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Why is there a Town of Madison?

If it doesn't fit anywhere else, it fits here

Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby bdog » Wed May 15, 2013 9:21 pm

Does anyone know?
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby DCB » Wed May 15, 2013 9:47 pm

Do you mean why did it ever exist?
That's because the entire county was originally divided into townships.

Do you mean why does it still exist?
In the wake of continued controversy and an effort in the state legislature to simply abolish the Town, an agreement was reached in 2003 to provide for the incorporation of the remaining portions of the town (by then down to less than 3.9 square miles (10 km2), including bodies of water) into the City of Madison and the City of Fitchburg by October 30, 2022


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madison_% ... _Wisconsin
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby bdog » Wed May 15, 2013 10:03 pm

Why does it still exist and why is it going to exist for another 9 years?
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby snoqueen » Thu May 16, 2013 8:32 am

It's on the way out, I'm sure. I think Town of Blooming Grove is, too.

Here's the history.

When the land comprising Wisconsin was first surveyed way back in pre-pioneer times, the survey divided everything into one mile squares. Well, not exactly one mile, since the top east-west line tends to get shorter as you approach the north pole, right? But you get the idea. Each of these square mile is called a section.

If you drive around our rural areas, you often find the oldest roads form a checkerboard at one-mile intervals, or half miles, or quarter miles. That's a direct result of building the rural roads on the section lines, which became boundary lines lines between farms. (Traditionally I think the right of way was 33' though I'm not going to check right now.)

Aside: a section is 640 acres (though it need not be square). Divide the section square into a few smaller squares -- take pencil and paper and try -- and you'll end up with even littler squares of 40 acres apiece. Hence the common agricultural "back forty."

Another aside: all this makes it awkward to switch our land measurements to the metric system.

Here's a map that might help:
http://www.countyofdane.com/about/map.aspx

Each square of six one-mile squares on a side (that's a 36-square supersquare, if you follow) was legally designated as a township prior to the time the land was sold to settlers by the state. You can see all Dane County's old townships on the map, though because of bodies of water not all were perfectly square. (This system is unusual among the old prairie states -- most skip the township level.) The township is basically unincorporated but was meant to be the default subdivision of local government where there were no towns. Villages and cities -- Sun Prairie, say -- grew up in various places and carved their land area out of the townships.

Another aside: Each township, right from the beginning, set aside an acre of land at intervals to be publicly owned. Those were for the rural one-room schools, with the idea being a school was within walking distance of every farm. You can see the value the earliest settlers and the founders of the state placed on public education. Some of the school buildings still exist -- there's one at Nora Store on Hy 12 east of Madison, for example. Most are houses now, if they've survived.

Sub-aside: The term "consolidated school district" refers to the time bigger town schools took in the rural school kids and gradually closed the rural schools. This is within my memory -- growing up, I remember the littlest kids in my own class attended rural schools until grade 6 and after that took busses in to attend public middle school (then junior-high) and high schools.

The old WI townships still have their own little governments, even today, and in rural areas they are very much alive, having a variety of responsibilities and powers like land usage and fixing/plowing the town roads.

As the villages -- and as the City of Madison -- got bigger, they started to eat the townships. That's why, today, Town of Blooming Grove is nothing but a few scattered scraps of land that no longer even touch. Town of Madison is another similar remnant, having been mostly eaten by City of Madison as the city grew and annexed land. Fitchburg got aggressive a few decades ago and incorporated its land area as a separate city (a leap from township) for self-protection. The City of Madison can't pre-emptively eat another city the way it did the old townships.

Here ends today's history lesson, though it's a fine sunny day to go out in the country and find some of the places the north-south section lines make a double jog to accommodate their approach to the North Pole. There's a nice one on the rural route to Lodi, I think, and maybe another west of Stoughton?
Last edited by snoqueen on Thu May 16, 2013 8:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby wack wack » Thu May 16, 2013 8:47 am

Thanks, sno! My mom moved to Madison over the winter, and just the other day was asking about Town of Madison, and why Blooming Grove is over here and also way, way over there. I sent her a link to this thread so you can explain what I could not.
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby Mean Scenester » Thu May 16, 2013 3:55 pm

Posts like that are why Sno gets my vote for MVF year after year after year.
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby fennel » Thu May 16, 2013 4:07 pm

Here's a resource you may find interesting. (Or baffling to use ...)
http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/SurveyNotes
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby bdog » Thu May 16, 2013 6:03 pm

Thanks Sno but I still don't understand WHY they still exist. I would think it would be prohibitively expensive as the town size shrinks. Fyi, I started to wonder about it when I saw a town of Madison cop car. They still have their own police? What about fire? How can they afford it?

