The first work usually performed by the pioneer of a new country was to lake roads for the transportation of his products to the nearest markets and until this had been accomplished he used the primitive trails of the aborigines or cut crude paths through the forests. In this region the making of roads was imperative to many settlers before they were able to reach their claims and in more than one instance several days were consumed in cutting a path to the desired locality.
Wagon roads were cut through along the lake to Milwaukee and also to Green Bay during the winter of 1836-7, to obtain provisions, but the first public acts to establish highways were passed by the territorial legislation of 1838-9, when two roads were established. One of them was made to run from Sheboygan by way of Hustis Rapids on Rock river, near Horicon, to Madison and the other was laid out from Sheboygan to Rochester (now Sheboygan Falls), and thence to Fond du Lac. The commissioners for the former were B. L. Gibbs, of Sheboygan, James L. Thayer, of Manitowoc, and John Hustis, of Milwaukee; and for the latter, Charles D. Cole and David Giddings, of Sheboygan, and John Bannister, of Fond du Lac. The necessity of having good roads into the interior and the benefits to be derived from the same soon induced private capital to be invested in the building of roads and a large number of corporations were formed for the purpose of building plank or gravel toll roads, but, as with railroads, there were many more projected than built.
In 1850 the Sheboygan & Mayville Plank- Road Company was incorporated. The road was to extend from some point in the town of Sheboygan, or Sheboygan Falls, through the village of Cascade to Mayville, in Dodge county.
In 1848 the Sheboygan & Fond du Lac Plank-Road was incorporated. H. C. Hobart, C. D. Cole, J. W. Taylor and others were appointed commissioners. There was no work done on the road until 1851, when the charter was amended. The following officers were elected: H. H. Conklin, president; B. Williams, secretary ; and A. L. McCrea, treasurer. Operations on the road were commenced immediately, and by July, 1852, the road was complete from Sheboygan to Fond du Lac.
In 1852 the Plymouth & Saukville Plank and Turnpike Road Company was incorporated. W. R. Ellis, F. W. Horn, A. Lamberson, Oran Rogers, E. M. Mcintosh, John W. Taylor, William D. Lisse, LaFayette Eastman, William Payne, J. Feischbein, George C. Daniels and William Hudson were appointed commissioners. The road was to be built from Plymouth, in Sheboygan county, to Saukville, in Washington county.
In 1850 the Sheboygan & Calumet Plank-Road Company was incorporated. The road was built as far as Howards Grove, in 1856, and to Kiel, in Manitowoc county, in 1859.
The Sheboygan River Plank-Road Company was organized in September, 1852. J. F. Seeley, president; S. B. Ormsbee, secretary; and John Keller, treasurer.
In 1854 the Plymouth & West Bend Plank-Road Company was incorporated. R. H. Hotchkiss, M. M. Flint, H. N. Smith, Henry Averill, James Preston and R. C. Brazelton were appointed commissioners. The road was to have been built from Plymouth to West Bend.
In 1855 the Sheboygan Lake Turnpike & Bridge Company was incorporated. E. Keach, S. Wade and others were appointed commissioners. They proposed to build a bridge and road on section line between sections 14 and 15, 26 and 27, 34 and 35, in township 16 north, range 20 east.
The idea of building a railroad out of Sheboygan seems to have engaged the minds of the people as early as that of building plank roads. The Sheboygan & Fond du Lac Railroad Company was incorporated as early as 1847. But the company seems to have been unable to raise the necessary funds to build the road. The following communication appearing in the Milwaukee Sentinel and Gazette of January 6, 1848, illustrates the general feeling of the people in Wisconsin toward railroads at that time:
Mr. Editor: I have seen much in your city papers on the subject of roads; many are advocating railroads; that is well; but have you capital to build them, and can you for a great number of years to come, induce foreigners to invest in so new a country as yours? If not, why do you not advocate plank roads, ten miles of which can be built for the cost of one railroad, and in my opinion they would enhance the value of farming interests, as well as the general prosperity of your city more than railroads. Each farmer could take a small interest in the stock, and pay for it in materials for building, and do much of the labor, thus building up your own prosperity instead of waiting for 'dead men's shoes.' It is a subject that the present state of roads admonishes, one that should be agitated.
By a provision in the charter of the Sheboygan & Fond du Lac Railroad Company construction of the railroad was to begin within five years; so at the expiration of that time, in 1852, a new company was incorporated under the name of Sheboygan & Mississippi Railroad Company. A. P. Lyman, H. H. Conklin, W. W. King, C. D. Cole, H. N. Smith, John Bannister, A. B. Hamilton, S. W. Beall, J. P. Sherwood, Robert Jenkinson, B. F. Moore, T. B. Stoddard and James M. Shafter were appointed commissioners.
The company was organized at Sheboygan, Tuesday, April 8, 1853, by the choice of J. F. Kirkland as president, M. J. Thomas, secretary. Hon. Robert J. Walker and Harrison C. Hobart were the leading financiers in this enterprise, but before any work had been accomplished a disagreement arose with a result that these gentlemen severed their connection with the company.
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