History of Racine
View a historic map of the City of Racine from 1855.
From a historical address delivered by Judge Charles E. Dyer at Burlington, Wis., Feb. 22, 1871
In the year 1832 there were but four white men in that part of what is now Wisconsin, south of Green Bay and east of the Rock River. They were French traders. During that year the Sac war broke out and attracted the attention of the whole country to this region. The title to the land was in the Indians. By the treaty of 1833, between the Pottawatomie and other tribes of Indians, all the tract of county now comprising the southeastern portion of Wisconsin was ceded to the United States --- the Indians, however, to remain in possession until 1836, the Government reserving the right, meantime, to survey the tract. In November, 1834, Captain Gilbert Knapp came to the mouth of Root River, and I find it recorded in such form that I deem it worthy of implicit credit, that he was the first permanent American settler upon any portion of that tract of country now included in the counties of Racine, Walworth and Rock.
On the 20th of April, 1836, the act of congress was passed establishing the Territorial Government of Wisconsin. Severed from Michigan, it embraced all its present territory, with that of Minnesota and Iowa, and a portion of Nebraska and Dakota. There were then six counties in the territory---- Milwaukee, Brown, Dubuque, Iowa, Des Moines and Crawford.
Under proclamation of Henry Dodge, Governor, the first election of members of the house of representatives and council of the Territory was held on the 2nd Monday of October, 1836. Gilbert Knapp and Alanson Sweet were elected from milwaukee county to this, the first council in the organized Territory. The election of Captain Knapp was, as we shall hereafter see, signalized by demonstrations of satisfaction which must have surpassed all modern political jubilees.
The first session of the Territorial legislature was held at Belmont, in the county of Iowa, on the 25th day of October, 1836. On the 3rd of December, 1836, the seat of Territorial government was located at Madison, but it was provided that until the 4th day of March , 1839, the sessions of the legislative assembly should be held at Burlington, in the county of Des Moines.
On the 7th of December, 1836, the county of Racine was created by the passage of and act at the Belmont session, and the seat of justice was located at the town of Racine. The county then included its present territory and that of the present county of Kenosha, with the counties of Walworth and Rock attached for judicial purposes. In January, 1850, the county of Racine was divided, and the county of Kenosha created and organized.
By an act of the Legislature, passed January 2nd, 1838, the three original towns in the present territory of Racine county were established, and their limits prescribed, namely: Racine, with polls of election established at the hotel of John M. Myers, in the village of Racine; Mount Pleasant, with the polls of election at the house of George F. Robinson, and Rochester, with the polls of election established at the house of Stebbins & Duncan, in the village of Rochester, and also at Moses Smith's in Burlington.
In the imperfect narrative I have prepared, I have thought it most methodical and satisfactory to take up the settlements of the different towns of the county, according to their present names and limits, beginning with Racine- As already indicated, Captain Gilbert Knapp was the first white settler at Racine. He came in November, 1834, on horseback from Chicago. At Skunk Grove there was an Indian settlement and trading post, at the head of which was Jambeau, the name of a French trader, with an Indian wife, and well remembered by many of the earliest settlers. The route from Chicago at that time, and for a considerable period thereafter, was upon an Indian trail, via Grose Point, and thence to the trading post at Skunk Grove. Captain Knapp came by that route, accompanied by two men in his employ, one of whom was William Luce. An Indian piloted him from the Grove to the mouth of Root river. With assistance of his men, he built a log cabin on the south bank of the river, and at about the spot where the plaining mill of Miner & McClurg now stands -- the river then flowing in its original channel, at the foot of what may yet, with close observation, be discovered to be its former bank, passed around to the southward at the point where Captain Knapp located his claim, and emptied into the lake between the present east terminus of Second and Third streets, but at rare intervals, on account of new and temporary formations of the beach, discharged its waters into the lake near the grounds of the old light house.
Captain Knapp, by virtue of his location, made claim to all the land comprised in the original plat of Racine, namely: the east fractional half of Section 9, subsequently known as Lots Nos. 1 and 2, on the north side of the river, comprising 74 acres, and Lot No. 6, on the south side, comprising 66.98 acres. During the winter of 1834-35 Captain Knapp went away, returning again in March or April, 1835. He immediately interested Gurdon S. Hubbard, of Chicago, and Jacob A. Barker, of Buffalo, in his claim at Port Gilbert, on Root river, and I have in my possession the letter written by him on the 30th of March, 1835, to Mr. Barker, setting forth the value of his claim, and soliciting his co-operation in the enterprise of founding and building up a settlement.
On the 2d day of January, 1835, Stephen Campbell, William See, Paul Kingston and Edmund Weed came from Chicago to Racine. When these persons arrived, they found William Luce and another man, in the employ of Captain Knapp, in charge of the Captain's cabin. Mr. Campbell immediately cleared away a spot in the dense forest, at about the place where the homestead of Edwin Colvin is now located, and built a shanty. He soon found that he was within the limits of the claim of Knapp, Hubbard & Barker, and he thereupon removed farther west and built a log house, on what was, in early times, known as the Campbell fraction, and in later years, as the harbor addition, to the village and city of Racine.
William See, meantime, had located at the Rapids; Edmund Weed had made a claim where Nicholas D. Fratt now lives, and Paul Kingston had built a cabin and located on the south limits of the lands claimed by Captain Knapp. After some conflict he was obliged to yield his claim, and the premises he occupied became the homestead of Captain Knapp.
