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History of Hillsboro

Named for early settlers Valentia Hill and his brothers, who arrived beginning in 1850, Hillsboro has an impressive history of making new opportunities in changing times. Albert Field, who made the first land claim in (what is now considered the City of) Hillsboro, Edward Klopfleisch, a German immigrant from New York, and Otto Hammer, all original owners of the village plat, were influential in bringing newcomers and investors to the village in the mid-1800s to build homes and start businesses in the area.

One of Hillsboro’s most celebrated residents was Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, born in Hillsboro in 1887, who served 41 years in the U.S. Navy. He served as Commander of Task Force 58 in the Pacific during World War II and ultimately became Commander in Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Admiral Mitscher took part in the first trans-Atlantic flight of Navy planes in 1919 and commanded the first nonstop Navy flight from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor in 1934.

The Growth of Business

One of the first businesses to develop was the saw mill, which made lumber for building new homes and was followed shortly by a grist mill along the Baraboo River. This paved the way for a new store, blacksmith, hotel, and school.

Dairying came to the area in the 1880s, when wheat prices rose. The first creamery was established in those years, followed by the Farmers Creamery Company in 1889, and soon Hillsboro was a producer of many dairy products, shipping butter as far away as Chicago. Cheese was produced beginning in 1924, and by World War I, Hillsboro’s milk was being transported to the front lines to U.S. soldiers fighting in Europe.

Over the years, Hillsboro’s changing business landscape has also supported a brewery that produces such fine beers as “Hillsboro Pale” and “Bohemian Club,” a cannery for local vegetables, a garment factory that assembled materials for the U.S. Army, and a sewing factory, as well as producers of everything from pickles to fertilizer, cement products to lumber, and even bowling pins!

A History of Care

In 1911, Dr. P.H. Hansberry established what became known as the Hillsboro Hospital in the second story of a downtown building.  The first nurse was Miss Mary Crowley.  In 1914 a large residence near the Lake was purchased and the Hansberry Hospital was established.  Beginning in 1925, when a new wing was added, many years of improvements, equipment purchases, and additions eventually grew the small hospital.

On July 2, 1949 the hospital is renamed St. Joseph’s.  Efforts begin on building a new facility and in 1953 a new hospital is dedicated in March and the old Hansberry Hospital is remodeled as a home for the aged.

Many years of improvements, equipment purchases, and additions eventually grew the small hospital into what is now the partnership of St. Joseph’s Health Services – Gundersen Lutheran.

The Many Peoples of Hillsboro

The earliest of settlers to the Hillsboro area were mostly of German descent. 

Immigrating Czechs began arriving in Hillsboro from the Bohemian region of what is now the Czech Republic in the mid-1800’s, drawn in part to this area’s similarity to the land they left behind. With them, they brought their traditions, foods, and culture. Each summer, Hillsboro celebrates its Czech heritage with its Cesky Denfestival, where we celebrate being the Czech capital of Wisconsin.

Czechs were not the only people to find a new home in the Hillsboro area. The land between Hillsboro and nearby Ontario was once known as Cheyenne Valley, which became a haven for African-American settlers after the Civil War. A drive through the countryside surrounding Hillsboro still shows the influence of Alga Shivers, son of African-American settlers and builder of some of the finest round barns in the region. This area contains one of the largest concentrations of these unique barns in the United States.

Another culture that has made a home, and is still thriving, in the farmlands surrounding Hillsboro is the Amish community. Their simple lifestyle and unique craftsmanship makes the Amish a valued part of our local culture.

For more information on the history of Hillsboro, please visit the Hillsboro Historical Society of our website or email hillsborohistory@gmail.com.