The town of Portage began
its days as a Native-American footpath between two rivers, traveled in
1673 by French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet.
Because of its strategic location between the Saint Lawrence
and Mississippi rivers, many indigenous tribes passed through Portage to trade
furs, first with the French, then the British and finally the Americans. Portage
Memories is a celebration of the character of a town, its residents and the
stories they have to tell about their past as a mirror of the entire state.
30 minutes (cc)
The people of Columbia county are proud of their of heritage, history and their cultural past. Bill
Cronon, University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor, describes the international
importance of "The Portage" in pre-settlement days as the vital link between
the Saint Lawrence and Mississippi rivers.
historian Kathy Taylor takes viewers on an exploration of the
Merlyn Mohr farm once the site of Fort Winnebago and a local
barn that apparently was a part of the 200-man Fort Winnebago. "It's almost
an electrifying feeling being inside this building," she says.
Judy Eulberg, in a
replica of an 1854 dress, acts a perfect guide for a tour of the city's great
19th-century homes, a Greek Revival, Queen Anne, American four square, bungalow
and Italianate. "Anything
in the book, we have on our streets," Eulberg says. She also explains the importance
of local photographer Edward Memhard, and the sculptor Sam Stotzer to the house
history of Portage.
Since its earliest days, Portage served as a trasporation hub. When the railways
came, Portage became a center of freight and travel. For many families,
the railroad became a way of life.
Chester "Baldy" Rapa recalls the days of his youth, near the railroad tracks,
where a kind of "hobo jungle" sprang up in the 1920s and '30s, filled with
men with "heartaches." "They taught us to share," he says.
Fred Galle proudly presents his extensive array of postcards from Portage's past.
As a photographer himself, Galle appreciates the images on small squares of
heavy paper and what they convey the Portage Canal, the town's curling
rink, a visit from President John F. Kennedy, train wrecks and more.