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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History

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This article was contributed by Kay Reitberger

Sheboygan Press April 29 1927

Forest Wilderness Transformed Into Dairy

Courageous Pioneers Blazed Civilization's Trail For Sheboygan

In startling contrast with the broad expanse of wilderness with its unbroken forests of hardwood and pine trees, for the possession of which various nomadic Indians tribes contended for years, is the rich, highly developed area of undulating farmland, which placed Sheboygan county foremost in the rank of all counties in the state of Wisconsin as the most productive dairying and agricultural region in the United States.

Cutting their way through almost impenetrable forests which extended along the entire western shores of Lake Michigan, the sturdy pioneers who first arrived in this section of the country endured extreme hardships while intrepidly they blazed the trail for civilization in the territory now known as Sheboygan county.

Since the time when the first permanent settlement was made in the fall of 1834, when William PAINE and a man named CROCKER came up from Chicago and built a saw-mill near the junction of the Mullet and Sheboygan rivers, midway between Sheboygan and Sheboygan Falls, and began to cut off the forests which covered nearly the whole country, the history of Sheboygan county had been marked by a steady and uninterrupted development of agricultural, dairying and manufacturing industries.

Farnsworth Had Confidence

The vicissitude incident to the change from a life of comparative comfort to that of constant trials of pioneering, proved disheartening, and becoming sick of the undertaking, PAINE and CROCKER, in September, 1835, sold their sawmill and other interests in this county to William FARNSWORTH, a Green Bay fur trader, who had visited the place as early as 1834 and who also spent a few months here in 1818. After the land had been surveyed, it was offered for sale in Green Bay in November, 1835, and FARNSWORTH became owner of a half-interest in the village plat of Sheboygan. A sixteenth part of that interest he subsequently sold during the temporary "land craze" of 1836-37 for the nominal sum of $30,000, and another sixteenth part brought him $25,000.

From this time on, for a number of years FARNSWORTH was an active figure in the settlement and consequent development of the area, located in, and tributary to, the city of Sheboygan. It was through his efforts that several families of white settlers were brought to this county, who formed a nucleus for the settlement which later became the village of Sheboygan Falls.

First White Woman

While in Chicago for the purpose of engaging help to carry on his lumbering interests, FARNSWORTH engaged the services of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan FOLLET. The couple arrived in Sheboygan from Cleveland, Ohio, in the fall of 1835, Mr. FOLLET to work in the mill and his wife to cook for the men employed there. Mrs. Eliza FOLLET, therefore, was the first white woman to become a permanent resident of the county, and did not see another white woman until the following year.

Mr. FARNSWORTH later moved to Green Bay where he continued to reside until his death which occurred several years ago. The news of his demise caused great sorrow among many of the old pioneers who were intimately acquainted with Mr. FARNSWORTH and who were familiar with the very important part he had taken in promoting the growth and development of this section of the county.

More Settlers Arrive

Early in the summer of 1836, Charles D. COLE and family settled on the present site of Sheboygan. A little later, A. G. DYE, who had been engaged by Mr. FARNSWORTH, in Chicago, to build a warehouse here, arrived with his family and several carpenters to assist in the work. They made the trip on the schooner Michigan, first going to Green Bay and were nearly a month making the voyage. In the fall of the same year, William ASHBY came on foot from Green Bay to engage in lumbering at the FARNSWORTH mill, and in December of that year, the GIBBS brothers, John D., James H. and Benjamin L. arrived and settled in the present town of Lima. They were eight days in cutting their way through the woods from Milwaukee, a distance of about 50 miles.

During the ensuing winter and early spring there was a season of prosperity which greatly encouraged these earliest settlers; but following the collapse of the land speculative period in Sheboygan and the resultant sudden departure of all the families, with the exception of Captain THORPE, who remained, it is interesting to note that, in the early part of 1840, the only people living in the county were James FARNSWORTH and family, who resided within the limits of the present city of Sheboygan which then contained eight or possibly nine unoccupied houses built during the "boom" of 1836-37; John JOHNSON and family, who lived near the cemetery, while two miles up the river, where William FARNSWORTH built his sawmill, there lived Alvah RUBLEE, Adonikan FARROW and William ASHBY.

