Baraboo in 1850: Personal Reminiscences

by Mrs. G.C. Remington. January 20, 1907

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In the spring of 1850, I was one of a class of three who received the first diplomas granted by the Milwaukee Female College.  Being anxious to begin what I considered my life’s work, I was much pleased to receive a letter from my uncle’s brother, a retired Methodist minister in Baraboo, Mr. James Flanders, saying there was a good opening for a private school in that place, and advising me to come out immediately.  As there was no railroad in Wisconsin, and no way of travel except by private conveyance, Mr. Arthur Flanders, who later lived in Portage, procured a horse and open buggy, and we started for Baraboo, guided only by a few general directions.  Neither of us had ever before been west of Milwaukee.  We lost our way several times, and the people of whom we made inquiries could tell us nothing about the location of Baraboo, but they could direct us to Fort Winnebago, now Portage.

The first night we stopped at a fairly good hotel, but after that we passed through no cities, and were forced to trust to luck for resting places.  The second night fortune favored us.  Entering a small village at dusk, we drove up to the most hospitable looking house, and requested a night’s lodging.  The owner inquired our names and destination, and the answer insured a hearty welcome.  He had known and often entertained Mr. James Flanders when he was a circuit preacher in southern Wisconsin.  He took us in with pleasure, gave us of his best, and bade us good speed in the morning.  He said the village was Astalan, and that some ruins, the nature of which I have forgotten, had made it famous.

 The third night was one of horror, and though groundless, none the less real.  We had been driving for hours through a desolate country, without sign of human habitation, when we came upon a low, lonesome looking cabin.  Impelled by necessity, we requested shelter, and were grudgingly admitted.  The distance from civilization, the gloomy surroundings, the miserable buildings, and the forbidding aspect of our hostess, prevented sleep or rest.  Through the long sleepless hours, I started at every sound.  Imagine my feelings when the door of my room softly opened, and stealthy steps approached my bed.  I lay speechless with terror, until I recognized in the intruder my hostess, who drew from the larder under my bed a piece of bacon and withdrew to prepare our early breakfast.  I dressed hurriedly in the grey light of dawn, and went out doors to find my driver already harnessing his horse, as anxious as I to leave the desolate place. 

 The country was varied and interesting, but the roads left much to be desired.  For four days we journeyed over long stretches of level prairie, up and down rough wooded hills, through sleepy villages, through bogs and over corduroy roads.  Such were the conditions of travel from Milwaukee to Baraboo in 1850.  We crossed the “Old Wisconse” by ferry at DeKorra, so named from an Indian Chief; and on the evening of the fourth day, came into Baraboo on the Portage road, rounded Camp’s corner (Fourth and East Streets), and with tired bodies and thankful hearts, reached the home of Mr. Flanders.

 It was a low, story and half house, on the corner of Sixth and Birch Streets.  I think the road was not opened farther west, as there were no houses west of it, and thick woods lay between it and Lyons.  Opposite was a small cottage occupied by Ed Hart; near by was Dr. Cowles’ house, not yet completed; and opposite this, was the home of Asa Wood, the Methodist preacher.  I think those were the only houses in that immediate neighborhood.   Shortly after I came, Mr. Flanders sold out to Mr. Taylor, who enlarged the house somewhat, and later Mrs. Daniels used it for a boarding house.  Mr. Taylor built Taylor’s Hall and other buildings south of the Square.  His two sons married the two daughters of Col. Sumner, and moved to California. 

 The only church in Baraboo was the building where the Methodists held their meetings.  It was roughly made of logs or slabs, spacious and well ventilated, pleasantly situated on a slight elevation, where, a few years later, the First Methodist Church was built.  There I opened my first school.  It was as comfortable as the average school house of those days, and I considered myself fortunate in obtaining it.  Surrounding it was a magnificent playground, of all out doors, with a clear, level place on one side where the children jumped the rope, and a thick oak grove, where they ran and hid and play games, or sat in the shade to rest.  I hope those pupils who are living now have as pleasant memories of that summer as their teacher has.

In the winter it was not quite so agreeable.  I would like to know if Congressman George Perkins, now candidate for Governor of Iowa, remembers how he made and tended fires for me that cold winter, as payment for his tuition.  The job was no sinecure; the big box stove had to be constantly replenished, and the wood was green, and sometimes --- more often on Monday morning --- the stock of kindlings, which he had prepared and carefully hidden under one of the back seats, would be missing.  I think he derived no satisfaction from the knowledge that it had been used to warm the house for divine service. 

 Among my pupils that first term were Eliza Chapman, Emma Maxwell (Mrs. Potter) and her five brothers and sisters, three daughters of Mr. Flanders, two of Esq. Davis, two of M.C. Waite, three children of Mrs. Lucy Perkins, the postmistress, Martha Dartt (afterwards Mrs. Maxwell), Cornelia Porter (Mrs. Stanley), who recently died at Chippewa Falls, and her little brother Melvin, who was drowned that summer in the race at Maxwell’s dam, and Libbie Curry, afterwards Mrs. Victor Peck --- of all these only two are now living in Baraboo.

