Very Early King Street

Workers hired in 1837 to construct Madison’s first capitol building initially made their home on King Street. When the workers arrived in Madison from Milwaukee, they found no shelter besides Peck’s cabin, so they hastily erected temporary housing and a few storage buildings at the end of King Street, near the north shore of Lake Monona.

During their first week, the workers built a boarding house from logs cut with whip saws. William Woolcock, a stone cutter from Canada who later worked on the capitol, described the early King Street buildings:

“We slept at the building known as the bedroom, about eighteen feet square and two stories high and the sleeping berths were all around the sides, two or three, one above the other, and the bedsteads were made out of small oak trees and covered with marsh hay. . . . [T]he mosquitoes were so thick that the men made a fire on the floor to smoke them out.”

That sounds like fun. Those original buildings are long gone, but they helped to propel King Street, along with the East Main/South Pinckney side of the capitol square, into the first commercial district in Madison. King Street has seen many businesses come and go, and it was even known as a red-light district in the 1980s due to problems with prostitution and drug activity. When you are in town, we recommend you visit The Majestic, a grand vaudeville theater that opened on King Street in 1906. Both theater workers and goers have reported strange events, including unexplained flickering lights and a chilling draft just as a performance begins.

“Capitals and Capitols in Early Wisconsin”, from the 1983-1984 Wisconsin Blue Book (PDF).
“Madison’s Pioneer Buildings: A Downtown Walking Tour”, Second Edition, Madison Heritage Publication, John Gruber, 1996 (PDF).