By John Hess
It’s probably been many decades since anyone has slept in the Gov. Dodge Mining Camp Cabin on Fountain Street in Dodgeville. But no fooling, on April 1, 2016 four students from Marquette University High School and their teacher spent a cold night in the cabin. The overnight was part of a two day outing to study Civil War and African-American history in the area, including the story of Gov. Henry Dodge.
Before arriving at the cabin, the school group visited UW Platteville where archivist James Hibbard shared the “indenture of manumission” signed by Henry Dodge in 1836 freeing his five slaves. Mr. Hibbard then lead them to Pleasant Ridge (about five miles west of Lancaster), which once was a community of African Americans. In Lancaster they received a guided tour of the Cunningham Museum and strolled through the nearby Civil War monuments and museum in the Grant County Courthouse.
Their Dodgeville itinerary included Dodge Grove and Fort Union south of town on County Road Y, the Dodgeville Slag Furnace on Spring Street, and the Iowa County Asylum Cemetery at Bloomfield Manor, which hosts the unmarked grave site of Eliza Dodge, a freed slave of Gov. Dodge. The next morning they were up early for a volunteer spring clean-up project at President Grant’s home in Galena.
Chris Lese, the teacher who led the group, thanked the Iowa County Historical Society for the use of the Dodge Cabin, and went on to say: “Allowing us to sleep in the cabin really made the trip memorable after seeing Dodge’s manumission papers to his slaves earlier in the day given there is a chance those slaves may have slept here as well. Although it was quite cold, it made the quote, ‘Imagine you are cold in a strange land’ from the cabin brochure very realistic.” The students will not forget their night in the cabin. “My students were also amazed that the documents at UW Platteville were preserved and they were impressed that the cabin was preserved for future generations. This trip showed me once again that these younger generations need to get out of the classroom to see and experience history to realize the importance of its preservation.” Mr. Lese concluded “I hope to bring more students to Dodgeville next school year.”
Each summer Mr. Lese leads Marquette University High School students on different tours of the South for a week or so to observe and experience first-hand the history of slavery in our country and the Civil War. They never stay in motels but sleep in historic structures or at historic sites and also in former slave quarters. The school was founded in Milwaukee in 1857 by the Jesuits and is an all-boys college prep school.
The Dodge Cabin dates to 1827 and is the oldest building in Iowa County. Its relocation and restoration as an interpretive site was led by Neil Giffey and the project was completed in 2000. The cabin stands today as memorial to the people and mining history of Southwest Wisconsin. It is open by appointment by contacting the Iowa County Historical Society at (608) 935-7694 or firstname.lastname@example.org