Levi Godfrey was the first white settler in the town of Rochester. He came
into the country on foot, accompanied by John B. Wade, and arrived in
the fall of 1835. He was looking for a waterpower, and upon finding
it at the present site of Rochester village he made a claim on the west
side of Fox River. He built a shanty 16 feet square, the first structure
erected for human habitation in the town, and brought out his family to
their future Western home, in 1836. Mrs. Godfrey did not see a white
white woman during the first six weeks she spent in her new residence.
Her nearest female neighbor at that time was Mrs. Betsey Call, at
Call's Grove. G. W. Gamble, Gilman Hoyt, Martin C. Whitman, L. O.
Whitman and Mary Skinner came into Rochester in 1836, but general
emigration to the town did not begin until 1837. Philo Belden came in
June of that year but remained only a short time, returning to Rochester,
however, in June, 1839, when he made it a permanent home.
The settlers of 1837 were George E. Duncan, George Stebbins,
James H. Gipson, Benjamin Flanders, Alonzo Snow, Philander Bartlett,
Benjamin Bartlett, Thaddeus Earl, G. W. Hoyt, John Freelove,
David M. Fowler, Philander Cole, William Creirston, Sela Whitman,
Joseph Clark, Horace Frost, Patrick Laughrin, Seth Warner,
Royal Flanders, and Trystam C. Hoyt.
The settlers of 1838 were Horace Andrews, William G. Lewis,
H. S. Hulburd, I. O. Parker, Calvin Earl, Hilliard Hely, and Mrs.
Robert Adams, who was one of the pioneer women in the western part
of the county.
In '39 Obed Hurlbut, Eleazer Everit, Jacob L. Myers, Jedediah Healy,
J. H. Hickox, Abial Whitman, Pinkston Wade, Luther Whitman, G. M. Hely,
Richard E. Ela and Henry Cady made their settlements in the town.
William S. Hoy and F. E. Hoyt made permanent settlement in 1840.
William S. Hoyt was in Rochester in '37, but returned to Vermont, where he
remained three years before coming West to remain permanently.
Mr. Eleazer Everit purchased 240 acres of land at the land sales. There
was a sawmill at Rochester, and preparatory to the erection of a dwelling on
his farm he hauled two saw logs to mill and got them sawed into lumber.
He hauled the lumber back to his farm, cut down some trees for corner posts,
and with this material he built his shanty, which constituted the first
place of shelter abode for himself, his wife and two children, in the
wild interior region where he was destined to build up a fine estate.
The first season that Mr. Everit was on his farm he broke up six
acres upon which he sowed his first wheat, which produced a good crop.
He sold his first load at Southport for $13, and was paid for it in the
currency of a bank which he afterward discovered had failed two years before!
Levi Godfrey kept the first hotel in Rochester, which was opened in 1837.
It was at his log house, in October, 1836, that the celebrated "God-fry"
convention was held. Delegates came from a great distance on horseback,
and staid with him two nights, though it is said to this day that some of
those who left their homes got lost in the wilderness and never found
Godfrey's cabin. The convention was evidently anticipated as a great event,
for preparatory to it Mr. Godfrey went to Skunk Grove and bought an ox
for beef with which to feed the delegates. Dr. Cary was president of the
convention; its members slept in their blankets on the floor at night,
and dreamed over Democratic resolutions as sweetly as if Pottawotomie
Indians were not slumbering in an adjoining camp.
In the fall of 1837 Martin Whitman began the improvement of a
water power on Muskego creek.
The present Rochester waterpower was located and established by Philo
Belden. Timothy S. Green and Jeremiah Ford in 1842.
The first bridge over Fox River, at Rochester, was built in 1836,
by Ira A. Rice and John T. Palmer.
In the winter of 1836 William H. Waterman, of Racine, wade a claim in
behalf of himself, Elias Smith, Henry F. Cox, Amaziah Stebbins and
John M. Myers to the lands in Rochester village east of Fox River,
and north of Main street; and, in 1839 and 40, they operated a mill
on Muskego Creek.
