One of the early settlers of Sheboygan county was J. H. Denison who died about two years ago at the age of ninety-two. He was a voluminous and interesting writer and contributed numerous historical articles to the newspapers and other publications. The appended sketch is given space in recognition of its worth and local coloring, notwithstanding the writer has gone over ground already covered in this work. Mr. Denison is circumstantial, gives to his theme an atmosphere that is intensely interesting, and mentions details that have escaped other chroniclers of Sheboygan history:
General prosperity prevailed throughout the country in the spring of 1835. The national debt, which had been a burden from the foundation of the government, was now entirely canceled and a surplus had begun to accumulate in the treasury. The president, whom his friends delighted to call 'Old Hickory,' was approaching the close of his second term. With patriotic zeal and obstinate firmness he had not only suppressed nullification in South Carolina, but had virtually closed the United States Bank at Philadelphia. Upon the fall of this gigantic monopoly, numerous lesser institutions for banking purposes arose in various places, which, by issuing a great abundance of paper money, served not only to enhance prices but also to stimulate speculation. At the west much of this circulating medium was issued by banks that had but a nominal existence, and very naturally the money at length proved to be entirely worthless. Yet confidence prevailed for more than a year from this period, and speculation in western lands was carried to an unparallelled extent.
But many bonafide settlers came west during this year, desirous of making profitable investments and securing for themselves a permanent location and business. A gentleman of this class having arrived at Chicago from New England, might have been seen in August of this year, making his way along the lake shore toward Milwaukee, where he arrived as soon as the primitive mode of traveling would allow. Here he found a single white family who had arrived the March previous, also Solomon Juneau, an Indian trader, who had lived at the place for many years. The mail was carried from Chicago to Green Bay twice a month by a man on horseback, and upon leaving Milwaukee in the fore part of September, our New England pioneer, with two others who concluded to accompany him and explore the country, started for Green Bay, pursuing their way along the lake shore. With a great inland sea stretching far beyond the vision on the one hand, and an interminable forest extending for many miles to the west on the other, our travelers moved on, now along the narrow Indian path upon the bluff, now upon the sandy beach where the dashing waves and moving sand had removed all traces of former travelers. At length, with weary steps, they arrived at the Sheboygan river; and, up that stream a short distance from the lake, found a resting place. Here a sawmill had just been completed and a few thousand feet of lumber manufactured. William Paine and two others had commenced this mill in the fall previous, and were the first white men to make improvements of any kind in this region. A small log tenement standing near the bank a little below the mill afforded shelter for the men engaged in the work, as well as the travelers who had just arrived. An Indian village composed of fifty or sixty wigwams lay upon both sides of the stream, perhaps a hundred rods below the mill, scattered over what seemed to be a prairie.
Having passed the night at the mill our friend from the east, with his two companions, started the next morning to explore the country up the river. Pursuing their course westerly a few miles through the dense forest they came to the neighborhood of the present village of Sheboygan Falls. Here they heard the sound of falling waters, and, following the direction of the sound, they went through the thick underbrush, thence down a steep declivity, and there they beheld the overhanging cedars and loftier pines and the rapid waters of the Sheboygan dashing, splashing, roaring down the rocky ledge. This was a wild scene. No woodman's ax had marred its beauty. No march of civilization had yet reached it to change the aspect it had held for ages. Here on the river bank stood our pioneer from New England, a man in middle life, full six feet in stature, with the heart as well as the manner of a gentleman, courteous, kind and obliging as he always proved to be. As he looked upon the rugged scenery, little did he imagine that, when nearly a third of a century had passed, he would still have his home within a few rods of the point where he then stood. Then in the vigor of manhood, he lived to see over eighty years of life. Then he could see nothing but the river and the dark woods - now a hundred dwellings grace the scene, and the native forest lies far in the back ground. After exploring about the falls he returned to the mill and thence to the mouth of the river. Here he found two indifferent shanties erected for the purpose of entering a claim, but they were unoccupied, and the claim was never allowed. The men who had accompanied him from Milwaukee now retraced their steps, but he continued his journey in company with the mail carrier along the lake to Manitowoc and thence to Green Bay. On arriving at the bay he found that a sale would take place in November, of lands in range 17 to 23 including the present towns of Sheboygan and Sheboygan Falls.
