Burlington

As published in "Commemorative Biographical Record of Racine and Kenosha Counties" (Chicago: 1906), pages 484-488

About the 15th day of December, 1835, Moses Smith and William Whiting made the first mark at Burlington. Whiting claiming on the east side of the river, and Smith on the west side, near the spot where the Perkins mill now stands. They made what was called a "jack knife" claim, by putting names and dates on a tree.

On the 27th of December, 1835, Moses Smith, William Whiting, B. C. Perce and Lemuel Smith built a shanty in the little grove in the river bend on the east side of Fox River. They cut a large white oak tree near where Muth's brewery now stands, built a rude log hut on the present farm of David Bushnell, spent three days prospecting and surveying on both sides of the river, and finally constructed a cabin on the west side.

In January, 1836, Enoch D. Woodbridge built the body of a log house on the east side, which afterward formed part of the tavern kept by Ruel Nims.

In February, 1836, Nathan H. Darling made a claim for Nelson R. Norton, on what has since been and is yet known as the Rooker farm.

In April, 1836, Moses Smith took up his residence in a shanty on the west side of the river, and in May built a log house near where the Perkins mill is situated.

In the latter part of May, 1836, James Nelson built a log house and blacksmith shop near what is now the south end of Durgin's bridge.

In June of the same year, B. C. Perce erected a building for a store, which is now, or was recently, standing on the bank of the mill pond, just outside the present fair grounds.

In July, 1836, Daniel B. Rork came, and claimed the fraction of land upon which the greater part of the present village stands.

In July of the same year David Bushnell located on his present farm, and reconstructed the cabin which had been put up in 1835 by Whiting and others. He acquired his interest in the claim for Whiting, all other parties having, I suppose, abandoned it. The same property was purchased at the land sales in 1839 by Stephen Bushnell who came to Burlington in March, 1837. George Bushnell had been here in March, '36. At this time Burlington was known as "the Lower Forks."

In August, 1836, Origen Perkins made his claim in Burlington. In September of the same year Heman Loomis made a claim to the land which was afterward his homestead, and is known as the "Loomis farm" southeast of the village.

In 1836, also, Silas Peck and family arrived, and built a house adjoining the store building previously erected by Benjamin C. Perce. Later in 1836 George Newman made a claim and built upon what is known as the "Ayer's farm." Jared and Charles Fox came during the same year.

In February, 1838, Nelson R. Norton located on the claim which had been made for him by Nathan R. Darling, and constructed a frame house with lumber which he brought from Chicago. Mr. Norton had previously resided at Chicago, and built the first bridge that ever spanned Chicago river.

Early in 1837 Origen Perkins and family permanently located at Burlington, and began their residence in a log house which he had built in the preceding year near the brickyard. William F. Lyon came also about the same time, with his family, but remained only a few months, and finally settled at Lyons, in Walworth county.

Ruel Nims and family arrived in Burlington (which was then known as Foxville) on the 10th day of January, 1837, and went into occupation of a log house on the east side of the river, built by Woodbridge, and which during its occupation by Nims was the first established public house for travelers in Burlington.

In May, 1837, Pliny M. Perkins came to Burlington from Joliet, Ill., with a drove of hogs and cattle, but did not remain.

From the best information I have, I think Samuel C. Vaughan came in 1837, and that during that year he and Moses Smith built the first mill, which was known as the "up and down saw mill." It is said, also, that the mill house built by Mr. Vaughan was the first frame building erected in the village.

On the 1st of September, 1837, Lewis Royce, Esq., settled in Burlington and built a house west of the present Burlington railroad depot. He came by way of Racine, and there met Ephraim Perkins and family, and having a team and conveyance conveyed them to Burlington, bringing also with him a barrel of flour. He found at Foxville, Origen Perkins, occupying his new homestead; Ruel Nims, on the east side of the river; a small board shanty had also been put up to maintain a claim on the Northwest one-fourth of Section 33 and was occupied by one Putnam, as a trading shop. Silas Peck had just finished a log house which still stands near the village mill. There was also an unenclosed frame for a building, on the premises afterward occupied by Origen Perkins. The log house built by Moses Smith, near the mill, was also standing, and these constituted at this time the improvements on the present site of Burlington village. Soon after his settlement in Burlington Mr. Royce established a lime-kiln, and burnt about three hundred bushels of lime during the first year of its operation.

Pliny M. Perkins permanently settled in Burlington in 1838; Richard Brown settled in the town in 1839; Liberty Fisk, in 1838; Ephraim S. Sawyer on the 14th of May, 1838, making a claim where he now resides, and buying two hundred and seventy-five acres at the land sale; Henry Edmonds also came in '38, and was the first blacksmith in the village. His shop was in a little log house near the present site of the mill.

Clark K. Norton, Thomas Toombs, George Batchelor, and L. O. Eastman settled in Burlington in 1839; Ephraim Perkins, father of Origen and Pliny M. Perkins, Joseph Rooker and James Thompson settled in 1840. I am pained to hear, that on yesterday, [21st of February, 1871] Mrs. Ruth Thompson, widow of James Thompson, was carried to her tomb. Respected and honored by friends of thirty-one years' acquaintance, a good and noble woman, whose long residence in Burlington is associated with my earliest recollections, has passed away. I take this occasion to cast a little leaf upon her grave, in tribute to her sterling worth of character, and to those noble, womanly virtues that adorned her life, and will long be cherished by mourning friends.

