ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin



W. F. Jannke III


I thought it might be interesting to recap the year 1848, the year of statehood, and see what was happening in Watertown at that time.


In 1848 Jefferson County had a total population of 11,464. Watertown had 2,362 hearty souls living here at that time. Though the plank road was in the future and the roads leading into and out of the village were often impassable in rough weather John Frink managed to run a tri-weekly stage line through Watertown. Mail service was being conducted at this time by postmaster Patrick Rogan. Interestingly enough, the post office was open seven day a week, even on Sundays! Does anyone even remember Sunday deliveries? Usually this only happened during the Christmas season.


Western Avenue was being improved at this time and sections of it were just being opened for travel. A bridge was being contemplated at this time which would cross the river below Main Street. Today this is Milwaukee Street bridge.


The first telegraph line was set up between Milwaukee and Chicago and the first messages were being sent over the "magnetic lines" as they were called by the spring of 1848. By the summer newspaper reports were telling people it was easier to stay at home and wire their needs to neighboring cities rather than traveling to them. It was proposed to run a telegraph line through Watertown, but since the residents here would have had to put up money to pay for it the frugal Yankees passed on it. A telegraph line wouldn’t arrive here until the 1850s.


Agitation over the deplorable state of our roads was in the air. There were seemingly endless letters to the editor of the local newspaper, The Watertown Chronicle, regarding the pros and cons of building a plank road, or failing that, to finish the construction of the Milwaukee-Rock River Canal. An article in the January 5, 1848 issue of the Chronicle stated that currently the old route from Watertown to Madison was 42 miles. A grand "Plank Road Ball" was given and hosted by pioneers who came here in 1836. This ball served to drum up interest in the road and construction began. But it wouldn’t be until 1853 that the plank road was finished to Watertown.


There were also reports at this time of the desire to run a rail line through the state, with Watertown being a prime stopping spot. But this was in the future. The railroad wouldn’t reach us until 1855.


The biggest news was the coverage of the constitutional convention going on at the territorial capital in Madison. There, men from all over Wisconsin (including several from Watertown) were hammering out a state constitution that would be agreeable to everyone. In February, they finished and the results were published on the front pages of all the newspapers in the territory. This constitution was adopted and in May the United States formally welcomed Wisconsin into the union. The editor of the Watertown Chronicle, Jonathan A. Hadley, applauded this by saying that Wisconsin had finally thrown off her chains of "territorial vassalage" and could take her rightful place as a state.


The health of the village was upper-most in everyone’s mind. Cholera would make its first dreaded appearance in 1849 and would come back like the plague every summer until 1854, but things weren’t too bad in 1848. Still, villagers took precautions by patronizing not one but three drug stores: Dr. Edward Johnson’s drug store on West Main Street near the bridge, Dr. Joseph Schubert’s drug store on East Main near S. Fourth Street and William C. Fountain’s drug store. Dr. Johnson, our city’s first druggist, had the distinction of having the very first soda fountain in Wisconsin in 1844. Like all good druggists of the time, he stocked his shelves well with the following cure-alls and nostrums: Osgood’s Indian Cholagague, Winer’s Arcanum Extract, Pectoral Syrup of Horehound and Elecampone, Moffat’s Life Pills and Phoenix Bitters, House’s Indian Tonic, Post’s Poor Man’s Pills, McChesney’s Electric Pain Extractor and Holstead’s Cathartic Pills to name but a few. Our druggists were prepared for ANYTHING!!


A Dr. Maxine came to Watertown at this time and presented a lecture on anatomy, hygiene and physiology using a life-sized mannequin which had to be rather titillating to the rather staid Yankee men and women of the town.


People were also concerned about their food. Was it pure and unadulterated? Maximilian Averbeck, a farmer and distiller in the town of Emmet, ran an ad for his milk business that read, "The subscriber purposes to furnish the citizens of this place with an article of pure milk which never saw the inside of a water bucket and come from his own, not his neighbor’s cows." As if that was not a sufficient warning or assurance of purity, witness this remark from an ad for Watertown cider: "Chemists allow this to be a very healthy beverage, being entirely free, as it is, of all deleterious drugs."


Watertown citizens have always liked a good joke and the Chronicle ran quite a few "knee slappers" at this time. For example: "A dentist, who, having labored in vain to extract a decayed tooth from a lady’s mouth gave up the task, with this felicitous apology: ‘The fact is, madam, it is impossible for anything bad to come from your mouth!’" Or how about this one: "Why is dancing like new milk? Because it strengthens the "calves" to be sure." Ahem!


