An advertisement LaBorde placed in the Oshkosh Democrat of August 10, 1849 has him singing the praises of his aspiring community. “This site for a village in point of beauty of location and commercial and trading advantages is unsurpassed by any other upon the Fox River, or indeed the State… there is every prospect that in short time a large and flourishing village will grow upon this site… The Proprietor now offers to give any person wishing to locate here, a lot 66 by 132 feet on which to build, upon a condition that a building shall be erected thereon within six months from the time of making the agreement.”
The giveaway attracted takers. On September 27, 1850 the Democrat reported that upon a recent visit to Delhi, “We saw several large, nice buildings, one large store, one public house, besides a number of dwellings, a steam sawmill and preparations for more buildings.” At the close of 1850, Delhi had its own Post Office, another sawmill, two hotels, and a ferry crossing the Fox that would be replaced by a float bridge. The village was thriving. By 1853, Delhi was home to 150 people with more than 30 dwellings having been raised on LaBorde’s plat. And it’s probably about this time that the farms surrounding Delhi began growing the crop the village would be known for – hops.
The exact year that hop farming began near Delhi isn’t documented, but it’s likely to have occurred in the 1850s. We know that Yankee hop farmers had introduced the crop to Winnebago County by this time. Productive hop farms usually take several years to establish and Delhi’s prominence in the field suggests that hops had taken root there early on. In any case, hop farming in Delhi grew to be extensive. The small village reaped the benefit.
During the annual harvest in late August and early September, Delhi would flood with people who had come to pick hops. The American House in Delhi would grow so crowded that some guests slept in the hallways and attic of the hotel. The pickers were paid by the box sometimes earning as much as 40 cents for a box that would hold 40-50 pounds of hops before they were dried. After drying in vented barns with slatted floors, the hops were processed in Delhi, which had three hop mills and a hop press. The hops would be bound in large bales that weighed as much as 200 pounds. The bales were then delivered by boat to Oshkosh for use by breweries there and beyond.
|A Typical Hop House of the 1860s|
As prices rose, more farmers turned to hops. An inevitable glut ensued. By 1869 hop growers were forced to sell their crop at a loss. Many of them abandoned the crop. The decline in hop farming appears to have been concurrent with the decline of Delhi. And the failure of Delhi was presaged by the death of its founder.
There are conflicting dates given for the death of LaBorde, but it occurred in either 1868 or 1869. He was buried on his farm on land that had previously been used by Native Americans as a burial ground. The crash of the hop market and the death of LaBorde weren’t the only problems to have beset Delhi. The village had never attracted the number of residents LaBorde had hoped for and with the railroad having bypassed Delhi in favor of Omro, the village had been put at a disadvantage. After both Eureka and Omro built bridges better than the float bridge at Delhi, the village’s decline became unavoidable.
|A Portion of LaBorde's Land as it Now Appears|
A portion of the land once farmed by LaBorde is cross cut by County Road E. Much of it is now untended and overgrown. I’ve been there a number of times recently hunting for remnants of the hops LaBorde once grew. Hops are a notoriously durable plant and will often continues growing wild after cultivation has ceased. So far, I haven’t been able to find hops growing in the area. Delhi keeps her ghosts well hidden.