The Village of Plain is located on Wisconsin Highway 23 and County Road B in the Town of Franklin in Sauk County, Wisconsin. Franklin Township borders with the townships of Bear Creek (west side), Spring Green (south side), Troy and Honey Creek (east side), Westfield and Washington (north side).
Plain was called "Cramer's Corners" because of early families of settlers named Cramer (from Ohio and Pennsylvania) who had established several businesses in the village. Plain was also referred to as "Logtown" apparently because of the many log houses that were built.
It is believed the post office at Plain was established on July 30, 1860, however, the Wisconsin Blue Book listed a post office at Plain for the first time in 1863. C.W. Butterfield wrote in his book published in 1880, The History of Sauk County, Wisconsin: "Plain. . . commonly called Logtown, [is] where a thirsty individual can get ninety-two percent of bitter water fuddled with eight percent of alcohol, known as beer, on demand at almost any time. At first, the mail was distributed in town by John Cramer, the neighbors taking turns in bringing it [from Spring Green] until a post office was established at White Mound in 1859. Then a Mr. Smith was appointed Postmaster, and Jacob Henry carried the mail. Jerry Carpenter is now  Postmaster at that point [White Mound]. There is also a post office at Plain, called Logtown, that has been established several (about ten) years. P. Stutz is now  Postmaster here."
Plain appeared on an early railroad and post office map by H. H. Lloyd & Co. in 1871.
In the February 21, 1884, issue of the Weekly Home News, (published in Spring Green), the "Plain" column reported a proposed name change, "Why is it that our town is called Logtown by so many when we have ten fine frame buildings and but one log house? We move that our town hereafter be called Frame Town."
Nevertheless, "Plain" was chosen as the name of the village and was formally incorporated in 1912. In the same year, H. E. Cole wrote in his book, Baraboo And Other Place Names In Sauk County, Wisconsin: "J. H. Carpenter of Spring Green says the place was called Plain because the inhabitants were plain people."
Early settlers and European emigrants
Settlers began arriving in the Plain (Franklin Township) area around the time Wisconsin became a state (in 1848) and land was available for purchase. Indian tribes had previously lived on the land. Many settlers had at first tried to make a living in other states and in other parts of Wisconsin before settling in Franklin Township.
Mrs. Henry Keifer and family from Richland County, Ohio, settled in 1846 at Harrisburg (Troy Township) on the Honey Creek with a handful of other settlers. She described the area as a vast wilderness with "nothing but deer, wolves and bear that roamed over the hills and through the valleys." Each fall, nearly 200 Indians went to Honey Creek to make lead. Mrs. Keifer explained that two months after locating on their land, the family of Dewitt Slauter ["Slaughter" per 1860 census] arrived, who later settled in the Town of Franklin. It is believed that Dewitt Slauter, born in New York, and wife Malinda, born in Indiana, were the first settlers in Franklin Township, arriving there in the fall of 1849 with their family of eight. T. J. Morgans of Wales and wife Martha Ann Slauter of Indiana were the second family of settlers in Franklin Township, settling in Sugar Grove (northwest of Plain) in 1849.
Early settlers arrived in Franklin Township from other states in America, a great number coming from Ohio. Settlers from other states were from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. People from Canada also settled in the township, but in some cases, their homeland was actually in Europe.
European settlers in Franklin Township came mainly from Germany - the majority were from the state of Bavaria (Bayern). Fewer numbers were from other German states such as Baden (later Baden-Württemberg), Bremen, Hesse (Hessen), North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westphalia), Prussia (Preussen - an historic state), Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), Saarland, Sachsen (Saxony), and Wuerttemberg (later Baden-Württemberg).
Of the German emigrants, a large number of them came from the Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz) region - the eastern part of the state of Bavaria - specifically from the county of Waldmuenchen [Waldmünchen] (now the county of Cham). This area in Bavaria was mainly Catholic. About 5 miles north of Waldmuenchen is Untergrafenried, a small German village near the Czech Republic border. On the Czech side was once the country of Bohemia (in the Kingdom of Austria). From these small (now extinct) Bohemian villages, emigrants also found their way to the Plain, Wisconsin, area.
From other European countries, settlers in Franklin Township were from Austria, England, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, and Wales. Many of the Irish settled on the "Irish Ridge" now known as Loreto, located north of Plain.
First log house and school
In 1851, the Lorenzo Maisch family moved into the first log house in Plain. In the same year, the first schoolhouse was established in a log building. Thomas J. Morgans (also called Squire Morgans) was the first teacher at what was called Sunnyside School in District Number 4. Children attended this school from miles around. In 1860, a one-room stone school house was built to replace the log building. This school was torn down in 1941 when it was replaced with a new red brick building. The red brick school has since been converted into a residence. The building is located at 1220 St. Lukes Avenue on the southwest corner of Oak Street and St. Luke Avenue.