A new form of artistic expression was making its presence felt here: photography. Everyone, it seems, were having their pictures taken. Traveling daugerrean artists were hard pressed to out-do each other and the papers were filled with colorful and imaginative inducements to the public. One photographer. J. Covell by name, ran the following poem as part of his ad: "What consolation this will be, when friends are dead we still can see; or gone to climes afar, we still can see them as they are!"


The Mexican War was entering its final stages and weekly reports from the front were appearing in the local press. By the summer of 1848 peace was declared and the men began to return. But once peace was declared in Mexico new troubles were being reported from Europe: a revolution had broken out in both France and Germany.


Emigrants began to pour into the United States and many found their way to Watertown. This class of emigrants were quite unlike any seen here before, however. These were intellectuals, college professors and scholars, Many were revolutionaries who narrowly escaped imprisonment. Once here they went into businesses that they were totally unsuited for. Nevertheless, these "48ers" made their mark here and gave Watertown it unusual and colorful heritage and reputation.


When news of the revolution reached Watertown there was much rejoicing amongst the German settlers and the newly formed German singing society, known as "Der Liedertafel", held a grand concert at the Methodist Church, followed by a torch-light procession which ended at the Buena Vista House on North Fourth Street where there was a gala reception. Even our local merchants were cashing in on the revolutionary furor. John F. Kimball ran an ad which started out by saying that there was a "great revolution at the Yankee Store."


Lest you think that there were only Germans living here at this time it may be of interest to note that the Irish and Yankees still held most political offices. There were many Irish settlers here and they took a keen interest in the plight of their fellow sons and daughters of old Erin back home who were starving and suffering as a result of the great potato famine. In the latter half of the year a fund was established by the Irish citizens of Watertown to send much needed relief to the poor and destitute in Ireland. Besides the Irish there was a Scandinavian Reading Society here as well. Stores on Main Street at this time catered to the various ethnic groups settling here. For example, there was the Dutch Store (sometimes referred to as the German Store), the Yankee Store and even the Dutch, Irish and Yankee Store kept by a Mr. Curtis. He apparently wanted to cover all the bases!


Our merchants weren’t at all stingy when it came to advertising their stores. A piece of sage business advise appeared in the Chronicle on May 17, 1848: "If you want to buy goods cheap, go where they advertise them. Merchants who are too stingy to advertise are too tight to give you a fair bargain." Words to live by. The advertisements of this time are wonderful to read. Here, by way of example, is part of an ad for the Dutch Store: "Great Excitement on the Banks of the Rock River! The Dutch Store Always Up To Something! The election being over, which generally keeps our friends pretty warm, we thought that the cold weather would be still more severely felt and imported the largest stock of woolen cloths, satinets, cassimeres, hard times and other dry goods, ever brought into any country store west of the cities of the Lakes..." They were still dealing in the barter system from time to time as well as loaning money on things. You must remember, this was before the era of banking in Watertown.


Religion was not over-looked here. In 1848 there was one Catholic church here, St. Bernard’s , as well as a Congregational Church , a Methodist church and a Bible Society. The first Lutheran Church wouldn’t be founded until 1852 when St. John’s opened its doors, and the Baptist and Moravian churches were many years away from being founded.

Wooden buildings were rapidly being replaced by brick blocks, many of which still stand in the city. One newspaper account stated that "it will be but a few years before the wonder is, not that brick dwellings are erected, but that wood is used at all." Despite this growing preference for brick, our sawmills were still doing a thriving business and would continue to do so for years to come.


Breweries and distilleries here were doing a "spirited" business and hotels and inns were filled almost every day with new arrivals. There were 40 weekly newspapers being published in Wisconsin at this time, three in German and 1 in Norwegian. Watertown had two papers here, The Watertown Chronicle and The Rock River Pilot.


Towards the end of the year it was announced that gold had been discovered in California. At first the news was met here with little interest, but by 1849 men and boys would be streaming out to the gold fields hoping to strike it rich. Zachary Taylor won the election for president, narrowly beating Gen. Lewis Cass. In the midst of all of this a small church body was organized which would later become known as St. Luke’s Church. This church body was founded by the German 48ers or Free-Thinkers. The Town of Milford was created in 1848 and the first amputation with the aid of chloroform was performed in nearby Lake Mills.


Taken altogether, 1848 was one very busy year!


As you can see, there were a lot of things happening here and in the area in 1848. It could also be argued that 1848 was the last year that Watertown could be classed as a pioneer settlement. The next ten years would bring great changes to this area. Things would never be this simple again.




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History of Watertown, Wisconsin