Civil War-era diaries given to historical society
ELKHORN Priceless diaries representing a unique local perspective on the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination and life in Whitewater from 1861 to 1866 have been added to the collection of similar works at the Walworth County Historical Society.
“This is a valuable addition to our collection,” said Doris Reinke, president of the historical society. “What we have to read in books and newspaper accounts usually tell us only history in the eyes of the leaders of the time.
“Diaries written by common, ordinary citizens give us a much different and richer perspective. They tell us what it was like for the average citizen and how these events affected their lives.”
Darien developer Gerry Pelishek and his wife, Beth, donated the diaries to the historical society.
Julius Birge, a Whitewater businessman, wrote the diaries. He was born Nov. 18, 1839, the first child born in the new settlement of Whitewater. His father, William, ran the town mill until his death in 1860, when Julius took over operation.
In addition to the mill, Birge is remembered for his presentation of the Birge Fountain to Whitewater in 1903, one of the largest fountains in the country at the time. The fountain was placed at the location of the school Birge attended as a child in what is now a small triangular park at the intersection of Main and North streets.
Birge is buried in St. Louis, where he died in 1923.
“I obtained the diaries from Birge’s great-granddaughter Barbara Birge, who now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina,” Pelishek said. “They were helpful to me when I bought the mill, but they now belong to the historical society.”
In addition to comments on the Civil War and Lincoln, Birge makes note of everyday events such as the business fortunes of his mill and weather.
“He comments on every subject imaginable,” Pelishek said. “These diaries represent a fascinating look at what life was like in Whitewater during that time.”
“We want to thank Gerry and Beth for this contribution,” Reinke said. “It’s here now for all those interested in our county’s history to read and enjoy.”