Waterford

As published in "Commemorative Biographical Record of Racine and Kenosha Counties" (Chicago: 1906), pages 490-493

The settlement of what is now the township and village of Waterford began in 1836. The settlers of that year who yet survive and retain their original residentces are P. R. Mygatt, Samuel E. Chapman, Ira A. Rice, Archibald Cooper and Hiram Page. The first family settled in the town was that of P. R. Mygatt.

A list of the settlers of 1836 may be stated as follows: Ira A. Rice, Samuel E. Chapman and their wives, May, 1836; Archibald Cooper, September, 1836; Hiram Page, August, 1836, Levi and Hiram Barnes, summer of 1836; Benoni Buttles, June 1836; John T. Palmer, May 1836; Arad Wells, May 1836; Alpheus Barnes, Samuel C. Russ, Adney Sampson, Philip R. Mygatt, Henry and Austin Mygatt, Elisha Elms and Osborne L. Elsm, all during the season of 1836. Among the settlers of 1837 were Louis S. Merrills. Harvey Weage and Frederick A. Weage, Sautell Whitman, Israel Markham, Orrin Barry, J. S. Cooper, Dyer Buskirk, William Wade, Mr. Burbank, John Cooper, James Cooper and Lorenzo Ward. Nelson H. Palmer and Elijah K. Bent were among the settlers of 1838.

In the spring of 1836 Joseph and Tyler Caldwell settled in the town of Waterford, made their claims and built a shanty on the prairie since known as "Caldwell's Prairie".

In July, 1836, Abram Ressigue, William A. Cheney and Calvin Gault located at the same place, with their families. They lived in their wagons until they could build a log house. In the same year, Charles Dewitt, Paul W. Todd and Wesley Munger made their settlements on the prairie.

In the fall of 1837 V. M. Willard and T. W. Gault came. In 1838 Jefferson Brown and D. Wood and families, Ira Coleman and N. Van Aerman and their families also settled on the prairie.

In 1839 Lorenzo Ward, John Larkin and Edmund Flagg made their settlements.

The first frame house built on "Caldwell's Prairie" was that of Joseph Caldwell, in the fall of 1837. T. W. Gault and Mrs. O. Van Valin are now the oldest surviving residents on the prairie.

I imagine that the first settlers of 1836, when they arrived on the bank of Fox River, at the place which was destined speedily to become a properous settlement and village, were at once attracted by the picturesqueness of the scenery which broke upon their view in its native beauty, and by the high promise of future prosperity and happiness which the land to which they had come seemed to afford.

On the spot where the dwelling of Samuel E. Chapman stands was an Indian council house, called "Cadney's Castle" and all around it were Indian cornfields. The river offered unusual facilities for the establishment of a waterpower, and it was soon determined to found a village, taking its name from Waterford in the State of New York. The Indians had also, for a long time, selected the place as their ford across the stream, which gave the name adopted additional appropriateness.

The founders of Waterford Village were Samuel E. Chapman, Levi Barnes and Samuel C. Russ. O. W. Barnes and a Mr. Beebe had first made the claim, but Levi Barnes and Mr. Chapman bought them out. At the land sales in 1839 Eliphalet Cramer purchased the lands for Chapman and Barnes and conveyed to them. Mr. Ira A. Rice made a claim on section No. 27, where he now lives.

The hardships of these pioneers, during the first seasons of their settlement, were often severe. They had not only to centend against thieving Indians, NOTE: Transcriber only includes this paragraph because it is part of the published text. The KenGenWeb in no way believes that this statement is correct or is a worthy representation of actual occurances between Native Americans and settlers. but were obliged to transport their provisions and seed with ox-teams, from Racine, Southport and Chicago. There were no roads in the country; steams had to be forded, marshes traversed, and all the difficulties of travel which prevail in an unsettled region, encountered. At some seasons, hunting and fishing afforded the chief means of subsistence. The men worked days, and hunted game and speared fish by torchlight at night.

But amid all their privations the settlers were very happy, for they enjoyed the freedom and independence of their rugged life. Newcomers were always welcome to their humble hospitality; every cabin and shake-roofed house was open; friendship and brotherly love prevailed. There were no drones in those days. Every man and woman had work to do, and did it, and when one of the settlers had a job on his hands that he could not manage alone all his neighbors gave him their gratuitous assistance.

When Mr. Merrills came into the town, in 1837, he was obliged to pay $20 for his first barrel of flour, and had to split rails to pay for it. During his journey to the West, in 1837, Mr. Merrills was one day wandering in the woods on the Nippersink, and came upon a log pen about three feet high and four feet square, covered and closely chinked. Curiosity prompted him and his companion to investigate the newly discovered structure. Through a crevice in the roof they beheld a solitary Indian, sitting in the corner, painted and feathered, and well armed with rifle, tomahawk and knife. A hasty and inglorious retreat to the depths of the forest was immediately made, in momentary expectation of a farewell shot from the Pottawotomie whose dominion was thus invaded.

