Rochester, Wisconsin 1871


From a historical address delivered by Judge Charles E. Dyer at Burlington, Wis., Feb. 22, 1871

Levi Godfrey was the first white settler in the town of Rochester. He came into the country on foot, accompanied by John B. Wade, and arrived in the fall of 1835. He was looking for a waterpower, and upon finding it at the present site of Rochester village he made a claim on the west side of Fox river. He built a shanty 16 feet square, the first structure erected for human habitation in the town, and brought out his family to their future Western home, in 1836. Mrs. Godfrey did not see a white woman during the first six weeks she spent in her new residence. Her nearest female neighbor at that time was Mrs. Betsey Call, at Call's Grove. G. W. Gamble, Gilman Hoyt, Martin C. Whitman, L. O. Whitman and Mary Skinner came into Rochester in 1836, but general emigration to the town did not begin until 1837. Philo Belden came in June of that year but remained only a short time, returning to Rochester, however, in June 1839, when he made it a permanent home.

The settlers of 1837 were George E. Duncan, George Stebbins, James H. Gipson, Benjamin Flanders, Alonzo Snow, Philander Bartlett, Benjamin Bartlett, Thaddeus Earl, G. W. Hoyt, John Freelove, David M. Fowler, Philander Cole, William Creirston, Sela Whitman, Joseph Clark, Horace Frost, Patrick Laughrin, Seth Warner, Royal Flanders, and Trystam C. Hoyt.

The settlers of 1838 were Horace Andrews, William G. Lewis, H. S. Hulburd, I. O. Parker, Calvin Earl, Hilliard Hely, and Mrs. Robert Adams, who was one of the pioneer women in the western part of the county.

In '39 Obed Hurlbut, Eleazer Everit, Jacob L. Myers, Jedediah Healy, J. H. Hickox, Abial Whitman, Pinkston Wade, Luther Whitman, G. M. Hely, Richard E. Ela and Henry Cady made their settlements in the town. William S. Hoyt, and F. E. Hoyt made permanent settlement in 1840. William S. Hoyt was in Rochester in '37, but returned to Vermont, where he remained three years before coming West to remain permanently. Mr. Eleazer Everit purchased 240 acres of land at the land sales. There was a sawmill at Rochester, and preparatory to the erection of a dwelling on his farm he hauled two saw logs to mill and got them sawed into lumber. He hauled the lumber back to his farm, cut down some trees for corner posts, and with this material he built his shanty, which constituted the first place of shelter and abode for himself, his wife and two children, in the wild interior region where he was destined to build up a fine estate.

The first season that Mr. Everit was on his farm he broke up six acres upon which he sowed his first wheat, which produced a good crop. He sold his first load at Southport for $13, and was paid for it in the currency of a bank which he afterward discovered had failed two years before!

Levi Godfrey kept the first hotel in Rochester, which was opened in 1837. It was at his log house, in October, 1836, the celebrated "God-fry" convention was held. Delegates came from a great distance on horseback, and staid with him two nights, though it is said to this day that some of those who left their homes got lost in the wilderness and never found Godfrey's cabin. The convention was evidently anticipated as a great event, for preparatory to it Mr. Godfrey went to Skunk Grove and bought an ox for beef with which to feed the delegates. Dr. Cary was president of the convention; its members slept in their blankets on the floor at night, and dreamed over Democratic resolutions as sweetly as if Pottawotomie Indians were not slumber in an adjoining camp.

In the fall of 1837 Martin Whitman began the improvement of a water power on Muskego creek.

The present Rochester waterpower was located and established by Philo Belden, Timothy G. Green and Jeremiah Ford in 1842. The first bridge over Fox river, at Rochester, was built in 1836, by Ira A. Rice and John T. Palmer.

In the winter of 1836 William H. Waterman, of Racine, made a claim in behalf of himself, Elias Smith, Henry F. Cox, Amaziah Stebbins and John M. Myers to the lands in Rochester village east of Fox river, and north of Main street; and, in 1839 and 40, they operated a mill on Muskego creek.

On the 26th of October, 1839, Martin C. Whitman, Levi Godfrey, Obed Hurlbut, Hiland Hurlbut and Philo Belden, as proprietors, caused to be platted all the village property in Rochester, on the west side of Fox river and that portion also on the east side of the river south of Main street.

On the 9th day of May, 1840, Elias Smith, Consider Heath, David Anderson and Margaret A. Cox, as proprietors, caused to be platted that portion of the village tract situated east of the river and north of Main street. The village was first called the "Upper Forks."

In the earliest years of the settlement the settlers experienced the usual hardships of a new country. The storms would beat into their cabins; the deep snows of long winters put an embargo upon travel, and fish and game were at times the chief means of subsistence.

