In the late nineteenth century, Janesville experienced explosive industrial development. Among the new industries was the Janesville Cotton Manufacturing Company, the state’s first cotton mill. It operated 400 power looms and 10,000 spindles when it opened in 1874. By 1880, the factory employed some 250 workers, mostly immigrant girls from Ireland and Germany. Financial troubles in 1886 forced the company to reorganize as the Janesville Cotton Mills, and it continued to produce cloth under that name until the turn of the twentieth century.
The largest unit of the original complex of three cream brick buildings is the Main Block, an impressive three-story structure. It is fronted by a five-story tower, which contained a stairway and a cable-controlled freight elevator. A trio of arched windows highlights the tower’s fourth story, which housed a cistern of water for fire suppression. A twenty-foot-tall belfry with a mansard roof (a replacement of the original) crowns the tower. The building stretches more than one hundred feet on each side of the tower, with evenly spaced, segmental-arched windows piercing the otherwise unembellished brick walls, as was typical for early factories. Charles Carpenter of Madison rehabilitated the building into apartments and town houses in 1986.