In April, 1835, Norman Clark with five companions started from Chicago in an open yawl boat, rigged with sails, belonging to the Government, and which they procured at Fort Dearborn, for a cruise along the west shore of the lake. Upon reaching the mouth of Root river, with their canvas spread before a favoring breeze, they sailed into the river, "wing and wing." Alanson Sweet, now of Milwaukee, was captain of the craft, and quite bewildered by the wild and beautiful scenery around them, almost before they were aware of it, they had reached Captain Knapp's cabin on the bank, and "hove to" with all the skill and pride of able and experienced navigators. Mr. Clark was prospecting: looking for town sites and corner lots, but he found the present site of Racine a dense forest, the banks of the river lined with cedar and most luxuriant foliage; and though not quite pleased with the results of his adventure thus far, he and his fellow voyagers again spread their sails and went to Milwaukee, where there were two log houses, and where a white woman had never been. He looked over Solomon Juneau's muskrat skins and returned to Chicago.
In May, 1835, Joel Sage arrived. He came from Chicago on a pony belonging to Captain Knapp. A hoosier, whose name is unknown, had made a claim on the west side of Root river, in what was subsequently (and is yet) known as Sage Town. Mr. Sage bought the hoosier's claim, and in the summer of 1835 went into occupation of a log house which stood on the top of the bluff, at a point which is now in the center of State street. One day in the fall of 1835 he found his shanty torn down to the bottom log. With the perseverance and courage of a pioneer, he immediately rebuilt it, and with renewed determination asserted his claim to the 107 acres of land, which he afterward as we shall see, successfully pre-empted, and which subsequently comprised that part of Racine known as Sage Town.
At this point in our history, we find Knapp, Hubbard & Barker the claimants of the original plat of Racine; Stephen Campbell in possession of the harbor addition, and Joel Sage settled upon the tract on the west side of the river. The warfare which they were obliged to wage in maintenance of their titles, is not an unimportant or uninteresting feature of those romantic times. Let me, therefore, give you a brief record of the fortunes of these pioneers in acquiring their rights to the lands, upon which to this day, valuable monuments of title are founded.
In 1836 Captain Knapp, not feeling entirely satisfied with his rights as a settler to the lands to which he made claim, procured from Jaques Vaux a float title to lots 1 and 2, Section 9, which was the receiver's receipt issued June 19, 1834, under the pre-emption act of 1834 and on the 25th of July, 1836, procured its assignment to Gurdon S. Hubbard. At the same time, he also obtained from Lewis Vaux, a float upon Lot 6, Section 9, on the south side of the river, and on the 25th of July, 1836, procured its assignment to Gurdon S. Hubbard.
In the winter of 1835 and 1836 the city of Racine was laid out in lots and blocks.
Subsequently, Congress passed the pre-emption bill, by the terms of which no right of pre-emption was granted to actual settlers upon lands within the location of any incorporated town, or to any portion of lands which had been actually selected as sites for cities or town, or specially occupied or reserved for town lots.
The float title to the village was consequently decided to be invalid. But by an act of Congress, approved May 26th, 1824, the right had been granted to counties of pre-emption to quarter sections of land for seats of justice within the same. The seat of justice of Racine county had been, in 1836, located at Racine, and so on the 2d day of January, 1838, an act was passed by the Territorial Legislature authorizing the county commissioners to sell and convey the right and title of the county, under the act of 1824, in and to the east fractional half of Section 9 to Gilbert Knapp, his heirs and assigns, upon his paying to the board, within two years from the date of conveyance, at the rate of ten dollars per acre therefor, with ten per cent. interest; and providing further, that the county commissioners should immediately enter up and secure the pre-emption to which the county was entitled; and the money arising from the sale by the county to Captain Knapp, to be disposed of in the erection of county buildings, for the county of Racine, according to said act of Congress.
The county officers refused to carry this law literally into effect, and the title remained uncertain until the winter of 1838 and 1839, when an arrangement was made between the original proprietors and the county officers, by which the former should erect, or procure to be erected, county buildings, consisting of courthouse and jail, and building for county offices, and the latter should release and convey their interest in the lands to the first claimants.
On the 9th day of February, 1839, Samuel Hale, Jr., and John Bullen, as county commissioners, procured a duplicate of Lot 6, east fractional half of Section 9, under pre-emption act of 1834, which, on the 11th day of February, 1837, was assigned to Captain Knapp. On the same day, Captain Knapp gave to the commissioners his mortgage on the property, conditioned for the performance of the agreement that had been entered into. The county relinquished all of its interest in Lots 1, 2, and 6, in Section 9, and the contract for the construction of the county buildings was assigned to Roswell Morris and William H. Waterman, who, in 1839, built your present courthouse. The jail was built in 1841, in connection with and as part of the log jail built in 1837, and the brick building now occupied by the clerk and register was constructed in 1842. Thus, after adversities and sacrifices, the proprietors of the original plat secured to themselves the rights which they originally supposed they had acquired by virtue of settlement and possession, and the county of Racine secured the construction of county buildings, which it is high time were torn down, to give place to more commodious and modern structures.
In consequence of legislation by Congress, which I have already alluded to, Mr. Campbell, who had settled on the harbor addition, found himself dispossessed of the rights which he supposed he had acquired by virtue of original settlement. The village of Racine, by M. B. Mead, its president, on the 17th of October, 1843, obtained the title to this property, but made arrangements with Mr. Campbell by means of which he retained a quarter interest, the village securing a three-quarter interest. This three-quarter interest was disposed of by the village, and the proceeds were expended on the harbor, which fact gave to this tract of land its name as the harbor addition.
