Dane County Title history
“We’re not the best because we’re the oldest – we’re the oldest because we’re the best.”
Created as a speculative real estate project by James Duane Doty, the City of Madison quickly became a focus for land transactions both during and after its selection in 1837 as the site of the permanent capital for the State of Wisconsin. Keeping track of these land sales was a necessity and it’s easy to see why Dane County Title Company is the oldest continuously-operating business in Madison. Local attorney J. Gillette Knapp prepared the first set of books which could be properly identified as abstract records and from his work evolved what today is commonly referred to as DCTC. This was 1846, two years before Wisconsin became a state, when Madison was just a tiny village, with only a couple hundred people, four banks, four hotels, a few law offices and, of course, a brewery. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t be elected President for another 14 years!
Yet, the need to accurately record real estate transactions was growing.
Dedicated to the job
The firm set up shop on South Carroll Street, calling itself Dane County Abstract. Twenty years later, the company, was acquired by Gen. Chandler B. Chapman, who, as Wisconsin’s adjutant general, had little time to spend in the office. So, in 1879, he hired an enterprising young man of 19, Gerrit Corscot, to help him run the office on a temporary basis. Little did Corscot know that the job he accepted for $3 per week would turn into a rewarding career spanning seven decades.
Although he never held a county office, at one time or another, Corscot filled in for the county clerk, county treasurer and register of deeds, usually when they went on vacation, in addition to operating the abstract office. Corscot was so dedicated that the city built a mid-block boardwalk from the front door of his building across the street to the courthouse so he didn’t have to slosh through the muddy, unpaved street.
In 1902 the business was renamed Dane County Title after Corscot purchased the business with the help of a $3,000 loan from banker L.S. Hanks, who acquired a small ownership in the business as part of the deal. His son, Lucien (Lue) M. Hanks, a personable fellow who loved everything about Madison, would eventually play a prominent role in the growth of the company when he acquired it years down the line.
A new building with character
Leonard Fish, who joined the company in 1936, succeeded Corscot as president in 1951, when Corscott was named chairman of the board. For many years, Dane County Title Co. worked out of a small building on Fairchild Street, built at a cost of $3,000. In 1955, ground was broken on a new, 3,000 square foot, one story, Federal-style, brick building (costing $30,000 for the sizeable lot and $50,000 for construction) at 115 W. Doty St. The project was spearheaded by Hanks, who after inheriting five shares of the company’s stock upon the death of his father, purchased the rest.
“We’re in the business of selling history, “ explained Hanks, “so it is fitting that our building be of Colonial design.” A second story was added later. Fish left the firm in 1958 to move to Arizona. In 1960 the old building on South Fairchild was razed.
The era of Anderson, Zimbrick and Rostad
In 1985, Hanks, an avid sailor who spent his golden years piloting a tugboat on Lake Mendota, sold Dane County Title to two successful, local businessmen and philanthropists, John Zimbrick and Don Anderson. It wasn’t long before Thomas Rostad, a young, talented lawyer in Madison who specialized in real-estate law, caught their attention. Hired as vice-president in 1986, he was promoted to president and became a partner within the next couple of years. In 1992, Rostad coordinated the company’s move from Doty Street to a building on the city’s Near West Side, at 901 S. Whitney Way. The move was necessitated by the city’s decision to acquire one entire block of Doty Street in order to build a new jail. Hanks’ beloved building was torn down; he passed away the day the wrecking ball was positioned.
In addition to company’s relocation, Tom also oversaw the acquisition of title offices in surrounding counties, with the first being that of Columbia County Title Company in Portage. At the present time, Dane County Title operates a branch office in Sun Prairie and in addition to the office in Portage, it operates Adams Friendship Title Company (in Friendship), Iowa County Title Company (in Dodgeville), Juneau County Title Company (in Mauston) and Land Title Service (in Baraboo).
The partnership of Rostad, Anderson and Zimbrick morphed strictly from a business relationship into a lasting friendship until Rostad’s sudden death in February of 2014. But the ownership remains strong and committed, with Genie (Campbell) Rostad replacing her husband as a co-owner.
DCTC names its first female president
Today, Dane County Title is led by its first female president, Tammy L. Janson. Long-time employee and former vice president, Janson has grown up in the title business. Joining DCTC in 1982, she has overseen many of the technological changes that have and continue to modernize the business and better serve its customers.
Yet, whatever new, logistical advances are introduced can’t change the fact that Dane County Title has the oldest and most complete real-estate records in the state of Wisconsin.
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The title business is one of the oldest businesses in the world, evolving from the old land offices where settlers and prospectors went to get their land grants, and looking back even further, when 17th century monks copied land deeds by hand, cut them in half, and gave one half to the buyer and one half to the seller. Proof of ownership was matching halves. One hundred sixty-eight years in business is not a record soon to be broken as the oldest continuously-operating business in Dane County. The company isn’t going anywhere, and having survived the Depression the Recession and everything in between, it’s a good bet that with its track record, Dane County Title will be around for a long, long time to come.