Early Elkhart Lake Settlers
How surprised and delighted the first white man must have been when Elkhart Lake burst on his view after probably trudging all the way from Lake Michigan westward through the underbrush of dense forests, the way leading always upward and in many places over quite percipitous obstructions. The continuous climbing had certainly not prepared him for his discovery of one of the loveliest inland lakelets of which Wisconsin possesses many hundreds.
There is no record of the first white man so favored, but the Press-Telegram is happy to be able to save from oblivion the names of most of Elkhart Lake pioneers, partially secured from records in the office of the register of deeds, but mostly from the storehouse of pioneer information located under the slouch hat of "Ted" Sharpe, whose father, Peter Sharpe, in 1855 settled on the land abutting on the lake and still owned and occupied by the son, on which he has for many years and to this day conducted a very popular summer resort, including a hotel, detached cottages n'ev'rything.
Back in 1846, when Sheboygan county was yet about as thinly settled as the Sheboygan Marsh is up to the present time, J. L. Moore came from Sheboygan and took up most of the land surrounding Elkhart Lake, comprising about 3,000 acres, but in the course of the succeeding years it all passed piecemeal into other hands.
Eric Tallmadge came in 1852 and built his habitation on the high land skirting the sundown border of the lake.
Henry Davidson came in 1856, and, as far as known, was the first man to play the role of host to passing strangers, of which class of guests there were very few in those early days, but his enterprise presaged the building of the many houses of public entertainment which have since made Elkhart one of the most popular summer resorts in Wisconsin, which is saying much, as all the world knows by this time.
Louis O'Dell, a little later, built and conducted a little hostelry on the Plymouth-Holstein road, which runs along the north-eastern border of the lake. Before these primitive inns were available for the passing travelers, camping was the popular and only means of securing any creature comforts in the neighborhood of Elkhart.
The immediate environs of Elkhart Lake were up to the early seventies still steeped in the drowsiness which had its beginning with that of the world itself, but the coming of the railroad, then known as the Wisconsin Central, soon brought noise into the silence.
William Schwartz, of Plymouth, bought the land on which he built the first Elkhart Lake railway depot and a comparatively pretentious hotel, all out of his own resources. The depot and ground on which it stood he later sold to the railway company and the hotel to his brother, John, who in the following years developed it into the present fine Schwartz resort hotel, and which he subsequently sold to the Bloomfield interests, and after twenty years it passed to its present owners, the Netzer interests.
With the building of the railroad through Elkhart Lake the community developed. "Bill" Schwartz bought the land which he then platted and sold by the lot. August Riess built and operated the first general store.
About 1880 C. Valet Pettibone of Fond du Lac built the resort hotel still operated and known as Pine Point, which about twenty years later he sold to George Dieffenthaler and Walter Stark. Mr. Dieffenthaler later selling his interest to Mr. Stark, who still owns and operated it in season.
"Bill" Schwartz built, besides the hotel bearing his name yet, the Bellevue (now Elm Park) hotel, opposite the former, the Opera House adjoining it, and Fleck's hotel on the opposite side of the lake. Yes, the indefatigable "Bill" was a pioneer hustler to whom Elkhart Lake owes much in securing for it the enviable place on the Wisconsin summer resorts map, it now holds so securely. He was also a leader in Plymouth industrial enterprises, having built there, among other things, a flour mill, woodworking factories, and carried out big railroad grading contracts.
The Osthoff, one of Elkhart's most popular and largest hotels, was built about 1884, the original unit having been added to from time to time as the hotel increased in popularity. It is now owned by the Osthoff Hotel company and is very satisfactorily operated and managed by Otto Just, who always endeavors to live up to his name.
Before its close this sketch must revert to pioneer times, in which there lived at Elkhart Lake, among the settlers already mentioned and others, William H. Seaman, father of the judge of the same name, both now long passed away, the latter after a brilliant career as jurist; Elida Carver, Silas Stewart, Ed. Randall, William Reinecke, and Jake Krummer. The last named operated the first saloon at Elkhart.
The very first hotel on Elkhart pretentious enough to be worthy of bearing the name was built by a man Michaelis on the present site of the Gottfried villa property. It contained 100 rooms, a capacity which proved to be far ahead of the time. It was never successfully operated, was soon boarded up and after ten years burned down.
Fire also sported with the first Schwartz hotel, which burned to the ground in 1890 but was immediately rebuilt by the indomitable owner. By the way, when the ground for the hotel was excavated the skeletons of two human beings were brought to light, evidently once the personal property of so many Indians, with the members of which race living in the neighborhood of the lake J. L. Moore, although not at all given to the sport of Nimrod, was on very friendly terms, and for whom he performed many a kindly service.
Richard Bruns, one of Elkhart Lake's present honored farmer population, can point with satisfaction to his own grandfather, D. Bruns, who bought in his day the Davidson property from William Deuel some years after the latter had acquired it from its original owner.
The germ out of which the present big Schwartz hotel developed was planted by William Mallory in the form of a little "way house," long before real hotels for Elkhart were dreamed of. This little house "Bill" Schwartz later enlarged into the hotel which, as already above mentioned, burned down in 1890 and was then rebuilt quite as it stands today, but improved and enlarged to meet the growing demands of its patronage.
Sigmund Bloomfield, who was a brother of the world-famous piano virtuoso, Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler, was for two decades, until his death, only a few years ago, the genial impersonator of hospitality at the Schwartz hotel, and for many seasons his famous sister was there the guest of the devoted brother.
The reader would look in vain in any 1921 directory for the names of the pioneers mentioned in this sketch, for the pioneer adults of Elkhart Lake have all gone to their last rest. But of the pioneer children there is one still very much alive whose name was presented early and first above, our esteemed friend, "Ted" Sharpe, who came to Sheboygan with his father's family from New York state in 1848. They were of the sturdy, industrious, thrifty Dutch stock which first settled Manhattan Island and founded the New Amsterdam which later became the present metropolis of America, New York City.
Peter Sharpe tarried in Sheboygan seven years after his arrival here, and then moved to Elkhart Lake with his family, his wife, two sons and one daughter. The elder son, Ed., became a journalist, but the younger, "Ted," loved the outdoor too much to exchange it for the city life, and he has called Elkhart Lake his home ever since he first came there. And there he proposes to live until he migrated where we all hope to meet finally. His seventy-six years sit lightly on his still robust frame, and he yet shoulders his gun and handles his fishing tackle with the skill and success of the old-time woodsman.
Mr. Sharpe has witnessed the development of Sheboygan county cut of a wilderness into its present high state of cultivation and culture. He remembers early days in the city of Sheboygan better then where he laid his briar pipe. He loves to make mental backward excursions into Wasonceland, when Center street (now avenue) was the northern limit of civilization here; when the building of the Zaegel block (now Woolworth) was generally thought of as wild a business venture as would now be considered the building of a skyscraper on, say, Lincoln avenue.
"Ted" was then but a little boy but he "growed up" with the city and the county and is a veritable encyclopedia of pioneer intelligence, such as should be preserved for posterity. And his estimable (not saying inestimably) better half can readily fill any gap in his own memory. They are two of the few living strands which yet connect us with the beginning of things in our country. May the strands not snap for many years to come.
Copyright 1997 - 2005 by Debie Blindauer
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