Sawmills, feed mills, and sorghum refinery
A sawmill was built in 1852 by E. Mead and John Bear where Morgan's and Honey Creek met in Section 5. The mill was later sold to T. Slinger.
Several feed mills were built, such as the 1886 mill built by Franz "Frank" Frank, the 1895 mill built by George Claridge in Section 17, and the 1904 mill built by Cramer Brothers at Plain.
Cramer Brothers had a sawmill in 1902, which was later sold to Herman Homuth, then Lute Wells, then Joseph T. Ruhland.
In Section 29, George Morgan built a sorghum refinery around 1880.
The photo at the top of the page of Main Street in 1925 shows the Joseph T. Ruhland sawmill on the left.
In 1850, G. M. Whiteis opened a blacksmith shop in Sugar Grove, with "mother earth for the floor and the skies for a roof." Frederick Schreiner, born in 1891, also ran a blacksmith shop on Main Street in Plain.
The first general store was opened by P. W. Perry in 1869. Perry sold a meager supply of stick candy and several bolts of calico. Subsequent owners added dry goods, groceries and notions. Alois Hutter, who purchased the store in 1879, ran a saloon. Some businesses in 1903 on Wachter Avenue included an ice house, Reuschlein store, John J. Haas saloon, and Plon butcher shop. One of the early shoe cobblers was Philip Volk, Sr, who began repairing and making shoes in 1905. Buildings in Plain were built using bricks from Cramer Brother's brickyard. People living in the countryside were mainly farmers.
Cheese factories in the Plain area
One of the first cheese factories was built by L. Cooper in 1877. Adolph Schoenmann built a cheese and butter factory east of the village in 1887 and named it Oak Grove Cheese Factory. In 1894, the business was moved to Upper Wilson Creek and run by John Diehl. Some names of other cheese factories were: Poplar Grove (established in 1895) - later called Suemnicht Cheese Factory; Sugar Grove (owned by Henry Ringelstetter from 1916 to 1919); Pleasant View (Highway B east of Plain); Pleasant Valley (owned by a Bindl, later owned by Chris Meixelsperger then sold to William Gruber); Hickory Hill (Lower Wilson Creek); Gruber Brothers; Cedar Grove; and Bear Valley.
As with many early communities in the Sauk County area, railroad fever was rampant in Plain in the early 1900's. In 1903, a number of venture capitalists met to see if a line could be extended from Lone Rock. Plain's dream to connect with the world at large was never realized, but it was only a few miles to travel to the railroad in Spring Green.
Protestant church and cemetery
The first Methodist service in the Plain area was in 1850, held at the home of Thomas Wells in Section 8. In 1860, a Methodist Episcopal Church was built on what is now Cedar Street on land purchased from Solomon Cramer. In 1874, the land was returned to Cramer.
A Protestant cemetery was established at Plain when land was provided by Solomon Cramer. The earliest known burials were in 1857. The cemetery was originally known as Pleasant Hill Cemetery, but was also called Town of Franklin Cemetery, and Plain Protestant Cemetery. This cemetery is located west of Plain in Section 6 on the north side of Highway B (Main Street) and still exists.
First Catholic Mass
One of the first German immigrants in Plain was the family of Johann Adam "George" and Theresia (Emser) Neuheisel who emigrated from Jägersburg, Saarland, Germany, in 1844. They lived in Racine and Walworth Counties in Wisconsin before settling in Section 7 on the south end of Plain in 1851. At this time, there was no Catholic church in Plain. The first Catholic Mass believed to have been held at Plain was on September 21, 1857, when missionary priest, Reverend Maximilian Gaertner, presided over Catholic Sacraments at the Neuheisel log home. Later, Reverend Franz Weinhardt held Masses at the Ott and Voelkel homes in Plain.
In 1861, the first Catholic church was built in Plain. This was a stone building (located at the south end of St. Lukes Avenue) about a half-mile south from the center of Plain. It was given the name St. Luke's Catholic Church.
The parish grew, and in 1884, a second larger stone church was built on the site of the first church. But the second church soon became too small.
In 1903, a much larger brick church was built in Romanesque-style on the same site as the first two stone churches. In 1918, this third church and some parish buildings were destroyed by a cyclone. A temporary church was set up at Cramer's Hall (also called Bettinger's Hall) on Main Street in Plain and was used by the parish for two years while the parish rebuilt.