In the summer season women walked four miles following Indian trails, and carrying their babies in a basket, to visit their neighbors. Mrs. Adams tells me that the women of those days made light of jaunts like these, and that a pan of johnny cake and a good supply of Old Hyson made a feast for many a tea party in those wild times. The country was singularly free from underbrush, and travel through the woodland was therefore free from obstruction or difficulty. As new settlers came in, they were welcomed to the cabins of the earlier inhabitants, and when night came on they would take their resting places on the floor, in rows, and sleep as sweetly as if reposing on pillows of down, with angels expressly commissioned to watch over them.

Richard E. Ela established in Rochester, in 1839, the first fanning mill establishment in the county. He built his first mills in the cellar under his house.

Rev. C. C. Cadwell was the first resident minister in Rochester. He settled there in 1839. The first church building erected in the town was built in 1844, by the Congregational Society.

I ought not to omit to mention that Emily Hoyt, daughter of T. C. Hoyt, and now the wife of Allen Stetson, when a girl but thirteen years of age came to Rochester with her father and brother, in 1837. She was their housekeeper, while they were making improvements preparatory to the removal of the remaining members of the family to their Western home. During the mornings of the summer of 1837 she was in the habit of rising early, to prepare breakfast for her father and brother. The morning meal over, and while the oxen were being placed before the plow, she would hastily finish her work, fasten the door of their rude cabin, go with the team in company with her father and brother to the breaking field, and there, from morning until night, she followed the plow in wearisome rounds, rather than remain alone in the cabin, exposed to dangers from the Indians, who were prowling about in great numbers.

Phil Belden built the first brick chimney in Rochester and went to the mouth of Root river for the brick.

Mr. Oren Wright settled in Rochester on the 2d of January, 1840. He established a turning lathe, and manufactured the first chairs and bedsteads that were made at any place within a distance of sixty miles west.

The first death in Rochester was that of Mrs. Wade, which occurred on the 1st day of January, 1837; and the first white child born in the town was Henry Warner, son of Seth Warner.

Mr. Philander Cole and Miss Nancy Fowler were the first persons married in the place. In those days a license was required and Mr. Cole journeyed to Racine, on foot, for his license, which cost him $4.00.

The first justice of the peace in Rochester was Seth Warner, the first doctor, Solomon Blood, and the first religious society, Baptists, organized in 1837.

In 1839 the principal Indian trail ran west from Rochester to Spring Prairie. In that year and in 1840 there was a great contest among the people concerning the establishment of roads, and the lines upon which they should run, and there were not wanting many persons who believed and urged that the Indian trails would and should be adopted, as the lines for highways and thoroughfares of travel. I think the most marked Indian trail to be now found in the county crosses the Rochester & Burlington road, southwest of Rochester village, and winds along the crest of the bank of Fox river for a considerable distance, among forest trees that stood where they now stand before Levi Godfrey's adventurous spirit had guided him to his early home in Wisconsin.


The Town of Rochester is the smallest in the county, as it is comprised of the north half of Congressional Township 3, Range 19, and has an area of only eighteen square miles. It is situated in the western tier; is bounded on the north by the Town of Waterford; on the east by Dover; on the south by Burlington, and on the west by the County of Walworth. The Fox River flows in a southerly direction through the eastern half of the township and it is joined near the village of Rochester by the Muskego Creek, the outlet of Wind Lake. The outlet of Eagle Lake touches the southeast corner and falls into the Fox River in Section 14. A little of the north end of Long Lake lies in this township and there is a small lake between it and the Village of Rochester.

Levi Godfrey and John B. Wade came into what is now Rochester Township on foot in the fall of 1835. To the former belongs the honor of being the first white settler. He was looking for a water power and finding a place that looked suitable for his purposes near where the Village of Rochester now stands, he made a claim on the west side of the Fox River at that point. His shanty, sixteen feet square, was the first structure erected by a white man in the township. When it was completed he brought his wife to their frontier home early in 1836. Mrs. Godfrey did not see a white woman during the first six weeks of her residence in Racine County. Her nearest female neighbor was Mrs. Betsy Call, at Call's Grove, in what is now the Town of Waterford.

Mr. Wade also made a claim and his wife was the first person to die in the township, her death occurring on New Year's Day in 1837. In that year Levi Godfrey opened his hotel in Rochester.

A few settlers located in Rochester during the year 1836, among whom were G. W. Gamble, Gilman Hoyt, John T. Palmer, L. O. and Martin Whitman and Mary Skinner. The first bridge over the Fox River at Rochester was built in the fall of that year by Ira A. Rice and John T. Palmer.

