William Petersen, Sr., a property holder and one of the substantial citizens of Lyndon township, has been a resident of Wisconsin since his youth and here his years of activity have been crowned by a well merited success. He was born March 12, 1850, in Hanover, Germany, the son of Christopher and Magdalena (Fischer) Petersen, both representatives of respected Hanoverian families, the Petersens especially having been identified with that state in which they had dwelt as landowners and farmers, as far back as the records show. The father was born in 1813 and spent his entire lifetime in his native land, dying in 1861. Their family numbered six children, as follows: Katrina, who died when twenty years of age; Henry, who died when eighteen years old; Paul, who died at the age of fourteen years; William, the subject of this sketch; Minnie, who died when nine years of age; and Claus, who died at the age of four.
In June, 1861, the same year in which occurred his father's death, William Petersen lost his brothers and sisters, all of whom fell victims to an epidemic of diphtheria. Prior to the death of the father William Petersen attended the excellent public schools in the vicinity of his home, wisely availing himself of the opportunity thus offered to acquire a thorough elementary education in all the essential branches of learning. After the fateful year of 1861 which so nearly witnessed the extinction of the family, he applied himself to the cultivation of the home farm and, lad though he was, became the support and comfort of his widowed and stricken mother.
In 1856 his uncle, Barthold Petersen, had left the fatherland and emigrated to the United States, locating his home in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin. Here he had prospered and his letters home were filled with descriptions of the opportunities which the new world offered to young men of energy and ambition who were not afraid of work. All about him he saw men who had come from different countries of the old world without capital or influence, who by their own unaided efforts had attained to positions of responsibility and had accumulated comfortable competencies. The stories of successes such as these were told in the letters which Barthold Petersen wrote to his family in Germany, and they turned the thoughts of his nephew, William Petersen, to look upon a future in the United States as highly desirable and advantageous to him.
In 1868 he set out to make his way in the world, his first step being to take passage for America. His mother remained behind among friends for her son was unwilling to subject her to the trials and uncertainties which might await him, preferring rather to first establish a home for her reception before asking her to break the ties which bound her to the land of her birth. Arriving in New York city he turned his hand to the first honorable labor which was offered him, for he was ever industrious and earnest. He entered the employ of the Havemeyer company, sugar refiners of Brooklyn, New York, and during his spare time applied himself assiduously to the study of the language and customs of the land of his adoption. For several months he remained in this situation, but he chose to look upon it rather as a stepping stone to his ultimate independence and not as a permanent position. His was not a nature to be satisfied with anything less than success and he lost no time in idleness about the city but within the year continued his journey.
Arrived at Sheboygan Falls, he at once secured a position on a farm, with the work of which he was well acquainted, having been trained during his youth in all the best methods known to successful German farmers. The next year he sent for his mother to join him, as by thrift and industry he had already provided means for her support. In 1870 he removed to Lyndon township, where he worked in a grist and sawmill situated on the Onion river. He continued to practice the same habits of economy which had so far helped him on the road to independence and in 1873 had accumulated the means to purchase a forty acre farm in the eastern part of Lyndon township. A part of this original purchase is included in his present estate. He set himself to the task of clearing and improving his land, giving thoughtful consideration to the crops for which it was best adapted and those for which the market offered most advantageous sale. That his judgment was sound and his methods good is proven by the fact that he steadily added to his acreage until he owned a quarter section. He continued to cultivate this tract successfully until 1888 when he sold a part and purchased the place known as the Hanford Hutchinson farm. He set about the improvement of this, remodeling the buildings as his taste dictated and his needs demanded. During the latter years he has specialized in dairy farming, and as has been his life-long practice, devotes to even the details his careful attention and consideration.
In 1873 Mr. Petersen married Mary Schaekel, a daughter of Christian and Dorothea (Busse) Schaekel, whose birth occurred September 11, 1852, in Sheboygan Falls township. The Schaekel family, like the Petersen family, has been identified with Hanover, Germany, through many generations, and the Busse family is one of the old houses of Lippe-Detmold. In 1844, in his twenty-ninth year, Christian Schaekel came to the United States, locating first in Indiana, where he was engaged in the construction of a canal, and then removing to Chicago. The city which was destined to be the second largest in America was then in an embryonic state, so much so that land was then valued at but a small part of what it costs today, and in 1845 large areas could be purchased for a sum equal to what is asked for a single front foot in 1912.
Mr. Schaekel was employed on a farm which later was incorporated within the city limits and as an inducements for him to remain, his employer offered him a tract of forty acres which now lies in the heart of Chicago. Even the wisest of speculators did not at that early day foresee the wealth which Chicago real estate would eventually represent, and it is no discredit to Mr. Schaekel's judgment that he did not avail himself of an offer which, if accepted, would have rendered him and his family wealthy "beyond the dreams of avarice." Instead, he chose what was then thought to be the surer road to prosperity and in 1845 purchased one-hundred and sixty acres of good land in Sheboygan Falls township, on section 24. That event would prove differently none could then foretell, and Mr. Schaekel acted the part of a wise man in passing by an uncertainty and a mere speculative chance for that which his experience taught him would prove a sure financial success. His land was covered with timber and directly he had consummated its purchase he set himself to the task of clearing it and preparing it for crops. Following this preparatory work he cultivated his farm until 1868, when he sold it, and, in partnership with his brother-in-law, Mr. H. Reysen, purchased the grist and sawmill at Onion river.
In 1872 he bought a farm in Lyndon township, on section 13, where he made his home until his death which occurred in 1887. He married Dorothea Busse in 1850 and to them were born nine children, as follows: Mrs. Petersen; Dorothea, wife of Henry Habighorst, of Sheboygan Falls; Henry, who died at the age of eleven years; Flora, wife of Andrew Meyer, of Lyndon township; Frederick, living in Toledo, Ohio; Annie, wife of Nick Nagel, of Lyndon township; Philipena, wife of Carl J. Nehrling, also of Lyndon township; Ottila, who died at the age of twenty-one years; and Otto, who makes his home in Butternut, Ashland county, Wisconsin.
The family of Mr. and Mrs. William Petersen, Sr., numbered eight children. William, Jr., who married Jennie Martin, makes his home on the family homestead. Frederick passed away at the age of twenty-two years. Flora died in infancy. Myrtie is the wife of Otto Eichhorst, of Omaha, Nebraska, and the mother of three children, Marie, Madeline and Robert. Henry, a civil engineer in the employ of the Pennsylvania railroad, living in Cleveland, Ohio, is married to Leah Eberts and they are the parents of two sons, Frederick and Waldo. Marie and Dorothea died in infancy. Ottilia makes her home with her parents.
In Lyndon township Mr. Petersen is accorded the esteem to which he is so justly entitled. He has held the positions of township supervisor and treasurer and for fifteen years was a member of the school board. The family are members of the Evangelical Lutheran church. A gratifying measure of success has attended Mr. Petersen's labors, due solely to his habits of thrift and industry, and the position which he holds today as one of the foremost citizens of his community is the reward of a lifetime of well directed energies and conscientious conduct.
Information gathered and adapted from History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present
Carl Zillier, Editor
Pubished by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912, Chicago, IL