University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The State of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

Port Washington 1835 to 1985

A community is founded,   pp. 4-21

Page 6

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-
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
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.

Go up to Top of Page