 In 1851, I bought some lots on Sixth St. near Oak, and built a small school house.  We still had plenty of vacant lots for a playground but they were rather low.  One day a heavy shower made a little island of our house, and but for the kindness of the driver of a passing team, who came to our assistance, wading would have been the only mode of dress.  Later, Ruby Cowles, a sister of the Doctor, taught school there; after wards it was used by the Female Seminary, and still later it traveled eastward for several blocks and settled down as a dwelling house.

 Among the accessions to my school that year, were Wal and Al Porter, Albert Tuttle, Alfred Anderson, Rose Clark (Mrs. Morley), and her brother and sister, and Will and Bevie Bassett (Mrs. Clark).  Judge Camp brought his little son Arthur, a pretty, daintily dressed child, with long yellow curls, now a prosperous business man of Milwaukee.  Also came a son of George Hiles, from “Under the Hill” which was then and for many years afterwards, regarded a locality of ill repute.

 When Mr. Flanders sold his house, I went to board at J.B. Avery’s.  He lived in a small cottage on the N.W. corner of Oak and Seventh Streets.  Opposite was the home of a typical Englishman, Esq. R.H. Davis, who later sold to J.J. Gattiker.  Opposite Mr. Avery’s on the South, was a low unpainted house, where Major Clark, the lawyer, lived with his wife and mother-in-law.  She had married old General Haraszthy, the father of the Hungarian Count, who founded the German settlement of Sauk City.  The General had gone to California with his son, leaving his wife in Baraboo.  Frank Canfield (Mrs. Angle), sister of W.H. Canfield, boarded at Mr. Avery’s with me that winter.  She was teaching in the public school, as was, also, Mary Ann, sister of D.K. Noyes.  Dr. Cowles was the only practicing physician in Baraboo at that time.  He was noted for his skill in diagnosis, and his prompt and energetic measures in an emergency.  He was kind and charitable, and was a great friend of the Indians, whom he never turned away from his door, sometimes keeping several for the night on his kitchen floor.  The Indians were very numerous, and often troublesome, coming to the houses to beg for food, and refusing to leave, when told to “pukachee”.  The ruins of their old Council House were still standing east of the village, near Maxwell’s dam, and leading towards it from every direction were narrow, well-worn trails. 

 Asa Wood preached for the Methodists.  He made no pretensions to oratory, but gave good, plain practical sermons, and was much respected, both as man and minister.  Occasionally the large portly form of Mr. Flanders filled the pulpit.  Father Waddell also assisted, perhaps with more zeal than ability.  Elder Cochran presided as pastor over the Presbyterians and Congregationalists, who worshipped together in the old Court House, on Fourth St., north of the public square.  That building was afterwards used as a saloon, and finally burned.  Maxwell’s Department Store was on the corner southeast of the Square; and Munson had one in the same block.  Lem Stanley’s drug store was near the court house.  The Adams House, built by Col. Sumner, was opposite the northeast corner of the Square.  It was then kept by Mr. Locke.  Later it was enlarged, and called the Western Hotel, and kept by Mr. Watson.  Mr. Locke was a jolly, good natured landlord, and never took offense at the pranks of the boys.  One morning, some of the boarders, annoyed at the oft repeated appearance of a roast pig, agreed upon a plan to get rid of him.  As each one in turn entered the dining room, he took off his hat to the porker and greeted him with a low bow and a pleasant “Good Morning”.  They saw him no more.

 There was a small temporary building put up on or near the Square for a daguerreotype gallery.  Daniel Parish was the artist.  He charge more for one picture than would suffice now for a dozen or more.  His pictures were good, and have well stood the test of time, as some which I still possess, plainly show.  He moved to California, and some years after was drowned in the Pacific Ocean.  His ship en route for Oregon went down with all on board.

 Miss Jackson (later Mrs. Harrison) had the honor of being the first and only milliner at that time.  She understood her trade, and was a good worker in straw, but she lacked taste and originality in trimming, and being obliged to depend on the few newcomers for samples, her skill in copying caused her bonnets to present a surprising sameness.

 Our social advantages then would now be considered rather limited.  There was no society with a capital S, but there was a spirit of good comradeship which ensured harmony and made light of all obstacles.  It has been said that “Even the grimmest of jokes creates a smile in Vagabondia”.  So we, the early Baraboo-bies, welcomed and utilized even the dullest of amusements.  Sometimes we had lectures in the old court house; and once a traveling phrenologist gave a talk in the hotel dining room, and examined the heads of the more daring, thereby greatly pleasing the audience.  On evening, in that same dining room, we really did --- pity ‘tis, ‘tis true --- play a game of blind man’s buff.  I remember that some of the young men, who would not stay caught, took their coats to the tailor’s the next day.  On summer evenings, the Parish Band of three brothers entertained us with out-door concerts in the Square.  

