Town of Genesee History


Source: Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, September 11, 1919 | Page 4

The following interesting paper was read before the Waukesha County Historical Society at North Lake on Thursday, September 4:

When I was asked to prepare a paper for this meeting I came very near declining for various reasons. First. I am not an old settler, neither public reader, nor speaker. I trust you will bear with me in my incompetency.

After looking over much data, I find that by act of the Legislature approved March 8th, 1839, the town of Genesee was made to comprise the present towns of Genesee, Eagle, and Ottawa. By an act approved March 21st, 1843, the present town boundaries were established. In 1857 the town was surveyed into school districts by E. Manning. The township consists of six small villages, Wales, a small village on the C. & N. W. R. R. in the northern part of the town, Saylesyille, sometimes called South Genesee, in the southern part of town, North Genesee, called in early days Jenkensville. In 1836 Mr. B. A. Jenkens built the log cabin known to travelers as Jenkens' log cabin. Later a blacksmith shop was located near this site which is now occupied by the residence of Mr. John Williams. Incidents are related of Mr. Jenkens' early struggles in procuring provisions in a wheel-barrow from Milwaukee, a distance of twenty-five miles. Just opposite this is the hotel and store of Henry Bowman, now occupied by his son, Mr. Harry Bowman. This place is of especial interest to me as it was at this hotel that my father and his people with three other families spent their first night in Waukesha county sixty-five years ago last May, immigrating to this country from Germany in 1854.

In 1844 Mr. D. T. Hicox built a woolen mill on the road between North Genesee and Genesee Depot which was the oldest in the town and county. Later the mill was owned by Mr. James Proctor. In later years it burned down but was rebuilt by Mr. Proctor. The building is still standing but not in operation, Mr. Proctor having died a few years ago at the advanced age of 94 years. The old sawmill near North Genesee was built by Benjamin A. Jenkens in 1840. In 1850 an effort was made to get the State Prison located there. Messrs. Remington and Hamilton offered twenty acres of their stone quarry, called the Genesee quarry. In 1848 B. A. Jenkens built the first grist mill in the state of Wisconsin, a three story, stone structure which now stands at this place. Miller Corrigan. receiving the highest honors for his flour at an exhibition in New York, $300 being paid for one barrel of his flour and 5100 per loaf for bread. The money was used for charity. I feel that our Historical society should in the future place a tablet at this most noted landmark. Then, too, a foundry, the first in the county, was built in this village. The cannon which today stands at the foot of our township Service Roll, which stands near where the Jenkins' log cabin stood, was cast at this foundry.  It took six weeks for the men to drill the hollo in the cannon by hand, each man taking turns by means of a sweep stake.  The men worked at night.  Also the first flag which the town had was made by hand by the ladies and is still held as a sacred relic.  Plans were made to have the Whitewater State Normal school on a site known as Marble Hill but these plans failed.  The railroad did not reach these village consequently they did not grow very fast.  School houses and churches have been placed throughout this territory.  The Howard Green farm, known as Brook Hill farm, a very beautiful place, known for its celebrated Bulgarian milk, is easily reached from Genesee Depot. In the development of the agricultural industry, especially the dairy branch, the early pioneers builded better than they knew, for today Genesee township is the home of three great milk enterprises, Howard Greene's Certified Bulgarian milk, Pleasant Valley Farms and the Morey Condensery. The last two are owned by Robert G. Morey. Pleasant Valley farms furnishes one-half of all the certified milk distributed in the city of Chicago and is the only farm in the west that, ever won the gold medal from the National Dairy Show for low bacteria count. In very recent years the little hamlet of Bethesda Station consisting of a few beautiful, homes church, milk station, and depot, has been erected in the center of one of the best dairying centers of our town county, and state. Next Genesee Depot, three miles west of Bethesda, in which are located the Genesee State bank, the hardware store and lumber yard owned by C. H. Fintel, three general stores, hall, garage, Catholic church, public school etc.


North Prairie

Next and last is North Prairie to which the remainder of this paper will relate.  These three village are on the Prairie du Chien division of the Chicago, Milwaukee and Puget Sound R.R. which was built in 1852.  Mr. J. G. Sadd was the first station agent. North Prairie received its name from Messrs. Thos. Sugden, Coats, and Garton, of whom I shall later make mention. In 1836 they came from Mukwonago on a prospecting, tour. As they did not go any farther north, they concluded to call it North Prairie. The village never amounted to anything until the advent of the railroad. The first person to lay claim in the present town was Stillman Smith, which he did in 1837. The following summer he and his brother Horace, who came on in June, built a house on Section 32, this being the first house and they the first actual settlers. This place, which is within sight of the town, has changed hands several times.  The log house has been replaced by a modern frame building, now owned by Mr. Max Shaffer.

In September, Absalo Denny settled in the north part of the town with his family, said to have been the first family to settle here. Chas. Raynous, who first lived in Mukwonago, came to North Prairie in the fall of 1837 put up a house and moved in soon; later he put up a shop and began blacksmithing, the first in this section and the first in the town.  Farmers came for many years to have their breaking-plows made and all general work done. It was the custom for anyone who wished a plow made to off with his jacket and officiate with the heavy, sledge hammer until it was done. Mr. Raynous also kept a tavern. Mrs. Raynous, one of the first women in the town, had to divide her attentions among a lot of worthy bachelors among whom may be mentioned. Messrs. Horace and Stillman Smith.