From 1920 to 1940, a chapel inside a newly-built school building on Nachreiner Avenue served as the fourth parish church. The chapel was located on the first floor of the new school. The altar and pews were eventually removed and the room was used as library space for the school.
The fifth (and present) church, a beautiful stone edifice, was built beginning in 1938 and dedicated in 1940. Contractors were Edward Kraemer & Sons; architect was Hugo Logemann. The fifth (and present) church is located just north of the 1920 school building.
Catholic schools and parish buildings
A large stone parsonage was built in 1875 on parish grounds (near the south end of St. Lukes Avenue). Nearby, the first Catholic school was built in 1876. The first teachers in the Catholic school in Plain were laypersons. Students sat on roughly hewn benches and shared a few common books. Religion and the German language were the first subjects taught. In 1888, a new parsonage with pitched roof was built by Cramer Brothers. The old parsonage was then used as a Sister house and had classrooms. Sisters of the Franciscan Order of St. Joseph from Milwaukee were the teachers. In 1893, a larger school was built near the Sister house. The Franciscan nuns were replaced in 1898 by Dominican Sisters from Racine. A 1918 cyclone damaged the school and Sister house. In 1920, a new Catholic school was dedicated on Nachreiner Avenue.
The first Catholic cemetery was built on land donated by George Neuheisel about 1865 and was about seven minutes walking distance (about .3 miles) from the church. The cemetery, which still exists, is located on a hill on the southwestern edge of Plain, on what is now Old Highway 23, in the southeast corner of Section 7. This cemetery is today known as the "old" cemetery of St. Luke's parish. From 2009 to 2012, the cemetery was completely restored in a project led by Tom Kraemer, Marty Kraemer and Kevin Kraemer (partners at Kraemer Brothers, LLC).
In April 1918, the parish purchased land from Caspar and Catherine (Betz) Volk for a second cemetery. This new cemetery was located near the site of the third church (near the end of St. Luke Avenue) but was used only seven months. A cyclone in May 1918 destroyed the parsonage and church and contributed to the death of the parish priest, Rev. George Pesch, in June 1918; he was buried in the second cemetery.
In November 1918, the parish decided to rebuild their church and parish buildings further north and sold the second cemetery land back to the Volks. St. Luke's parish bought property and road access from Frank and Catherina (Zangl) Nachreiner and from John B., Sr., and Margaret (Gruber) Brechtl to establish a new cemetery known today as the "new" St. Luke's Catholic Cemetery. The cemetery, built on the side of a hill, is located not far from the present church at the west end of Oak Street (south of County Highway B). Rev. Pesch was later reburied in this "new" cemetery.
In 1916, the "Plain Fire Company" (a volunteer fire department) was formed. Joseph Ferstl was chosen to be the first chief.
Cyclone in 1918
Disaster befell this small community on May 21, 1918, when a cyclone destroyed many buildings in Plain. Hildegarde Thering (born in 1904) recounted that fateful day in her 1982 book, A History of Plain: "In the early evening of May 21, 1918, the sky was overcast, the air was sultry, with an eerie stillness over all. Looking up the valley, to the south of the village, a twisting mass of cloud churned up Highway 23 towards St. Luke’s. Suddenly a roaring wind, then a few seconds of calm. The roll of thunder followed by forks of lightning and darkness fell with a heavy sluicing of rain."
After the storm had passed, residents were horrified to learn that their beloved church was no more. The rectory was gone, the Sister’s house was severely damaged, a sawmill and garage were destroyed, and numerous homes and farm buildings were also blown away by the twister. Four-year old John Beck died in the storm.
Electric lines were run to the village in 1918 from the newly constructed electric dam at Prairie du Sac, by way of Spring Green.
St. Anne's Shrine and Grotto
On the top of a steep hill behind the new St. Luke's Cemetery in Plain is St. Anne's Shrine and Grotto. It was built on the top of Council Bluff, a former meeting place for local Indian tribes. The shrine was dedicated in 1928.
Kraemer family businesses
One family of German settlers were Paulus and Walburga (Stangl) Kraemer and their children from Irlach, Bavaria. In 1867, they settled on a farm in Wilson Creek in nearby Spring Green Township, and were parishioners of St. Luke's Catholic Church in Plain.
Descendants of Paul Kraemer founded construction companies in Plain: Edward Kraemer and Sons (EKS), The Kraemer Company, and Kraemer Brothers.