Joel Sage, in retaining his claim and title to the 107 acres upon which he located, was spared the trials and troubles which Congressional legislation had brought to other settlers. But he had a long and discouraging conflict with fraudulent float holders, who sought, by all means that were not honest, to oust him from his possessions. He journeyed to Green Bay, and there resisted their pretenses; he went to Chicago and employed lawyers to assist him in his warfare, and with a just conception of the first great right and duty of an actual settler he took good care to maintain the actual possession of the lands upon which he had located. His theory was that his cabin was his castle; that possession was nine points in the law, and adhering with courageous pertinacity to his position, fraudulent floats and bogus titles could not prevail against him, and his rights culminated in actual title in 1838, by virtue of pre-emption.
Having thus stated the manner and circumstances under which the first title to the lands embraced in the original plat of the city of Racine, and in the harbor addition, and Sage's addition to Racine was acquired and perfected, let us return to the history of the original settlement, following occurrences as near as may be in their chronological order. Up to May, 1835, we have found Capt. Gilbert Knapp, Stephen Campbell, Paul Kingston, William Luce and Joel Sage permanently located at what was then called Port Gilbert.
In the summer of that year, E. J. Glenn, Levi Mason and James Beeson arrived. On the 1st of October, 1835, Alfred Carey came, and later in the fall Dr. Bushnell B. Cary, Amaziah Stebbins and John M. Myers joined those settled here. Dr. Cary was the first physician who came to the county for permanent settlement. In December, 1835, Dr. Elias Smith arrived, and found, in addition to the persons already named, Samuel Mars, Eugene Gillespie, Joseph Knapp, Henry F. Cox, Mr. Stilwell, and Mr. William Saltonstall.
During this year, 1835, five or six frame buildings were erected, one of which was a two-story tavern. In January, 1836, William H. Waterman arrived. On the 7th of February, 1836, Sidney A. and Stephen H. Sage, sons of Joel Sage, joined their father, and in August, 1836, Mrs. Bethiah Sage, wife of Joel Sage, came with Rev. Cyrus Nichols and family. Before the arrival of Mrs. Sage Stephen H. Sage and his father kept bachelor's hall. They began housekeeping together with a barrel of flour and half a barrel of beef. They lived on beef, bread and tea, without furniture, crockery, or beds, until after the opening of navigation in the spring of 1836.
Albert G. Knight came in the spring of 1836. He arrived at Southport on the 1st of April, 1836, and remained there one week. He traveled from Wayne county, N. Y., to Chicago on horseback, and from Chicago to Racine upon foot. He made a claim near Mygatt's Corners, and another adjoining the farm now owned by David Wiltsie, in Caledonia.
On the 1st of June, 1836, Marshall M. Strong arrived, and was the first lawyer who settled in Racine county.
During the same month Norman Clark came. He walked from Southport along the beach of the lake. In the fall of that year (1836) his family removed to Racine. He tells me that on his arrival he found the following persons: Amaziah Stebbins, Capt. Knapp, Alanson Filer, Dr. Cary, M. M. Strong, Alfred Cary, John M. Myers, Edmund Weed, William H. Waterman, Jonathan M. Snow, Paul Kingston, Stephen Ives, William H. Chamberlin, Albert G. Knight, Joel Sage, Eugene Gillespie, William Saltonstall, Enoch Thompson, Dr. Elias Smith, Seth Parsons, and in all about twenty-five or thirty persons.
Lorenzo Janes came to Racine in August 1836, but did not permanently locate until July, 1837.
Samuel G. Knight came in August, 1836, on board the schooner "Paul Jones" from Oswego. His father, Timothy Knight, came with him. Mr. Samuel G. Knight took up his residence in a small frame house which was standing where the drug store of H. & W. Smieding is now situated.
James O. Bartlett came in November, 1836. He was accompanied by William H. Waterman, who had been after a stock of goods, and his conveyance was a horse and sulky. The next day after his arrival, Mr. Bartlett started for Fox River. He went first to Skunk Grove, thence to Rochester, following the Indian trail, from Rochester to Burlington, thence seven miles below, to a place called Big Bend, where he made a claim. At that time there was not a house between Call's Grove (now known as Ives' Grove) and Rochester. He staid at Rochester with Levi Godfrey, and at Burlington with Lemuel Smith. Mr. Bartlett erected a log pen, about five feet high, and six feet square on his claim, and slept in it through a long and rainy night. He inscribed his name on his cabin and on a tree near by, when he left his claim, and though he has never since returned to it, he supposes it to be there still!
In 1837 David Wells came, and it is recollected of him that while hunting along the Nippersink, in 1843, a fire was kindled in the tall grass of the prairie, and unable to escape, he perished in the flames.
On the 14th of May, 1838, Eli R. Cooley came to Racine, but remained only a short time, returning again in December 1838, to make it a permanent residence.
In 1839 John. A. Carswell arrived. He came on the steamboat "New England", and thinks there were two hundred people at Racine and in its vicinity at the time. In this connection I owe it to Mr. Carswell to say, that to his letters, entitled "Early Sketches," published in the Racine Argus a few years since, I am indebted for many facts which I here relate.