Quite a number of immigrants came to the township in 1837, among whom may be mentioned George. E. Duncan, George. W. and Tristam Hoyt, Benjamin Flanders, Alonzo Snow, James H. Gipson, Thaddeus Earl, David M. Fowler, Joseph Clark, Philander Bartlett, Benjamin Bartlett, Horace Frost, Royal Flanders, Patrick Laughrin, John Freelove and Sela Whitman. Toward the close of the year John Freelove, Sela Whitman and Seth Warner also settled in Rochester. Seth Warner's son, Henry, was the first white child born in the township.

In 1838 Horace Andrews, Calvin Earl, I. O. Parker, H. S. Hurlbut, Hilliard Hely and William G. Lewis all made claims in the township, and the next year the population was increased by the arrival of Obed Hurlbut, G. M. Hely, Eleazer Everit, Jacob L. Myers, Jedediah Healy, Henry Cady, Luther Whitman, Abial Whitman, J. H. Hickox, Richard E. Ela and Pinkston Wade.

A saw-mill was built at Rochester soon after the first settlements were started, and when Eleazor Everit arrived in 1839 he decided to have a frame house. He therefore cut and hauled two saw-logs to the mill and had them sawed into boards. Then he cut down four small trees and planted them firmly in the ground for corner posts. To these posts he nailed the boards and also used some of his lumber for a roof. The house was not exactly "a thing of beauty," but it served as an abode for himself, his wife and two children on the farm where he afterward built a substantial residence and made other improvements second to none in the county. The first season he occupied his farm he sowed six acres of wheat, which yielded a good crop. In marketing his wheat he was especially fortunate. Southport (now in Kenosha County) was the most convenient market town and to that place he hauled a load of wheat, for which he received thirteen dollars in currency, but upon trying to pass the money learned that the bank which had issued it had been in bankruptcy for two years.

Some idea of the hardships encountered by young women on the frontier may be gained from the experience of Emily Hoyt, daughter of Tristam C. Hoyt, who came with her father and brother to Rochester in 1837, when she was only thirteen years of age. She was the housekeeper for the family and after preparing breakfast on summer mornings she would hurry up with her work, fasten the door of the cabin as well as she could and go with her father and brother to the field, where she would remain all day following the plow, rather than stay in the cabin, because Indians in considerable numbers were constantly prowling about the neighborhood and she was afraid to be by herself.

The first physician in Rochester Township was Dr. Solomon Blood; Seth Warner was the first justice of the peace; Rev. C. C. Cadwell was the first resident minister, who preached for the Baptist Church, organized in 1837, which was the first religious society. Philo Belden built the first brick chimney, hauling the brick from a yard at the mouth of the Root River, a distance of about twenty-five miles. Martin Whitman began the improvement of a water power on Muskego Creek in the fall of 1837, and in January, 1840, Oren Wright put in a turning lathe. He manufactured chairs, tables and bedsteads -- the only furniture of that description made any place within a radius of many miles. The first marriage was that of a Mr. Cole and a Miss Fowler. The groom walked to Racine for the marriage license, which cost him four dollars.

When Rochester Township was first established by the act of January 2, 1838, its boundaries were described as follows: "Commencing at the southwest corner of the Town of Mount Pleasant; thence due west to the line dividing Racine and Walworth Counties; thence due north to the north line of Racine County; thence east to the northwest corner of the Town of Mount Pleasant, and thence due south to the place of beginning."

These boundaries included all the present Town of Rochester, the Towns of Dover, Norway and Waterford, and the north half of Burlington. The next Legislature passed an act, approved by Governor Dodge on March 9, 1839, creating a number of new townships in the state and modifying the boundaries of those previously established. Section 21 of that act provided: "That the country included within the following limits, to wit: Commencing at the northwest corner of Racine County; thence due east to the northwest corner of the Town of Mount Pleasant; thence due south to the Northeast (southeast) corner of Section 13, in Township No. 3 North, Range 20 East; thence due west to the line dividing Racine and Walworth Counties; thence due north to the place of beginning, be, and the same is hereby set off into a separate town by the name of Rochester."

As thus described, Rochester included the Towns of Norway and Waterford, the present Town of Rochester and the northern half of Dover. There is clearly a misprint in the eastern boundary, where the northeast corner of Section 13 is given as its southern terminus. The southeast corner of that section is on a line with the southern boundary of Rochester as it is at present, and was unquestionably meant. This theory is borne out by the fact that the Town of Burlington was created by the same act, its northern boundary being fixed as the " Town of Rochester," and there is no record of the north line of Burlington having been changed.

