ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Eliza Richards

1816 – 1902

John and Eliza Richards

John Richards, builder and owner of the Octagon House


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Charles Richards is the youngest child of John and Eliza Richards and was born in the Octagon House.   In later years he was a successful railroad businessman who lived in Chicago.   He sent Anna, his eldest sister, a stipend or allowance so she could eke out a living in the Octagon House.   After Anna and her son Billy died, it was Charles and his wife who led the way to donate the house as a museum.  That is an abridged version of the family history.


Thus, the house is located on CHARLES Street.   At the foot of the hill is RICHARDS avenue.  Next up from Richards is HARVEY Avenue named for Charles’ son Harvey.  At the end of the block, running three blocks east and west is THOMAS Avenue, named for Anna and her son Billy.   


Moses moved west eventually living in Washington State where there is a large group of Richards descendants.   Mary Alice married Cass Green and lived on Western Ave.   No streets were named for Moses or Alice.


Frances and Irene died as small children and Willie died as a teenager.  No streets were named for them either.    Frances died during a cholera epidemic which struck the area in the early 1850’s.  She never lived in the Octagon House.  Irene died shortly after the house was built from what was called lung fever.  We know it today as tuberculosis.     Willie died after a long period of fading from injuries suffered from a fall or baseball game.  It was always whispered about because it was related to the groin area and spine. 



--  --          FOUR GENERATIONS

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Eliza Forbes Richards, wife of John Richards,

great-granddaughter (infant) Jessie Weber Dunlop,

granddaughter Jessie Weber, daughter Alice Richards Green




        Richards and Chadwick arrive at the settlement.



        Walnut spool day bed.  A wedding gift to Eliza Richards and dates to 1841.




Death has claimed another of the early settlers of Watertown, and once more we are called upon to chronicle the departure from among us to the world beyond of an old and prominent citizen.


Mr. John Richards, who died at the city of Fond du Lac early on the morning of Wednesday, February 18th, 1874, in the 66th year of his age.


Mr. Richards left his home in this city on the previous Friday to attend to some business at Oshkosh and Fond du Lac, and while stopping at the National Hotel in the latter city sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning received a shock of paralysis from the effects of which he died.


His last moments were made as comfortable as possible by the presence of his wife, oldest daughter, a brother, and some old friends, residents of Fond du Lac, who administered to his wants and remained by his bedside until he breathed his last.  Mr. Richards had already within a few years past experienced three strokes of paralysis and a further visitation to him of this dreaded disease had been a matter of some solicitude to his friends for some time.


Mr. Richards was a native of Hinsdale, Massachusetts, and a graduate of Williamstown College.  He subsequently taught at the South Egglemont Academy, studied law and was admitted to the bar, but never made a business of the profession, preferring to follow other pursuits.


Mr. Richards came here in April, 1837.  At an early day he was county supervisor and justice of the peace, and on the organization of Jefferson County was chosen its first District Attorney.  In 1841 be married Miss Eliza Forbes, of Sheffield, Massachusetts, who shared his joys and sorrows for nearly 35 years. 


Mr. Richards became interested with Gen. Luther A. Cole in the year 1847 in the erection of the Rough and Ready mill and for nearly twenty years continued partners in the flouring business.  Several years ago Mr. Richards disposed of his interest in the Rough and Ready, but retained control of the water power on the east side where he carried on a saw mill and planing mill up to the time of his death.


Although never a politician he yet always entertained strong convictions on the politics of the country and was generally identified with the Republican party.  In our municipal affairs he always took a lively interest and in 1869 was elected Mayor of the city, holding the office one year.


Mr. Richards was a man marked with strong traits of character and endowed with a stern will and indomitable energy.  No man had a kinder or warmer heart, and as a charitable neighbor and friend he will long be remembered by many.  In his own family Mr. Richards was a noble example of a loving husband, kind father and an affectionate brother, and his sorrowing wife, stricken children and bereaved relatives have the sympathy of our entire community over the irreparable loss they have sustained.


The funeral of Mr. Richards took place from bis late residence in the 1st Ward, Friday afternoon last the 20th inst. and was largely attended by all classes in our midst who thus united in paying the last tribute of respect to the memory of one for whom they had so much love and respect when in life.  The services were conducted by Rev. O. C. Cragin of the Congregational Church. 


Mr. Richards leaves a wife and five children, three sons and two daughters.       Watertown News, 02 25 1874



Buried in Oak Hill cemetery 


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06 27       81st BIRTHDAY

The 81st birthday anniversary of our pioneer resident, Mrs. Eliza Richards, was appropriately observed Saturday afternoon at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Mary A. Green, 1108 Western Avenue, where was gathered a number of her lady friends, all old settlers.  A very pleasant time was passed and many interesting happenings of early days in Watertown recounted.


Buried in Oak Hill cemetery 





Anna Richards Thomas, Moses Richards, Eliza Richards, Mary Alice Richards Green, Bill Thomas.



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The John Richards family at dinner in the Octagon House, circa 1901.

Left to right:   Mrs. George Bott (?), William Thomas, Emma (Bott) Thomas, Mary Alice (Richards) Green,

Anna (Richards) Thomas, Mrs. Moses Richards, Eliza Richards, Sadie Jones.




Watertown's oldest resident, Mrs. Eliza Richards, died at her home on Richards Avenue at 11:30 o'clock on Thursday morning, June 19, 1902, of general debility, aged 86 years.  She was the widow of the late John Richards, who died in 1874. 


She was born in North Brookfield, Mass., April 13, 1816, being the daughter of Moses Forbes, an old time stage line proprietor, running between Albany and New York.  She married Mr. Richards in Albany, New York, and with her husband came here in the spring of 1840.  Her husband located here in 1837 but returned for his wife in 1840.  Two sons and two daughters survive, being Moses F. Richards of Ponca, Nebraska; Chas. D. Richards, of Chicago; Mrs. Annie Thomas and Mrs. Alice Green, of this city.  Sunday her remains were interred in Oak Hill cemetery. 


Mrs. Richards was one of the very best of women, and during her long residence in Watertown formed an acquaintance that dearly loved her.  She possessed a cheerful and genial disposition, and was a most agreeable lady in every walk of life.  She always took a great interest in our city's welfare, and especially was she interested in the older residents of Watertown.  Her life was a busy one, and she strived at all times to do all the good she could in this world to her neighbors and to her friends.  In her death they have lost a devoted and true friend, and all mourn her as a good and noble lady.   Watertown Gazette









Cross References:

File on Watertown’s Octagon House




Table of Contents 

History of Watertown, Wisconsin