S. B. Peck settled in Racine on the 9th day of June, 1839. He had been here before, in 1837, and at that time, in passing over the prairie on horseback, at the head of Blue river, southwest of what has long been known as the Wright farm, now owned by Mr. Francis Holborn, the water was so deep that his horse had to swim where now roads and streets have been opened and residences established. Charles Smith has speared musquelange weighing twenty pounds, on the same ground.
Among the other early settlers at Racine, were Benjamin Pratt, who came in March, 1835; Charles Smith, who arrived on the 2d day of June, 1836, coming with his father, Lyman K. Smith, and with Marshall M. Strong and Stephen N. Ives, on the steamboat "Pennsylvania;" Samuel Lane, who came also in 1836; William and John Chamberlin, and William S. Derby, who came in "37; Truman G. Wright; and Charles Bunce, who came in 1838. Lucius S. Blake with his father and two brothers came out in February, 1835, but as we shall see located in Caledonia. In 1839, however, Mr. Blake adopted Racine as his home and experienced as much of the adventure of pioneer life as any settler in the county. Samuel Hood was also one of the settlers of 1838.
I can not undertake to give you a statistical list of all the persons and their families who settled in Racine prior to 1840. It is quite impossible to do so. Emigration began actively in 1835, and through the memorable year 1836 it increased and continued beyond expectation. The people who came in 1835 probably suffered greater privations than any who came subsequently. Without the products of agriculture, without mechanics, and without roads or means of ready communication with other parts of the world, together with the absence of society and protection of law, the difficulties of obtaining residences, food and clothing, were almost insurmountable.
Nevertheless, the earliest settlers concur in saying that with all their severe experiences they had much enjoyment. A common alliance naturally sprang up between them; each was undoubtedly inspired by the thought that he was doing his part to develop and open up a wild and new country before untrodden by the foot of civilized man, but destined even in their lives, to greatness in civilization, growth and progress.
As early as 1835-36 the village of Racine, as I have already stated, was laid out in lots and blocks. In January, 1836, Root river postoffice was established at the Rapids, and A. B. Saxton was appointed postmaster. In May of the same year, however, this office was discontinued, and the Racine office established. Dr. B. B. Cary was appointed postmaster. The amount of the first quarterly returns to the Post Master General was $37. At the time this office was established, the mail was carried from Chicago to Green Bay on horseback once a week.
The first survey of that part of the village north of the river was made by Milo Jones, and of that part south of the river by Joshua Hathaway. The first established store was opened by Glen & Mason, though Capt. Knapp had previously sold goods to settlers to a limited extent. Eugene Gillespie engaged in the same pursuit, and on the arrival of Dr. Smith and Mr. Waterman, or soon after, they established a mercantile business, and it is said that in the temporary absence of Dr. Smith the location for their store was selected near the subsequent site of the store of Lee & Dickson. This was then a spot far away from the river and far up in the woods, and there are old settlers who distinctly remember the dissatisfaction with which Dr. Smith, on his return, learned of the location of his store and said they had "got so far up in woods that business wouldn't reach them in twenty years!"
Marshall M. Strong and Stephen N. Ives upon their arrival also opened a store, under the name of Strong & Ives.
The first hotel was kept by Amaziah Stebbins and John M. Myers, and stood in the center of what is now Main street, just north of Smith & Waterman's store. It was built by John Pagan.
In 1837 the "Racine House" was erected at a cost of over ten thousand dollars. Alfred Cary built it, and Albert G. Knight hauled the lumber for its construction from the Rapids. A clearing was made in the woods of sufficient extent to enable the frame work to be done and the raising to be made. It was an old-fashioned raising. Everybody turned out, and everybody had a good time. Lucius S. Blake burned a portion of the lime for the new hotel on a log heap in the woods, and got fifty cents a bushel for it, which was more than potatoes were worth. Tom O'Sprig, whose name may conjure up many incidents and traditions in the minds of old settlers, had the job of plastering the house. He was a man who always put off until to-morrow what he could avoid doing to-day, but when he was fairly started in an enterprise the vigor of his exertions was unsurpassed. He was a mason by trade, and had, as I have said, engaged to plaster the "Racine House," but procrastinated his job until the patience of the people who were waiting for the "grand opening" was quite exhausted. He finally concluded that the better the day the better the deed, and so that Sunday was the day when the job should be done. Upon beginning his work he found materials were wanting; they must be had; but for that purpose a conveyance was needed with which to bring them. He had none. It occurred to him, however, that Stephen Campbell and Paul Kingston each had a yoke of oxen; they were probably grazing in the woods. He knew it would never do to seek the owners and ask their permission for the use of their oxen on that day, as both were Sabbath observing men, and at that moment were probably attending Divine service; and, therefore, Tom O'sprig followed the inclinations of his nature, and set out in pursuit of the oxen without the leave or liberty of the owners. Wandering alone in the woods, to his joy he came upon them quietly grazing. They were docile and submissive, and he soon placed upon their stalwart necks the yoke he carried with him. He endeavored to drive them by persuasive "gee's" and "haw's," but to be driven as he would have them go they would not. It is said that Tom woke the echoes of the forest with his demonstrations of rage, but had ultimately to abandon his adventure in despair. The "Racine House" remained over Sunday unplastered, and Tom was inconsolable, until he found that the unruliness of the oxen was attributable to the unfortunate fact that he had yoked up Stephen Campbell's off ox, and Paul Kinston's off ox, and therefore, that they pulled a contrary way from that desired by Tom O'Sprig!
