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Bohi, M. Janette / A history of Wisconsin State University Whitewater, 1868-1968

1 In the beginning: nation, state, and village (1837-1868),   pp. 7-[18]

Page 12

Whitewater University 1868-1968 
meetings and the pioneers once more turned their attention toward laying
up treasures in heaven. 
By 1850 Whitewater's 1,230 citizens were comfortably nestled in their 
corner of Walworth County, which numbered 17,862. Among the 9 towns 
for which there were agricultural statistics, Whitewater stood third in 
the amount of improved land. There were 76 farms of 100 acres or more, 
with John M. Clark holding 1100 A. and Henry J. Starin 1800 A. The 
148 farms included 6,637 improved acres valued @ $182,540.30 All the 
basic businesses had been founded except Esterly's and the cultural 
necessities had been provided for. As Oak Grove Cemetery began receiv- 
ing a few of the older pioneers, younger men of stamina took their places
to make the 1850's a building decade. Although the town did not grow 
numerically (there were 228 fewer residents in 1860 than in 1850), eco- 
nomic stability and governmental durability were such that at the end of
1854 there were few private debts; courts, sheriffs, and constables "had
little or nothing to do, and lawyers were forced to turn land agents."31
The community was ready to launch projects of enduring significance. 
Not satisfied with the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad which ele- 
vated Whitewater from the pioneering stage, local enthusiasm demanded 
a share in the Wisconsin Central project which envisioned a line that 
would cut diagonally across the country from Geneva in the southeast 
through Elkhorn and Whitewater in the northwest, then to Jefferson, 
Portage, and Superior. A charter was obtained in 1853 and all three towns
pitched in with subscriptions-Geneva $25,000, Elkhorn $15,000, and White-
water $40,000, indicative of the latter's prosperity. Rufus Cheney, Jr. was
the local representative on the board, and almost every family took from
one to five shares. Judging from the success of the Milwaukee Road, it 
seemed that soon Whitewater would be a booming metropolis of first-rate 
industrial importance. George Esterly later paid tribute to the railroad
when he pointed out that in 1854 the taxable property in the town was 
$127,000 and by 1869 it had jumped to $1,600,000. An average annual 
increase of $91,553, this was an impressive improvement over the $7,000 
average during the first 18 years of settlement. Arguing for more railroads,
he stated that Minnesota had about as many miles of roads as Wisconsin, 
Iowa more than double, and Illinois six times as many, with "wealth
in the 
same proportion.32 It was fortunate that several roads were chartered 
before the panic of 1857, which caught the Wisconsin Central at White- 
water and left the enterprise with blasted hopes, unfulfilled pledges, an
unfinished roadbed with 18 miles of track, and some worthless record books
which were transferred to Whitewater-prophetic of the day when it would 
be an industrial ghost town. 

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