Take a stroll through downtown Platteville and you will notice several murals prominently painted on the sides of buildings. Each of the murals was painted by Tud Bowden and represents a significant event or era in Platteville’s long history.
This three-dimensional display is local artist Tud Bowden’s creation and is entitled “Pioneering the Good Life: Rountree to Ryan.” This unique artistic piece features nine prominent people from Platteville’s past and was dedicated in 2008. The display is interactive and features clues that the observer must match to the proper person, with the answers revealed by looking from the side.
Platteville Fire Dept. Mural
In April of 1874, a devastating fire engulfed Second and Main Streets in downtown Platteville, resulting in the destruction or damage of 17 businesses. The calamity originated in Louman's Saloon, spreading rapidly and consuming establishments such as a meat market, harness shop, jewelry store, dry goods store, boot and shoe shop, cigar manufactory, grocery store, and another saloon. The impact was severe, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
Responding to the urgent need for fire protection, the Platteville Hook and Ladder Company was established on May 18, 1874. Shortly after its formation, the company acquired its first firefighting apparatus, a 24-foot-long vehicle with dual sets of wheels, purchased in April of the same year for $300. Manufactured by Butler Wagon Works in Platteville, Wisconsin, this steerable equipment played a crucial role in their firefighting efforts. To combat the flames, the firefighters relied on leather buckets, creating a bucket brigade from nearby cisterns to the fire scene.
The wagon carried a total of 36 buckets for this purpose. In case of an emergency, the bell at City Park would ring, signaling the firemen to assemble at the firehouse and then transport the equipment to the site.
In October 1874, the Platteville fire department acquired the Babcock Chemical Engine, a sturdy apparatus predominantly made of iron and painted with red, black, and gold stripes. This engine, equipped with four wheels, featured two fifty-gallon tanks and 250 feet of hose, complete with a one-half-inch nozzle. Manufactured in Chicago, the engine arrived by train, incurring a cost of $2500. Although it was typically pulled by hand, a hitching pole was included for the option of attaching horses. In addition to their equipment, the firefighters employed brass "speaking horns" as a means of communication. These horns, one for each company, allowed the foreman to issue commands and also served as celebratory drinking vessels following the extinguishment of a fire. The Platteville Hook & Ladder Company, known as the "Reds," donned red jackets, while the Mound City Engine Company, later joining forces with the "Reds" to form the Platteville Fire Department in 1951, sported blue uniforms and were referred to as the "Blues." These companies even boasted twelve-member brass bands that played during their marches. The spirit of camaraderie extended beyond firefighting duties, as they partook in what is believed to be Platteville's first football game, played in a cow pasture, resulting in heavily stained white pants that had to be discarded. Throughout its history, the Platteville Fire Department has upheld its mission of safeguarding lives and property, thanks to the dedication and bravery of its volunteer members, who selflessly risk their lives each time they respond to a fire call.
*Due to economic development of Downtown Platteville the building this mural was painted on was torn down to build the Ruxton Apartments*
Lead Mining Mural
The source of inspiration for the expansive 50' x 12' mural is an 1868 lithograph sourced from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Journal, which is displayed below. The lithograph depicts an intriguing scene titled "President-elect Grant taking a lesson in mineralogy at the lead mines near Galena, Illinois." Notably, the mural captures the essence of this historical event, suggesting its probable occurrence in proximity to Platteville, Wisconsin. The left horizon of the artwork prominently showcases the Platteville Mound, providing a visual clue to its geographical connection. Interestingly, it is worth noting that during that time, the iconic Platteville Mound was represented by a lowercase "m" instead of its current prominent "Big M" status, which was only established in 1937—an intriguing but little-known fact, if one chooses to believe it.