At Sheboygan Falls, a sawmill and three houses had been built. The inhabitants were Steven PALMER, Col. Silas B. STEDMAN, C. D. COLE, a shoemaker named John McNISH and David GIDDINGS, who was a member of the territorial legislature. William TROWBRIDGE and his son Benjamin lived two miles west of the Falls. In what is now the town o f Lima, lived A.G. DYE, Benjamin FIRMAN, the three GIBBS brothers and Dr. HOFFMAN.

At that time the nearest neighbors on the north were at Manitowoc Rapids, while on the south, with a single exception in Washington county, there were no inhabitants until within about six miles of Milwaukee. On the west and northwest there was an unbroken wilderness, with no signs of civilization nearer than Lake Winnebago and Green Bay. Settlers obtained supplies mostly from Milwaukee and brought in an Indian canoe. While a little wheat was raised in 1840, there was no mill for grinding it. On one occasion a load of condemned provisions from Green Bay, arriving in Sheboygan during the winter of 1836-37, was considered a "God-send" by the settlers.

In 1840 the only blacksmith shop in the county was located at Sheboygan Falls, and was operated by Deacon TROWBRIDGE. Mr. TROWBRIDGE was also the only preacher, and he called his people together for religious worship by a blast from a long tin horn.

List Of Inhabitants

During the ensuing two years, the inhabitants were augmented by the arrival of several families, among which was George C. COLE who, that year, enumerated the following persons then residents of the county:

In Sheboygan and along the lake in this town were: Capt. N. W. BROOKS, wife and daughter; Stephen WOLVERTON, wife, son and daughter; Joshua BROWN and wife; John GLASS and wife; Don FAIRCHILD; David WILSON and family; Alvah RUBLEE and family; David EVANS and wife, who later moved to Oshkosh; Hiram G. D. SQUIRE; William ASHBY and wife; Aaron RITTER and family, who were here for only a few months; A. FARROW; and Wentworth BARBER.

At the DYE settlement were: Asahel G. DYE and family; the widow FARMIN and son Benjamin; Newell UPHAM and wife; Chauncey HALL and family; Wendell HOFFMAN and wife; Elizabeth CADY and brother Edward.

At Gibbsville were: John D. GIBBS and family; James H. GIBBS and wife; Benjamin L. GIBBS and wife; John JOHNSON, wife, sons George, Michael, Robert, John and William, and daughters Ann and Maria; Peter PALMER and wife; William PALMER; Leroy PALMER; and Albert W. KNIGHT and wife.

At Sheboygan Falls were: Albert ROUNSEVILLE . wife and two children; Benjamin C. TROWBRIDGE, wife and family; including Alvira O'CAIN, Maria DIECKMAN, Seth MORSE, Samuel ROUNSEVILLE, Herman PIERCE, Nelson BRADFORD, George C. TROWBRIDGE, all of the latter living in one house; Silas STEDMAN, wife and family; David GIDDINGS and wife; Charles D. COLE, wife and family; and George T., William H. and James R. COLE. after his mother and three sisters and his brother George lived with Charles D. COLE.

On the TROWBRIDGE farm were William TROWBRIDGE, wife and sons, William S., James T., Thaddeus and John.

Mail By Indian Pony

Charles D. COLE was postmaster, the mail being carried every week between Milwaukee and Green Bay by a Frenchman, on an Indian pony. Mr. COLE was one of the earliest dealers in merchandise in Sheboygan.

William TROWBRIDGE, being what is called in the East a whitesmith, did the blacksmithing for the entire neighborhood. H. PIERCE was a miller; Benjamin L. GIBBS did a little tailoring, and James H. GIBBS did something in shoemaking. Thus the earliest settlers managed to assist each other until conditions were improved by the arrival of immigrants and the further development of the county.

A settlement of Fourierites was begun in the town of Mitchell in 1846 by a colony from the state of New York, but failing to secure a charter from the legislature, it broke up, only three families remaining in the county. In the same year the Dutch settlement in the town of Holland was begun, G. H. TE KOLSTE being the pioneer of that nationality.

