Janesville man's heart is in the city's history
Education: 1953 graduate of Janesville High School; 1963 graduate of William Jewel College in Liberty, Mo., with majors in philosophy, English and Latin
What's on his end table? Colonial Willamsburg, Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic, Reader's Digest. "I may be more of an armchair traveler. I do enjoy reading about places."
Local historic figures he'd most like to meet: A. Hyatt Smith, the city's first mayor. "He had everything and then lost everything" in the great Chicago fire. "He worked so hard to get it back again." William M. Tallman, businessman and attorney. He'd like to know more about Tallman's political connections with Abraham Lincoln and his connection to the anti-slavery movement. Pauline Jacobus, the founder of Pauline Pottery in Edgerton. Carrie Jacobs Bond.
Member of: Wisconsin Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin, Rock County Civil War Round Table, First Congregational Church
His cat: Angely. "I take care of the house for her. I talk to her. Once in a while, she talks back."
Why we should preserve historic buildings: They are our foundation, a tangible connection to the past. "It speaks to us in a modern generation of (past) hopes and aspirations. Architecture is like a book."
Why history appeals to him: It's all about the people. "What they were doing and how they did it, whether it was good or bad ...If you don't have an inkling of your own history, I think you're kind of lost ...It begins to tell us who we are, and not only who we are but why we're here."
JANESVILLE Some people panicked when Maurice "Monty" Montgomery retired as Rock County curator in 1999. Who would replace the valuable and gracious historian?
They needn't have worried. For the past decade, Monty has continued to serve as Janesville's foremost living historical resource.
"When there's a question about history, who do you call? Monty," said Pete Skelly, who serves with Montgomery on the Wisconsin Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. "He's a treasure to Janesville. He has all this knowledge of Janesville and Rock County history right off the top of his head."
Monty is a distinguished man with his iron-gray and white hair, crisp shirts and corduroy pants. He is gifted conversationalist with a gentle sense of humor.
His home across from quiet Vista Park looks exactly as one would expect. It is filled with heavy antique furniture and lovely pieces of Roseville pottery. A mantle clock ticks discreetly and dependently on the mantle.
Local builder David Stewart constructed the home in 1922 for his retirement years.
"One of his daughters, I remember very well," Monty recalled in Monty-like fashion.
The people make history fascinating for Monty. She was the telephone operator in the old Janesville City Hall.
"When you walked up the stairs, the first person you encountered was Mary Stewart. And Mary Stewart ran the City Hall."
Monty is a Janesville native who left for college in 1955. He taught history in private high schools, and a hint of that career remains in his bearings.
He moved back here to help his parents, who were caring for his cognitively disabled sister. She is now deceased.
Monty was working at Muril's Menswear downtown when he struck up a friendship with Rick Hartung, director of the Rock County Historical Society. Monty became a board member and was hired as curator in 1979.
Then, items and artifacts were stored in the former office on Franklin Street above Sid Weber's Shoe Store; in the closets and attics in the Tallman House; and in a barn on Highway 14.
Within a year, the society bought the Armory, and Monty presided over the cavernous second floor, where Lieutenants Restaurant is now. Monty organized the material so it was easily available to residents. That included tax records and a chest filled with Tallman papers—important parts of today's collection.
Monty retired in 1999. His parents' health had declined, and he needed to spend more time with them.
But Monty has remained active in the city's historic fabric, serving on the city's historic commission from 2000 to 2005 and advocating building preservation. He also wrote several books, including "Edgerton History in Clay, The Pauline Pottery to Pickard China;" "Lincoln in Janesville and Beloit"; and "The Oak Hill Cemetery Association: A History."
Jackie Wood, who is active in the county's historic preservation efforts, said Monty is the "most gentlemanly soul you'd ever want to know. He is very intelligent and very caring.
"You can ask him about anything from the past ...and he always knows."