In the act of January 2, 1838, the places of holding elections were designated as the house of Stebbins and Duncan, in the Village of Rochester, and Moses Smith's house, in the Village of Burlington. When Burlington was established the next year, the house of Stebbins and Duncan remained as the voting place for Rochester.

Although the smallest township in the county and without a railroad, Rochester is not behind in other respects. The population in 1910 was 766, and the assessed valuation of property in 1915 was $1,297,385, or nearly seventeen hundred dollars for each person living in the township.

Rochester Village 1916

The incorporated Village of Rochester, in the Township of the same name, is pleasantly situated on the Fox River, twenty-three miles west of Racine and four miles east of Honey Creek, which is the most convenient railroad station. Franklin Hatheway, in his "Reminiscences," published in Volume XV of the Wisconsin Historical Collections, says his uncle, Joshua Hatheway, who was one of the government surveyors in Racine and Kenosha Counties, was the first to select this place as a townsite. In his survey he became acquainted with a Potawatomi Indian who informed him that the word Waukesha was the Potawatomi for "Fox." When the surveying party reached the banks of the Fox River at the mouth of the Muskego Creek, Mr. Hatheway was so impressed with the site and the possibilities of water power that he decided to locate a town there at some future time. In this project he was joined by Mr. Cox and Mr. Myers, two others of the surveying party. Mr. Hatheway then took his hatchet and blazed an oak tree, and upon the white surface of the wood wrote the word "Waukeeshah," the name selected for the future city. He afterward claimed that this was the first time that word was ever written in English. That was early in 1836.

Unknown to Hatheway, Cox and Myers, Levi Godfrey and John Wade had visited the same spot and selected claims in the fall of 1835. In 1836 Mr. Godfrey brought his family to the claim he had selected and began housekeeping in a shanty sixteen feet square and so low that he had to stoop in entering the doorway. A little later he built a larger log house and opened a tavern, which became historic as the place where the convention was held that nominated Captain Gilbert Knapp for the Legislature in the fall of 1836. Godfrey's original shanty was the first structure erected by a white man within the present village limits.

In 1837 Mr. Godfrey enlarged his tavern, Alonzo Snow opened a general store, and Martin C. Whitman built a saw-mill. The settlement was then known as the "Upper Forks," to distinguish it from the one at the mouth of the White River, which was called the "Lower Forks" (now Burlington). Early in the fall of 1839, A. W. Doolittle, the first county surveyor of Racine County, was employed by the owners of the land at the "Upper Forks" to survey and lay out a town. As most of the proprietors -- Martin C. Whitman, Levi Godfrey, Obed and Hiland Hurlburt and Philo Belden -- were from Western New York, they selected the name "Rochester" for their town, and the plat was filed with the register of deeds in October, 1839. Henry Mygatt, Elias Smith, David Anderson, Consider Heath and Margaret A. Cox, who owned some of the adjoining lands, filed the plat of their addition on June 16, 1840.

Mary, daughter of Levi Godfrey, was the first white child born in Rochester. The first marriage was that of Philander Cole and a Miss Nancy Fowler, which was solemnized in the fall of 1836. Mr. Cole walked to Racine for his license, which cost him four dollars. Mrs. John Wade, who died in February, 1837, was the first death. The first school house was built in 1840 and the first teacher was a daughter of Dr. E. G. Dyer, of Burlington. Peter Campbell built the first brick house, in which he conducted the "Union Hotel" until his death in 1856.

A man named Ford started an iron foundry on a small scale near Martin Whitman's saw-mill. When the mill was destroyed by fire in 1839 the foundry was slightly damaged. Philo Belden then built a mill on the Muskego and in 1842 added a flour mill. Two years later he bought out Mr. Ford and added the foundry to his business. A little later Richard established a wagon factory, which did a good business for several years, but finally ceased operations.

On June 27, 1912, a petition, signed by Thomas Edwards, H. C. Wood, J. E. Jackson and others, was filed in the circuit court, praying for the incorporation of Rochester. A census previously taken showed a population of over one hundred and fifty, as required by law. Judge Belden granted the petition, provided a majority of the citizens were in favor of incorporating, and ordered an election to give the voters an opportunity to express themselves. J. E. Jackson, George Ela and A. A. Burgess were appointed inspectors to conduct the election, which was held on August 20, 1912. The proposition to incorporate was carried by a vote of 41 to 36, and under the order of June 27th Rochester was declared in incorporated village.

The principal business interests of Rochester are the flour mill, two general stores, the hotel, a creamery, a blacksmith and wagon shop, and a florist. There is a good public school building and the usual number of small shops to be found in villages of this class. According to the Wisconsin Gazetteer for 1915, the population is estimated at 256, and the same year the property of the village was valued for taxation at $181,992.

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