The "Racine House" was, however, in due time completed. A celebration was had, and in the dancing room which had been particularly prepared, from the close of day until early morn, a happy crowd danced away the night under the inspiration of music, furnished by a hod carrier, on a three-stringed fiddle!
John M. Myers was the first landlord of the "Racine House." He subsequently removed to Milwaukee, where he died, and the following obituary notice was published in a Milwaukee paper:
"DIED. -- In this village, of pleurisy, Mr. John M. Myers, aged about thirty. Mr. Myers was keeper of the 'Milwaukee House.' He was taken ill on Sunday, and died this morning at five o'clock. In him the wife had an affectionate husband, the children an exemplary father, who live to mourn his loss, and the community an enterprising and useful man."
His son, Henry S. Myers, whose lamented death occurred nearly two years since, was the first white male child born in Racine, and his excellent mother, who has experienced all the adversities and hardships of a pioneer life, yet survives.
The first white child born in Racine was a daughter of Levi Mason.
During the spring and summer of 1836 common labor was from $1.50 to $2.00 per day; mechanics' labor from $2.50 to $3.00 per day; hardwood lumber from $20.00 to $30. per M; Flour $12.00 to 20.00, and pork $20.00 to $30.00 per barrel. In the fall of this, Messrs. Strong & Ives sent to Chicago for two barrels of pork at a cost of thirty dollars per barrel. It arrived, and a crowd of hungry customers gathered for supplies. Alas for their appetites and hopes! The first barrel opened contained nothing but brine and pig tails, and it was well written, at the time, that "no Bashaw of ancient history ever had more tails than the wonderful hoosier hog that had been packed in that barrel!"
Joel Sage and Alfred Cary were the first Justices of the Peace at Racine under legally constituted authority. Mr. Sage did not desire or intend to qualify as a magistrate, but Mr. Cary wanted to get married, and wanted Esquire Sage to marry him, and so he was induced to qualify.
It has been said that Rev. Cyrus Nichols preached the first sermon ever heard in Racine. This is a mistake. Mr. Stephen Campbell tells me that the first sermon was preached by a Rev. Mr. Robinson, who came as a missionary. Jonathan M. Snow and William See also preached occasionally, before the arrival of Mr. Nichols. Mr. See always began his sermons by saying: "In my preface, or exordium, I will make but very few remarks." Rev. Mr. Nichols was undoubtedly the first clergyman of the Presbyterian denomination in Racine or the vicinity.
On the1st of January, 1839, the first Presbyterian Society was organized and its members were the following persons: Mr. and Mrs. Heman Rice, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin E. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Cary, Mr. and Mrs. William Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Wells, Mr. and Mrs. Elias S. Capron, Messrs. Julius Colton, Nelson A. Walker, Joel Sage, Mrs. Sylvester Mygatt, Mrs. J. P. Hurlbut, Mrs. Cyrus Nichols, Miss L. L. Wells, Miss Susanna Traber and Miss Sarah C. Hall.
The first schoolhouse erected at Racine was a structure sixteen feet square, located where McClurg's block now stands, and the first school was opened by a Mr. Bradley, in the winter of 1836. The first school district in the town was established in 1840, and included all the district of country north of the present south line of the county, and extending one mile north and west of the present city limits. There were six voters present at the organization of the district, and the whole number of children in the district at that time was twenty-eight.
Samuel Lane was the first shoemaker, and William Chamberlin the first blacksmith at Racine. Lane opened his shop in the old claim house, built and first occupied by Captain Knapp, on the bank of the river. Mr. Benjamin Pratt opened the first brickyard in 1836, and furnished the brick for the chimneys of the "Racine House" and for the old Lighthouse.
At times there was a great scarcity of provision. In the winter of 1837-'38, Mr. Myers, landlord of the "Racine House," hired L. S. Blake to go to Chicago to buy for him a load of hams and a barrel of flour. Mr. Blake was gone ten days; when he returned there was great rejoicing at the hotel-quarters, and Mr. Myers is remembered to have said on the occasion; "Now, boys, we shall live again." There was one winter when families got entirely out of meat, and could get none until suckers came, in the spring. In the fall of 1835 a vessel loaded with provisions arrived from Chicago. In order to facilitate the discharging of the cargo the vessel was by some means pulled up, stern on the beach. The settlers from the surrounding country came in to assist in getting the provisions ashore. It was an exciting time. Captain Knapp superintended the business. The wind was freshening; the waves were beginning to roll; the sky was dark and lowering. Gulls were flying over the waters as if to admonish the wayfarers on the beach of the coming storm. One who was present says he shall never forget the excitement of the moment when Captain Knapp, with the clear voice of a mariner, sang out: "Boys, those birds indicate stormy weather!" But so faithful and vigorous were the exertions which were made that before the storm came the cargo was safely landed and securely stored.
Lorenzo Janes was the second lawyer who settled at Racine. When he came Gilbert Knapp, Henry F. Cox and Joseph Knapp were carrying on a forwarding business, and Heath & Parsons were conducting a general dry goods trade. Albert G. Knight was keeping the public house previously kept by Stebbins & Myers. Mr. Janes went first to Gardiner's Prairie, in Walworth county, and made a claim. The prairie was a garden of flowers, and presented a scene as beautiful as the eye could rest upon. The hand of man had marred not its grandeur, his voice had scarcely disturbed the solitude; Nature had planted lilies in the valley " to waste their sweetness on the desert air," and "Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
All the land within the present limits of Racine on the west side of Root river and south of State street, between Huron and St. Clair streets, was covered with a dense forest and was cleared off by hand. The lowland just west of the river and bordering it was covered with maple trees in 1837, and converted into a sugar camp. It was the abiding place of deer and prairie wolves, and in the spring of that year Joel Sage discovered a nest of young wolves at the spot where McGinnis' tavern now stands.
