ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Bad roads and "Latin" farmers:
Watertown in 1848

Originally published in  Der Weltbuerger, 09 26 1868.


EDITOR'S NOTE: This history of Watertown is the first known comprehensive narrative of the earliest days of our community. It is especially interesting since it was written by a German refugee of the Revolution of 1848 - lawyer, judge and former Virginia newspaperman Henry E. Colonius - who focused on many of the activities of his fellow countrymen. 

While every effort has been made to retain as much of the flavor of this history as it was originally written, translators Charles J. Wallman and Susan Holzner made no attempt for this to be a verbatim representation, as the author relied heavily on legalistic phrasing and complicated sentence structure. 

A caution to the reader: The author has on occasion inserted pertinent comments in his narrative in parentheses (like this) while the translators have interjected explanatory notes in brackets [like this]. 

This article is part of a continuing series commemorating Watertown's sesquicentennial. 

In that year the trade from north-northwest and west of Watertown went through this locality to and from Milwaukee. The farmers of Portage, Baraboo, Sun Prairie, Sauk City and the like brought their grain and other products through Watertown to Milwaukee, to bring back farm necessities from there. The way, however, was so bad and the ground of some places so bottomless, that even in the then village of Watertown a certain Morris kept a pair of oxen to help the farmers through the village from Van Alstine's Exchange to Enos' house. In the middle of Main street, not far from the German store, a large pole stood with a wisp of straw on it. Under the switch of straw, a panel of pasteboard stood out with the inscription "No Bottom."


For farmers, those times were not golden, just as in recent years. John Luber tells of an example, when in the fall of this year, he brought a wagon full of water- and sugar- melons as well as turnips from his farm to Watertown. After he had had his wares for sale for hours, he had taken in 35 cents. The rest he had to throw to his hogs as fodder.


The year 1848, with its revolutionary movements in Europe, increased the emigration to America, especially in Germany, to a large extent as compared to earlier years. Watertown also received its share of new arrivals from the old homeland. Many so-called Latin farmers particularly came in that year. Intelligent men such as civil servants, pastors, professors, etc., who, because of their ignorance of the English language could not make use of their intelligence, bought farmland with the money they had saved from the German chaos, built a house on it and worked the farm without any practical knowledge of farming, sometimes in a rather laughable manner, which earned them the title "Latin farmers." There were also such farms near Watertown, however not to such an extent as further east.  Later the farms were usually sold to real farmers, and the so-called Latin farmers came, after acquiring the English language and proper understanding of American conditions, into their proper environment where they could better utilize the knowledge they had acquired from German schools. But those circumstances are to be regarded more as an interjection brought about by the memory of the year 1848, and have little to do with the history of Watertown.


In the spring of 1848, there came Dr. Fischer, John C. Halliger, Hohrmann and Ernst Achilles together with families, then the first Baptist Fried. Schielemann with wife, Nottorf, Grossmann and Lorenz Fribert, Wilhelm Wiggenhorn with family, among whom were his sons Constanz, Alexis, Eugen and August; Adolf Beurhaus and Adolph Lange, both married, Henry Maldaner, Fritz Herrmann, Chas. M. Ducasse, Gustav Schnasse, Martin Hopf, George Schempf and family, Schmidt Toelle, Henry and Louis Mulberger, Carl Roedel, Georg Koenig, Louis Stallmann, Leonard Meth with wife and several others.


Wilhelm Wiggenhorn arrived here with his family in the month of October, after he had been on the farm with Averbeck for several weeks, and bought the Buena Vista House and the opposite lot from Henry Boegel for the sum of $1680. The house [hotel] at that time, however, was in only a half-finished condition, and only plastered one time, but it was furnished comfortably as an inn and the upper story was even used for divine services of the Ev.[angelical] Prot[estant] parish, which, in the absence of a regular preacher, was presided over by Mr. Senator Meyer. In his absence, Louis W. Ranis led the parish, and special religious functions such as weddings, christenings, etc. were performed by Pastor Dietrichsen from Milwaukee who came here from time to time. In the vicinity of the Buena Vista House, a German lathe operator had erected a windmill on a stump, in order to operate his turning shop with it. His name, not accurately determined, was declared by some as Schiess, by others as Spiess. He did not however achieve his wish with his windmill, and for a long time afterward its rudder stood there, without being used until finally this and other buildings had to make way for the German Cath.[olic] church. Dr. Fischer went to Hustisford and practised there with an American doctor by the name of Eggerston, but he came back to Watertown again in 1849, to take over the practice of Louis Meyer, who went to California. Hoeffner and Frohne started a distillery in this year, and that was at the site of the former Hoeffner's brewery which later passed over to Joseph Bursinger [north side of Cady, east of bridge]. Beef cattle and hogs were fattened with "swill' and Frohne shot the hogs dead for his own use, and for shipment, because he was an old hunter, and was heartily supported in his shipping efforts by Jacob Hoeffner. In fall Frohne parted from Jacob Hoeffner and built a distillery with Fritz Herrmann where his summer-garden is presently located [south of Fourth street bridge] and began in the spring of 1849 to distill.


Lorenz Fribert managed a clothing and book store on the corner of Main and Third Streets, where the grocery of Widow Duffy is presently (southwest corner). At the end of the year he took over the German Store with Peterson, whereupon Henry Maldaner also joined the firm. Several years later, Lorenz Fribert, after he had established a dry goods business in Schimpf's block, opened an abstract office in Juneau, in which place he later died; his brother L. Fribert now carries it on. Mr. L. Fribert and his brother now living in Juneau were excellent well-informed lawyers from Denmark and the elder had held a high government post in that country. Adolph Beurhaus and Lange bought the later "Wedemeier's Farm," Chas. M. Ducasse the farm of Averbeck, Leonhard Mertz a farm back of Richwood, which later passed over to August van Trott and then to Ihk.


Martin Hopf founded the first tannery near John Becker, where Rickert brothers now have their tannery [southeast corner, North Water and O'Connell].