13,400 Immigrants In 1853

While the number of settlers gradually increased each year, it was not until about 1845 to 1850 that rapid strides were made. It was about this time that the Germans began to settle in the county in considerable numbers. H. C. HELDE, of Milwaukee, and a brother of his, with Diedrich LOGEMAN, George THIERMAN and Diedrich BARTELS, were the first German residents, settling in the town of Sheboygan Falls. They inaugurated the movement which resulted in the influx of this industrious class of people, who increased rapidly until they became the predominant nationality, which they still are in the county. The state immigration agent's reports show that during the summer of 1853, there were 13,400 immigrants who landed in Sheboygan.

For a number of years after the first settlement of the county, the only connection which the earliest inhabitants had with the outside world was by means of boats on the lake, which occasionally touched at Sheboygan. Except in the winter time, when all communication with the outside world was cut off for months at a time, the arrival of mail was the event of the week. The trip from Milwaukee was sometimes made by land, but this was so difficult that it was seldom undertaken with loaded teams. The overland trip was often made along the beach and near the shore of the lake.

First Roads In The County

The two first roads in the county were established by territorial legislature of 1838-39. One of these roads extended from Sheboygan, by way of Hustis Rapids, on Rock river near Horicon, to Madison, and the other was laid out from Sheboygan Falls, and thence to Fond du Lac. The commissioners for the former roads were B. L. GIBBS, of Sheboygan; James THAYER, of Manitowoc, and John HUSTIS, of Milwaukee, and for the latter road the commissioners were Charles D. COLE and David GIDDINGS, of Sheboygan and John BANNESTER, of Fond du Lac.

A government appropriation of $3,000 was expended on the improvement of the Fond du Lac road in 1845.

In 1851, the Sheboygan and Fond du Lac plank road was chartered, and was completed in July, 1852. Two years later the Sheboygan and Calumet plank road was incorporated; completed to Howards Grove in 1856, and built to Kiel, Manitowoc county in 1859. On September 4, 1852, the Sheboygan River Plank Road company was organized at Sheboygan Falls, with J. F. SEELY, president; S. B. ORMSBEE, secretary; and John KELLEY, treasurer.

That the early settlers considered roads of even greater importance than educational institutions, is shown by the fact that at a local town meeting, when it was proposed to raise $100 for roads and $1,000 for schools, the voters reversed the sums giving the $1,000 to the roads.

Raise Good Wheat

For a number of years during the earliest settlement of Sheboygan county, there was not a sufficient amount of provisions raised in the county to provide the residents with what they actually required for their subsistence; but the agricultural resources were soon developed so as to no longer necessitate the importation of staple products. So rapid was the development that in 1867 the shipment of surplus products of the soil in Sheboygan county amounted to $1,500,000.

Wheat formed the main crop, and was of such superior quality that Sheboygan county grown wheat had acquired a reputation in all of the principal markets of the country and enjoyed the distinction of a special quotation in Milwaukee, Buffalo and New York. Rye, barley and oats of fine quality were also produced in large quantities. In reference to the prosperity of agricultural interests in the county, old residents stated that there had never been a failure of crops such has occasionally has occurred in many other localities.

During this period of development, considerable attention was given to sheep raising, and as a result wool formed a large and profitable industry in the county. Some of the highest grade sheep if Vermont were brought to Sheboygan county, and the quality of wool improved until it sold in the markets of New England at an advanced price over that of old Vermont herself.

Cheese Wins Honors

It was about this time that dairying, which now makes Sheboygan known in all the leading markets of America and Europe, began to assume a permanently important character. N. C. HARMON, of Lyndon, was awarded the first premium for cheese made in the county, at the fair of the Sheboygan Agricultural Society, held at Sheboygan Falls, September 24 and 25, 1857. The following year John J. SMITH procured the first cheese vat and began manufacturing on the cooperative plan, collecting curd of his neighbors. It was not until 1859, however, that a regular cheese factory was started. In that year Hiram SMITH took milk from his patrons, paying cash or manufacturing for a percentage of the cheese made.

It is said that when John J. SMITH first exhibited Sheboygan cheese in Chicago, dealers would not look at it, and that SMITH had to offer to pay a man for his time if he would examine it. But he sold the cheese and, in 1875, the export trade of cheese made in Sheboygan county, had reached 50,000 boxes, while buyers from Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Montreal and Liverpool were present at a meeting of the dairy board.

