The Beloit Historical Society, founded in 1910, is the oldest historical society in Rock County.
Located on the west side of Beloit, the society manages two sites – The Lincoln Center and the Hanchett-Bartlett Homestead. The Beloit Historical Society includes five buildings on 30 acres of land. Programs, tours and community events are held throughout the year at both facilities.
“We’re a worthwhile, important organization and we do unique work in Beloit,” says Paul Kerr, who’s been involved with the society for 25 years. “I don’t think this type of service is duplicated to the extent of what we do.”
For 105 years, the society has collected Beloit history including photography, maps, blueprints, military objects and much more. There are more than 30,000 pieces in the collection, including 18,000 photographs, as well as city directories and yearbooks from Beloit High School, now known as Beloit Memorial High School. The city directories go back to 1857 and the yearbooks date back to 1916.
“Most people use these resources to get started with research, whether they’re studying genealogy or writing a book about Beloit,” says Kerr. “We have files of information that we have accumulated over the years on subject matters such as civil defense, school districts, sports and clubs.”
The current location of the Beloit Historical Society is the Lincoln Center, which was once the Lincoln Junior High School from 1919 to 1985. The Lincoln Center’s museum includes exhibit areas which focus on a number of local historical themes – the Beloit Gallery, Arthur Missner Veterans Gallery and Memorial, the Ted Perring Sports Hall of Fame, and the Beloit Hall of Fame. The center also houses the Beloit Historical Society’s offices, archives, community room, collection storage rooms, and the Luebke Family Memorial Library. Researchers, genealogists, and visitors are welcome to use the Society’s research materials.
Beloit, as a community, has a rich history. It is located at the confluence of the Rock River and Turtle Creek, and was once home to various tribes of Native-Americans, from the ancient Mound Builders to the Winnebagos.
Joseph Thibeau was the first white man in Beloit after the Winnebagos left. Thibeau was a French fur trader who settled at the southwestern corner of what is now State Street and Shirland Ave. Thibeau sold Caleb Blodgett, Beloit’s first permanent settler, “three looks” of land, which marked Beloit’s start as a village.
In 1836, the New England Immigrating Company, led by scout Dr. Horace White, arrived from Colebrook, New Hampshire. Members of the group bought land from Blodgett, started developing it, and soon family and friends were moving to the area. Churches and schools were planned, mills were running using the water of the Rock River, and business started to sprout up in the village that was later named Beloit.
“It’s important for residents to know something about their local history,” says Kerr. “Beloit has been around for a long time and has produced some notable people such as Roy Chapman Andrews, an explorer who became the director of the American Museum of Natural History, for example. Knowing your history helps to enrich the story of where you live and grow.”
Donations to the historical society come from individuals and businesses, many with ties to the Beloit area. One of the most interesting pieces ever given to the society was an advertising sign donated by a woman from out of town. “It was promoting a Wisconsin baseball championship game played in Beloit in September 3, 1867, but this one had never been used,” says Kerr. “We conserved and mounted it with the help of Beloit College; it’s now on display in the sports hall of fame. That sign stands out as a real prominent piece in Beloit history.”
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