Cities, Towns, Villages
Battle Creek; Madison; Meadow Grove; Newman Grove; Norfolk; Tilden
A small group of German pioneers was credited with the early development of what is today Madison County. Fertile soil, sufficient water, and natural groves of timber attracted the first settlers to the area.
Madison County was created by the Territorial Legislature on Jan. 26, 1856. Eleven years later the county was officially organized and the first election conducted. The county's boundaries would be redefined in 1873.
In 1865, two years before the county was created, German pioneers Herman Braasch and Frederick Wagner came to the area in search of a location to establish a colony. They chose a site on the north fork of the Elkhorn River. The pair returned to Wisconsin and organized a group of 125 people who would settle on this new land. The group arrived by wagon in July 1866 only to find a small party of young men from Illinois had settled there in the meantime.
The Illinois men did not desire to share the area with the Germans, so they sold their 160-acre claim to Braasch for $200 and moved on. The Germans proceeded to lay out claims. Lots were determined by a random drawing to ensure equality and prevent any conflicts. The Germans, said to represent 24 families, lived in their wagons while they built log cabins before winter arrived. The settlement would eventually evolve into Norfolk, the county's largest city.
There is an interesting note regarding the city's name. When it came time to establish a post office, the name Nor'Fork was submitted since the settlement was on the north fork of the Elkhorn River. The post office department accepted the petition, but respelled the name Norfolk, presuming the petitioners had misspelled it.
There are two accounts regarding the county's name. One is that it was named in honor of President James Madison. The second and most widely accepted is that it was named after the Wisconsin county from which the German settlers came. It is said the county seat of Madison was named either after the county or after a descendant of an early homesteader.