Having obtained a sectional map prepared for him by John Banister, of Fond du Lac, a surveyor, Colonel Stedman, our pioneer, directed his steps toward Milwaukee by way of Lake Winnebago, accompanied by a young man who desired to see the country on that route. Encamping near where Fond du Lac now stands, they concluded to spend a day looking about in that region and went west a number of miles, but returned at night and encamped in the same place. For eight nights in succession the Colonel camped out while passing through a country entirely unoccupied, except by Indians, and at length arrived at Milwaukee. About the last of October, Colonel Stedman started on another journey to Green Bay for the purpose of attending the land sale, which would take place in November.
Having arrived again at Paine's mill, he says: 'I visited the Falls, and, by aid of my maps, I ascertained the section and, indeed, the eighty acre tract which contained them. Wishing to go through by way of Lake Winnebago to the Bay, in company with two other men, I employed an Indian to pilot us through to Fond du Lac for six dollars. But while at the mill I met Mr. Marcy, a lieutenant in the army, who was at this time stationed at Green Bay, and also S. Beal, receiver in the land office at that place. They had also come into Sheboygan county on an exploring tour, with the design of bidding at the land sale. They proposed that if we would wait until they could go down to the mouth of the river and examine the place, they would accompany us and pay a part of the Indian's fees. We did so and as the family were rather crowded at the mill we concluded to commence our journey immediately, and, going out about three miles, we encamped for the night not far from the Falls.
In the morning while viewing them, Marcy asked me if I intended to bid on this. I replied that it was my intention. He said they proposed to do the same, we soon agreed on the spot that instead of bidding against each other we would go in company, that Marcy should bid off the land and we would share equally. On arriving at the bay we found three others also, ready to bid on the eighty, including the Falls; these were Doty, afterwards Governor Doty; Jones, and Ellis, the surveyor. We then made an agreement that the six should buy in company and that Marcy should bid for the whole. Having the impression that we had now included all that would choose to bid, we confidently awaited the day of sale, but on that occasion several others were ready to bid, among whom was George Smith, of Milwaukee. We bid off the land at $13.50 per acre. I afterwards bought out Jones, Beal and Ellis, the remaining members of the company. Doty, Marcy and myself made a contract with a man to put up and complete a sawmill at the Falls by the next June, and I returned to Massachusetts.
In June, 1836, I came to Chicago, saw the man who was engaged to build the mill, but no mill was built. He complained that he had been sick and unfortunate and wished to be relieved from the contract. I left my wife with her brother in Chicago, and, coming again to the Falls, engaged a man to put up a mill in six weeks. Lumber was worth, at that time, fifty dollars per thousand, which made it an object to commence manufacturing as soon as possible. I paid $5.00 per day for a master carpenter and the same for a millwright. Common workmen received $2.50 per day. The mill was not completed until December. By this time navigation had closed and nothing could be realized from lumber that year.
Thus the account of Colonel Stedman is brought down to the fall of 1836, but we will return and notice some events that happened the year previous.
Some time in the summer of 1835 William Farnsworth purchased the mill and claim of William Paine for $10,000, and soon after, while at Chicago, engaged Jonathan FoUett to take charge. Mr. Follett arrived with his family a short time previous to the second visit of Colonel Stedman, and Mrs. Follett remembers very distinctly that Colonel Stedman and Messrs. Marcy and Beal were at their house in October. The Lieutenant Marcy mentioned here is the General Marcy of the Union army, father-in-law to General George B. McClellan, and grandfather of the present mayor of New York city, 1905.
David Giddings visited Sheboygan during the year 1835, but made no purchase until two or three years later. The land where the city of Sheboygan stands was purchased by Daniel Whitney, George Smith and others, but no effort at improvement was made until the next spring. About the last of May, 1836, the old steamer Michigan came up the lake, and, as was the custom with all steamboats at this period, entered Green Bay on its way to Chicago for the purpose of unloading and receiving freight.
