At first, Stoughton was primarily a small agricultural trade center with a population made up of many New Englanders. Norwegian immigrants were drawn here after the Civil War, particularly by the development of the wagon industry. The leading wagon manufacturer was founded by Norwegian-born T.G. Mandt. By the early 1880s, the firm employed over two hundred.
By 1905, when the town’s population reached 4,200, the Norwegian language and culture were evident everywhere. Stoughton’s Main Street flourished in the late nineteenth century with fine new business blocks, and the great variety of shops and customers reflected the general success of the city’s manufacturing firms.
Tobacco distribution was second to wagon manufacturing in this period, with twelve warehouses in operation by 1905. By this time Stoughton also enjoyed a modern water and electric lighting system, a hospital, and a high school.
The southwest side housed some of the Norwegian immigrants and their families, including prominent businessmen and professionals. Over one-third of the houses in the Southwest Side Historic District were constructed between 1880 and 1890, especially along W. South Street. Another boom occurred between 1890 and 1910, when Norwegian-born builder John j. Holmstad and other builders erected many handsome frame houses of the type seen on the 300 through 600 blocks of Oak Street. Little new construction has occurred since 1910. By the 1950s, some of the largest houses were divided into apartments. However, in recent years many have been converted back to single-family residences, and their original architectural features refurbished. The National Register Nomination for the Southwest Side Historic District noted that “Today, due to the high level of maintenance and care in the area, the district has “retained its historic character, because most of the houses ... still feature historic details, siding materials, and openings. The result is a historic neighborhood that still is one of the most prestigious in the community.”