Samuel E. Chapman and Levi Barnes built the first log house in the village of Waterford, in 1836. It was regarded "headquarters" and with its shake roof, still stands, slowly going to decay, but in its speechless old age reviving in the minds of the old settlers interesting memories of the past.

In the fall of 1837 Messrs. Barnes and Chapman, assisted by L. D. Merrills, Archibald Cooper, Ira A. Rice, William Jones, John T. Palmer, Osborn L. Elms, Elisha Elms, and John Fisher, built the first dam across the river. The first sawmill was built in the fall of the same year, and the first gristmill in 1840 by Mr. Chapman. The first millstone used in the gristmill was twenty-two inches in diameter, and is yet preserved by Mr. Chapman. Archibald Cooper scored the first timber, and Lewis D. Merrills hewed it for the sawmill.

The first crops raised in Waterford were potatoes, and rutabagas. Rutabagas became a regular farm crop. Mr. Cooper says that at one time he lived on them alone, fourteen days. Mr. Chapman brought with him the first rutabaga seed sown in the town.

For the first johnny-cake Archibald Cooper ever ate, he ground the corn in a coffee mill at the house of Osborn L. Elms. They had with it molasses made from watermelons.

Among the settlers of 1839 was George Eaves and I judge him to have been a pretty sharp character from the following circumstance. A traveler from Milwaukee stopped, with his team, over night at the hotel of Mr. Russ. He had in his wagon what appeared to be a bag of oats. Eaves wanted oats for his own horses, and so he approached the bag and contents; but upon giving his own horses a liberal supply, he concluded that the defrauded traveler was an honest shoemaker, since the contents of the bag proved to be shoe pegs!

In the spring of 1836 Arad Wells plowed seven or eight acres on what is now the farm of Ira A. Rice, this was the first plowing done in the town, and upon the land plowed was raised the first crop of red clover grown in Waterford.

In the midst of all their hard work and struggle the settlers indulged in many amusements. The wolf hunt of 1838 was one, when the settlers armed themselves with guns, clubs, scythes, dinner horns and pitchforks and went in pursuit of wolves and wolf scalps. It is said that the hunters, under competent officers, endeavored to close in on an entire township. Concentrating their forces, however, they finally surrounded a tract of forest, every man watching for his game, and finally all gathering in the center of the wood, without encountering a solitary wolf. As a wolf hunt it was, therefore, not a success, but returning home over the "big marsh" they overhauled a wayfarer with his horses and wagon, journeying to Elkhorn, with a cargo of whisky aboard. This was game the hunters could appreciate! The driver had turned his horses loose, and was reposing. The party, under the direction of their officers, formed a hollow square around the wagon. Details of further proceedings are unnecessary. Weariness overcame many of the hunters, and the sequel gave celebrity to the wolf hunt of 1838!

It is said that there were scolding wives in Waterford, for a considerable time thereafter, and that the traveler who had been thus defrauded successfully obtained the redress for his wrongs to which in equity and sober conscience he was justly entitled!

Samuel C. Russ built the first hotel in Waterford. Levi Barnes was the settlers' first preacher. He was accustomed to gather his flock beneath the roof of Mr. Chapman's rude cabin. Some of the settlers were fond of Sunday fishing, and in one of this sermons he administered reproof for this profane practice, by saying: "Pioneers and sinners! I come to call you to repentance and as one so called, I declare to you that until you repent of your sins, you are gone, hook and line, bob and sinker!" The district school, and the first Sunday school, were taught by Harriet Caldwell in 1840.

The first justice of the peace in Waterford was Samuel E. Chapman, who was appointed by Governor Dodge.

Ira A. Rice was the first captain of the Waterford militia. Archibald Cooper was first lieutenant. Mr. Chapman had been a captain of light infantry at some time in his life, and had a wooden sword six feet long, but Captain Rice reduced him to the ranks.

One time, when Mr. Rice was a magistrate, a man was brought before him charged with stealing sheep. He was tried and convicted. For want of a statue sufficiently penal, Justice Rice sentenced the offender to twenty days hard labor on the highway, and he had to help build a bridge across Muskego creek. The first bridge across the river was built by all the settlers.

The first white female child born in Waterford was Louisa Markham, born in 1837. John T. Rice, son of Ira A. Rice, is the oldest of the present residents born in the town.

Mr. Merrills made the first cradle and with it, in July, 1837, cradled the first winter wheat that grew in Waterford. He brought five bushels of the wheat, which was threshed on the ground with oxen, and cleaned with a hand fan made from boards split out of an oak log. He paid $3 per bushel for the wheat, and fifty cents a bushel for carrying it to the mill at Root River. He got from the grinding a little bran, a little fine flour, and a good deal of shorts, but he says it all made good bread!

The first physician who came to Waterford was Dr. Blanchard, but Dr. G. F. Newell, in May, 1844, first made it a permanent location and home.

In May 1844, a writer in the Racine Advocate says of the village of Waterford, that it contains 150 inhabitants, two sawmills, two grocery stores, one public house and business enough for another; that it has a good school, a good state of society, moral and religious, and now and then an Abolitionist.




Click here to go to
WIGenWeb AHGP

Back to the Racine County Town and Village History Page