mount Ida and Fennimore was called Fennimore in honor of the old trapper who lived here so long, died and was buried under his cabin in the woods,” Sophronia wrote.
Within the next few years, as Wisconsin became officially a state, Fennimore began to boom.
It was reported that by 1849 there were enough children in the settlement that a school was necessary.
“Accordingly they went to work and erected a strange school house, taking the cover off the movers’ wagons which had been used in the journey west, fixed a frame of wood and stretched this over, making a “tent” school house using boards for seats,.” Sophronia recalled.  Later, a cemetery was also added.
Sophronia also recalled Fennimore as being a rather wild piece of country. Complete with regular encounters with rattle snakes, wolves and deer.
The book shares that, reflected in the land abstracts in and around Fennimore, that land was gobbled up by settlers at a rapid rate between 1840 and 1850. It was quickly carved out into pioneer farm steads with Old Fennimore, existing just a mile west of present day Fennimore on Highway 18.
As the relentless march of progress continued the city grew right along with it.
Old issues of the Fennimore Times reflect the city as it continued to boom. Advertisements for old businesses and the comings and goings of the residents filled the pages of the 130 year old publication.
However, the move to become a city was a rather quiet one in the news.
Perhaps one of the most notable going’s on during that time was another big land sale boom.
A full page ad was taken out in the 1919 issues of the Fennimore Times leading up to a “Big Lot Sale in the Village of Fennimore.”
The ad boasted “About 150 choice lots to be sold at auction! Several hundred dollars in valuable prizes will be given out and one lot free! This will be the first opportunity in the history of Fennimore where you can buy a lot at your own price. Buy a lot at this sale and build your home in one of the most up to date and progressive cities in the South West Wisconsin. Fennimore is bound to grow and choice lots may not be available when you are ready to build your home. The City of 1368 (actual count) is located in one of the finest agricultural districts to be found on Gods Green Earth. It boasts a double state truck highway, fine paved streets, electric lighted and soon to have a $80,000 park, water works and two big banks. Mercantile establishments of all kinds and find modern residences. In fact it’s an ideal place to make your home. No need to  go out of town for anything you want or need or desire. Fennimore can take care of all of your needs.” A second full page ad continued to sing the praises of Fennimore, “Fennimore extends a cordial welcome to every prospective new resident and assures them it will not take long to feel perfectly at home in the cleanest, best and livest little city in Southwest Wisconsin.”
The sale was so successful it even warranted front page ink the following week.
“First Land Sale a Hummer” the headline proclaimed.
“The lots went like hot cakes, every one of them sold.”  
The lots consisted of a little over 12 acres of land that was sold, with an estimated 1,000 people attending. The lots were sized at 20x120 feet with the stipulation that at least three needed to be purchased.
Little Otto Boebel, 10 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Boebel, was the winner of the free lot given away by the Heberlien Land and Development Company of St. Paul, who was hosting the event.
“We look for a steady and continuous boom for Fennimore from now on. This sale certainly has opened the yes of the people to the advantages we have here and the desirability of Fennimore of a place of residence.”

As the anniversary month of Fennimore draws on, we hope to be able to share more stories of the city’s past. If you or someone you know would like to share your personal history or memories or photos of the Fennimore please call us at 822-3912, email us at or just stop on by to our office located between Hartig Drug and the Depot Thrift store at 1150 Lincoln Ave in Fennimore.