A. G. Dye and family were on board this vessel, bound for Chicago, from Fulton county, New York. At the bay, among other passengers, Levi Conro, a mechanic, took passage for Sheboygan, with five or six other workmen, being sent there by Farnsworth, agent for the owners of the town plat. These men with their implements, were landed at Sheboygan, and immediately commenced on the building which was afterwards known as the Sheboygan House. Mr. Dye, with his family, went on to Chicago, but meeting with Farnsworth at that place concluded to take a contract to put up a store house at Sheboygan, and immediately embarked on board a sail vessel bound thither, where he arrived in August. There was no pier or other convenience except yawl boats, yet they succeeded in reaching the shore with their goods in safety. A small frame house had been put up near the mouth of the river on the north side which, though incomplete, made a very comfortable habitation for Mr. Dye and his family, after he had laid the floor and made other improvements. Conro and his men had by this time raised the Sheboygan House, and Dye im- mediately began work on the warehouse, which was placed on the north side near the foot of Seventh street.
In the spring of 1836 Charles D. Cole left Cleveland, Ohio, for Green Bay, in a sail vessel, with the purpose of locating somewhere in the west. He was recommended by Mr. Giddings of the former place, to Brush, Rees & Company, at the bay, who advised him to visit Sheboygan. Accordingly after remaining at the Bay a week or two he took passage on board the steamer Michigan in company with Mr. Farnsworth, a partner with Brush, Rees & Company, and landed at Sheboygan on the i6th of June. After visiting Farnsworth's mill and examining the ground, he concluded that, although now a primeval forest, it would be a favorable point for business, and determined to locate here. In company with Farnsworth, he then started for Chicago on horseback along the lake shore, intending to attend the sale of city lots on the Sheboygan plat. He made some purchases but finally the lots reverted back to the original owners. Returning to Cleveland he took his family and also a stock of groceries and dry goods, and set sail in a brig for the upper lakes. Touching Green Bay as all vessels did at this period, he landed at Sheboygan about the middle of August. It was his intention to board at the Sheboygan House but the family that was to keep the house had not yet arrived, neither was the house in a condition to be occupied. In this dilemma, Mr. Cole piled up his dry-goods boxes on the bank of the river, and by stretching carpets and blankets over them, constructed a sort of tent in which the family lived for about two weeks. Mr. Dye's family had been here a week when Mr. Cole arrived, and Mrs. Cole, in speaking of this period, says she was very well satisfied with her habitation, but when she saw that Mrs. Dye, who was almost the only woman about her, was sick and helpless and indeed had been brought from the vessel in that condition, with a little child of a year old very ill, and when she looked upon her surroundings, a wild shore almost uninhabited except by the dark savages of the forest, she experienced for a short time those feelings of homesickness of which most pioneer women know something at one time or another; but they passed off the first day of their arrival, never to return, and Sheboygan county has ever since been to her an accepted and loved home.
But soon the Sheboygan House was enclosed, and before it was completed they moved into it and Mr. Cole opened his stock of goods under the name of C. D. Cole & Company. William Ashby came from Oneida county, New York, in the fall of 1835, with sixteen others, all of whom had been hired by an agent of Farnsworth, Rees & Company, to come to Menominee and work at the lumbering business, for it will be recollected that, previous to this time, most of the laborers about Green Bay were Frenchmen who, although preferable to the Indians, were much inferior to the Americans. Mr. Ashby and the others came to Buffalo where the foreman presented an order to the captain of the steamboat from Farnsworth for their passage. They came to Detroit on this order, went to a hotel and remained several weeks, boarding on the credit of Farnsworth & Company, until their bill amounted to eighty dollars. This was paid by the company and they embarked on board the Jefferson, a sail vessel belonging to Farnsworth who owned also another vessel, the Traveler, and whose credit was good for a large amount anywhere on tfie lakes. Having remained a year at Menominee, Ashby, with ten others, started for Milwaukee by land through the woods. Having an order from Farnsworth on Juneau for their pay as that trader had been receiving lumber from Menominee, they came to the Sheboygan river. At the mill the people were out of flour, but had potatoes and beef. The party got a few crackers of Cole down at the mouth of the river, and pursued their way on to Milwaukee, but could get no pay of Juneau. Being obliged to wait I concluded,' says Mr. Ashby, 'to return to Sheboygan, and with a single companion retraced my steps to that promising land.' Arriving at Sheboygan, the Sheboygan House, the warehouse and a house that Dye lived in, were all the buildings of any account in the place. Where most of the city is now built there was a growth of pines and oaks of not very heavy timber, with occasionally a maple.
