From Sauk City and Prairie du Sac, County Trunk Y off Highway US 12 or State 78 makes a very pleasant drive southwestward, following the river in stretches to Mazomanie, a community with a 1988 estimated population of 1,311, one of the lower Wisconsin River Valley’s small towns with an obvious sense of history. A dedicated and active group of its residents, organized as the Mazomanie Historical Society, has worked for years to preserve and interpret the history of the community. A past president of the society, the late Werner Thiers, a blacksmith by occupation, who devoted much time, thought, and energy to preserving the past of this village, once wrote: "Small towns have contributed much to our culture and heritage and it has never been fully recorded." Mazomanie and its learned blacksmith came to national attention in 1976 after Harrison E. Salisbury, well-known New York Times reporter, decided to trace his family roots by traveling across the continent and interviewing people in the towns where his relatives had lived. His father was born in Mazomanie in a red brick house on the north side of town. He visited the home and interviewed Werner Thiers. Salisbury’s findings about his family and about Mazomanie were published in the February 1976 issue of Esquire.
Mazomanie’s beginnings are usually traced to the arrival in 1844 of a group of 700 settlers, members of the British Temperance and Emigration Society. They founded the village of Dover, but when a decade later the directors of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad had the line surveyed, they noted certain town-site advantages of the present location of Mazomanie, principally elevation and the Black Earth Creek as a source of water power. There the village was platted in 1855. The name, tradition has it, is Winnebago meaning "walking iron". The railroad was the making of Mazomanie as a center of trade and commerce for the developing countryside. The village of Dover simply picked up and moved to Mazomanie, buildings and all. Flour mills, gristmills, and sawmills were built and the population grew rapidly reaching over 1,000 in the 1860s. Its greatest prosperity came before 1900 when a wagon works, knitting factory, brewery, and railroad maintenance shops created jobs and income over and above that generated by the mills. By 1900 the factories were gone and the village went through a period of retrenchment. Currently it continues as a shopping and service center and as a very attractive place for people to live who work elsewhere.
A number of places in Mazomanie catch the visitor’s attention. The Mazomanie Historical Society Museum (Brodhead Street at the railroad tracks) has exceptionally fine displays explaining the history of the village. In front is an historical marker noting that John Appleby, inventor of the twine binder, perfected his invention in this village in the late 1870s. Just across the street (203 Brodhead Street) stands a remarkable home, The Stickney House, privately owned and hard to ignore because of its Carpenter Gothic style. Built in 1856, it was subsequently altered by the addition of intricate gingerbread time and the turret. Farther down Brodhead Street above the Village Store is a hall where the Ringling Brothers performed their first show. It is marked with a plaque. At 51 Crescent Street stands the Mazomanie Town Hall, built to house the fire department and town offices in 1878. Until the 1960s it served the functions of government, and in 1979 the annual town meeting gave it to the Mazomanie Historical Society to use as a research center. In 1980 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Across the street notice the beautifully proportioned stone St. John’s Lutheran Church, built in 1874. South of the church adjacent to the railroad station stands the Old Stone Mazomanie Mill, built in 1857. On Highway 14 near the intersection with Brodhead, the owners of American Antiques have erected an historic log house. They moved it from Coon Creek Valley in 1978 log by log and reconstructed it here for commercial use. This farm home of Torger Baekkum dates from the late 1860s.