On the 26th of October, 1839, Martin C. Whiteman, Levi Godfrey, Obed Hurlbut,
Hiland Hurtbut and Philo Belden, as proprietors, caused to be platted
all the village property in Rochester, on the west side of Fox River
and that portion also on the east side of the river south of Main street.
On the 9th day of May, 1840, Elias Smith, Consider Heath, David Anderson
and Margaret A. Cox, as proprietors, caused to be platted that portion of
the village tract situated east of the river and north of Main street.
The village was first called the "Upper Forks."
In the earliest years of the settlement the settlers experienced the
usual hardships of a new country. The storm would beat into their
cabins; the deep snows of long winters but an embargo upon travel,
and fish and game were at times the chief means of subsistence.
In the summer season women walked four miles following Indian trails and
carrying their babies in a basket, to visit their neighbors. Mrs. Adams
tells me that the women of those days made light of jaunts like these,
and that a pan of johnny cake and a good supply of Old Hyson made
a feast for many a tea party in those wild times. The country was singularly
free from underbrush, and travel through the woodland was therefore free
from obstruction or difficulty. As new settlers came in, they were welcomed
to the cabins of the earlier inhabitants, and when night came on they would
take their resting places on the floor, in rows, and sleep as sweetly as
if reposing on pillows of down, with angels expressly commissioned to watch
Richard E. Ela established in Rochester, in 1839, the first fanning mill
establishment in the county. He built his first mills in the cellar under
Rev. C. C. Cadwell was the first resident minister in Rochester. He settled
there in 1839. The first Church building erected in the town was built in
1844, by the Congregational Society.
I ought not to omit to mention that Emily Hoyt, daughter of T. C. Hoyt,
and now the wife of Allen Stetson, when a girl but thirteen years of
age came to Rochester with her father and brother, in 1837. She was
their housekeeper while they were making improvements preparatory to
the removal of the remaining members of the family to their Western home.
During the mornings of that summer of 1837 she was in the habit of
rising early, to prepare breakfast for her father and brother. The
morning meal over, and while the oxen were being placed before the plow,
she would hastily finish her work, fasten the door of their rude cabin,
go with the team in company with her father and brother to the breaking
field, and there, from morning until night, she followed the plow in
wearisome rounds, rather than remain alone in the cabin, exposed to
dangers from the Indians, who were prowling about in great numbers.
Philo Belden built the first brick chimney in Rochester and went to
the mouth of Root River for the brick.
Mr. Oren Wright settled in Rochester on the 2d of January, 1840. He
established a turning lathe, and manufactured the first chairs and
bedsteads that were made at any place within a distance of sixty miles west.
The first death in Rochester was that of Mrs. Wade, which occurred on
the 1st of January, 1837; and the first white child born in the town was
Henry Warner, son of Seth Warner.
Mr. Cole and Miss Fowler were the first persons married in the place. In
those days a license was required, and Mr. Cole journeyed to Racine,
on foot, for his license, which cost him $4.00.
The first justice of the peace in Rochester was Seth Warner,
the first doctor, Solomon Blood, and the first religious society, Baptists,
organized in 1837.
In 1839 the principal Indian trail ran west from Rochester to Spring
Prairie. In that year and in 1840 there was a great contest among the
people concerning the establishment of roads, and the lines upon which
they should run, and there were not wanting many persons who believed
and urged that the Indian trails would and should be adopted, as the lines
for highways and thoroughfares of travel. I think the most marked Indian
trail to be now found in the county crosses the Rochester & Burlington road,
southwest of Rochester village, and winds along the crest of the bank of
Fox River for a considerable distance, among forest trees that stood where
they now stand before Levi Godfrey's adventurous spirit had guided him to
his early home in Wisconsin.