THE DEACON BEATS THE DRUM
Deacon William Trowbridge was the pioneer preacher, a devoted Christian. One Sunday in April, 1861, Deacon Trowbridge was preaching a sermon on Sabbath breaking. Suddenly, near the church there were shouts and the beating of a bass drum. The old Deacon was indignant. He did not send a messenger to stop the noise but went himself. He saw young Nathan Cole beating the drum and demanded to know why he was thus breaking the Sabbath. Nathan replied:
"Why Deacon, haven't you heard that war is declared and President Lincoln has called for soldiers?"
The old Deacon's eyes flashed as he said: "So war is declared, and Mr. Lincoln has called for troops, has he?"
"Yes sir," replied the young drummer.
"Nathan, give me that drum", and the preacher who a few minutes before had been pleading for the keeping of the Sabbath day holy was beating a big drum up and down the street to call together recruits for the first company that left the county.
If Sheboygan is not the first county in Wisconsin where cheese making began, it is certainly among the first, and the initial factory was near here. Many millions of dollars worth of cheese have been shipped from the county, and the butter and cheese interests have had a large part in making Sheboygan county one of the richest in the state.
A leader in this interest was the late Hiram Smith, who served in the legislature and for years contributed largely to building up the dairy interests of the state. One of Mr. Smith's brothers was Joseph A. Smith, who nearly sixty years ago established here the Freeman. A leader among abolitionists, he made the Freeman a power in the war on slavery, and had much to do with giving Wisconsin the honor of being the first to move, practically, in the organization of a party whose principles, advocates and elections had a mighty part in forcing the war of the rebellion. And if that party had never done anything else it deserves to be remembered for centuries to come. We could not have become a great natipn without that clash of arms and its far-reaching results. For many years after that Mr. Smith was editor of the Fond du Lac Commonwealth and still later he was Governor Hoard's assistant editor on Hoard's Dairyman.
AN OLD SCHOOL HOUSE
"On a side hill by the electric line, is an old wooden building that has a history. It was the first schoolhouse built in Sheboygan county, except a small one at Sheboygan. It was built sixty-two years ago. I remember two of the teachers. The first was Miss Prentice, a large, handsome woman, who could wield a ferule on a small boy's hands and thighs to perfection. She was a good teacher in other respects. ' Another was a white-haired, awkward young man of eighteen. He taught two terms and then swarmed to Madison, where he served as legislative reporter and became a partner of General David Atwood, of the State Journal. That was Horace Rublee, President Grant's choice for minister to Switzerland, many years editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel and for a long time chairman of the republican state central committee. It was Chairman Rublee who pulled the republican party out of the greenback mad house in 1878. The state has produced no greater editor, no finer scholar; and his public career began in that old school building at Sheboygan Falls.
SHEBOYGAN FALLS CONTRIBUTES TWO CONGRESSMEN
"The village has contributed two congressmen, Charles H. Weisse, the sitting member, and the late George H. Brickner, who served two terms. Mr. Weisse is serving his fourth term. The republican party has gone to the village on two or three occasions for its candidate. It named George W. Spratt in 1908. Mr. Spratt came to Sheboygan county in 1854, when a lad of seven years. He began service as a day laborer that year, by picking up potatoes, twenty-five bushels a day for five days, at five cents a day. He invested the quarter in a first reader and began the work of his self-acquired education. Though a mere boy he was a soldier in the Civil war, has been a leading manufacturer in his own town, for twenty-five years has had a large interest in a chair factory in Sheboygan, and has served in the assembly."
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