by James Hibbard
Over the past couple weeks, I have enjoyed the Etc. columns on local names: Potosi, Arthur, etc.
What makes them humorous is that over time people pass on, and the reason (or context) for the name of a village gets lost, leaving us with inexplicably funny sounding names.
In the spirit of keeping things going, let me present your readers with a proverbial enigma within a puzzle. Recently, I was looking for an obituary in the Platteville Journal when I came across the following item in the May 26, 1915 issue, pictured here.
Did an orphan train stop in Platteville on May 29, 1915? Was there a photographer in town that has been lost to history? What was going on? Guessing there had to be another story on this, I searched the newspaper around that date, but found nothing.
Shifting gears, I researched “Hale & Sons” to see if I could find an answer. The 1910 and 1920 U.S. censuses showed that “Hale” was Robert Hale and that his occupation in 1910 it was “own income,” and in 1920 was “retired.” Other censuses showed that the “Sons” were William and John, but they had both moved to South Dakota shortly after 1900.
After checking several other sources and finding nothing, I finally hit paydirt when I looked up the obituary of Robert Hale, who died in November 1926. It noted that Hale was born in 1848 in Hazel Green, and lived most of his life working as a farmer just north of Platteville in the Town of Lima. Halfway into the obituary I found the Rosetta stone to this puzzle: “In 1902 Mr. Hale moved to the City of Platteville, and engaged in the Real Estate business.”
Bingo! Now the newspaper item started to make sense. To supplement his retirement from farming, Robert Hale worked in real estate. Research showed that his office was probably in what is today the Elks Lodge building on Oak Street.
As for the “Sons,” the records are not as clear. What is known, however, is that William, Robert’s oldest son, was listed in the 1910 U.S. census of South Dakota as “Land Agent” at a U.S. “Land Office.” Given this, Robert Hale’s real estate business may have been a larger concern than just the Platteville area.
Believe it or not, Bob’s letter was nothing more than an advertisement designed to get customers to stop into Hale & Sons real estate office to look at house listings. Who was the darling little child in the photograph? Best guess: It was a daguerreotype of Robert Hale when he was about four years old.
Note on Arthur: A directory of Wisconsin post offices listed an Arthur in Oconto County, from August 3, 1881 to January 18, 1883. As to Grant County’s Arthur, the same directory indicated Arthur was established as Washburn in 1855. On Aug. 29, 1883, its post office (and hence) name was changed to Arthur. I have yet to find a reason for this change, but given President Chester Arthur was in the White House at the time, and that Arthur was not a local name in that area, it is very likely that the village was named after the president.
Hibbard is the UW–Platteville archivist.