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Beloit, WI

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History

photoGREATER Beloit
"A Microcosm of America"

The Founding

When Caleb Blodgett, a proper New England Yankee, and his son drew their ox cart up to the cabin of French fur trader and frontier land owner Joseph Thibeault and his two native American wives, old Blodgett decided that this was the place. It was the site of what had recently been a great Winnebago tribal village located halfway between Lake Michigan and the Father of Waters, the Mississippi River.

Old Blodgett named the price he was willing to pay for the land he sought, and Thibeault said that such an amount was good for three "looks." Standing in a clearing, Blodgett looked north up the scenic Rock River valley as far as he could see. After hiking to that distant point, he looked again as far as he could see. After one more trek, he took his third "look" and on that historic day in 1836 thus purchased the land that eventually became Beloit, Wisconsin.

The People

The New Englanders in Blodgett's company were soon followed by settlers of many European nationalities, and Beloit's role as a way-station on the Underground Railroad helped seed a very early and hard-working African-American population. Considering the historical diversity of Beloit's demography, it's easy to understand how the noted anthropologist Margaret Mead came to call the community "a microcosm of America."

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Transportation

photoLocated on the Illinois-Wisconsin state line, Beloit became a gateway to the north country, a role reinforced in more modern times with the routing through its outskirts of Interstate 90 to St. Paul and Minneapolis and Interstate 43 to Milwaukee and Green Bay. Being at the center of this strategic web of modern expressways, the greater Beloit area is just 90 minutes from Chicago, 70 from Milwaukee, 50 from Madison, and 15 from Rockford, Illinois.

Of course, before the corporate ancestors of the Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific rail systems came to the Stateline area, the Rock River was the main artery of transportation and principal source of power for fledgling industries, including the Blodgett family's grist mill. As in many cities, Beloit saw its riverside precincts decay over the years, but this process was stunningly reversed with the creation of the Beloit 2000 initiative in 1988.

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Renewal

photoWhere crumbling industrial infrastructure once stood, a sparkling white corporate headquarters now occupies the high ground above the new Rotary River Center and a playground built around an 18th Century "shipwrecked" galleon. Nearby is a lagoon with newly installed illuminated fountains and a pavilion in which concerts on sultry summer nights waft music ranging from symphonic to blues over flotillas of river boaters and other listeners on lawn chairs. Also built on the high ground, with spectacular river views, are 77 new apartment units.

photoConnecting Riverside Park with downtown Beloit is a 3.5-mile RiverWalk, used by joggers, cyclists, roller-bladers, and pedestrians. As part of the trail network, artist Siah Armajani recycled an old railroad bridge by adding a boardwalk and eight fishing platforms. He topped it off with a replica of one of the 1,145 diesel locomotives the once kingpin local industry Fairbanks Morse built for North American railroads during their conversion from steam after World War II.

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Business & Industry

photoToday, the Stateline area's industrial reputation is more varied than its early foundry economy of heavy-metal-working industries centered in Beloit and South Beloit, Illinois. It still claims distinction in paper-making machinery, machine tools, and the world's largest diesel engines, but in recent times its producers have given it credible claim to being the nation's "snack food capital." Many inventions, from soft-serve ice cream to corn chips to broasters, originated in Beloit, giving rise to the local manufacturing of a variety of tasty snacks today. Among the highly recognizable corporate names represented in the Stateline economy are Black & Decker, Hormel, Frito Lay, Outboard Marine, and Reynolds Wheels. Kerry, Inc. and Regal Beloit, maintain corporate headquarters in downtown Beloit.

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Homes

The choice of homes in the Stateline area ranges from commodious Victorian dwellings, built for the early merchants and professional people of Beloit and now encompassed in three nationally recognized historic districts, to elegant modern dwellings situated in the natural beauty of the Roscoe Ledges and the bluffs along the Rock River. The Stateline area offers several wooded suburban neighborhoods and an abundance of urban housing notable for a virtual lack of slums. Although these environs are home for many people locally employed, Chicago area commuters are increasingly common. Airline pilots and other personnel are often seen boarding the frequent buses to O'Hare International Airport or downtown Chicago.

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