Old Settlers Club 1916
Papers from the Archives of the Old Settlers' Club of Milwaukee County
Published by the Club
Table of Contents
The formal organization of the Old Settlers' Club of Milwaukee County dates from July 5, 1869. There had been a tentative organization before that time and no fewer than eighty persons possibly more had taken part in it. It possessed a written constitution. This appears from the following call which was published in the newspapers prior to the date set forth above:
"Old Settlers' Club. There will be a meeting of the Old Settlers' Club of Milwaukee County, at the Court House, on Monday, July 5, 1869, at 11 o'clock A. M., for the purpose of electing officers and completing the organization of the club. All who have signed the constitution, and all others who settled in Milwaukee County previous to January, 1839, and desire to join the club, are requested to be present."
To this call were appended fourteen signatures, followed by the words "and sixty-six others." The fourteen were men still well remembered by the older residents of Milwaukee Samuel Brown, Eliphalet Cramer, S. Pettibone, Harrison Ludington, Elisha Starr, J. A. Noonan, D. A. J. Upham, W. A. Prentiss, Fred Wardner, Levi Blossom, Horace Chase, George A. Trayser, Cyrus Hawley and Richard L. Edwards. The Court House in which they met was not the present building, but the historic structure on the same site, described in "McLeod's History of Wiskonsan" as "a large and spacious building of finished workmanship," "built by Mr. Juneau in 1836, at a cost of six thousand dollars, which he gave to the county as a present, with two and a half acres of land." Adjoining it on the east was the old county jail, the scene in 1854 of the Glover rescue, one of the conspicuous incidents illustrating the conflict of sentiment on the subject of slavery which brought on the Civil War.
At the meeting in the old Court House Judge Andrew Galbraith Miller presided, and Fenimore Cooper Pomeroy acted as secretary, and the organization of the Old Settlers' Club of Milwaukee County was perfected. Its object, as set forth in the preamble to its constitution, was the reviving of old associations and the renewing of the ties of former years. Under the constitution which it adopted any person of good moral character who had settled in Milwaukee County, as organized before January 1st, 1839, might become a member of the club by signing the constitution and pay-ing the initiation fee and the annual dues.
Milwaukee County as organized before the 1st of January, 1839, comprised an expanse of territory which by comparison would make European principalities look small. The name was first used to describe a political division in 1834, two years before the erection of the territory of Wisconsin, and when what is now Wisconsin was part of the territory of Michigan. On September 6th of that year the Michigan territorial Legislature passed "an act to establish the Counties of Brown and Iowa, and to lay off the County of Milwaukee." The County of Milwaukee created by the act extended from the northern boundary of Illinois to about the present north line of Washington County, and west to a line that would include what are now known as Madison and Portage City.
Under this constitution the club flourished until 1881, the original organization of old settlers and pioneers, the only association of Milwaukeeans with the object of preserving the associations, the memories and the traditions of old Milwaukee. In that year it adopted an amendment to its constitution, with the object of making the organization perpetual. The resolution proposing this amendment was as follows:
"Resolved, That all male descendants of those who settled in Milwaukee County prior to January 1, 1843, of good moral character, upon attaining the age of 21 years and complying with the conditions of this constitution, shall be eligible to membership upon the recommendation of the executive committee."
Nearly coincident with this expansion of the scope of the Old Settlers' Club was the institution of another organization identified with the preservation of old associations pertaining to the settlement of Milwaukee the Early Pioneer Association of Milwaukee County. This organization confined its standard of eligibility to male persons who had reached the age of fifty years prior to January 1, 1879, and were of good standing in the community and who had become residents of Milwaukee
County previous to January 1, 1844. A large number of the members of the Old Settlers' Club became members of the Pioneer Association. The membership of the Old Settlers' Club was for several years considerably reduced. But the spirit of the Old Settlers' Club was preserved in the Pioneer Association, and the Old Settlers' Club continued to exist. Moreover, a resolution of the Pioneer Association, adopted on January 1, 1880, the date of its organization, provided that its members should wear the badge of the Old Settlers' Club. The two organizations held their annual banquets together for several years "twin cherries on a single stem." Their objects were identical, the only difference was in respect to the requirements for membership the Pioneers restricted their membership to pioneers, and the time would arrive when an association of pioneers must become extinct. The Old Settlers aimed for perpetuity. They had planned an organization that should last as long as Milwaukee lasts, and that should carry on from generation to generation the traditions and memories which bind old Milwaukeeans together, and stimulate civic pride and incite civic patriotism.
