The Swan Song of the Town of Burke

1847-2036

Burke sign

The Town of Burke is a community of 3,505 located near the north side of Madison. It was named after  Edmunde Burke, an Irish Patriot and poet. We moved here in 2006, and it has taken me awhile to finally tell the story of this once-prominent town.  Here are the current boundaries, the unincorporated town has slowly fragmented over time.

Lets start at the beginning. The town was first formed in  1847 as one of the four towns of Windsor.  Read a detailed account of Burke’s early history here. Burke has been giving its historical records to the Sun Prairie Historical Society and Museum. I did my research in their research room after calling  608-837-2915.  Historic photos posted are courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society and Sun Prairie Historical Society‘s archives.

The former Town Hall is actually in Sun Prairie, behind McGovern’s.

McGovern's in Sun Prairie

It is now a privately owned house. Good it still stands and is in use.

Former Burke Town Hall in Sun Prairie

We live in and near some of the other Burke fragments. Just down the road from me is the former Sanderson School, District 5. It now is an apartment building.

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On what is now the north side of Madison on North Sherman, part of the former Bill Droster Store building remains.

Bill Droster - Droster Store in Burke

Sherman and Logan Street-Former Droster Grocery building

On the other side of our home is the still active train track. It has been rerouted slightly at least a couple of times over the last century and once since living here, partly due to the Dane County Regional Airport being built on former farmland.  I caught the Canadian Pacific train on its return trip to Portage recently. See a detailed map of all Wisconsin railways here.

Fall Train CP to Portage

As we continue up the hill on Highway CV, we see Messerschmitt Rd. going behind the gate of the airport. It was named after the farmer Sam Messerschmitt who used to live in this location before the airport was built.  remnants of his farm remain today, the Ghost Hill Ranch building is now part of the property of Best Buds, a local greenhouse.  In April of 1999, the Messerschmitt stone home-built in 1932, referred to as the “gumdrop” house, was moved to avoid demolition due to an airport runway expansion.

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Here is the house today, very unique!

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Beyond is a hill that has been quarried since it’s materials were used to build Dane County’s Municipal Airport in 1939. Read more of its fascinating history here. It has been Wisconsin Aviation since 1981, serving privately owned pilots and charter flights. Inside is a restaurant where I used to work between 2007-2009, Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room that is open to the public. Here is a picture of me taken with the staff in January 2009.

Jet Room Team 09 003 copy covered faces 2009

An old stone farm building still remain near the former downtown by the railroad track, the same one that goes by our home..

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I went to nearby Burke Rd. by the railroad track, the former center of town during its heyday a century ago.

Burke Road in Burke

The train station used to be nearby too.

Burke Depot 1913

And also Burke Station Tavern, from 1929.  Sadly, it burned down in 2007. I never did get any pictures of it myself unfortunately.

Burke Station Tavern 1929

I did get a windbreaker from there at a thrift store a few years ago. At least I have that artifact.

Burke Station Tavern jacket

There is still some business going on here.  Pierre’s Portrait Art Co., which opened in 2014.

Pierre's Portrait Art Co. in Burke

In this area is also a marker for the former Burke Station School.

Burke School marker

Burke Station School District 1 marker

burke school

Burke has three cemeteries. One is at this location.

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The 2nd one is Hoepker Cemetery in Sun Prairie. The Hoepker family is buried here.  Also early settler Adam Smith and his wife Mary. He owned a tavern and was a Justice of the Peace.

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Hoepker Monument at Burke Cemetery

 Burke Early Settler Adam Smith grave at Burke CemeteryAdam and Mary Smith grave at Burke Cemetery

In what is now Sun Prairie, his house still stands.

 Adam and Mary Smith House in Sun Prairie

Adam Smith marker

The 3rd is at the Burke Lutheran Church

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The Reindahl family is buried here. They have a historic site near East Towne in Madison. Also Reindahl Park, complete with a barn and a stone monument across the street.  Knute Reindahl was especially famous.

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Reindahl Memorial Park monument in Madison

Reindahl Park barn

Reindahl Park marker in Madison

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This town may be small, but it still has two festivals a year.  Lets go to the current Burke Town Hall and the Burke Town Hall Park on the grounds for these festivals.

Burke Town Hall

Burke Town Hall Park monument

The park also has a covered bridge and pond around it.  Very pretty in winter too.

Burke Park in winter

The Saturday before Easter, Burke has an Easter Egg Hunt, and kids can get their picture with the Easter Bunny.

Easter Bunny with kids at Easter Egg Hunt blank faces

Burke’s other festival is the 3rd Saturday in August.  The town holds an annual picnic all residents are invited to.

Burke Picnic flyer

Burke Picnic

We have music from the local group Staff Infection, playing a country mix.

Staff Infection Band at Burke Picnic

Also horse-drawn wagon rides around the park. Lots of fun!

Burke Picnic wagon rides

The food is prepared by the Token Creek Lions Club, brats and corn with Culver’s custard for dessert. What a great evening!

We close our story of Burke at the Sun Prairie Public Library, where they had a Burke artifact display up when I visited in January 2014.

Burke Display at Sun Prairie Public Library

And a sad post-mortem of of Burke’s “future”. It will be dissolved in 2036.

Burke's Future sign

We are sad this town’s peak was long before we were born, but glad we could learn more about its history before annexation into DeForest, Madison and Sun Prairie.

10 thoughts on “The Swan Song of the Town of Burke

  1. You may have the only photo posted online documenting the existence of the old stone barn on Reiner Rd. The southeastern corner of the barn collapsed in late summer of 2016, and the entire barn was demolished a few weeks ago (2017.) I believe this was the barn where Town of Burke pioneer Ole T. Gullickson took his life by hanging in 1928. You will find an archived article about this from the Wisconsin State Journal. You may also find it interesting to visit the old Droster barn and farmhouse on Felland Road, north of the old Droster coal yard adjacent to the railroad tracks near the former Burke Station site. The barn foundation and silo still remain, as well as the original farmhouse, added on to several times. The house has fallen into disrepair in recent years due to neglect. You will also find several of the Droster’s metal storage sheds nearby, on the west side of Felland Road, overgrown by brush and vegetation.

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      • The Droster farmhouse on Felland Rd. has been vandalized recently and will most likely have to be razed. It had been abandoned in recent years, and is now adorned with graffiti and broken glass. Wisconsin Historical Society records show that it was built in 1854. An unceremonious end to a significant part of Burke’s history.

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  2. Thank you for this lovely history of Burke. My grandparents were from there (Foss, Larson) and many are buried there. My great-grandfather, Albert Larson, owned quite a bit of land and farms in the day (one farm became East Town Mall). Very interesting and very beautiful pictures.

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    • Thanks you for the comment Sally. I did my best to write Burke’s story since I could not find any other blogs about this community anywhere. I live right near the train tracks on CV. Let me know if I have been inaccurate about anything, thanks!

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