In the winter of 1836-37, it was extremely cold, and the snow deep. Mr. Norman Clark lived that winter in a small frame house he rented of John M. Myers, and which protected him from the inclemencies of a rigorous season only by its oak and bass wood clapboards. He had made a claim of 160 acres which is now the farm owned by Mr. John Carlin.
In March, 1837, Peter Wright, who had been living with Mr. Clark, died of consumption. Consultation was had among the settlers as to the place that should be selected, not only for this, but for other burials. Mr. Clark and a deputation of settlers went in search of a suitable locality, and wandering far away in the woods, at last selected the spot where now the Racine Third ward school house stands as the village cemetery. The people were of the opinion that the location had been made in too wild and distant a region, but acquiesced in the selection, because it was a spot that would never be disturbed! There was at the time, one other grave east of the river, which was that of a woman, buried near the present site of Hart's mill.
In the winter of 1838 the people in the neighborhood of Mr. Clark's cabin on his claim, got out of salt. They were placed in sore extremity, for baked potatoes and salt were their staples. It came to be understood that a man by the name of Mitchell, who lived far away on the prairie, in what is now Kenosha county, had a barrel of salt. Mr. Clark was commissioned to go for a supply, and not to look backward until he found it. He started on a cold, winter's day, traveling on horseback, through deep snow, and after great search, found the Mitchell cabin on the prairie and the barrel of salt. He bought a peck, and after a wearisome two days' journey returned home, the bringer of great joy, to his waiting neighbors. The Mr. Mitchell referred to is Henry Mitchell, of Racine, now eminent as a prosperous and successful manufacturer of wagons.
The year 1836 was, as all know who experienced its business history, a remarkable year. It was as memorable in Racine as elsewhere. The mania of speculation raged wildly. Captain Knapp, in the spring of the year, procured his float title already spoken of. Speculators were traversing the country looking for water owners and village sites; farmers and mechanics threw aside their work, and began to buy and trade in village lots that were located in an unbroken forest. Racine was to be a great city, even three years before the land sales, and I have in my possession the estimated value of town lots in Racine, made Sept. 17th, 1836, which discloses the interesting fact, that at that time, the value of the property in what is now the original plat of Racine was $348,100. Upon the strength of such an assessment as that, what a pity they didn't issue some city bonds in anticipation of a railroad, via Balls Bluff, a charter for which was obtained in 1838!
The first law suit tried in Racine, I believe, grew out of a squirrel hunt. Norman Clark and Marshall M. Strong as the respective leaders, chose sides. On one side were Mr. Clark, Dr. Cary, Eugene Gillespie, and others; and on the other side were Mr. Strong, Charles Smith, Joseph Knapp, and others. It was arranged that all kinds of game should be hunted; a squirrel to count a certain number, a muskrat another, a deer head counting three hundred, and a live wolf one thousand. They were to obtain their trophies by any means, foul or fair. Clark and Gillespie heard of a deer hunter on Pleasant Prairie who had a good collection of heads. Appropriating a fine horse owned by one Schuyler Mattison, who was a stranger in town, Messrs. Clark and Gillespie traversed the snow drifts, found the hunter, and obtained their trophies. Meanwhile, Mr. Strong's party had heard of a live wolf in Chicago. It was sent for. Its transportation was secured in a stage sleigh. But, while at a stopping place at Wilis' Tavern, a party of sailors with one Captain Smith at their head came out from Southport, and Captain Smith killed the wolf with a bottle of gin. Meanwhile, also, Mr. Strong went to Milwaukee and got a sleighload of muskrat noses, which out-counted everything. The squirrel hunt was broken up. Mr. Clark had ruined Schuyler Mattison's horse and had to pay seventy-five dollars damages; and Mr. Strong brought suit against Captain Smith for killing the wolf with the gin bottle. George Vail was plaintiff, Esquire Mars was the justice, Norman Clark was on the jury. Verdict, six cents damages and costs!
The first newspaper published at Racine was the Racine Argus. The first number was issued on the 14th day of February, 1838. J. M. Myers, Alfred Cary, Gilbert Knapp, Stephen Ives, Lorenzo Janes and Marshall M. Strong, proprietors, and N. Delavan Wood, editor. Its editor announces that, as an early admirer of Mr. Jefferson, and recognizing in the Democratic party political principles of a close affinity to those of this distinguished man, he shall yield his feeble support to that party. A feeble support it was, for while he had enlisted the settlers in his newspaper enterprise to the tune of fifteen hundred dollars, he had provided ink and paper for only one copy of his paper. He tried to take from them five hundred dollars more, but something was saved through the activity of Mr. Strong, who pursued him to Chicago, and in the second number it was announced, that "all connection with this paper of N. Delavan Wood, its former editor, has ceased. The causes which have led to this premature separation are of such a character that we feel unwilling to disclose them, and shall not do so unless circumstances require it." From and after this time Mr. Strong and Mr. Janes alternated in the management and editorship of the paper. I find it stated in the Argus of March 24th, 1838, that during the year previous fifty thousand dollars worth of goods were disposed of at Racine. In June, 1838, the census returns for Racine, Mt. Pleasant, and Rochester, as posted up in the hotel of John M. Myers, showed a population of one thousand one hundred and ten, but it was ascertained that seventy-six persons had been omitted from the list, so that the population in those towns, at that time, was in fact, one thousand one hundred and eighty-six.