From 1882 to 1889, inclusive, the annual banquets of the Old Settlers' Club and the Pioneer Association were held jointly, and the names of members of the respective organizations were printed on the menu cards. From the menu card for the banquet of February 22, 1882, it appears that the membership of the Old Settlers' Club had shriveled to fourteen, while the Pioneer Association at that time had fifty-two members. The number of living members of each of the clubs whose names were printed on succeeding banquet menu cards were as follows:
That the life of the Old Settlers' Club at one time seemed to tremble in the balance may be inferred from a newspaper report of the annual meeting of 1887, which states that Peter Van Vechten said he hoped the movement threatening to disorganize the Old Settlers' Club would not succeed, and that John A. Dadd said he hoped the term of residence making persons eligible as Old Settlers would be shortened to twenty-five years. "After some discussion," the report states, "a committee consisting of John G. Ogden, W. B. Miller and John A. Dadd was appointed to revise the constitution of the Old Settlers' Club." The incorporation of the Old Settlers' Club was effected on the 19th of September, 1887. The membership of the club has approximated five hundred for a number of years.
The rooms of the Old Settlers' Club, which since 1891 have been in the Loan and Trust building, contain an interesting and valuable collection of books, pictures and relics pertaining to the history of Milwaukee. Numerous additions have been made since the publication of the catalogue compiled by M. A. Boardman in 1895. Very useful for reference are the file of city directories and the collections of scrap books presented by James A. Buck and Peter Van Vechten, Jr. The Van Vechten scrap books are rich in biographical material relating to Milwaukee old settlers, and the information which they contain is made easily accessible by carefully compiled indexes. The pictures include photographs, paintings and prints of old-time Milwaukee buildings and several hundred portraits. The relics are of a wide variety, many of them vividly recalling the cruder conditions of living in former days.
The club rooms are open on week days, furnishing an agreeable place of resort for members. They are also the scene of the stated monthly meetings and the annual New Year's reception. At the New Year's reception of 1912 a committee, of which Jeremiah Quin was chairman and spokesman, presented a testimonial address to Frederick Layton, thanking him, in the name of the people of Milwaukee, for the Layton Art Gallery and the Layton Hospital for Incurables, erected and endowed by his generosity. The proceedings at this meeting were recorded by means of the phonograph and are preserved in the archives of the club, so that at some distant time it may be possible for later residents of Milwaukee to hear the voices of old settlers who expressed themselves on that occasion.
The annual banquets of the Old Settlers' Club have been given on Washington's Birthday since 1879. They have been held at different times at the Newhall House, the Kirby House, the Pfister Hotel, the Hotel Wisconsin, and the Plankinton House. These banquets have been the occasions of many noteworthy addresses and
have left a long train of pleasant memories. Another social feature of yearly occurrence is the annual basket picnic of Old Settlers and their families on the grounds of the National Soldiers' Home.
The Old Settlers' Club has been interested in the marking of historic sites by suitable tablets.
It contributed to the erection of the memorial log cabin near the site of the old Jacques Vieau residence in Mitchell Park, which is not far from where the old Chicago and Green Bay trail crossed the Menomonee river.
With the generous assistance of George W. Ogden it was instrumental in procuring the memorial recently erected for Professor I. A. Lapham in Lapham Park.
Bronze tablets which it has affixed are located as follows :
On the Milwaukee County court house, Jackson street, noting the sites of the old jail and court house;
on the Pabst building, marking the site of the first house on the east side of the river, built by Solomon Juneau;
on the Uihlein building, East Water street near Michigan, marking the birthplace of the first white child born in Milwaukee;
on the First National Bank building, marking the birthplace of Milwaukee's first white boy.