In addition to its other achievements, Sheboygan county has gained an enviable reputation for its educational facilities and also for its churches. In 1870, there had been erected in the county 120 schoolhouses and more than 50 churches. Many of the schoolhouses were then being used for church purposes.

Mills Are Numerous

A review of the developments up to this time reveals that, in 1849, there was one flouring-mill in the county, carrying four run of stones, two custom mills, one steam-mill, seventeen sawmills running by water power, and two foundries, four or five wagon shops, thirteen cooper shops, a fanning-mill, (?)three ship yards, two of which were operated with steam machinery, and two brickyards turning out from 300,000 to 800,000 beautiful cream colored brick annually. In 187? there were seventeen grist-mills and twenty-six sawmills. The value of leather manufactured amounted (?) that year to $200,000, while $32(?)000 worth of wagon stuff and $29(?)000 worth of cooper's stuff were shipped out of the county.

A quarter of a century after the first settlement, Sheboygan county, in 1860, had a population of (???), residing in 5,469 dwelling houses, and the value of real estate that year amounted to $(??)211,021. The number of acres of improved land was 397,245 (?), the value of personal property was given as $1,543, 532. The value of agricultural products was $532(?)403. and of manufactured articles $722,140. In 1879, the population had increased to 31, 759 living in 5,738 dwelling houses. The value of real estate of which there were 150,093 acres of improved land amounted to $11,266,749 (?) and the personal property thereon was valued at $4,252, 611. Agricultural products were valued at $2,975(???) 892, and manufactured articles at $1,765,953. In 1880, the population of the county numbered 24, 221.

Agricultural Production

A statement of the production of the county, carefully compiled from the year 1870, indicated that a great advancement had been made in agriculture. From very small beginnings there were then owned in the county, 6,518 horses; 22,204 meat cattle; 38,378 sheep; 8,504 swine, and 94 asses.

There was produced in cereals, (???) bushels of wheat; 90,824 bushels of rye; 126,651 bushels of (?); 425,374 bushels of oats, and (?) bushels of barley.

(?) Productions were 139,057 bushels of potatoes; 39,424 tons of (?); 354,249 pounds of wool; 710,(???) pounds of butter, and 85,565 pounds of cheese.

A similar report on agricultural production in Sheboygan county was that in 1880 there was raised (???) bushels of wheat; 312,418 bushels of corn; 544,280 bushels of (?); (???),077 bushels of barley; (???) bushels of rye; 168,031 bushels of potatoes; 66,716 bushels of root crops; 221,503 bushels of (?), 1,287 bushels of clover (?); 14,620 pounds of hops, and (?) tons of hay.

There were 18,688 cows owned in the county valued by the assessors at $332,793. The dairy products amounted to 419,711 pounds of butter, and 4,294,509 pounds of cheese. The yield of peas was estimated by dealers at from (?) to 69,999 bushels.

In that year there were 9,125 (?); 31,522 meat cattle; 25,(?) sheep; and 10,109 swine.

The figures given above, showing the production of cheese in 1880, were taken from the reports made by the assessors, on file in the office of the county clerk; but the (?) Bank of Sheboygan at which most of the transactions were made, kept a record of them which shows 4,768,110 pounds were shipped by the Lake (?) railroad alone in that year. Shipments over other routes, and (?) estimates made in reference to the yield in the western part of the county, placed the total production of cheese in 1880 at not less than 6,000,000 (?) pounds.

County Expenses

The county expenses for the year 1844, taken from a report of the county commissioners for that year amounted to $2,000.90, including the following list of (?): For county officers, printing and incidentals, $395.40; support of the poor, $14.75; support of (?), $220.92; roads and bridges, $311.20; contingent expenses, $70.96; county tax, $1,(?) amount in treasury on January 1, 1844, $892.20. This account bears the signature of Sylvanus WADE; B. R. FARMIN; and A. (?). KNIGHT, County Commissioners, and of W. W. KELLOG, Clerk.

Taxable Property

The following table shows the total aggregate of real and personal property, subject to taxation, in the county from 1859 to 1873.


