Press kit for Madison: The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Volume 1, 1856-1931

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The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History,
Volume 1, 1856–1931
Stuart D. Levitan
Publication date December 2006
216 pp. 10 x 10
ISBN: 0-299-21674-8 Paper $34.95 t
(ISBN-13: 978-0-299-21674-0)


"Every page and every illustration selection bears the stamp of Levitan's passionate and opinionated affection for his adopted hometown. Using a multitude of published and unpublished sources and the magnificent collections of photographs and illustrations available for Madison research, Levitan informs, entertains, engages, surprises, and, in some instances, will outrage. Historically informed Madison readers will have 'I never knew that' moments, and newcomers to the Madison area will be astounded to see the transformations wrought since Madison struggled into being in 1837 as a hamlet/capital. Madison historians who now refer offhandedly to Parks, Thwaites, and Mollenhoff have a new name to add to their list: Levitan."–Jack Holzhueter, historical consultant and retired editor, Wisconsin Magazine of History

Author Bio

Stuart Levitan has been a mainstay of Madison media and government since 1975. An award-winning print and broadcast journalist, he has written extensively for local and national programs on radio and television. A former county supervisor, he is the only person in Madison history to chair all three of the city's primary land use and housing committees. Since 1987, he has also been a labor mediator/arbitrator for the State of Wisconsin.

For more information contact our publicity manager, phone: (608) 263-0734, email:

Reviews and articles about the book

Isthmus | Wisconsin State Journal | The Capital Times

Living in the past
Vince O'Hern on Thursday, 11/30/2006, Isthmus

In the preface to Madison: An Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Volume I, 1856–1931, Stuart Levitan writes, "The past matters because the past lives." That is also the first line of this week's cover story, derived from the book. "Turning Points" gives evidence to this thesis, as Levitan cites eight incidents and decisions that have had an enduring effect upon the fate of Madison and its citizens.

The book itself is a fascinating ramble through the attic of Madison's past. It provides many more than eight references to names, schemes and enterprises that present-day Madisonians will react to and remark to themselves, "So that's why such and such is called that." Or "That's why that's like that." And the great strength of the book is the "Illustrated" in its title. Full of period photographs, documents and maps, it visually takes us back to the times it recounts.

Among the maps you'll find Isthmus' small contribution to the work. Our graphic artist David Michael Miller created a series of decade maps contemporaneous to the times. You will recognize his handiwork from the great maps he has made over the years that have appeared in our Annual Manual, as well as in the weekly Isthmus.

In the preface to his book, Levitan makes reference to the fact that he has lived in Madison for 31 years. I was surprised by that; I recall seeing his byline in The Capital Times as its Washington correspondent before 1975. I do remember, upon meeting him sometime in the '70s, being surprised by his youth. But Madison is as much in his veins now as if he were born here. You can tell that by the love and effort evident in the book.

Published by the University of Wisconsin Press, Levitan's work makes its appearance just in time for the holiday shopping season. The author will be making a number of public appearances in support of the book in the near future. They are listed in the article. You might want to show up and thank him for this latest paean to our favorite city, and let him bask in the repose that follows a job well done. He soon ends his extended leave from his regular employment and returns to work as a mediator for the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

Levitan Digs Deep Into City's History
Monday, November 13, 2006 in the Wisconsin State Journal

Why are Downtown Madison's streets so screwed up?

Local historian Stuart Levitan says we still pay the price for James Doty's lack of vision when he laid out the original plat map for a city he hoped would grow to 10,000 residents.

Levitan's just-published book, Madison: The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, 1856–1931 (UW Press: $34.95), is an absolutely fascinating look at the city's history, beginning with what Levitan calls a "slap-dash job" in platting the city.

Among the problems, Levitan argues, is a railroad corridor that would have run trains right into Capitol Square and "claims that were public relations puffery at best, if not outright deception—like the assertion that the proposed canal four blocks east of the planned capitol was 'perfectly practicable,' notwithstanding the 40-foot hill in its path, or that almost the entire isthmus was 'high, dry & well situated for Building' when vast areas of East Washington Avenue were in fact marshland and would remain so well into the 20th century."

Most of us think Madison's hub and spoke design with streets radiating out from the Capitol was based on the plan for Washington, D.C. But Levitan finds a message from city planner John Nolen saying there is "small justification for the claim" and arguing that city's lakefronts, "the prime and only legiimate factor to justify the selection of Madison as the Capital City -- were ignored altogether as far as public utilization was concerned."

All this by page 11 of a 259-page book that only gets more interesting as the reader moves on.

Levitan, a journalist, former Dane County supervisor and public official, is one of the city's best-known personalities—but Volume I of his history ends before he was born, a fact that makes a reader yearn for Volume II.

The book is filled with drawings, photographs and "verbatim" comments by famed personages of Madison's history, the result being an entirely readable account of how this city developed.

Things we probably didn't know:

Madison voters, participating in a statewide referendum in 1847, rejected black suffrage by a vote of 176 to 18.

"The Congregational and Episcopal churches shared use of the council chamber in the capitol while the Methodists used the Little Brick schoolhouse for their services" in 1847—a linkage of church and state that would surely have been opposed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation had it existed at the time.

When Damon Y. Kilgore arrived as school superintendent in 1854, "students noticed the change immediately; his first day as instructor at the Little Brick, Kilgore was so upset at their unkempt appearance that he sent all 23 students home until they were properly bathed and attired."

In the second half of the 19th century, Madison had two soldier/statesmen named Gen. Bryant.

Gen. George E. Bryant was a Civil War hero who became a political mentor to Robert M. La Follette. Gen. Edwin E. Bryant became a law partner of Sen. William Vilas, dean of the UW Law School, and coined the term "Attic Angels" to describe the charity work of his teenage daughters.

