Bonaparte, originally named
Meek's Mills, Wisconsin Territory, was founded in 1837 on the banks of the Des Moines River.
William Meek (1784-1863),
the early settler and patriarch of the family, arrived in
what is now Bonaparte in 1836.
The first wing dam was constructed across the
Des Moines River for use by the mills. Later, in 1846, a massive stone masonry lock and dam was built at Bonaparte as part of the Des Moines River Project, which was to enable navigation up and down the river.
One of these
mills, the Meek Pants Factory,
is today the home of the Bonaparte
Inn. The Meek Pants Factory was begun in 1889
with 20 machines. In 1892, Isaiah
Meek, son of William, built the present
building which was 54 x 110, 3 1/2 stories high, was
outfitted with 40 machines and in 1896 was turning out
30,000 pairs each year. The bricks used in its
construction were made at the Meek brickyard located just
west of the cemetery on the west edge of town.
the town's beginning, in 1837, the Des Moines River has
been vital to Bonaparte. No longer needed to power it's
mills, the river now adds to the scenic beautify and
recreation of the town. One part of the river's history
still remains - Lock No. 5,
which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Part of the locks can still be seen in historic
The river mill complex owned by
William Meek and sons drew businesses and residents to the area and the woolen mill was eventually internationally known for the quality of the wool it produced.
Meek Bros. Pants Button
1909, the Meek Bros. company became insolvent, and the
Pants Factory and other mill buildings were sold. By the
year 1920 the present building was being used for storage
when the Fairfield Glove Company
began operations at this location on the 10th of May, 1920
and continued in that capacity until 1999.
Now, home of
the Bonaparte Inn, the
former pants factory sits directly across the street from
the former Meek Grist Mill
(1878) which now houses the popular Bonaparte
Retreat Restaurant, an outstanding dining
establishment for more than 30 years. It is also
just a half-block from the former Meek
Woolen Mill (1863) which supplied the Pants
Factory with its raw materials during the Meek Bros.'
The Bonaparte Inn
makes its home in the heart of the Bonaparte
National Historic Riverfront District which was named to
the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
a Virtual Tour of our Nationally Recognized Historic