The ratio of taxes levied during the same period for the city of Sheboygan was as follows:


Value Of Land

The value of land, according to the assessors' reports for 1867, shows that the lowest was in town of Mitchell, which was valued at (?) per acre, and that the highest was in town of Sheboygan where land was valued at $13.00 per acre. The towns of Greenbush, Rhine, Russell and Sherman, the value placed on the land by the assessors was (?) per acre, in towns Lyndon, (?) and Sheboygan Falls at $9.00 per acre; in towns Holland, Herman and Wilson, $9.25; in town of Lima, $9.75,; and in town of Plymouth, $10.50 per acre.

A comparison of values in the various towns in the county is shown in the annual report of the assessors, compiled for 1868 and 1869, and which were as follows:

Russell$ 87,121$119,00
Sheb. Falls$247,641$316,000
Vill. of Sheb Falls$136,942$171,000
City of Sheboygan$708,072$885,000

The total number of acres assessed in 1865 was 318,072 and the aggregate assessment amounted that year to $4,08?,724 while in 1869 there was a total of 322,440 acres assessed at $4,925, 000.

In 1868 there was a total of $5,???.20 raised for county school purposes and in 1869 $5,935 for a similar purpose.

In 1870, the aggregate tax assessment of all towns, villages and cities in the county was $6,509,000 of which amount $914,000 was assessed in the city of Sheboygan. In 187? the total was $8,934,421,(??) city assessment amounting to $?,433,344.

Four Wards In Sheboygan

In 1873 there were only four wards in the city of Sheboygan, represented in the city council by the following aldermen: First Ward, (?) SANDROK; Second Ward, John (?) THAYER; Third Ward, Chas. (?); Fourth Ward, Henry SCHEELE.

In 1872, according to the assessors' report, there were no watches owned nor in the possession of any person in the towns of Herman, Holland, Mosel, Rhine, Russell, Scott and Wilson, and there were no musical instruments reported in towns Herman, Mitchell, Russell and Scott. In the same year, with the exception of the bankers themselves, there was only $12,000 worth of bank stock owned in the county.

In 1874 the reports of the assessors show that there was a total tax assessment in the county amounting to $8,886,911, of which $1,426,676 was in the city of Sheboygan. In 1875, the assessment increased to $9,005,290, of which amount $1,450,384 was in the city of Sheboygan, and in 1876 the assessment roll shows a total of $9,121,887 in the county, $1,550,384 of which was assessed upon property in the city of Sheboygan.

Property Assessments

The phenomenal growth and the consequent enhanced value of property in the county is shown in the following table, which includes the aggregate assessments of real and personal property in the years running consecutively from 1916 to 1926 inclusive. The figures show the aggregate assessment of the county and also the assessment of properties in the cities of the county.

1916......$ 63,729,326......$28,495,294
1917......$ 71,457,378......$31,328,355
1918......$ 78,443,981......$35,360,123
1919......$ 86,066,924......$38,257,572
1920......$ 94,807,937......$44,262,144
1921......$ 99,363,940......$49,139,865

School taxes during the same period were as follows:


The total number of acres assessed in the county was as follows:

Towns - 231,234 agricultural acres assessed at $23,027,259; marsh land 55,423 acres assessed at $1,457,604; timber land 24,190 acres assessed at $1,374,752, making a grand total of 314,654 acres assessed at $25,859,752.

Villages and Cities - 3,611 acres assessed at $529,705; assessed value of residence land $7,151,460; mercantile land $2,873,855; manufacturing land $882,910; and agricultural land $529,705.

The assessed value of improvements in the towns - agricultural $10,796,885; residence and mercantile $2,371,475; and in the villages and cities - $23,584,345; mercantile $6,511,780; manufacturing $9,101,450; and agricultural $407,570.

The population of the county in 1850 was 8,379. In 1855 it had increased to 20,391, of which number 3,630 resided in the city of Sheboygan.

Court House Built

The court house was built in 1867-68. The entire cost, including out-buildings, fences, furniture, and all other expenses, was $65,000. The city of Sheboygan donated the land, and the clock and the bell in the tower.