The first school was kept overhead in Mr. Raynous' house in 1840 by a Mrs. Cash, who taught eight or ten pupils. In 1841 a German preacher discoursed to the people at the home of Stillman Smith. Afterwards services were conducted in the school houses and barns until churches were built. The Methodist Episcopal church was erected here in 1864 and 1865. It cost $1,500 and Rev. J. O. Hazeltine was the first pastor. The Lutheran church was erected later.

The first hotel, called the "Equality", was built by Peter D. Gifford, a man of considerable political influence.  In later years this building was used as a general store by Steinkraus Bros., until three years ago R.G. Morey turned it into an eating house for the employees of the Morey Condensery.  Orlando Harrison was one of the first wheat buyers.  Other early pioneers were Alfred Sargeant, W. H. Bogardus, Wilkinson, Carlin, Cobb, Sudd, Joseph Hanford, Thos. Sugden and sister, Mrs. Jane Sugden Coats, whose biographies I will give.


Thomas Sugden

Thomas Sugden, retired farmer, North Prairie, was one of the first settlers in Waukesha county. He was a native of Millington in the East Ridings of Yorkshire, England, born June 12, 1810. He was educated in the common schools of England where his young life was spent, first coming to America in the spring of 1834. He remained in Detroit, Mich., until fall when he returned to his native land. He married Miss Hannah Slightom of his native village April 1, 1835. The same spring the widowed mother of Mr. Sugden with four of her children himself, wife and relatives immigrated to and have since been residents of the United States. Mr. Sugden in May, 1836, came up the lakes on the old New York, the first boat to run from Detroit to Milwaukee that spring landing at Milwaukee. He made his first visit and his first claim in Waukesha county in June, 1836. The farm, located in the town of Mukwonago, is now owned by George Henderson.  This was his residence most of the time until 1843 when he settled in Eagle township, remaining there until the fall of 1849 when he located in Genesee township, at North Prairie, where he maintained residence until his death in 1887.  Mr. Sugden was a Republican, prominent in local affairs in all the towns where he resided.  He served as member of the Wisconsin legislature in 1849, 1853, and 1857.  He was appointed a notary public by Gov. Nelson in 1849 and held the office under every succeeding governor until his death.  Mr. and mrs. Sugden had a family of six children, only one member now surviving, Mrs. Hugh Jones, Juneau county, Wis.


Mrs. Jane (Sugden) Coats

In speaking of these early pioneers we must not forget the women who also shared the early hardships with the men. Great credit is due them for the assistance rendered in settling the communities. Mrs. Jane Sugden Coats, sister of Mr. Sugden, lived across the street from my home and I have heard her relate her pioneer experiences. She was a very ambitious, capable woman, who immigrated to Mukwonago, Wis., in 1836, as previously stated, married Thomas Coats March 23rd, 1840, and began housekeeping in a log house. She was left a widow in 1865 with eight children. She remained on her 280-acre, well improved farm until her family grew to manhood and womanhood, conducting it very successfully. After her brother's death, she bought his residence and moved to North Prairie in 1887 where she lived the remainder of her days. She loved to tell of early, struggles and the scant supply of provisions, potatoes eaten without salt and cooking in a shanty under a noble burr oak tree which still spreads its branches over the family roof.  Perhaps no family endured more of the actual suffering and privations than this heroic family. Too much praise cannot be given this noble, faithful neighbor, who lived amid the many comforts which she rightfully deserved to the advanced age of 90 years. She was born January 3, 1823, and died June 8, 1913, interment at North Prairie cemetery near her brother, Thomas Sugden


William Cobb

Mr. Wm. Cobb, an uncle of my dear mother, shared many serious and hard experiences with Messrs. Coats and Sugden. He found his shanty and small stack of hay burned down when he returned home. All he had left was the clothes upon his person, and an axe to help himself with. He had very few potatoes and many times no salt to eat with them and winter coming on. He then returned on foot to Illinois to spend the winter.


In conclusion, the district of which North Prairie is the center has long been a growing dairy country. For years a milk receiving station has seen maintained here. The importance and possibilities of this territory appealed so strongly to the sagacity of Mr. Robert Morey that he decided to build a milk Condensery plant here. On August 28, 1917 he broke ground for the Morey Condensery. The building is 355 feet long by 96 feet wide in the widest part. It is the judgment of expert milk engineers that the building combines a most efficient arrangement of the latest inventions in milk Condensery equipment with a most attractive exterior and is said to be one of the finest plants of its kind in the state.  THe plant, originally planned to take care of 100,000 lbs of milk a day, had to be equipped to care for 150,000 lbs. reached during this season and it is understood will be extended to accommodate a daily intake increase of 200,000 lbs.  

The village of North Prairie, rapidly growing in size, has a population of about, 300 people. In the spring of 1919 it was incorporated. A movement is under way to change the name of North Prairie to Morey, which will be left to a vote of the people.

North Lake, Sept. 4, 1919.