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Sharon embraces its past with Victorian events

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Ginny Hall | February 28, 2014

The village of Sharon in the extreme southwest corner of Walworth County has been called the “Corn Bin of the Dairyland,” with the commodity transported through Sharon by rail. In 1855 the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company laid a track from Harvard to Janesville and fixed a station at 71 miles from Chicago. 

Robert Campbell from Oshkosh bought 40 acres and platted the village, naming the village for Sharon in Schoharie County, N.Y. A saloon was built during the 1850s; the first store was built and opened in 1856 by George Milmine. In 1858 a post office was established. By 1881, Sharon was thriving with four clothing and dry goods stores, one grocery store, two hardware stores, one variety store, two shoe stores, three restaurants, two hotels, one flour mill, one cheese factory, seven physicians, five ministers and a number of mechanics and mechanic's shops. It even had an opera house.

But disaster struck May 9, 1884, when a fire started in the L.M. Beebe furniture store. In two hours it   destroyed two brick buildings and eight wooden ones and in the process reduced 12 businesses and nine family dwellings to ashes. 

Only about a third of the losses were covered by insurance. According to newspaper accounts, the cause of the fire was not known, although many believed it was caused by “a notorious tramp from Belvidere.”

On May 17, 1892, the residents voted to incorporate as a village and the first elections were held. One of the first big projects was the building of the village water system in May 1896. It was completed in December, at a depth of 610 feet ... the last 125 feet being in silica rock, at a cost of $17,000. Mr. Wheeler, the contractor, claimed that the well had the best water in the state.

The next big project was adding heat and light with the installation of a gas plant in 1905. A Janesville firm was awarded the contract for $5,936. In 1912, a contract for the village to be lighted by electricity was given to United Heat, Light and Power Company of Delavan. By 1914 the villagers decided to purchase the equipment and run it themselves.

The Sharon phone company was started on May 24, 1900. Five years later there were 202 customers. In 1968 the company switched to the dial system and lost the personal touch of the switchboard operators.

At one time Sharon had 12 to 14 passenger trains going through on a daily basis in addition to many freight trains. Some of the cattle trains were 100 cars long. 

Sharon is known for being the birthplace of Gov. Walter Goodland in 1862 — there is a park named in his honor. Sharon had the biggest cheese factory in the state in the 1870s.

Sharon was one of the first communities in the state to receive the Main Street designation. The downtown has many  restored Victorian homes. Walking down those streets is worth a special trip to this community.

Today, Sharon is known for its bicycling races, the Victorian Christmas Parade,  Model A Day and an unforgettable Fourth of July parade. If you have never seen these events, you really have missed something special.



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