City of Watertown, Wisconsin - Architectural and Historical Intensive Survey Report: 1986-1987. City of Watertown Historic Preservation Project, August 1987, pp 214-225.
During the nineteenth century, immigrants flooded into Wisconsin. At mid-century, most immigrants to Wisconsin were Yankees from New England or other areas of the eastern U.S., and foreign immigrants from Ireland, Norway, and especially Germany. These groups continued to come to the state throughout the nineteenth century, along with Poles, Bohemians, and other smaller European groups who created pockets of settlement in various areas of the state. By 1900, parts of Wisconsin had a definite European flavor, as most immigrant groups, except English-speaking groups, were not fully assimilated into American society until after World War I. The tendency of immigrant groups to settle in areas where others of their group lived led to the establishment of traditions and institutions that were peculiar to the various immigrant groups. In areas where there were concentrations of a particular ethnic group, ethnic churches, ethnic societies, ethnic schools, and other ethnic institutions were often established. In some cases, these ethnic institutions were so pervasive in a community; they seemed to dominate the culture and lifestyle of that community.
Watertown's original settlers were mostly of Yankee or Irish descent, typical of the farmers settling Jefferson County. But they were soon joined by massive numbers of Germans. In fact, the German immigration to Jefferson County and Watertown was so significant that by 1917 seventy to eighty percent of the population in the county was of German heritage. Although there were pockets of Yankee, Irish, Bohemian, and Welsh settlers in Watertown, the Germans, by virtue of their numbers, were the most significant in terms of the number of institutions and cultural traditions they formed and maintained in the community.
The Germans were the largest non-English speaking immigrant group that to America from Western Europe. Over five million Germans came to the U.S. between 1820 and 1910. Three waves of Germans flooded to America: from 1845- 1855, they came mostly from southwestern German states; from 1865-1874 they came mostly from northwestern German states; and from 1880-1893 they came mostly from northeastern Germany. In Wisconsin, Germans came in significant numbers during the 1840s, the 1850s, and the 1880s. German-born population in the state peaked in 1900, but subsequent generations of German ethnics continued the German influence in the state as they retained their culture and traditions well into the twentieth century.
The Germans came for economic reasons, for religious reasons, and for political reasons. Since German settlers tended to live within German communities in similar economic, political, or religious groups, many close-knit communities of Germans developed, sometimes within larger German settlement areas. Germans established their own fraternal organizations, their own churches, their own clubs and entertainment groups, and their own press. They even tended to support the same politics among themselves, being strong sup- porters of the Democratic Party in the nineteenth century, and in Milwaukee, establishing a strong socialist movement.
first German in Watertown reportedly came in 1837, just after the Yankee
founders. But the first real wave of Germans to the city began around 1843,
reportedly by a group looking for religious freedom. The years of 1848 and 1849
brought more Germans to Watertown, many for political reasons. These
"forty-eighters," refugees from the
revolution of 1848, were largely well-educated professionals or skilled
artisans in their homeland. In Watertown, a pioneer community, few found
employment commensurate with their training. Many tried farming or small goods
manufacturing and their failures were significant and well-known. Local legend
states that these educated Germans frequented the Buena Vista House (
Germans settled all over the city, but a large pocket of German settlement
occurred in the north central part of the city, roughly bounded by Main St.,
the Rock River on the west and north and Dewey St.; an area where houses are
closer together, on smaller lots, and closer to the street. In fact, this area,
because of its physical characteristics, has a considerable ethnic look to it,
somewhat like an "urban village" that would be found in cities much
larger. Germans ranged in occupations from the "Latin Farmers"
mentioned earlier, who usually gave up farming or trades that they were not
skilled in for work more in keeping with their education after they had become
acclimated to Watertown, to tradesmen, merchants or laborers. Few inroads in
the professions were made by Germans until the twentieth century. The ranks of
doctors, lawyers, and the first politicians were dominated by Yankees.
Gradually, though, Germans made their mark in these areas. But it was in
business that Germans really excelled. By the late nineteenth century, most of
the businesses on
German Baptist church (
Germans are significantly affiliated with the Lutheran Church in Wisconsin, and in Watertown, several churches served the German Lutheran community. The oldest Lutheran church in Watertown was actually organized as the German Evangelical Protestant Church (demolished) in 1849. In 1909 the congregation adopted Lutheran doctrines and renamed the church the St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church (historic church demolished). They joined the Wisconsin Synod, an important Lutheran Synod established specifically for Germans in Wisconsin.