The Second War School House, attended in 1879–81 by Frank Lloyd Wright, was the first school in Madison with indoor plumbing (a sewage pipe drained directly into Lake Monona).

Orton Park is named for Mayor Harlow S. Orton, who cast the tie vote preserving a former city cemetery for parkland, rather than selling it for residential development. Orton was also leader of the Dane County cavalry, which voted two to one not to answer President Abraham Lincoln's call for troops to put down the Confederate rebellion.

University of Wisconsin President John Bascom fought Robert M. La Follete over the question of closing saloons on Sundays. He lost his job in the process and the UW has never since had a reputation for alcoholic temperance.

In 1893, Mayor John Corscot included in his annual message this warning: "The practice of tearing up three or four blocks of street late in the fall, putting paving material on one block of the graded portion and leaving the balance till the following spring neither pleases the residents where the work is being done nor adds to the amiability of those who are of necessity required to pass over the unfinished portion."

In 1890, physicians James Boyd and William Gill opened a hospital on South Baldwin Street and, once it became profitable, asked the city to take it over and operate it as a public facility "but the city not only refused to acknowledge public health as a public responsibility—it wouldn't even offer a tax break."

The Abraham Lincoln statue in front of Bascom Hall was paid for by lumberman and philanthropist Thomas Brittingham in honor of the land grant act signed by Lincoln in 1862. It was dedicated in 1909 and is a replica of a statue in Lincoln's Kentucky hometown.

The first animals in the Vilas Park Zoo in 1910–11 were a herd of deer donated by Thomas C. Richmond, who had a farm in south Madison. A year later, they were joined by a raccoon, a red fox, three groundhogs, white rats, guinea pigs, a rabbit, a red squirrel, an eagle and "a flock of fine sheep."

When Nakoma was developed—lots cost between $325 and $700—it featured "low-cost" lots not too far from the city limits. The developers knew that transportation would be a problem, so in 1915 they advertised the "Nakoma Bus: Service the Year Round." A trip to the Square? "Thirty Minutes by auto-bus."

A note from Oct. 6, 1917: "With the country at war, fewer than two thousand fans brave wintry winds to see the Badgers beat Beloit 34–0 in the opening game at the new Camp Randall, already fitted with more than eight thousand seats along the west embankment."

In 1914, Mayor John Heim warned the city about student voters, saying "our citizens ought to rise en masse and take this matter into the court to test the legality of the election and settle the same—whether the city is to be run by the student body, who are only here during the time they attend the school. Are the taxpayers to be deprived of their rights by citizens of other cities and states and by non-taxpayers?"

Finally, in the early days of the 20th century, Robert M. La Follette helped arrange the financing for Richard Lloyd Jones, a cousin of Frank Lloyd Wright, to purchase the Wisconsin State Journal. Jones and his friend, William T. Evjue, planned to make the State Journal a force for progressive crusades in Madison. Evjue became the paper's managing editor. When Jones later turned on La Follette because of the senator's opposition to World War I, Evjue left the State Journal to create The Capital Times.

No Place Like Home
Stuart Levitan's New Madison History And Zane Williams' New Photo Essay 'Madison' Are A Good Match For The Holidays

Monday, November 27, 2006
By Ron McCrea, The Capital Times

"Don't know much about history? Don't know much geography? There are some painless remedies for that this holiday season.

This week's main event is the launch of "Madison: The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Volume 1, 1856–1931" by city planner-journalist-labor mediator-politician Stuart Levitan.

The University of Wisconsin Press launch party, free and open to all, will be Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. in the lobby of the Orpheum Theatre on State Street. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is scheduled to accept a copy of the softcover book as part of the events observing Madison's 150th year as a city.

Making full use of the rich resources of the city libraries as well as the Wisconsin Historical Society and University of Wisconsin Archives, Levitan has packed 300 illustrations, including many rare photographs and new maps, into a text that he calls less a history than "a municipal yearbook, showing the city's people and events through time.

The book, not surprisingly, is more fun than a yearbook. After all, "Scoop" used to be Levitan's nickname as a reporter. Jack Holzhueter, a distinguished state historian and popularizer of history, says: "Levitan informs, entertains, engages and surprises. Historically informed Madison readers will have 'I never knew that' moments."

Levitan gives credit to David Mollenhoff, whose updated history, "Madison: The Formative Years," is still in print and is, Levitan says, "the gold standard" of Madison history to 1920.

The difference, he says, is that "David's book is a linear narrative history with illustrations. My book is more accessible in the bite-size pieces that you can eat it in. You can open it and read a page or two. My approach is more journalistic. We tell many of the same stories but with a different attitude and style."

Levitan's style includes punchy leads, personality profiles, maps, datelines, "Turning Point" markers, and lots of informative, stand-alone photos and captions.

Levitan won't be writing Volume 2, which will bring the history to 2006. He says that's because, in his current role as chairman of the Community Development Authority and in former elective offices, he's "too close" to the history of the past 30 years to write fairly about it.

Instead, Tracy Will, the co-author of "Forward!," a history of Dane County, and a former producer of "Wisconsin Stories" for Wisconsin Public Television, will write Volume 2. "I'm swimming in it," he said last week, "and occasionally I come up for air." Will is also currently working with and with WisconsinEye, a future C-Span for the Legislature."

For more information in addition to this press kit contact our publicity manager, phone: (608) 263-0734, email:

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Cover image:

This cover image can be downloaded and used in any web-based publicity for this book. For a 300 dpi version, click here.

Author Photo

Photo of Stuart Levitan shows him in with glasses and a distinguished beard.

This image can be downloaded and used in any web-based publicity for this book. For a 300 dpi version, click here.
Photo courtesy Zane Williams


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