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Ela, Ida L. / The early history of Rochester Wisconsin

Early history of Rochester,   pp. [1]-14 PDF (8.9 MB)

Page [1]

    At the time the history of Rochester begins, Wisconsin was still a part
of the territory of Michigan. The portion now Wisconsin contained no white
settlements, unless the trading posts at Prairie du Chien and Green Bay,
with their military posts Fort Crawford and Fort Howard could be called such.
There were also groups of adventurers in the lead regions of the Southwestern
part, attracted by the mineral found there.
    It was not until after the Black Hawk War, in 1851-32, followed by the
ion of the lands now Southeastern Wisconsin and North-eastern Illinois, that
white men began to make homes in this section of the country.    The Potowatomies,
of whom the land was purchased in 1853, were to hold possession until 1636;
but early in the fall of the year before, pioneers found their way into the
region, ready to make claims the moment the land was open to them. Milwaukee,
Kenosha, Racine, Janesville, Burlington and Rochester made their first perma-
nent settlements within the same year.
    It was in the fall of 1855 that two enterprising and adventurous young
men, Levi Brown Godfrey and John B. Wade, knowing of the opening up of these
lands the coming year, made their way, on foot, around the southern shore
the lake from Whitmanville (now La Grange), Michigan, to which place they
come from still further east some years before.  Their purpose was to establish
themselves in the new country which offered home and plenty to those of un-
daunted energy and courage.
     In those days the essential feature in the location of a town was good
water-power, that there might be mills for sawing timber and for grinding
grain. These men had for their objective point, a place on the Fox (then
Pishtaka) river, known as the "Lower Forks", now Burlington. Arriving,
found parties from Southport,--now Kenosha, in possession of the claims they
desired, having preceded them by but a few days. Learning there of the "Upper
Forks', as the place where Musquequack River and the Fox joined five miles
above, they went on. Pleased with the location, Mr. Godfrey located his
claim there. It comprised all the present village of Rochester west of the
      Their first night they camped on the west side of the river a quarter
a mile north of the present Main street, a hollow a few rods west of the
Waterford road. Their camping place was back of the site of the house known
successively as the Cooper, Kilpatrick, and the Davis residence.
     Mr. Godfrey at once proceeded to build a cabin. It was a rough, log
shanty, 16 ft. square. By the village plan of 1858, this wilderness location
became the northwest corner of State and West street. here, years after,
he built for himself a commodious frame house which in later years was
purchased by Mr. Gehrend and occupied by him until 1906, when it was replaced.
The log cabin was the first building for civilized habitation in the town
      Mr. Godfrey was but 25 years of age. A brief sketch of his earlier
may not be amiss. When a very young child he was left fatherless, and from
the age of twelve earned his own support, working very hard for a meagre
living. When fourteen, he was employed by a man who promised to send him
school, but failed to do so to the bitter sorrow and disappointment of the
eager, hopeful boy. He never after received other education than that which
the experience of life afforded. But he made the most of his opportunities,
and by life-long industry won the esteem of' his fellow men and secured for
himself' a well deserved competence for his declining years. He had married
when about twenty years of' age, Miss Sarah Whitman of' Whitmanville, Michigan,
and later enlisted and fought in the Black Hawk War.

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