While some of the earliest history appearing in this review has been written before and much of it known to many old settlers, the major part of the history published in this issue of The Press appears for the first time. It includes many intimate happenings which will prove interesting to a large number of readers and, at the same time, be a valuable contribution to the history which has already been written of Sheboygan county.

Considerable time was required and trouble was experienced in compiling the events which are linked with the earliest settlement and the development of the county. The facts were obtained from many of the oldest living residents of the respective towns, and their knowledge of events may be relied upon as being accurate and authentic in every detail.

The various towns and their chronological order of settlement are as follows: Sheboygan Falls 1835; Lima 1836; Lyndon 1840; Wilson 1840; Holland 1841; Greenbush 1844; Plymouth 1845; Mitchell 1846; Sherman 1846; Herman 1846; Scott 1847; Mosel 1847; Russell 1848; and Rhine 1850. Mosel, the northeast town in the county, is the smallest, having only eighteen full and six part sections. Greenbush, located in the extreme western part of the county, is the largest having forty-eight full sections. Russell, in the northwest corner of the county, has twenty-four full sections. Wilson has twenty-two full and six part sections. Scott, the southwest town of this county, Rhine, Herman, Sherman, Mitchell, Plymouth, Lyndon, Lima and Sheboygan Falls, each have thirty-six full sections, and Holland, the southeast town in the county, has forty full and seven part sections.


The population of Sheboygan county in 1850 was 8,379, ad from that year on there was a rapid increase in practically every town in the county.

The following table will prove interesting as showing the growth in population of the city of Sheboygan and the various towns since 1855.

City of Sheboygan3,6304,2715,3106,828
Town of Sheboygan8709451,4031,506
Town Wilson7361,1111,2771,222
Town Mosel8269771,0881,093
Vill. Sheb. Falls9821,1751,175 
Town of Sheb.Falls2,3131,9012,0491,910
Town Plymouth1,6422,1612,2802,675
Town Greenbush1,0181,5971,9411,973
Town Russell204570628550
Town Rhine7781,8941,6721,569
Town Herman1,3591,9192,2522,237
Town Scott9371,2151,4481,504
Town Lyndon1,2401,4981,5521,658
Town Lima1,2941,7892,1922,316
Town Holland1,8542,2372,7062,937
Town Mitchell6499461,1251,181
Town Sherman1,0411,5091,6661,687

In the summer of 1851 the county erected a wooden jail on Lot 118 of Ellis Addition, which now forms a part of the present site of the court house. In 1853 a brick building for a portion of the county offices was built at the corner of N. Eleventh street and Center avenue on lands leased of Hon. David TAYLOR. Prior to 1858 the county offices appear to have been kept where it was most convenient for the individual officers. The register of deeds from 1845 to 1849 was located in the Exchange block on Pennsylvania between N. Seventh and N. Eighth streets, then in the Bank of Sheboygan block for a short time, when it was again removed in 1851 to the New York block.

All of these building were of frame construction, but in 1854 the records were taken to a fire-proof building erected by the county in the rear of MALLMAN's block, northwest corner Center avenue and N. Seventh street, where the office remained until 1858 when all the county offices were located in ZAEGEL's block, now the telephone exchange building at the northeast corner of New York avenue and N. Eighth street.

Owing to an unfortunate disagreement between the owner of ZAEGEL's block and the county board, the offices were removed to OTTEN's block, at the southwest corner of Center avenue and N. Eighth street where a large portion of the records were destroyed by fire on January 1, 1860.

In November, 1860, the records were again moved to the new county buildings in the old Third ward, located at the southwest corner of Pennsylvania avenue and S. Fourteenth street, where they remained until 1868 when they were taken to the present court house.

The Honorable Court appears to have had an uneasy time for several years during the early years of its history in this county. The sessions were held at the following places:

1846-47 in the schoolhouse.
September term 1847 in "The Academy."
September term 1848 in the Congregational church.
March term 1849 in B. TEYN's Assembly rooms.
September term 1849 in the Presbyterian Meeting House.
1851 in the basement of the New York block.
1858 in the old Turner Hall.
1860-68 in ZAEGEL's block.
In November, 1868, court was first held in the present court house.

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