"Combination Atlas Map of Rock County, Wisconsin"

©1873 Everts, Baskin & Stewart, Chicago, Ill.

 

pp. 7-8½

 

Courtesy of Lori

 
HISTORY OF ROCK COUNTY, WISCONSIN
INTRODUCTION
In presenting to our patrons and the citizens in general a history or Rock
County, we beg leave to say that the limits prescribed in this work will not admit of a lengthy detail of facts connected with the early settlement, rise, and progress of the County. In briefly considering our subjects, there are many times, places, and persons to whom we must allude. We will give the outlines; you must complete the picture. We will do our little to sketch the County as it was and is, that the contrast may show whatever of growth and development has been attained. Volumes, perhaps, might be written relative to the primitive days in the Rock River Valley, in giving an account of the early scenes enacted, anecdotes, hardships, trials, toils, and privations of the bold pioneer in advancing the cause of industry, enterprise, and civilization. But had we the time and space we deem ourselves entirely inadequate to the task, and will only attempt to give in abbreviated terms a few of the most prominent facts concerning the early settlement, progress, and present prosperity as they are gleaned from records and the memory of the old settlers, many of whom still survive.
Rock County is yet as it were in her infancy. Only a few years have passed
since along the banks of Rock River no pale-face was to be seen. The sound of the bold pioneer's axe waging destruction to the majestic oak of the forest was nowhere to be heard. The stillness and monotony was not broken then as now by the shrill whistle of the iron horse or the almost ceaseless hum of machinery, the result of the white man's industry. The broad prairies, that to-day present almost every evidence of civilization, were only a short time since traversed in all directions by herds of deer, antelope, etc. No white man was then a citizen of Rock County; all this section of country was the undisputed home and hunting-ground of the red man. No one who now beholds this beautiful country, boasting in its wealth, its educated sons and daughters, its broad and fertile acres, dotted over on every hand by palatial mansions, the inmates of which are made happy through the fruitful reward of their energy, enterprise, and industry, can reflect with surprise that the red man was loath to leave this, to him, garden of Eden, when compelled by the tide of white emigration to seek a new home beyond the Mississippi. Prior to this time, and even before Rock County even had an existence, white men had their homes in localities all around us. Their eyes feasted on a goodly prospect, timber and prairie, water, profuse herbage, plentiful game and pleasant temperature: these attractions combined would fascinate anyone. When tired of the broad, flat prairies, level as a floor, there was the more broken country and rugged hills along Rock River. The tide of white emigration wrested from the had of the red man a noble heritage, and after one had seen this beautiful country he was no longer surprised that the Indian, whose eloquence is the poetry of nature, clung with such tenacity to the country in the Rock River Valley.
 
GEOGRAPHICAL & TOPOGRAPHICAL
Rock County lies in latitude 40º 40' north, in longitude 12º west. locating it in
the southern tier of counties in the State, being bounded on the north by Jefferson and Dane, on the west by Greene, south by the State of Illinois, and east by Walworth County. The County is in area twenty-four miles north and south, by thirty miles east and west, containing twenty congressional townships, 720 square miles or 460,800 acres. To the eye of the traveller the surface of the country presents a varied landscape, being somewhat regularly divided into broken and smooth surfaces, timber, prairie groves, etc.
It is perhaps useless for us to state that Rock County is one of the richest and
most productive agricultural districts in the State, containing but very little untillable land, and the character of the soil being such as to yield the richest returns to the cultivator for his labor. The County is very evenly divided between timber and prairie; the most beautiful hard wood groves, generally a few hundred acres in extent, breaking the usual monotony of the prairie landscape at very frequent intervals, and furnishing fuel, fencing, and building material in great abundance. The prairie is as rich and fertile as the great American Bottom, and the soil, like that, is a rich black loam, in places several feet in depth and inexhaustible in fertility. There cannot be found in the State a more productive grain-growing region, or a more healthful and delightful climate. Fruits of all kinds are easily and successfully grown, while the famous blue grass, so common to a more southern climate, is indigenous to the soil, crowding itself into almost every fence corner and thriving luxuriantly, constituting Rock one of the best grazing counties in the State. We are often asked by strangers, what kind of a country is it? To answer that question in general terms we would say, it is a beautiful country and its fertility is notorious. It is asked, what is produced? We reply, all of the cereals: corn, wheat, oats, rye, and barley do well; but corn and oats seem to be especially adapted to this climate and soil, and are produced in almost fabulous quantities. In short, there is no better grain-growing country in the Western States. In addition to the productions mentioned, tobacco is produced in large quantities. The country is a high, rolling prairie, with very few exceptions, and the fertility of the soil nowhere surpassed.
Along the line of Rock River, which passes nearly centrally through the
County, are belts of timber, supplying many varieties of wood for manufacturing and other purposes. This is a beautiful stream, and at several points in the County furnishes good water-power for the propelling of grist- and saw-mills. In fact, an unlimited number of manufactories could be propelled. Aside from this, there are several smaller streams in the County that furnish power for the propelling of smaller mills.
 
