ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin



Early Impressions - 1853


Watertown Democrat, 11 23 1854


Watertown, Jefferson County - A friend has sent us the following well written description of Watertown, as it appeared to the eye of some intelligent traveler about a year ago, when the State Fair, held here, drew thousands of strangers to our city, and requests us to give it place in our local columns.  We do so with great pleasure, and thank him for his kindness in sending it to us.  Time has only confirmed the correctness of the principal statements of this article, and if they were true one short year ago, they are doubly true now.  It originally appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel of Nov. 18th, 1853, and we are not aware that it has ever been copied into any of our city papers.


Watertown, Oct. 26th, 1853


In noticing the villages north of this place, scattered through portions of Dodge and Columbia counties, I have found much difficulty in varying descriptions for your readers, the similarity between them being great.  On emerging from the woods and obtaining the first view of Watertown, the difficulty no longer exists.  The spires of the churches, the brick buildings and the countless frame ones, and the hum of business, at once give the impression that we shall soon be “in town”.  On entering the streets I find myself in an incorporated city, whose settlement is about equal in age with that of the city of yellow brick, and I think it must be conceded that Watertown has done her part towards the population and settlement of our State, when in the same number of years she has brought together, at a distance of near 50 miles from the Lake shore, and with all the disadvantages of perhaps the worst roads in the State – a difficulty which existed until the construction of the plank road, which, although it was of immense benefit to the farmer, added but little, if any, towards enlarging the city – a population of one fifth the number of that of Milwaukee.  Watertown possesses an excellent water-power, made by damming the Rock River.


On one side mills, and on the other factories of various kinds are in operation.  Standing on the bridge, which, by the way, is a bridge, to which I have seen no equal in the State, either for strength, convenience, or safety – and looking up and down the stream, the view is surpassingly fine.  Here “the river has been made the patient servant of commerce, and the torrent, subdued to man’s service, drives the complicated machinery invented by his ingenuity, is taught to leap forth in the morning to its toil, and to glide away at evening to its rest”.   Several machine shops, a foundry, cabinet shop, fork factory, &c., are on the east side of the river, the grist mills being on the west side.

St. Bernard’s

Plank Road

I find seven churches here, five of which are Protestant and two Catholic, the German and Irish.  The latter is on the finest building spot in the city – is large and well finished structure, its tall spire penetrating high in the heavens, and surmounted by a massive gilt cross, the symbol of its faith.  From the steps of this church you can obtain a splendid view of a great share of the city, with the countless numbers of teams going to, and coming from Milwaukee – the one loaded with grain – the others returning with goods, boxes piled on boxes, and bales upon bales, marked with the names of the various towns at which they are destined to be opened, and their contents sold to clothe and feed the million. 


Watertown is well supplied with Hotels.  Among the first are the Planter’s kept by R. Harrington, and the American, kept by Peter Rogan, which are equal to any in Milwaukee, with as good fare, attention and low prices, and “Mine Host” is just the man for his business. 

Planter’s Hotel

American Hotel

Artesian well


At the Planter’s one of the Artesian Wells, by which the water is drawn to the surface, and is conducted by pipes to the kitchen, barn, &c.  This water contains medical properties, and a number of invalids have derived much benefit from its use, while staying at the Planter’s.  It is also the stage house, and is doing a large business, Frink & Co. sending several extras daily from the Forest House.  


In school houses, Watertown is not deficient, and movements are on foot to construct still larger ones. 


There are three newspapers here of considerable circulation, The Watertown Chronicle, State Register, (to which may now be added the Watertown Democrat) and the Anzeiger, the last of which is in the German language, consequently I have no means of knowing its politics. 


As far as I could judge, the heft of the business is done on the east side of the river, on which side the water power is mostly in use as far as manufacturing purposes are concerned. 


There are some fine residences around Watertown, and many sites not yet built upon, but purchased expressly for dwelling houses to be erected on, all of which will naturally and certainly add to its beauty.  I believe Watertown has always been healthy in the extreme.  There is nothing around it to indicate the contrary; no marsh, but a fine river, with a rocky bottom, it sides appearing, in many places, like crumbling walls of limb-stone, running through the heart of the city, and which can be improved to any extent.  An exciting “contest in law”, has somewhat retarded it at present.  When that is settled, any amount of machinery may be run day and night by improving the water power. 


A great deal of interest is manifested in the early completion of the Milwaukee & Watertown R. R.  It is looked forward to as the means of increasing the business of the place materially, and doubtless will.  If, when the road is completed to this point, Watertown fails to purchase the grain of a great share of the country north of her, by paying so near the Milwaukee price as to induce farmers to sell, it will be her own fault and she will be the loser. 


With her immense water-power for manufacturing purposes, her numerous grist mills, &c., she is capable, if she exercises the same energy for the future as she has for the past, in a few years to quadruple her size and her population.  A difference of opinion exists in relation to the R. R. V. U. R. R., and it is difficult to find out the real feeling in relation to it. As may be expected, an immense amount of business is done here, the storekeepers are all on the qui vive, and I hear no complaints of business being dull – all appear satisfied, and all are looking forward to the completion of the R. R. as the great means by which their business shall be still further increased. 


It is difficult, mentally, to realize the fact that nineteen years ago this was a dense forest, untrod by the white man, the first having to axe his way through the forest, to the spot on which the city now stands, and which at that time was the camping ground of the Indians.  Watertown is but one of the many – although one of the greatest – proofs of the energy of the western settlers who have penetrated these western wilds, to build up cities, each of which, under the blessings of our government, is a miniature republic.  Success to her, and that success cannot better be insured than by cultivating and exercising good feeling towards her lake shore sister, Milwaukee.


I must end these notes of this inland city or they will be too long, and become tedious to those who read the Sentinel.


J. W. H.