It was 175 years ago this year that the First Territorial Capitol was established in Belmont. On Oct. 25, 1836 the first legislature of the Wisconsin Territory met in Belmont. During those 46 days the legislature set the foundation for the future State of Wisconsin, including selecting Madison as the permanent Capitol.
The First Territorial Capitol had governance over five territories at the time: Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota. Wisconsin became a state 12 years after that 46-day meeting.
Replicas of the original desks and chairs decorate the inside of one of the buildings.
The site was part of an event last week in Belmont to help commemorate the 175 anniversary. The historic site was included along a walk/run event.
The historic site sits between the Village of Belmont and the "M."
The property is managed by the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
"It draws people because of its history," said Jackie Dieter, tour guide and custodian at the site.
The facility is open from June through October. There is no charge to tour the site.
Individual tours can be arranged by contacting the State Historical Society.
When the First Territorial Capitol was established in 1836, the property included 70 acres and seven buildings. The site now includes two buildings, the original building where the meeting was held as well as the boarding house, which housed 120 people.
During those 46 days the conditions in the buildings were poor. The weather was cold and all of the boarders were in a tight space. There were no doctors on site, so disease was inevitable. Those at the meeting would melt snow on the stove to be used for bathing.
Once the meeting was adjourned, the buildings were used as barns for several years. The Territorial Capitol then moved to Burlington, Iowa.
The initial plan was to make it a permanent Territorial Capitol, but that did not materialize. In addition, the construction of the railroad miles from the site did not make it appealing.
At the time of the meeting, there were no taverns or churches. There was a livery stable with a blacksmith, as well as a small newspaper office for the Belmont Gazette.
Dieter performs the weekly maintenance on the facility and says it is in decent condition. "I am impressed with the construction," she said. "It was well put together."
"We will keep going as long as we can," said Dieter.
Many school groups visit the site each year.
As for the appeal of the site, Tamara Funk, curator, believes people are drawn to foundations. "People are fascinated by beginnings," she said. "They are fascinated with the idea of the human story."
Funk described the scene of the meetings at the site in 1836 with people crowded in a room, homesick and cold, but working to create something bigger then themselves.