ORGANIZATION & EARLY SETTLEMENT
At a session of the territorial legislature of 1836-7, sitting at Belmont, in
Lafayette County, Rock County was set off from Milwaukee, and the county seat established on the fractional part of section 36, lying on the east side of the Rock River. This County, together with Walworth, remained a part of Racine until February, 1839, when by an act of the territorial legislature Rock County was finally organized and the county seat permanently located at Janesville. The land on which the town was located had been previously claimed by Mr. JANES; some considerable difficulty arose between him and the County authorities, but was finally amicably adjusted by the County quitclaiming to settlers what had previously been conveyed to them by Mr. JANES. The bright future of Janesville and vicinity dated from this time. The pioneers of emigration to this and other portions of Wisconsin had before them brighter prospects, and experienced far less toil and privation, than those who led the way to the settlement of Western New York, Ohio and Indiana; and fair and fertile land was spread before them, ready for the hand of the husbandman, seeming indeed to have, at some day not very remote, been the home of civilization, and to have been abandoned after a long course of cultivation to become the hunting-grounds of the red man. It could not well be called a wilderness, there were no dense forests to be hewn down to make way for the settler. The oak openings, while they added beauty to the landscape, were no hinderance to its rapid and easy occupation for the uses and purposes of agriculture. There was, in brief, no obstacle to the speedy settlement of the country; and when once the tide of emigration westward in quest of new homes and larger fortunes was turned in this direction, it rolled on with rapidly increasing volume. The spot on which the city of Janesville now stands became the central point of the influx of population to the southern portion of the valley of the Rock River. In the month of October, 1835, Messrs. John INMAN, George FOLLMER, Joshua HOLMES, Wm. HOLMES, Jr., and Milo JONES came here, and the first four named set up a cabin on the south bank of the river, opposite the "Big Rock." This rock was an old landmark of the Indians, crowned with a growth of beautiful cedars, and although since considerably cut down is still a prominent point, near the northern end of the Monterey Bridge. The river was ordinarily fordable at this point, and it was called "Big Rock Ford." The first actual settler of the County who brought his family and chattels with him, with the avowed intention of making a permanent home, was Samuel ST. JOHN, of Vermont, who with his wife and three children arrived here in the month of November, 1835.
Before the advent of the parties above mentioned and the St. Johns, Thomas
A. HOLMES and a comrade had been here on an exploring expedition in the month of June 1835. Dr. James HEATH and wife joined the band of squatter sovereigns in January, 1836, and the log cabin roughly put together in the autumn of 1835 served as a sheltering-place for them all until the following spring. A log hut only 16 by 18 feet would be considered at this day very close quarters for eleven persons, yet it served them all quite comfortably, as they supposed, at that early day. The first child born in the upper valley of the Rock River was Seth B. ST. JOHN, the second Mary C. HOLMES, the third was Henry JANES.
On the ninth day of March Judge Wm. HOLMES came from Michigan City
and located at this place, and soon after his arrival built him a house, selecting for its situation a spot near the edge of the cliff overlooking the river and near the park, in the fourth ward; it was of wood, and the lumber used was cut with a whip-saw by Robert and Daniel STONE,--now residents and wealthy men in the town of Fulton,--who came to Janesville soon after the arrival of Judge HOLMES in the spring of 1836. With the exception of the HOLMES family there were then no settlers within what is now the city limits, nor indeed in the County on the west side of the river. For a space of nearly ten years after the first settlement improvements were confined to the east side of the river and Main Street of the old village. In addition to those already named as early settlers here, a number of others arrived. During the year 1836 Henry F. JANES, in honor of whom the city has its name, came with his family and his brother Edward, John P. DICKSON and wife, W. H. H. BAILEY and wife, Levi ST. JOHN and family, together with others, enough in all to make a very pleasant little society. Mr. Janes, who selected for his claim the land on which the county seat was subsequently established, immediately prepared to establish himself as a permanent settler, and erected himself a cabin on the spot where LEPPIN's block now stands. This cabin became the tavern for the settlement, and served as a welcome if not a commodious resting-place for travellers. Mr. JANES also established a ferry here, near the site of the points on the route westward to the mines and the Father of Waters. Mr. JANES was succeeded as landlord and ferryman by Mr. Charles Stevens, and subsequently by Mr. J. P. DICKSON, who continued to control the ferry until he erected his Janesville Stage House, in the fall of 1838. The building stood on the site of the present Meyers House, and was called the best public house west of Lake Michigan. In the neighborhood of the young settlement, now beginning to gather strength and grow in numbers, A. W. POPE, Virgil POPE, D. SMILEY, Marcus FENTON, Jason WALKER, Aaron WALKER, Alfred WALKER, David HUME, G. W. OGDEN, and S. D. BUTTS located claims, and devoted themselves to the improving of their new homes with commendable energy. In 1837 quite a number of settlers made their homes at and close around Janesville and took an active part in the affairs of the town; prominent among those who came were Hon. E. V. WHITON, a leading lawyer in territorial days, and for many years chief justice of the State, V. ATWOOD, C. STEVENS, Dr. Guy STOUGHTON, S. STOUGHTON, T. KENDALL, H. STOREY, William and Joseph SPAULDING, G. H. WILLISTON, E. J. HAZARD, G. R. RAMSEY, and D. A. RICHARDSON.
