Rochester

As published in "Commemorative Biographical Record of Racine and Kenosha Counties" (Chicago: 1906), pages 488-490

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 over them.

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 his house.

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.




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