At the July term, 1838, of the district court, Judge Frazier presiding, the court sat but four days, and only eight days had been occupied by court in the three terms held during eighteen months.
At the summer term of the district court of Racine county, in 1839, the revised statutes of Michigan were administered by Hon. Andrew G. Miller, successor of Judge Frazier, and before the close of the term they were superseded by the revised statutes of Wisconsin. Judge Miller first went upon the Bench November 8th, 1838.
At, and before, this time the land sale was advertised to transpire on the 19th day of November, 1838. In consequence, however, of the necessities of the settlers, and after the most persistent applications, President Van Buren postponed the sale until March, 1839. Mr. Norman Clark was chosen by settlers in the eastern part of the county, to bid off their lands, and did so. It is said that there were but three men left in Racine, during the land sales, which took place in Milwaukee. At this time there were twenty-two families in the village.
The marine lists of 1839, record the periodical arrival at this port of the steamboats "Madison," "Columbus," "Dewitt Clinton," "Constellation." "Jefferson," and others, whose names are associated with the earliest navigation of the lakes, and their arrival was always the occasion of a joyous demonstration.
In the settlement of the country, the word claim was used to denominate both the tract claimed, and the right to that tract. The right under a claim was asserted much upon the same principle that nations claim islands or continents, viz. -- discovery and possession. In the increase of emigration, government lines not being yet established, it sometimes happened that two persons would locate upon the same quarter section. Disputes arose. All the settlers were, in fact, trespassers, and the law of the land could not settle these conflicting claims. Accordingly, in consequence of the frequency of these disputes, a "mass meeting" of the settlers of Racine and of the county was held on the 6th day of June,1837, at the house of Benjamin Felch, to organize an association for protection, and to adopt a constitution and code of laws, under which, conflicting rights and claims could be adjusted. Gilbert Knapp was appointed president; Eldad Smith, Walter Cooley, Zadock Newman, Marshall M. Strong, Samuel Mars, Isaac G. Northway, Oren Stephens, E. S. Sill, Jason Lothrop, John Coggswell and E. G. Ayer were appointed a committee to draft a code of laws and constitution. At an adjourned meeting, a constitution was presented and adopted, which provided, among other things, that if a person claimed one quarter section he must improve and cultivate at least three acres within six months from the time of entering his claim, and within one year build a house suitable for a family, or, instead of building a house, cultivate three acres more on his claim. If his claim was situated in woodland, improvement and cultivation consisted in clearing off the down timber and brush, and all trees two inches in diameter and under, and enclosing the requisite quantity of land with a good fence. If his claim laid on a prairie, then he must enclose the proper quantity with a fence, and plough and put in a crop, or plant in part and make hay in part. A judicial committee or court was created, before which cases could be tried, and by which questions could be settled, and all the necessary machinery put into operation for adjusting disputes, or deciding them by means of the arbitrament provided. The scheme was as successful as it was sensible, and it has been well said, that "when we call to mind the number of inhabitants occupying this tract at that time, the improvements which they had made upon their farms, the mills they had erected and the villages they had built, and recollect that, from the first settlement of the county until 1839, there had been no legal titles to real estate, and that most of them had invested their all in improvements upon their lands, we can not but wonder at their security, and be astonished that the rights of a community so extensive, should be so long and so well protected by the mere force of public opinion of right and wrong."
I have spoken of the election of Captain Knapp to the Territorial council in 1836. Many of the old settlers look back with pleasure to the jollification had over his election, at Racine. He had been nominated as the Racine candidate, at the first political convention ever held in the county. The convention convened at Rochester, and was ever after known all over the country as "Godfry's Convention." Milwaukee was dissatisfied with the nomination. William See joined the disaffection, and headed the opposition ticket. An old-fashioned campaign was had. The little village of Racine was alive with excitement; caucuses were held; electioneering parties traversed the county. Modern "wide-awakes" and "tanners" pale their ineffectual fires in comparison. On the evening of election day the villagers gathered at the hotel to get results. Returns came rapidly in, and Captain Knapp was found to be triumphantly elected. Dignity, staid propriety, and temperance pledges were all laid aside. At the foot of Main street a tar barrel was fired, and around it a crowd was gathered, dressed in disguise, dancing an Indian pow-wow. The lurid gleams of the fire lighted up the tall oaks; dinner bells, cow bells and sleigh bells made music in harmony with the whoops and yells of the villagers; stumps and anvils were loaded with powder, salutes and minute guns were fired, processions were formed, stump speeches were made from stumps, and for five joyous hours --
Captain Knapp's constituents were glorious,
"o'er all the ills o' life victorious."
I am told that at this time, Dr. Elias Smith, William H. Waterman, Eldad Smith, Samuel Mars, Alanson Filer, Charles Smith and his brother Lyman K., constituted the Whig party in Racine.
The Racine Advocate was established in 1842. It was announced as a newspaper devoted to politics, foreign and domestic intelligence, mechanic arts, education, temperance, agriculture and general news. The name of the editor was not given, but on the 21st of October, 1842, Marshall M. Strong took the editor's chair, and raised the stirring motto at the head of his columns: "Westward, the Star of Empire takes its way." No better newspaper has ever been published in the county than with the Advocate while under the editorial charge of Mr. Strong.