In 1840 John W. Edmonds settled in the town and was the first wagonmaker who located in the place.

The first physician who settled in Burlington was Dr. Edward G. Dyer, who came with his family in 1839. He had visited the place of his future home in 1836, and had on the night of his first arrival slept on the bank of Fox River in a shanty 10x12, on a puncheon floor, with seven other inmates. He walked most of the distance from Chicago, following Indian trails, guided occasionally by a stray settler whose hospitality he sought and received, and thus journeying on by the dim traces of obscure footpaths in the woods and on the prairies he crossed a stream and sat down. In his weariness beneath a great oak that was a landmark on his journey, and smoked his pipe! At sundown of that day he arrived at Foxville. At this time Origen Perkins and his hired man, Moses Smith, Silas Peck, Bostwick Beardsley and William F. Lyon were the inhabitants of what is now the village of Burlington.

Later in 1839, when he and his family arrived, they took up their abode and for a considerable time continued to live in the log house built in 1836 by Origen Perkins, near the brickyard, Mr. Perkins having removed to the claim he had made on the west side of the river. One whom I have long known recalls to-day with vivid distinctness the early years spent in that humble cabin. He remembers the rude fireplace by the light of which he read his testament at evening; the Indians peering darkly into the windows; and the wild forests to the northward, the little events that childhood magnifies into epochs, the footbridge across the river, the log house and sawmill on the west side of the pond, and the luxuriant wild grass that flourished on the bottom land west of the stream. It has passed away like a dream and I will not pause to recall it.

In 1840 Francis and Joseph Wackerman came to Burlington from New York. They were the first German family who settled in the town, but were soon followed by others in considerable numbers.

Mr. Pliny M. Perkins purchased the sawmill that was built by Smith & Vaughan, and subsequently built a grist mill in which was ground the first flour shipped from Wisconsin to New York. He opened the first store, in 1839, in a log house built by Moses Smith, and continued the business there about a year. He then with Hugh McLaughlin erected the frame structure which constitutes the present "Burlington Hotel." The west half of the building was used for a store and the balance for a hotel, which was for several years kept by Mr. McLaughlin. The completion of the house, in 1840, was signaled by a grand New Year's ball.

In the earliest days of trading at Burlington, much of it was done with the Indians encamped in Milwaukee woods. In the days of the settlement of Mr. Norton, fish and game were the staple meat. The settlers sold muskrat skins to buy butter, and ammunition with which to shoot prairie chickens. They ground grain in coffee mills, and Mr. Norton has yet the mill in which he once ground grain for samp.

In 1840, however, times were improved. In April of that year David Bushnell planted a crop of corn; on the third day after planting the rows were visible, and on the 4th day of July it was ripe and ready to harvest.

Game was abundant. Long-billed snipe and sand-hill cranes were marks for every hunter. On frosty mornings in the fall the cranes were accustomed to gather in great numbers, and hold what David Bushnell calls "regular camp-meetings," preparatory to their long flights. Prairie wolves and deer were also numerous.

In the winter of 1839, 105 deer, in a single drove, by actual count, were seen to ford Fox River near the claim of Mr. Bushnell.

The first crop of grain in the town was was raised by Moses Smith, and harvested in 1837, on the east end of the present fair grounds.

The first election was held at the house of Moses Smith, in the fall of 1836, for member of Territorial Legislature. This was the election at which Captain Knapp was the candidate and elected.

The first town meeting was held in the spring of 1838.

The Foxville post office was established early in 1837; Moses Smith, postmaster. There was a weekly mail from Racine to Mineral Point.

The first schoolhouse was built in 1839. The first school was taught in the summer of 1838 by Sarah Bacon. The first bridge across Fox River was covered with hewed logs, in the fall of 1837.

Origen Perkins was the first Justice of the Peace in Burlington. On one occasion a man called upon him for a warrant with which to make an arrest. He found Mr. Perkins digging a ditch. The complaint must be made then and there, but the justice had neither paper, pen, nor ink. Perhaps Mr. Perkins did not deem the offense a very grave one, but in the emergency of the case, he pulled off one of his boots, took from his pocket a piece of chalk, wrote the complaintants's statement on the boot leg, made him hold up his hand and swear to it, and then told him he would issue a warrant as soon as he went to the house!

The first 4th of July celebration was held in the grove on the east side of the river in 1839. Dinner furnished by Stephen Bushnell; address by Elder Lothrop, of Southport.

The first death in the town was that of Miss Amanda Hays, who died in July, 1836. The first birth was that of a son of George Newman, born in May of June, 1837.

The first woolen mill established in the county, was built in Burlington, by Ephraim and Pliny M. Perkins, in 1843.

In the summer of the same year the "Burlington Academy" was established, and was in operation with R. D. Turner as principal, in December, 1843.

I must draw to a close what I have to say of Burlington. Let me add that one of its present citizens, Capt. Francis McCumber, as commander of vessels on the Great Lakes, brought to Wisconsin, many of its settlers in 1836, '37, '38, '39 and '40. In July, 1833, he sailed up Lake Michigan in the vessel "Thos. Hart," without meeting another craft between Lake St. Clair and Chicago.

The original plat of Burlington constitutes the northeast fractional quarter of Section 32, comprising 144 acres, or 160 acres including the river. It was purchased at the land sales in March, 1939, by Silas Peck, and was surveyed and platted May 21st, 1839, by A. W. Doolittle.




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