Edward Kraemer (grandson of Paul and Walburga Kraemer) started work in 1907 as a barn builder's assistant. At age 21, he founded his own company in 1911. This business was later called Edward Kraemer and Sons - a construction company building houses, barns, schools and churches in Sauk County. With the rise of the automobile, it shifted to road and bridge building in the early 1920s, but not before finishing the carpentry work on St. Luke’s school, convent, parsonage and church in Plain in the 1918-1921 time period. By the time of Edward’s death in 1973, his three sons were running the company: Rudolph, Victor and Fredrick.
After the Edward Kraemer and Sons company passed to the third generation, the operations were split into two companies in 1996, with EKS focused on bridges and large industrial projects, and The Kraemer Company focused on the aggregate (rock crushing) and road building business.
Kraemer Brothers was founded in 1948 by brothers Alfred, Linus and Norman Kraemer (nephews of Edward Kraemer) who started building schools and churches after WWII. Over the next 60 plus years, the company expanded into building factories, supermarkets, shopping centers, hotels, resort complexes, university campuses, office buildings and research and development facilities. Both Kraemer Brothers and Edward Kraemer and Sons are listed in the Engineering New Records, Top 400 Contractors in the U.S.
Those who helped to write this history of Plain web page in 2014: Bill Schuette, Debbie Blau, Ken Kraemer. We welcome any corrections.
Some of the sources that were used:
Rev. Johann Stephan Maximilian Gärtner [Gaertner], Tagebüch (Diaries) [German] (1846–1858)
Consul Willshire Butterfield, The History of Sauk County, Wisconsin, Containing an Account of Its Settlement, Growth, Development and Resources, an Extensive and Minute Sketch of Its Cities, Towns and Villages, Their Improvements, Industries, Manufactories, Churches, Schools and Societies, Its War Record, Biographical Sketches, Portraits of Prominent Men and Early Settlers, the Whole Preceded by a History of Wisconsin, Statistics of the State, and an Abstract of Its Laws and Constitution and of the Constitution of the United States (Chicago: Western Historical Co., 1880)
Rev. Johann G. Laurer, (original title) Geschichte der katholischen Gemeinde des hl. Lukas zu Plain, Wis. (translated title) The History of St. Luke's Parish, The Town of Franklin, The Village of Plain, in the County of Sauk, State of Wisconsin, United States of America up to 1907 (Oak Brook, Illinois: Hausner Foundation, 1999. Karl Hausner, editor). Transcription of old German script by Georg Johann Blau, Hoechstaedt-Donau, Germany, 1997. Translation of German to English by Karl and Hermine Hausner and Edith Alt, Plain, Wisconsin
H.E. Cole, Baraboo: And Other Place Names In Sauk County, Wisconsin (Baraboo, Wisconsin: The Baraboo News Publishing Co., 1912)
The Chimes (St. Luke Catholic School) yearbooks. 1931. 1935. 1940. 1957.
Early History of Plain and Surrounding Areas by Herbert Liegel (born 1888, died 1979). 4 typewritten pages. Unpublished.
Hildegarde Thering, A History of Plain, Wisconsin (Plain, Wisconsin: privately published, 1982). 230 pages. Hildegarde Thering, a resident of Plain, was postmaster in Plain from 1961 until her retirement in June 1973.
Myrtle E. Cushing, Cemetery Inscriptions of Sauk County, Wisconsin (Wisconsin State Old Cemetery Society). Volume 6. 1985.
Weekly Home News (Spring Green, Wisconsin)
Parish directories from St. Luke's Catholic Church, Plain, Wisconsin.
Sauk County Historical Society, Baraboo, WI, Good Old Golden Rule Days, A History of Sauk County Wisconsin Country Schools (1994). Out of print; available on CD.
Lorry Erickson, St. Anne's Hill: The Plain Shrine, A History of St. Anne's Hill, Plain, Wis. (December 1996). SeS Publishing, Wilson, Wisconsin.
Phyllis Dearborn, Pastors Who Served St. Luke's Parish, 1857-2007 (2007)
Phyllis Dearborn, Priest Sons of St. Luke Parish, Plain, Wisconsin (2007)
Phyllis Dearborn, Women Religious from St. Luke's Parish, Plain, Wisconsin ( 2007)
May 21st 1918 Cyclone: A Path of Destruction. Old Franklin Township Historical Society, 2008.
Debra A. Blau and Kenneth L. Kraemer, Genealogies of families that immigrated to Sauk County, Wisconsin, from Bavaria, Germany: The collected works of Georg Ederer, Otto Horz, and Hansjörg Schneider, DVD (Plain, Wis. [P.O. Box 218, Plain 53577]: Old Franklin Township Historical Society, 2011)