ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Watertown-Portland Plank Road


The building of roads to open the country for settlement and military purposes was one of the first concerns of the settlers and the government.  Following old Indian trails, a Milwaukee-Watertown wagon road was constructed in 1837. 





04 14       The Watertown and Milwaukee Plank Road Company has declared another dividend of 3 per cent, making 10 per cent since the first of January.  Think of this, ye who_?_ 40 per cent annually for the use of your money; and then act like wise men - purchase stock in the Watertown, Hubbleville, Portland and Waterloo road.   WC



11 16       Meeting of the City Council, November 13th, 1854... Resolved, That the Street Commissioners of the 3rd and 4th wards be, and they are hereby authorized and directed to procure 8000 feet oak plank, for the purpose of finishing up the Plank Road, on West Avenue Street to where the Watertown and Portland Plank Road commences, and that the expenses of the same be paid out of the City General Fund.   WD



10 25       Needs Mending —We don’t know of anything whose ways need mending more than the road between this place and Hubbleton.  Since the Plank Road Co. abandoned it, it has grown “no better very fast,” until now it is next to impossible to drive over it for at least half the distance, at a rate of speed faster than a walk.  It ought to be someone’s business to see to it and have it repaired at once.  Watertown is losing money every day that it remains in its present condition, for much trade that would naturally come here, now goes elsewhere because it can’t get to Watertown if it wants to.  We ought to get ten times the wheat from that direction that we do, but so long as that road remains as it is now, no additions to the quantity received at present need to be looked for.          Watertown Republican, 10 25 1861



09 17       Ald. McHugh presented the following report:  The Committee on Streets and Bridges, to which was referred the resolution to locate West Avenue [West Main St.] to the city limits would respectfully report that they have examined said street and find it is not advisable to make any change for the present as it would be too much expense on the wards and Plank Road Co. has abandoned said road for a public highway.  Your committee is of the opinion it is sufficient to accommodate the public for the present. 


Ald. McHugh introduced the following resolution:  Resolved, that the Marshall is hereby directed within five days from the passage of this resolution, to remove all obstructions on West Avenue and Watertown & Portland Plank Road within the city limits.  Adopted.   Common Council Proceedings.     WD





Derived from a manuscript as compiled by James A. Sheridan and published in weekly installments in the Waterloo Democrat from March 13, 1908 to December 4, 1908. 


It will be noted that as early as 1850 the foundation of a prosperous village was laid.  The location of Portland village was on the line of the Milwaukee and Watertown Plank Road whose promoters talked of extending it to Madison.  This of itself attracted tradesmen and merchants.  This highway was planked to Portland about 1852.  It caused the building of a bridge at Hubbleton, which placed Portland on the nearest road to Watertown and Milwaukee for the occupants of the territory to the west.  Up to that time they went to Watertown by way of Milford and to Milwaukee by way of Whitewater.  A heavy traffic made up of farmers going to and from Watertown and Milwaukee set in and resulted in giving Portland village a great boom.  The mail then came by stage line from Watertown.


. . . . . Scores of travelers put up at Portland every night which brought business to all the tradesmen and merchants.  Mrs. Zimmerly writes:  "I remember of seeing twenty teams driven in to put up for the night.  They were on their way to Milwaukee with grain".  The first toll gate on the road was at Portland and was presided over by a Mr. Adsit whose daughter became Mrs. John Bell, now of Grand Rapids, Wis.


. . . . . The " Plank Road " was destined to be rendered profitless by the railways whose construction was begun about that date in Wisconsin. 


. . . . . . The Kimballs settled in eastern Portland.  Jedediah located on Section 35, where he lived for a number of years.  He and his brother, Hannibal, built quite a portion of the Plank Road between Portland and Hubbleton, I think in the year 1851.  The plank was sawed by Mr. George Bleecker at the old steam mill that was located at Hubbleton.


. . . . . . "In 1850, Mr. Campbell bought from the government forty acres of land one mile north of Portland on which he built a house and moved his family there where they resided six years.  At this time, all the road between Portland and the farm was an Indian trail".  "After selling the forty acres, he bought eighty acres of his father lying across the road where he again built a commodious dwelling bringing all supplies, also carpenters, masons and painters, from Watertown ".  "My father and grandfather, with other men, blazed the trees for the line for the " Plank Road to Watertown from Portland ".  After a few days hard work, the men were able to follow the trail on horseback to superintend the surveying.  After long and weary months, teams were able to get through with light loads.  With this means of communication between Portland and Watertown , prosperity sprang up not only for the towns but lands were taken up along the road and made into farms.  Soon Hubbleton sprang into existence and became a lively saw mill town.  A substantial bridge was also built at Hubbleton over the Crawfish River "



01 11       CAPITAL TIMES OF 01 11 1931

Enterprising newcomers [to Hubbleton] had cut a swath through the woods west of Watertown through Hubbleton and to Waterloo.


The land was very wet and felled trees were later split and laid across the road, which was known as the plank road.  


With a yoke of oxen and a lumber wagon the mud and water of the marshes came clear up to the wagon box at times as the doughty oxen plodded their way through the mess which could not under the wildest stretch of the imagination be dignified, with the name of a road.


After the plank road was built, there were places where the planks would be quite far apart.  One such famous place between Hubbleton and Watertown was almost sure to get a wagon wheel so far sunk into the mud that a strong rail had to be employed to pry it up again before the traveler could proceed.  But people were considerate in those days.  Each traveler would carefully set up the rail along the road so that the next victim could also make use of it.



Cross References:


WATERTOWN PLANK ROAD, east to Milwaukee



No 1:  Daniel Jones was one of the originators of the Plank Road, between Portland and Oconomowoc, and it was a good investment until the railroads came through.  They ruined the business and I lost what I had in the enterprise.


No 2:  1871 note on road condition:  On the Watertown road but it is quite sticky.


No 3:  Mud Tavern hostelry on Watertown-Portland Plank Road


No. 4:  1998, Covered wagons once again rumbling down the old Watertown Plank Road.




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History of Watertown, Wisconsin