Wisconsin’s Culture - Why is it there?

A great “discovery” riding through Lafayette County

I was on a “get lost ride” in Lafayette County. I followed my “get lost” rule: I got onto the road that was more narrow than the one I was on. I had just visited Yellowstone State Park. I was out in the countryside and ended up on Gant Road. I was in the town of Blanchardville. This image from Google Earth reflects the kind of country I was in, vast, lush grasslands punctuated by treelines, a few farms, and homes.

I got on Gant Road from CH F. The opening photo shows Gant Rd. running east-west. Note where I marked “Huge Building.”

I passed by Gantz Road and came upon this huge building, sitting out here, “unarmed, alone and afraid,” to use an Indochina War quip I learned while flying around the unfriendly skies of Laos.

I was startled by this structure and, of course, took a few photos of it. My question was, “Why is such a large, vertical building out here?” I had no explanation.

Looking down Gant Road a bit, I could see a farmer at work. I drove slowly down Gant Road, and surprisingly, the farmer walked slowly toward my car. It looked like he wanted to talk. I was anxious, hoping I had not trespassed on his property, yet sure I was on a public road.

I stopped the car and rolled down my window. The farmer got close and looked at me while I looked at him, each of us trying to size up the other. I introduced myself, and he did likewise; Jason Gant was his name. In retrospect, I was on the road with his family name: Gant.

I told Jason I was surprised by that huge limestone building back there. I asked if there was any history to go with it. Well, there sure was.

Jason talked, and I took notes as fast as possible, though I needed to be faster. I have managed to piece his stories together after researching back home. I will say that I am angry at myself for not taking more photos and talking to him more. I will go back, God willing,

Jason told me the Scott brothers thought the Illinois Central (IC) railway was coming through their land. They decided to build this structure right where it now stands. They planned that it would serve as a hotel, general store, and post office. They built it and completed it in 1865.

Let me use part of an old Scottish poem by Robert (Rabbie) Burns:

“The best-laid schemes of mice and men leave us nothing but grief and pain.”

Guess what! The IC Railway did not come through this point.

Jason kept alluding to the railway choosing the other side of the Pecatonica River or something to that effect. I was unfamiliar with that river, so I did not know what he meant at the time.

In any event, the Scott brothers went broke and sold their property; end of story.

I thought about this conversation and decided I needed a better grip on it.

On my return to Eau Claire, I researched Lafayette County's history and a variety of sources online.

As a result, I have assembled a story based on what Jason told me, what I think he told me, and what I have learned through my research. I am satisfied that my story is credible, plus or minus.

During the Civil War days, there were three Scott brothers who were residents of Lafayette County: Robert, Frank, and James Early Scott. They were all in Co. B, 23rd Infantry Regiment.

Robert died of disease while serving with the 23rd. Frank returned from the Civil War badly wounded and died in Darlington, I believe, in 1908 or 1909. James was also wounded but came back home sort of in one piece and resided in Darlington. He died in 1912.

The website “Spared & Shared” talks a little about James,

“The Scott children were born in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, but moved with their parents to Wiota, Lafayette County, Wisconsin, in 1851, where they began farming. James Scott enlisted as a private in Company B of the 23rd Wisconsin Infantry on August 11, 1862. He saw action during Sherman’s Yazoo Expedition, Chickasaw Bayou, and the capture of Fort Hindman in Arkansas. He was discharged on 3 April 1863 at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, with a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability.”

The building on the Gant farm was completed in 1865, at the end of the war.

It is hard to put together a timeline. I believe James and Frank, maybe Robert, decided to build the giant structure on their farmland either before the breakout of the Civil War, during it, or after it; their building was completed in 1865, at the end of the war.

So the building went up, and the Scott brothers were licking their chops, hoping to benefit from the Illinois Central coming through their property.

The Illinois Central, however, decided to run its line through Blanchardville during the 1880s, about six miles east of where the Scott brothers had built their hotel-general store-post office.

The Pekatonica River was an attraction for the IC. It rises a few miles west of Mineral Point and runs southeasterly, passing through Blanchardville and into Illinois.

The train depot was built in Blanchardville in 1888. The line ran southeast from Dodgeville through Jonesdale, Hollandale, Blanchardville, Argyle Woodford, Dill, and Martinsville to Freeport, IL. The IC aimed to connect the mining and agricultural community to Freeport. It wanted to catalyze growth and lay the foundations for agricultural, industrial, and urban development. The first train ran out of Dodgeville in 1888.


The net result was that the Scott brothers had a reasonably good idea. A river, or a creek, is close to their building, but they could not compete with the Pekatonica River. The river’s nearest point of approach to the Scott building was about a mile and a half.

Furthermore, it looks like Blanchardville was a more appealing choice. Once part of Argyle, it became a separate town in 1869. Lead diggings were found in 1838. That drew settlers to the area. The town also had a flour mill and a lumber mill. None of that was available to the Scott brothers. In modern times, State Highway 78 runs through it.

In short, the Scott brothers bet on the wrong horse, lost a bundle, and went broke.

I am unsure when the Gant family bought the farmlands around the building. I know Jerrold William “Jerry” Gant was born in Darlington in 1936 to Bernard and Lulu (Thompson) Gant. He grew up and lived much of his life on the Gant farm on Gant Road, about six miles west of Blanchardville. He worked on the family farm through high school. After graduation, he and his brother Karl ran the family farm. Jerry’s grandson later joined them. Jerry and his wife Norma had three children, Jed (Rona), Jason, and Joslyn.

The Gant Farm is now entering its fifth generation. During my conversation, Jason alluded to four generations of his family working on this farm, close enough for government work! He mentioned other family members who worked with him, so five generations are plausible.

Jason and I had a good conversation about small farmers. He lamented that small farmers are under a great deal of stress because of the low pricing of their products. He went through a litany of prices that were killing small farmers. I interjected that those who go to the grocery store are buried under high prices. He quickly retorted that the small farmers are not benefitting from the high grocery store prices. He pointed to the processors and grocery chains as the high-price culprits.

I added that I recently learned that small farmers were committing suicide.

Jason then commented that farmers could not fool Mother Nature, intimating that Mother Nature calls all the shots and that some farmers are fighting Mother Nature instead of understanding her. The Gant Farms Facebook page underscores Jason’s view about Mother Nature:

“Despite all our accomplishments, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact it rains.”

Yes, indeed, Jason, we cannot fool Mother Nature.

In 2017 Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg visited the Gant farm in Blanchardville. This photo shows the family dining on good old down-home cooking with Zuckerberg. I am pretty sure Jason is sitting to Zuckerberg’s right, wearing glasses.

I’ll finish this great exploration with these photos, which I took shortly after my talk with Jason.

You’ll note the stream flowing through the grassland and the beef cattle grazing there. It looks almost good enough to lie in the grass and wonder what tomorrow brings. As an aside, I saw Holstein dairy cattle next to the large building. The Gant farm sells both beef and dairy.

It was a great pleasure visiting this area and farm and, most importantly, talking with Jason. He gave me an excellent education!