Histories of Wisconsin counties, cities and regions, free online. Includes Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Northern Wisconsin, Waukesha, Wisconsin Dells, and many more places.
This website has links to numerous free online histories and biographical collections published in the late 19th and early 20th century. For Wisconsin there are 3 state-wide titles, two regional titles and about 75 titles for counties. .
Wisconsin Historical Society
There is a digitized volume at this site for each of the 72 counties in Wisconsin. Most are several hundred pages long and include detailed accounts of individual cities, townships and villages, as well as biographical stories of prominent residents. Most were published between 1850 and 1920.
Wisconsin; Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form
Peck, George W.
Madison: Western Historical Association 1906
While this is an encyclopedia rather than a history, many entries contain historical information of interest, and a large percentage of the entries are for Wisconsin locations. As a sample of the subject material found here, these are the first 20 entries for the letter ‘D’:
Dahle, Herman B.; Dairy and Food Commission; Dairying; Dairymen’s Association, Wisconsin; Dairy Union, Wisconsin; Dakota; Dale; Dallas; Damage Law, Civil; Dancy; Dane; Dane County; Danville; Darbellay; Darien; Darling, Mason C.; Darlington; Dartford. Dauphin, The Lost; Davidson, James H.
Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society
Online articles from historical journals and newspapers, books, images, manuscripts, and maps about the 19th century establishment of Wisconsin cities.
Austin, H. Russell
Milwaukee Journal 1948
This history appeared originally as a serial in the Milwaukee Journal to celebrate the centennial of the city and of statehood. Responding to popular demand, the Journal published it as a book. H. Russell Austin also authored a companion book of state history the same year; ‘The Wisconsin Story’, which can be found on the Wisconsin General History page of this website.
Bruce, William George, ed.
Chicago: Clarke 1922
This 1922 local history is different in approach from the late-nineteenth century county histories that had established the genre. Earlier local histories were often narratives wrapped around the names and short biographies of pioneer settlers. In this case the history and biographies are in separate volumes, with Volume 1 containing the history and Volumes 2 and 3 containing only biographies.
Comparatively little of Volume 1 is devoted to the era before the Civil War. Also note that the chapters are more topical than chronological. The book contains a large number of photos and drawings.
with a Topographical Description, as it appeared in a state of nature, illustrated, with a map
Buck, James S.
Milwaukee: Swain & Tate 1890
Volume 1 covers 1833 to 1841, and Volume 2 covers 1840 to 1846. Volume 3, entitled Milwaukee under the Charter, covers 1847 to 1853, and Volume 4, also entitled Milwaukee Under the Charter, covers 1854 to 1860. The story is arranged chronologically, often with all events for a particular year included in one chapter. The author, who was himself a very early settler in Milwaukee, employed the reminiscences of old settlers for much of this history.
The Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Representative Men of Chicago, Milwaukee and the World’s Columbian Exposition
Chicago: American Biographical Publishing Company 1892
The book has two parts, both together in one volume at this link.
Milwaukee Illustrated: Its Trade, Commerce, Manufacturing Interests, and Advantages as a Residence City
Coleman, W. W.
Milwaukee: Coleman 1877
“By the late nineteenth century, Milwaukee was a major industrial center, with thousands of workers employed in tanneries, foundries, packing plants, and other manufactures. This book, produced by one of the city’s elite residents, W.W. Coleman, provides an overview of the city’s history and a tour of the neighborhoods, before launching into an extended, and somewhat opinionated, description of the major industries and commercial operations.”
– Wisconsin Historical Society, “Turning Points in Wisconsin History” website
Conard, Howard Louis, ed.
Chicago: American Biographical 1895?
All 3 volumes are at the link.
comprising information respecting agricultural and manufacturing employment, wages, climate, population &c; sketch of Milwaukee
Milwaukee : Sentinel and Gazette power press print, 1851
Samuel Freeman published this popular guide to Wisconsin in 1851. Though ostensibly covering the entire state, the book focuses primarily on the economic conditions and potential of Milwaukee.
– Summary from Wisconsin Historical Society site
Gregory, John G., ed.
Chicago: S. J. Clarke 1932
Four volumes; only volumes 3 and 4 are available online.
Milwaukee Publishing Group 1996
Larson, Laurence Marcellus
Madison: University of Wisconsin 1908
Chapter headings are:
-The Village of Milwaukee 1834-1845
-Milwaukee under the Charter of 1846. 1846-1851
-Ruinous Finance. A Bankrupt City, 1853-1860
-Building the Water Works, 1871-1888
-A Period of Large Undertakings, 1889-1904
-Statistical Tables and Notes
Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association Vol I, 1907-08, 121-35
Larson, Laurence M.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association
The author first describes the early development of Milwaukee from 1833 as essentially three separate and competing communities, then follows the political development of city government in Milwaukee and these three wards through about 1870.
Milwaukee Writers’ Project
Milwaukee Public Library 1947
The Wisconsin Magazine of History Volume 13, number 3. March 1930 pp 201-223
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Olin and his brother made the journey in 1834 and 1835 up the Erie Canal and across the Great Lakes, by steamer and sail, from New York to Green Bay, where they found work building houses. Shortly after arriving they encountered a French Canadian named Juneau, in Green Bay on business, who invited them to Milwaukee where the pay was better. Although they had never heard of Milwaukee, which was in its earliest stage of growth, they accepted his offer and went on to Milwaukee. This is likely one of the earliest first-person accounts of Milwaukee, and is also a good sketch of Solomon Juneau, one of the city’s founders.
including a genealogical and biographical record of representative families in Milwaukee County
Watrous, Jerome Anthony
Madison: Western Historical Association 1909
Wells, Robert W.
including the Four lake country; to July, 1874, with an appendix of notes on Dane county and its towns
Durrie, Daniel S.