The year 1836 is one to which reference is generally made by all who then
lived in the West, and by those at a distance whose attention was at all attracted to this portion of the country, when they wish to show what indiscreet speculation in lands and village lots will do to effect the ultimate bankruptcy of a new country. This spirit of speculation was rife in this section of the State, and Rock County did not escape the mania then prevailing for the laying out of large towns on paper and selling out shares in them to those anxious to become suddenly rich, or to rapidly grow more so. Rockport, now included in the city of Janesville, and Wisconsin City, southwest of the present city limits, were among these early speculations. To secure a point for a town which might obtain the advantage of being in time the seat of justice of a county was then the principal consideration. Janesville had to contend for this object with Wisconsin City, Rockport, and Beloit; however, when the boundaries of the County came to be defined, this it was evident was the place best fitted to receive the honor of being the seat of justice, and had already been so designated by the territorial legislature. The first session of the District Court was held in a room of the Stage House in 1839, and presided over by Judge Irving, aided in his administration of justice by most of the prominent lawyers of the Territory. The first election was held in 1839, and resulted in the choice of the following-named gentlemen: Sheriff, L. G. FISHER; Register of Deeds, W. H. H. BAILEY; County Commissioners, W. S. MURRAY, Wm. SPAULDING, and E. J. HAZARD; Daniel SMILEY and Hiram BROWN were the first justices of the peace appointed to mete out justice in the new town. The first court-house was begun in the early part of the year 1841, and completed and occupied in 1842; Messrs. RICHARDSON and CHAMBERLAIN were the contractors. It was a plain wooden building, and served its purposes very comfortably until consumed by fire in 1859. The County was then without a court-house until 1869, when the present imposing edifice was erected; it is perhaps the finest and most costly county building in the State. The first jail was a wooden structure, erected south of the public grounds, between Main and Bluff Streets. The first post-office was established in 1837, through the active agency of General W. B. SHELDON, then a member of the legislature. It was for many years a distributing office to many post routes throughout the West and Northwest. The first bridge erected over the river was in 1842, by Charles STEVENS, Thomas LAPPIN, and W. H. H. BAILEY.
Thus far we have given the names and some incidents of those who first
settled in Rock County in and around Janesville. We will now mention some who in an early day pitched their tents and laid foundations for homes in other sections of the County. The first settlement at Beloit was made in 1835, by Mr. Caleb BLODGETT, who bought the claim of THIEBEAU, a Frenchman, who was the only inhabitant at the time. In 1837 Dr. WHITE and F. H. GOODHUE bought a portion of Mr. BLODGETT's claim and settled also. Mr. John HACKETT came in 1836, and was the first postmaster in Beloit; L. G. FISHER came the same year. Dr. WHITE was agent for what was known as the New England Company, who afterward settled here. The company consisted mainly of D. J. BUNDY, H. WHITE, H. HOBART, J. W. BICKNELL and two sons, G. W. and O. P. BICKNELL, I. PHENEY, A. L. FIELD, R. P. CRANE, A. B. HOWE, Mrs. L. DYER and two sons, I. CHENEY, I. YOUNG, L. C. BEACH, and Leonard HATCH; Major Charles JOHNSON and John DOOLITTLE came the same year. The first grist-mill in the County, if not in the State, was build by Mr. GOODHUE on Turtle Creek. The first settlement in what is now Clinton Township was made by Dr. MILLS, M. S. WARNER, C. TUTTLE, and W. S. MURRAY, in April 1837. S. E. DOWNER and Daniel TASKER with their wives located on Jefferson Prairie the same year; these ladies are said to be the first white women who ever visited the prairie. During the years 1838-39 their settlement grew rapidly in population. The first religious service in the town was at the residence of Charles TUTTLE, Rev. Mr. TOPPIN presiding. The first settlement in what is now Center was made by Andrew STEVENS, who still resides in the town he located there in 1843, and was soon followed by David DAVIS, P. DAVIS, William WEBB, Wm. WARREN, and Elijah WOOD. As early as 1836 settlements were made in Harmony by Joseph SPAULDING, a member of the assembly of 1835, Wm. SPAULDING, G. H. WILLISTON, John TURNER, Harvey HOLMES, and Ansel DICKINSON. The first family in Johnstown was