I find in the year 1844 another newspaper, which may be remembered by some, devoted to the cause of temperance and anti-slavery, and called the Wisconsin Aegis, was published at Racine. It preached a doctrine strong enough on the slavery question to suit the most radical Abolitionist in the days of Holly, Lovejoy and Birney.
In 1849 the temporary work on the harbor was begun. A survey of the same had, however, been made in 1836, for which the citizens paid one hundred dollars. Subsequently, the mouth of the river was dug out on a straight cut, and the people of Racine assessed their property fifteen per cent, to build piers and to keep the harbor open, so that lighters could come in. The assessment was made at a public courthouse meeting, and Levi Blake is remembered to have said on the occasion: "It'll only cost each of us another lot; let's have a harbor." Mr. Blake furnished and hauled the first load of stone that was used in the harbor work. The first pier work was commenced in 1840, at an expense of three hundred dollars, and in 1841 it was continued at a cost of sixteen hundred dollars. Up to 1844, six thousand dollars had been paid by citizens in endeavoring to secure a harbor before they commenced building a permanent one. On the 16th day of March, 1844, the citizens, learning that their harbor appropriation had been lost in the United States Senate, assembled at the court-house and raised a subscription of ten thousand dollars to build a permanent harbor. On the next day the work was commenced, and the first piles were driven with a hand pile-driver. Where the mouth of the river now is, and where the water is fifteen feet deep, at the time the harbor work was commenced the stream could be forded without difficulty. On the 2d of November, 1844, the people again, in response to an address from Thomas J. Cram, of the United States Topographical Engineers, voted without a dissenting voice to raise five thousand dollars more for work on the harbor. From this time forward, by means of taxation and private subscription, the village of Racine prosecuted their great enterprise. Its history in detail, with the thrilling story of the "Rock in the Harbor," and the time when Ira Dean traversed the streets of the village, ringing a bell, and shouting: "There's a rock in the harbor! turn out, turn out!" time and space forbid my narrating. On the 14th day of July, 1844, the steamer "Chesapeake," Kelsey, master, entered the harbor, and passing up the river, tied up at the dock before Taylor & Cather's warehouse. She was the first steamboat that entered Racine harbor, or any other artificial harbor in Wisconsin.
In 1839 Congress appropriated ten thousand dollars for opening a road from Racine to Green Bay and $10,000 for a road from Racine to Janesville, and these appropriations were expended in 1839-40-, under the supervision of Col. Thomas J. Cram.
The first wheat brought to Racine to be marketed was in 1840. Mr. Charles Wright purchased it, and paid fifty cents a bushel in trade. Mr. Eldad Smith purchased the first wheat for shipment, in 1841, and shipped it in August, 1842.
In 1839, the old lighthouse was built, and at that time there was not more than half a dozen buildings on the school section. The school section was laid out in blocks in 1838.
On the 8th of June, 1844, a great commotion was created in the village by the arrival of the propeller "Racine," and the ceremony of presenting a stand of colors took place. Thomas Wright, esquire, presented the colors and made an eloquent speech, concluding it by saying: "May prosperous winds and favoring waves attend her fleet career, and the riches of her earnings reward the enterprise of her projectors." Captain Hawkins, of the vessel, made a felicitous response.
The first steam dredge used in the harbor arrived from Chicago on the 17th of June, 1844. It was welcomed in the newspapers as "Mister Steam Dredge" and created sensation.
The first celebration of the National anniversary occurred on the 4th day of July, 1844.
I have already stated that Judge Frazier was the first judge who ever held a Court of Record at Racine, or in the county. Henry F. Cox was the first Clerk of the Court; Edgar R. Hugenin the first Sheriff; William H. Waterman the first Register of deeds; Eugene Gillespie the first Treasurer; Frederick S. Lovell the first clerk of the board of supervisors; and Alvin Raymond the first coroner. They were elected on the first Monday in April, 1837.
The first training was had, or attempted to be had, in the fall of 1840. Albert G. Knight was captain of the company. He had been ordered by his superior officer to call out his company for parade, preliminary to general muster. For some reason the new militia law contained no authority at all to call out the companies of militia. A few knowing ones were aware of this omission, and thought the Captain was not. But he was well advised of the fact and determined to act accordingly. Having duly warned out the company, and as they were mustered in line in the morning, Capt. Knight ordered the name of each man called and, as he responded, said to him: "Sir, you are excused for the day." The Captain's duty was done, and he retired amidst the consternation of his company. But Tom O'Sprig rallied and re-organized them. The ringing of a steamboat bell at the head of the column filled up the ranks, and the Racine militia gallantly trained till noon, when they adjourned to the "Fulton House" for dinner, where they all got so drunk they couldn't muster at all in the afternoon.
On the 8th day of December, 1836, authority was obtained from the Territorial legislature to build a bridge across Root river, but the first bridge was not built until 1838. It was constructed by George Fellows and a Mr. Pool. It crossed the river at the foot of Main street, and was used until 1843, when it was carried away by the ice in the spring.
On the 27th of December, 1837, the Racine Mutual Fire Insurance Company was chartered, and on the 11th of January, 1838, an act was passed incorporating the Racine Seminary. Both of these institutions, I believe, were actually organized.
I may appropriately conclude what I have to say of Racine, by adding that on the 13th day of February, 1841, it was made a charted village, and on the 5th day of August, 1848, an incorporated city.