Winter sleigh rides and summer drives in the beautiful country around Baraboo were greatly enjoyed then as now.  The prairie roads were good, and the woodland way over the Bluff was pleasant and picturesque.  However, some of our friends at Sauk, a little jealous of our town’s rapid growth, gave as a reason for it, that the early settlers coming in over the Bluff, with so much difficulty, could not get out again, and were forced to remain.  One spring day, a party of us drove through the woods to the sugar bush of W.H. Canfield, near Skillet Creek, where we met his sweet faced wife and her twin sister, Mrs. Root, and were invited by them to eat warm biscuit and maple syrup in their log kitchen.  Besides myself, Mr. Canfield is the only one left to remember the occasion.

The one little livery stable, kept by Lum Parish, on Oak Street, near Fourth was well patronized.  Mr. Parish married Frank Berlin, whose father kept tavern at Lyons.  The livery stable was in plain sight of my school house, and often as the time drew near for school closing, the knowing glances and smiles of certain of my pupils, who from the windows had seen a young lawyer, come for a horse and buggy warned me to prepare for a drive.  Last, but by no means least, in the line of amusements, we “tripped the light fantastic toe” in the hotel dining room, tables and chairs cleared away.  Sometimes Jim Badger fiddled for us, and often the parish Band furnished more pretentious music.  The dances were entirely old fashioned quadrilles and country dances and more often quite impromptu and we were expected to be ready on short notice.  One evening I had been to meeting with Mr. Avery, a pious Methodist brother, and as were coming out of the church, a young man met and accosted me in this wise:  “We are going to dance over at the tavern, will you come?”  I glanced up at the face of my escort with some apprehension, but there was a twinkle in his eye as he resigned me to the new comer.  I knew by that look that he had not forgotten his dancing days.  My street dress and walking shoes did not at all lessen my evening’s enjoyment.  There are few survivors now of that merry circle of young people.

 I must not omit to mention the order of 1001, which was an institution of the early days of Baraboo.  Its meetings were held at irregular times and places.  It had no woman’s auxiliary, and its mystic rites were never revealed, but imagination might picture the woes of the helpless stranger who was lured within its doors for initiation.  If belated home goers in the streets, passing some closely curtained building, heard issuing thence, strange sepulchral groans, long drawn out and terrible, they would say “The 1001 are holding a session.”  The meaning of the name was a mystery, but elder Cochran interpreted it as “1000 rascals and one honest man”.

 The first “Woman’s Rights” function ever held in Baraboo is perhaps worthy of record.  About a dozen ladies, married and good church members, desiring to break the monotony of housekeeping and baby tending by a day’s outing, conceived the idea of a drive to Delton; and wishing to do something a little out of the ordinary, procured and improvised bus, made from a lumber wagon or hay rack, with seats along the sides, and hired Lum Parish as driver.  By virtue of being the school ma’am, I received an invitation to read a paper or make a speech for the occasion.  A flag was raised in front, with “Woman’s Rights” printed on it in large letters.  After driving about town a little, we proceeded into the country.  We had dinner at Delton, speeches, etc., and then returned home.  This excursion, which we considered only a harmless frolic, excited considerable comment and criticism on the part of some of the men.  The flag did the mischief, and it was a long time before the excitement died away.

 The first social function I attended in Baraboo was an afternoon party, given shortly after my arrival, by Mrs. Munson, at her home on Third Street, nearly opposite the present Presbyterian Church.  There were present, Mr. Remington, his law partner, Mr. Shepard, Mr. Spencer, Register of Deeds, Mr. Chapman, a brother of Mrs. Munson, W.H. Canfield’s sister, Cornelia McGowan (afterwards Mrs. Shepard), Mary Ann Noyes, Adelia Sumner and myself.  The new school ma’am, being a stranger, was presumably the guest of honor.  I was attired in a brown barege dress, made with a short, plain full skirt, full waist, the low neck edged with a white frill; no jewelry.  I arrived from school, later than the rest, and was ushered into the room where the other guests were seated and under the fire of eight pairs of curious eyes, underwent the trying ordeal of an introduction to each one in turn. 

 The entertainment consisted principally of conversation, and walking back and forth on the veranda.  After an early and elaborate supper, I was escorted home, before dark, by Mr. Chapman.  Of all that number, I am the only survivor.  Host, hostess, and guests have all preceded me to their final rest.  It was by such simple pleasures as these that the pioneers of Baraboo filled the little time devoted to recreation.

 My aim has been to give some idea of life in Baraboo in the early fifties, and I trust I have not wholly failed, though my memory has been my sole authority. 

 It has been a pleasure, not unmixed with sorrow, to recall

“Those old, forgotten, far-off days

And battles long ago.”