Madison: Atwood and Culver 1874
A fairly detailed history, with nearly 300 pages devoted to the period before the Civil War.
Thwaites, Reuben Gold
This is a brief popular history authored by the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society. It contains a number of photos of interest.
Growth, development, and resources; an extensive sketch of its counties, cities, towns and villages, their improvements, industries, manufactories; biographical sketches, portraits of prominent men and early settlers; views of county seats, etc.
Chicago: Western Historical 1881
In the Preface it is noted that the publisher had already produced individual histories of most Wisconsin agricultural counties, and decided to group the northern counties that were in lumber and mining districts into this single volume. Presumably this is because they were lightly populated and there would be few potential customers for the book in any given county.
As is normal with county histories of this era, the lion’s share of the book is made up of biographies and of lists of persons who were local elected officials or members of organizations. All biographies are found within the county histories. Unfortunately it lacks a name index.
Counties covered in this volume are: Adams, Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Brown, Buffalo, Burnett, Calumet, Chippewa, Clark, Door, Douglas, Dunn, Eau Claire, Green Lake, Juneau, Jackson, Kewaunee, Langlade, Lincoln, La Crosse, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marinette, Marquette, Monroe, Oconto, Outagamie, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Portage, Price, Shawano, St. Croix, Sheboygan, Taylor, Trempealeau, Waupaca, Waushara, Winnebago, Wood.
Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Vol 4 1859 197-221
Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society
This paper was originally delivered as an address by Baird before the Green Bay Lyceum, and covers from his arrival in 1824 in Green Bay into the early 1830s. Baird says that Green Bay was the only white settlement in northern Wisconsin in those early years.
Brown County Historical Society 1984
Local history, prepared by the Brown County Historical Society (Green Bay), and appears to be mainly about that area. The chapters are footnoted, and these contain useful source references.
Contents: Why are these strangers in our midst? – The journey – The new homeland: northeastern Wisconsin – The Belgians – The Czechs – The Dutch – The Germans – The Irish – The jewish -The Polish – The Scandinavians – The Era of Sail on the Great Lakes
Neville, Ella Hoes and Martin, Sarah Greene and Martin, Deborah Beaumont
Green Bay: the Authors 1893
This book is divided into eras, with multiple chapters addressing each era, as follows:
-Early Explorations -The Jesuits and Coureurs de Bois -Fort St. Francis and the Fox War
-Charles de Langlade, First Permanent Settler and Military Hero -“In Good Old Colony Days”
-Under the American Flag -A Transition Period -The Lost Dauphin -In Later Years -Growth under Territorial Government
Bennett, H. H.
Milwaukee: Press of the Evening 1893
A tourist booklet of 24 pages, with a few photos.
Gregory, John G., ed.
Chicago: S. J. Clarke 1932
Four volumes; only volumes 3 and 4 are available online. Both those volumes are biography collections, and each has its own index of names at the end.
The History of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, containing an account of its settlement, growth, development and resources
an extensive and minute sketch of its cities, towns and villages – their improvements, industries, manufactories, churches, schools and societies; its war record, biographical sketches, portraits of prominent men and early settlers; the whole preceded by a history of Wisconsin, statistics of the state, and an abstract of its laws and constitution and of the constitution of the United States
Chicago: Western Historical Society 1880
Containing biographical sketches and portraits of all the presidents of the United States and the governors of the state
Chicago: Excelsior 1894
Memoirs of Waukesha County, From the earliest historical times to the present with chapters on various subjects
including each of the different towns, and a genealogical and biographical record of representative families in the county, prepared from data obtained from original sources of information
Haight, Theron Wilber
Madison: Western Historical Association 1907
The Wisconsin Magazine of History Volume 24, number 4, June 1941 pp 394-424
Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
“Author Lillian Krueger discusses the combined exploits of Colonel Richard Dunbar and millionaire Matthew Laflin in building up the town of Waukesha. Col. Dunbar, a diabetic, had arrived in Waukesha in 1868 and claimed that the spring water of the area had miraculous medicinal qualities. Organizing the Bethesda Mineral Spring Company on a plot that came to be known as Bethesda Park, Dunbar’s company became a social rallying point for the town, drawing thousands of visitors from around the world and even initiating an annual celebration, ‘Bethesda Day.’ The success caused other companies and towns to make similar claims about local mineral springs and spas. Laflin, a rheumatic from Chicago, along with Thomas B. Bryan, another Chicago millionaire, erected the famous Fountain Spring House in 1874 in Waukesha to accommodate the crowds. A devastating fire destroyed the building in 1878, but it was rebuilt, enlarged and open again to the public by 1879. Guests included notable socialites, politicians, and even Mary Todd Lincoln.”
– Wisconsin Historical Society
Simmons, H. M.
This was initially a Centennial Address read at Kenosha on Independence Day, 1876. The first settlers in the county located along a heavily-used trail from Chicago to Milwaukee in 1835, shortly after the region was received by the U.S. in a treaty following the Black Hawk War. This address provides details on early settlers, their relations with Indians, early development of shops, farms, churches, villages etc.
Way, Royal Brunson
Chicago: Clarke 1926
Covering Jefferson, Dodge, Dane and Rock Counties in Wisconsin; and Winnebago, Stephenson, Boone, Ogle, Lee, Whiteside, Henry and Rock Island Counties in Illinois. The editor was a Professor of History and Political Science at Beloit College. Volume 1 has all the history. Volumes 2 and 3 are entirely biographical, and each has an index at the end for individuals profiled in that volume. Many photos.