that of Norman SMITH, who came in 1837, and made a claim on what is now the site of Johnstown Center, but soon afterward sold it to Noah NEWELL; the same property is now owned by Henry B. JOHNSON. The second family in the town was that of Captain C. D. HILL. Among the other early settlers we have the names of E. NEWHALL and two sons, Ward E. G. NEWHALL, J. A. FLETCHER, D. PHELPS, D. McKILLIP, J. PUTNAM, J. A. PICKET, and W. VIRGIN. The first farmhouse built in the town was D. McKILLIP's. The first claim made in Lima Township was by J. M. BURGESS, in 1836, who, however, remained but a short time. In 1837 Messrs. T. VANHORN and S. L. HARRINGTON came to the town, and soon after erected a saw-mill; during the same year Joseph NICHOLS, Samuel HALL, Major PHILLIPS, G. B. HALL, Mr. GIBLET, and Mr. GROVER made claims and became residents. In the vicinity of Milton the first settlements were made in 1836, by D. F. SMITH, S. D. BUTTS, A. T. WALKER, A. WALKER, P. McEWAN, G. W. OGDEN, E. OGDEN, I. T. SMITH, and E. HAZARD; some of these came in 1837. D. F. and I. T. SMITH erected the first cabin. It is said that S. D. BUTTS has the credit of breaking the first prairie in the township in 1836, and P. McEWAN built the first fence, and to the Messrs. WALKER is ascribed the credit of having raised the first crops in the town of wheat, potatoes, etc. The first blacksmith-shop was erected in 1838, by Orrin SPRAGUE; previous to that settlers were obliged to go to Racine and Kenosha for their work. The first flour used came from Michigan, hauled by teams, via Chicago and Racine. The nearest flouring-mill at that time was at Aurora, Illinois. In 1839, quite a number of families came from Allegheny County, New York, and settled; among them were Joseph GOODRICH, H. B. CRANDALL, James PIERCE, and E. PHELPS. The first settlement in Magnolia was in 1840, by John N. PALMER, Joseph PRENTICE, Andrew COTTER, Washington ADAMS, W. FOCKLER, Abram FOX, J. COOK, B. EASY, A. MOORE, G. McKENZIE, Mrs. HINES and son, and S. P. HAMMOND. The earliest settlement in Newark Township, of which we can learn, was made in 1842, by Mrs. GUNALE, a Norwegian widow lady; she is said to have built the first log cabin in the township. She was soon followed by several of her countrymen in 1844. N. Strong, J. B. SMITH, John STEVENS, P. McVAIN, A. G. FELT, and P. P. CHASE made purchases and erected homes. Many of them are still residents of the town. The first settlement made in Plymouth was in 1841, by David DOUGLASS, Stephen C. DOUGLASS, and Samuel COLLEY, who came from Michigan, and located on Bass Creek the 31st day of May; Samuel F. CHIPMAN settled in July of the same year. The first settlement in what is now Spring Valley was made by John CRALL, who built the first log house, yet standing, on the farm owned by J. W. SPENCER. Mr. Robert TAYLOR, who still resides in the town, was the second man to settle in the township. Among the other early settlers of the town were James KIRKPATRICK, E. C. SMITH, R. M. SMITH, James BRADSHAW, A. SPRAGUE, A. REMINGTON, A. HURLBURT, S. G. MILLS, and Solomon ROSE. In what is now Turtle Township the first settlers were D. B. EBERY, --after whom Egery Creek was named,--D. BENNETT, Chancey TUTTLE, John LEWIS, A. LEWIS, S. G. COLLEY, R. DOLE, and John HOPKINS. In 1836 the following- named persons, who had previously located at Beloit, came to Turtle, viz., Wm. SMITH, Horace RICE, and Hudson CASE. About the same time a family by the name of MEEKERS came from Pennsylvania, and made a claim where the village of Shopiere now stands; the same year a colony of Yankees from Connecticut settled on the opposite side of the Creek. Some quite amusing stories are told of the troubles between the MEEKERS and the Yankees which we have not space here to relate. During 1837, Mr. BLODGETT, from Beloit, purchased the contestants. The town was first called Waterloo, in commemoration of the battle between this family and the colony, but subsequently changed to its present name.
The early settlement of Bradford was in 1836, by Erastus DEAN, who was
soon followed by Andrew McCULLAGH, William C. CHASE, James WINNEGAR, Joseph MAXON, Wm B. ALDRICH, C. DYKEMAN, William LYMAN, L. S. BLACKMAN, and Alva BLACKMAN. The first settlements in Rock Township were mostly made in territory that is now included in the city limits of Janesville, and by the ST. JOHNs, HOLMES, INMAN, Milo JONES, and others already mentioned. Dr. HEATH built the first tavern on that side of the river. John INMAN & Co. started the first stage, which made regular trips from this place to Racine. At this time Rock River was navigable from its mouth as far as Jefferson, and boats of considerable size frequently made trips up to this point. The first breaking of prairie said to have been done in the County was by Mr. John INMAN, in the spring of 1836. It was sowed in buckwheat and yielded a good crop. Mr. I. was compelled to go to Rockford to get his plow sharpened. The first house erected on the east side of the river was by Ira WASHBURN, in 1838.
The early settlements in what is now Harmony are so nearly identified with
that of Janesville as to make special mention of it useless. In 1836 the first settlers located here.
Having given the names and date of settlement of most of those who were
really the first to locate in Rock County, we will now notice briefly some of the cities, towns, and villages throughout the County. First in importance is . . .
 
