By the 1880s, Stoughton had become an important local trade and wagon-making center and a shipping center for tobacco farmers. Today, Main Street documents Stoughton’s late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century development. The historic district comprises fifty commercial structures, dating from 1855 to 1910, many built by businessmen of Norwegian ancestry. Three tobacco warehouses lie on the district’s eastern edge.
The downtown’s cohesive appearance reflects, in part, the influence of a single builder, George Becker, who constructed most of the largest commercial blocks. A German immigrant and brick mason, Becker came to Stoughton in 1882. After a fire in 1889 destroyed a row of wooden structures, he rebuilt much of Main Street. Among his most notable buildings is the classical Hyland-Olsen Block (1897; 201 W. Main Street). The three-story brick building once housed Stoughton’s leading department store. It has a bracketed iron cornice with a central pediment ornamented with decorative moldings and finials. The corner turret of the Queen Anne Hausmann Brewing Company Building (1903; 105 E. Main) by L. B. Gilbert has festively stamped and painted metal sheathing.
Fire spared most of E. Main Street, and many of those buildings are Italianate. Pediments, bracketed cast-iron cornices, a delightful variety of ornamental brick friezes, and tall arched windows with prominent brick hoods create a harmonious streetscape with a rich visual texture. Examples include the three-story Masonic Hall (1869; 160 E. Main) and the Jensen Block (c. 1876; 180 E. Main).
Between 5th and 7th streets stand three tobacco warehouses. Commercial tobacco cultivation began in Wisconsin in the 1850s, and by the 1880s tobacco had become an important cash crop for Jefferson, Rock, and southern Dane counties. Stoughton once had seventeen warehouses for storing tobacco, of which three survive. All are two-and-a-half-story, cream brick, utilitarian structures. The Turner and Atkinson/Cullman Brothers Warehouse (1885; 515 E. Main), the largest of those built in Stoughton, retains a faint painted sign, “Cullman Bros. Cigar Leaf,” on one side of the building, dating from the 1920s. Local tobacco magnate Ole Roe owned the Levi Kittilson and Company Warehouse (1891; 524 E. Main) from about 1898 until the 1920s. Now Stoughton Antique Mall, it has a stepped parapet and tall windows with segmental-arched hoods.