This book, compiled by a committee of the club appointed for the purpose, presents a selection of papers, bearing upon the history of Milwaukee. The originals of these papers, with many others of similar character, are preserved in the archives of the club.
HENRY W. BLEYER, GEORGE W. YOUNG, GEORGE RICHARDSON,
Here is appended a memorandum which was handed to the special committee by the late T. J. Pereles:
OUR CLUB PRIOR TO INCORPORATION: Several of our older members were persuaded by the old fire marshal and historian, the late James S. Buck, to become members of the Old Settlers' Club. The Club at that time was not incorporated, but it was part and parcel of the old Pioneers' Club, which was composed of those sturdy Milwaukeeans who did much in building up, and through their own actions, promoting the welfare of the "Cream City of the West." They met annually on Washington's Birthday to join in a dinner and relate their personal experiences of early hardships, privations and the comforts of life, how they built for themselves and their small families a comfortable early home and partook of the rights of citizenship and in the upbuilding of this city, so that those who might come after them would enjoy all of the pleasures of what we today call "civic pride." At no time, in the relating of these early hardships, was the important part taken by the wife of the pioneer overlooked to be commented on. At these annual dinners there were invited the members of the Old Settlers' Club, composed of the sons of those pioneers and those early residents who came here later. These meetings were harmonious and most pleasant, and did much to inspire the younger element with a greater desire to help in building up our then small city and making its existence more conspicuous upon our State map. We, of the Old Settlers' Club, would look forward to these gatherings, they became a fixed custom, when, on a certain even-ing in July, 1887, without prior notice or intimation, we were very plainly informed that our presence at the Pioneer meetings would no longer be permitted. The suddenness of this notice, unexpectedly to those present, was such a surprise that it took us some moments to recover. We immediately retired to Parlor A. of the Plankinton House, and discovered that we had no legal rights and no cause to complain of such peremptory informality. At that gathering there were present Daniel W. Fowler, M. A. Boardman, Charles D. Simonds, George W. Ogden, my brother James M. Pereles, Dr. John A. Dadd, William B. Miller, Hugo von Broich, John G. Ogden, and your humble self. Two of the members thought consensus of opinion was in favor of a permanent organization, incorporated under the laws of our State, and one that would live to become a factor in making and preserving the local history of our city. My brother suggested that he be given an opportunity and he would within two weeks secure a membership that would insure life to the organization. We held several conferences or meetings, which to a certain extent, had resolved itself, without intention, into a little debating society, and it was one of the humorous occasions when our genial old friend, Dr. Dadd, would propose or make a suggestion to become part of the object of our Club, to immediately hear his neighbor, William B. Miller, express in logical argument his opposition to the same.
The Club was incorporated on the 19th of September, 1887, and it was a pleasure to the few of us who met at the first informal gathering, to notice that among those desiring membership were many of the members of the then Pioneers' Club. The record of the names, the copy of the Incorporation, and the By-Laws, you will find in the Minute Book of the first Secretary, kept by my brother. Our first President was Dr. John A. Dadd, the pioneer druggist; our first Vice President was Hugo von Broich, the pioneer photographer and artist; the second Vice President, C. A. Place, who was, I believe, the first paymaster of the old Milwaukee Road; Secretary and Treasurer, James M. Pereles; and our first Marshal was James S. Buck. The executive committee was composed of John G. Ogden, our present Marshal M. A. Boardman, and Thomas P. Collingbourne, and from that time on, the Club grew not only in numbers but in sociability, and took the front rank as a historical club; and we did more, we invited for many years, the Pioneers Club to join with us on the evening of Washington's Birthday to celebrate that great historical day. Regular monthly meetings were held, and at each occasion, a paper on some early Milwaukee topic, was read by one of the members. The Club, that we have today, is the one that was then incorporated.
Of the organizers of the Club, the survivors are our uncle Peter Van Vechten, Jr., George W. Ogden, and myself.
We have never had any cause to regret; on the contrary, we have always been proud of our Club, and we still hope that some day in the near future, we may have a home owned by the Club, in which all of the pleasures of companionship and membership may be enjoyed to the fullest extent, and to which many more of the early historical relics can be added. T.J. PERELES