From History of Reedsburg and the Upper Baraboo Valley, by Merton Edwin Krug, Publ. February 1929 by the author. Printed by Democrat Printing Company, Madison, Wis., Page 21-25
Reed's Burgh at Babb's Ford. We have learned something of David C. Reed, to whom, more than to any other person, may be attributed the founding of our town. Having decided to establish a mill, he employed a millwright and other hands to help build it, and found it necessary to erect a number of dwellings for these men and their families. He understood the need of womanhood among men and set about to build houses suitable for female tenure. These dwellings, five in number, were located, so to speak, directly in the center of Main Street, some little distance east of the new bridge. It will be remembered that the river at that point was usually shallow enough to be forded. The Indians had long used this point as a ford and James W. Babb is said to have crossed here in May 1845. From that date until 1851 this Indian ford was known as Babb's Ford. Just above the ford Reed had chosen to build his mill; east of it he now chose to build his town.
The row of log houses is what local historians have always called Shanty Row, for the buildings were indeed nothing but shanties, and crude ones at that. They were built of tamarack poles taken from the river. After Don Carlos Barry left the mill at Baraboo, his relatives, George and Edward Willard, continued its operation. They had a fine lumber camp farther up the river and cut their logs and floated them down to their mill. Reed's company were out of doors and without shelter, and when a detachment of these excellent, slender tamarack poles reached the mill they did not hesitate to confiscate them and turn them to building purposes.
The first house was a double house; that is, two apartments were built, each twelve by sixteen feet, twelve feet apart The tamarack poles were long enough to bridge this twelve-foot space, so the roof was extended the entire distance, forty-four feet in all. It was such a house as Mr. Babb built, minus the upper story. The roof was of elm bark, peeled horizontally from adjacent trees and used in the same manner of shingles, two tiers of bark being sufficient to cover one side of a shanty. The other shanties appear to have been built separately. Two were twelve feet square and the fifth was two feet larger each way. Cracks between the poles were chinked and daubed with pieces of three-cornered wood and a liberal portion of the native swamp mud, which in soft weather existed in generous quantities. When this combination of bog and basswood dried there was no necessity for windows for light and ventilation. Probably one of the most annoying features of these frontier dwellings was the basswood doors, which during damp weather and had a particular fondness for swelling, much too large for the aperture. If the door happened to be open during daytime often it could not be closed at night; but the terrors of this were little compared to waking in the morning and finding it could not be opened.
These pioneer abodes were each numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, the number 1 being the farthermost west and number 5 in the extreme east. This plan of numbering was adopted from the plan then in vogue in the larger cities where each dwelling was numbered. No. 1 was not used as a dwelling but rather as a bachelor's hall where the men assembled in the evening to discuss the grave topics of the day, and to indulge in devotional exercises under Elder Locke, , who professed to Seventh Day Adventism, prior to retiring to their own respective apartments. In No. 2 dwelt Mr. Powell and his family, consisting of his wife and four children, one son and three daughters. With this family lived a young man, Mr. Brace, who afterward married the eldest daughter, a girl of twenty. In house No. 3 resided William McClung, the millwright, and his wife and daughter. Dwelling No. 4 was the abode of Elder Alexander Locke. He had with him his wife and their six children, John, Susan, James, Rebecca, Levi, Phoebe. The fifth shanty was the last one put up and appears to have stood unoccupied until February 1849. From this we gather that David C. Reed did not at that time move his family to the village. He probably remained with his men, moving his family here later.
Shanty No. 5 was occupied in February 1849, by the J. H. Rork family, who had come from Racine. Unlike many settlers they came moderately well supplied with money and provisions. They had intended to come in the fall of 1848, but the illness of their son Reuben caused them several month's delay. They found the few families dwelling in the shanties in a desperate state of destitution; the only eatable thing in the whole row being a shank of venison; and they at once shared their plenty with those less fortunate. But it was only a short time until they were in equal destitution with the other pioneers. Potatoes were all that remained. They had some money, but money was of little value when there was nothing nearer than Portage or Madison to buy, and neither time nor teams to haul them hither. There were seven members in the Rork family: J. H. and Diena, the father and mother, and the children, L. E. Rork, A. Reuben Rork, Wealthy Elizabeth Rork, W. W. Rork, and O. H. Rork.
The family of Austin Seeley came to the village prior to the Rorks, but they did not take up residence in one of the five original shanties, so necessarily they are brought into our narrative at this point. Mr. Seeley had known David C. Reed in Walworth County and it was the latter's inducements that had brought him here. But upon reaching the village he was discouraged, and is said to have offered the man who brought him, his last three dollars, to take him back to Baraboo, through which village he had passed on his way up. But the man is said to have required four dollars for the service, and not having that amount Mr. Seeley was obliged to remain. This was in January 1849.
In the meantime, that is, since June 1848, William McClung, assisted by two young, unmarried men, J. L. Green and Keyes Bishop and Mr. Powell and his future son-in-law, Mr. Brace, had reared the mill, and in May 1849, it was ready to operate. From January until May 1849, Seeley had no employment, and the completion of the mill offered him the work he wanted. However, he had worked but a few days when he had the misfortune to lose one of his thumbs, and was necessarily suspended from labor for some time. When a few boards had been produced by the mill, Seeley built a part of a shanty, not in Shanty Row, but close to the mill. It was called the Mill-house. This was the first frame structure in Reedsburg, but it served as a human habitation only through the summer. That fall the Seeleys built a house, obviously the first frame house in the village; and in consequence of Seeley's missing thumb, Mrs. Seeley was obliged to lay the shingles. Thus were the first singles in the city of Reedsburg laid by a woman!
The completion of the mill marked an important era in the history of Reedsburg. Its projectors had met with many difficulties in the form of bad weather, scarcity of provisions, impassable roads, sickness, etc. As early as June 1847, work had been begun upon the dam. A pleasing feature of the work was the finding of a solid rock bottom in the river bed, upon which the dam was built. The weather being cold and labor in the water a disagreeable task, a few of the many Indians in the vicinity were employed to wade into the stream to deposit the material for the dam. They were paid in economical quantities of whiskey. In June 1848, the frame for the mill was erected. That fall the shanties were built. The next spring the mill began to operate. That is the romance of the Old Mill.
Since 1844 the Willard brothers of Baraboo had rafted their logs down the river. The dam of course put a stop to that. Out of this condition, which resulted in the Sawlog War in the spring of 1851, the town eventually was to lose its dam.
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