Port Washington 1835 to 1985
A community is founded, pp. 4-21
The Panic of 1837 The decline of Wisconsin City was as sudden as its growth had been rapid. In the early days money was plentiful, produce brought exorbitant prices, lana values escalated and speculation was rampant. Property changed hands almost overnight. In December, 1835, Wooster Harrison sold approximately 51/2 acres to Thomas Holmes for $100. One month later, in January 1836, Holmes sold a portion of this parcel to Solomon Juneau for $500. The following month a 21/2 acre tract adjoining the town plat was sold for $1500. At one time almost all of Wisconsin City, with the exception of Harrison's property, was owned by absentee speculators. New settlers migrating to the Wisconsin Territory avoided areas affected by land speculation. The excitement of early success turned to dismay as the inflated currency collapsed in the Panic of 1837, and new settlers failed to arrive. The original group eventually gave up hope and drifted away. Harrison stayed on for a time; his wife Rhoda died here in December 1837. Then he, too, apparently abandoned the little town. Wisconsin City became a ghost town. Andrew Vieau, Solomon Juneau's son-in-law, arrived in the fall of 1838. In his "Recollections" he notes "A little settlement had been establish- ed here by Wooster Harrison and other Michigan City speculators, but the place had been starved out and practically abandoned. When I reached here, there were perhaps a dozen empty houses and stores, and a small deserted saw-mill. A post office had been established; somebody had to hold the office of postmaster, so I took the office for the winter. The only mail that ever arrived there during my term was for either my family or the family of Asa Case up at Saukville. There were no other white people in the region." Legends about Port Washington continue and none stronger than the visits of Abraham Lincoln to the Lake Michigan city. The story is that the future president staged at the home of Wooster Harrison, the founder of Port Washington. The Harrison home was on Pier St., west of Franklin St. Photo courtesy ofAmbrose Mayer Shortly after Vieau's return to Milwaukee in the spring of 1839, Aurora Adams and his family arriv- ed, taking possession of one of the abandoned houses. He established a halfway house to pro- vide lodging for travelers on the Lake Shore Road making their way between Milwaukee and Sheboygan. In 1840, when Washington County boundaries (of which Ozaukee County was originally a part) were established, the families of Aurora Adams and Asa Case were still the only two white families in the area. The wilderness began to reclaim the little town, and Indians, in- cluding the Sauk chief, Waubeka, again hunted on the bluffs and in the ravines of the deserted settle- ment. The Return - A Second Start In 1843 General Harrison returned with a new group of settlers, Ira Loomis, Orman Coe, O.A. Watrous, Solon Johnson and Colonel William Teall, with the intention of reestablishing the community. The area's first legal battle occurred at that time, as the house occupied by Aurora Adams had become the property of Colonel Teall. When Adams refused to vacate the premises, Teall secured a writ of restitution. During an at- tempt to take possession of the building, Mrs. Adams is reputed to have opened fire on the in- truders. She was arrested, and later taken to Milwaukee for trial, but was acquitted for lack of evidence. The town was restored in rapid order. The name, Wisconsin City, was changed to Washington City to avoid confusion with two other cities by that name. A year later the name was again changed to Port Washington at the bequest of George C. Daniels, an early resident. O.A. Watrous was appointed the postmaster. A pier was built out into the lake to enable ships to unload passengers and cargo. Resettlement had just been completed when German, Luxembourg, and Norwegian immigraats began to arrive in large numbers. The Irish, many of whom immigrated via Canada and New- foundland, located on what came to be known as the Canada side of Port Washington, south of Sauk Creek. Many of the Germans and the Luxem- bourgers claimed land in the wooded area sur- rounding the little town. After industriously clear- ing and planting crops in the rich soil, the farmers found that bountiful harvests soon provided them with the prosperity needed to erect comfortable homes and substantial outbuildings.
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