Continues with the history of the CITY OF JANESVILLE and through histories of Beloit, Clinton Junction, Milton, Milton Junction, Evansville and Edgerton. The chapter ends with the following:
 
NEWSPAPERS
The Weekly Gazette was established in August, 1845, and was the first
newspaper in Rock County. ALDEN & STODDARD were its original proprietors. In 1856 the daily was started, and in 1867 the semi- weekly was first put forth. All three of the editions have been continued from the time of their beginning, --the circulation of each constantly increasing, until the Gazette is now read by more people than any other paper in Southern Wisconsin. It is at present conducted by the Gazette Printing Company, of which James BENTLIFF is President, A. M. COLVIN Secretary, and R. L. COLVIN Treasurer. James BENTLIFF is the political editor, and W. S. BOWEN local editor. Business manager, R. L. COLVIN. As an advertising medium, the Gazette takes its place among the leading papers of the State. An extensive jobbing department is connected with the Gazette office, under charge of W. H. SEYMOUR. Special attention is given to all branches of the job printing business.
The Rock County Recorder was started the 1st of September, 1869, by Garrett
VEEDER and S. S. ST. JOHN. The Recorder is yet in its infancy, but is fast gaining strength and popularity throughout the County. There is a well-equipped jobbing department connected with this office, well supplied with good type and material.
The Janesville Times.--This paper is edited and published by A. O. WILSON.
It is a lively, spicy sheet, daily growing in the favor of the citizens of Rock County. It is the only Democratic paper published in the County.
In addition to those mentioned, there are two other papers issued in the
County,--one at Evansville, and the Beloit Free Press, which is the only paper published in the city. Its local columns are well filled with a good selection of news, while its editorials are spicy and well directed. The paper commands a wide circulation and a bright future.
 
AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY
This society was organized Janury 6, 1851. The society now occupies spacious
grounds in the northeast portion of the city. Suitable buildings are erected for the exhibition of various articles. Having good stalls and pens, every facility is offered for the successful handling and training of horses while on exhibition, or for the trial of speed. A good one-half mile track is connected with the grounds of the society. A general interest in the success of the society is manifested by the citizens of the County, and their yearly exhibitions are second to none of their sister counties.

©2002 ALHN-Rock County, Wisconsin

Site Coordinator: Lori Niemuth