I suppose it is possible their police and fire is just 1 guy (or gal).
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby Henry Vilas » Thu May 16, 2013 6:58 pm

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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby massimo » Thu May 16, 2013 8:38 pm

I loved living in the town of Madison (Sherman Terrace/Lakewood Gardens sector). Never a line at the polls.

There was a fire in my apartment building when I lived there, bdog. The city FD handled it.
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby snoqueen » Thu May 16, 2013 9:04 pm

Thanks Sno but I still don't understand WHY they still exist. I would think it would be prohibitively expensive as the town size shrinks. Fyi, I started to wonder about it when I saw a town of Madison cop car. They still have their own police? What about fire? How can they afford it?

I suppose it is possible their police and fire is just 1 guy (or gal).


City of Madison contracts with Blooming Grove to do just about everything for them by now, I think. Blooming Grove is slated to all disappear by something like 2016. As you describe, it was just no longer economically viable, and a one person police or fire department doesn't work.

The other little fragmentary townships around Madison (like Town of Madison) are probably in similar situations but there's blowback when the idea of annexation comes up because once they become part of City of Madison, taxes get higher.

Even Shorewood has changed to contracting for City of Madison police and fire, hasn't it? Or isn't that in progress? Shorewood isn't a township, but it's a little bitty municipality that, like others, realized it couldn't sustain its own public safety services efficiently.

Fitchburg decided to go the other direction years ago and is doing pretty well because it kept control of nearly all its land area (look at map) and by now enough people live there so the tax base is adequate for independent services, a nice library, and more.

I'm glad people enjoyed reading about the original survey of Wisconsin and how it shapes the state we know today. In the 1960s when I was in college, I did an internship with the Southeastern WI Regional Planning Commission (back when it was pretty rudimentary and not politicized like now). The interns worked with section-by-section aerial photographs of the five-county area, coding the land use of every single lot: residential, agricultural, public lands, and numerous other categories. This was all done by hand with colored pencils, since computers weren't in use back then. We then calculated the area in use for each purpose, section by section, and a database was set up. All by hand, of course. If your calculations for your section didn't add up to 640 acres, you had to do them over.

We had a variety of resources and directories to refer to, but if a particular area on the photographs was a mystery, the interns got to drive out and see what was there. That of course was the best part of the job, since it was basically a summer day field trip. I learned my way around SE Wisconsin pretty well and it was so, SO pretty back then. Waukesha County was nearly all farmland, for instance.

Recently I met a surveyor who works with land use, and he told me those old hand-coded aerial photos are seen as irreplaceable historical material, since they show exactly what was on all the land back in 1966 and were so beautifully detailed. He was amazed when I told him I was part of the little team that made that happen (so was I, actually). Who knew.

But that's how I learned about the original land survey of the old Northwest Territory and Wisconsin and every time I drive around a rural area, I see the section lines like an invisible grid all around me.
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby Igor » Fri May 17, 2013 1:25 am

snoqueen wrote:But that's how I learned about the original land survey of the old Northwest Territory and Wisconsin and every time I drive around a rural area, I see the section lines like an invisible grid all around me.


I agree - as a Geography nerd I knew all that, but sometimes I forget that not everyone knows what range lines or towns are. I especially like the property definitions -"the SW 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of the..."
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby Dust Mite Rodeo » Fri May 17, 2013 7:03 am

Balderdash. I'm in bustling downtown Burke right now. About to walk into Gimbel's and take the escalator up to small appliances.
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby jjoyce » Fri May 17, 2013 10:44 am

Even though I never need to take advantage of its services anymore, I fear for the future without a midnight closing time at Vic Pierce.
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Re: Why is there a Town of Madison?

Postby Endo Rockstar » Fri May 17, 2013 11:40 am

jjoyce wrote:Even though I never need to take advantage of its services anymore, I fear for the future without a midnight closing time at Vic Pierce.


This was a life moment for me as well: "crap its 8:55, almost out of beer....eh, fuckit, its almost bedtime anyway."

Passing on a Vic Pierce run is right up there with realizing that I was picking up the Isthmus more often than the Onion for coffee shop reading material -- I done got old.

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