John's Lutheran Church (
Germans also established a German Methodist Church in Watertown in 1849. This
church eventually became the Wesley Methodist Church (
established many private academies (only known location
of the most important educational events that involved a German immigrant in
Watertown was the First Kindergarten. Margarethe Meyer Schurz, wife of noted
politician Carl Schurz, immigrated to Watertown with her husband in 1855.
During the time they stayed in Watertown, Margarethe Schurz operated a
kindergarten, at first in her home, then in a building now located on the
grounds of the Richards' Octagon House (
Germans in Watertown organized a number of social- political groups. The most significant was the Watertown Turnverein, an institution found wherever large groups of Germans are found. Around 1858, with the assistance of German businessman Ernest Grossmann, the Watertown Turnverein organized. At first they met in the back room of a building at 113-115 S. Second St. Then they moved to Cole's Hall (201-203 E. Main St.). The group's purpose was typical of Wisconsin Turnverein groups. It promoted music, theatre, fine arts, and sciences. In 1869 the Turners built a hall that became known as the Turner Opera House or Turner Hall (301 S. Fourth St.). In this hall the Turners held many gymnastic exhibitions, plays, dances, meetings, political events, and conventions. The building burned in 1928 and a new Turner hall was constructed on the site immediately afterward. The Turnverein is one of the most important symbols of German ethnicity and was one of Watertown's leading social institutions.
The Germans organized many fraternal and insurance-providing or benevolent groups. The earliest were the Sons of Herman and the German Order of Harugari. They never erected halls like the Masons but met at Schempf's Block (205-207 E. Main St.), at 412 E. Main St., at 401 E. Main St., and at 200 N. Water St. (Misegades Wagon Shop). One of the best known and still operating benevolent associations was the Plattdeutscher Verein. It was founded in 1882 as a mutual benefit association providing death benefits to members. Until 1933 its business was conducted totally in German. After meeting in Schempf's Block (205-207 E. Main St.) and at 401 E. Main St., in 1941 the group purchased 113-115 S. Second St., a building associated with many German ethnic activities including the Turners and the German language newspaper Der Weltburger. The group has occupied this building until the present time.
The many music groups in Watertown provided much social and entertainment activity for Germans. In fact, most of these groups were dominated by Germans, some of whom had professional training. Immigrant Frederick Brandt (410 S. Fourth St.), a prominent merchant and father of businessman and noted singer Edward Brandt, was a mechanical director for German composer Richard Wagner. Edward Brandt and his wife Thekla (410 S. Fourth St.) even traveled on the interurban several evenings a week for a time studying voice in Milwaukee. Of the groups that best represent the German influence in music in Watertown, the Concordia Music Society stands out. It was also known as the Watertown Sangerverein. It was organized in 1862 and its height of success came with the building of the new Concordia Hall (117 N. First St.). The Island purchased and developed by the Concordia Society, Tivoli Island (E. Main St.) was a popular recreation spot in the late nineteenth century.
Business and Industry
Many Germans achieved success in the areas of business and industry. In fact, commerce was particularly dominated by Germans in Watertown. An unusual commercial activity was started by the Germans in Watertown; the Veihmarkt, or cattle fair. It was started around 1859 or 1860, and since 1861 the fair has been held on the second Tuesday of every month. Reportedly it was a concept brought over from Germany, and the early fairs featured trading in livestock. First held on Market Street, the fair moved to the Streets north of Main between First and Fifth Streets. Sometimes as many as 1,000 farmers were present. The fair changed emphasis over the years. In the early twentieth century it was mostly a horse trading market where pigs and produce were sometimes sold. By the mid-twentieth century the fair had become primarily a farmer's market, which it continues to be today.
Germans were involved in all other phases of commerce. The most significant "German" hotel in the community was the Buena Vista House (300 N. Fourth St.), begun in 1847 by Henry Boegal and finished by William Wiggenhorn. Jacob Weber was one of the earliest general store operators in the city (212 N. Water St.). Other owners of general or variety stores were William Buerhaus (200 E. Main St.), Emil Seibel (204 and 310 E. Main St.), and William Gruetzmacher (313 and 409 E. Main St.). Two of the largest of the general-dry goods-department stores in the community were founded and operated by Germans. The W. F. Brandt & Son department store (301-303 E. Main St.) was founded by German immigrant Frederick Brandt as the Platz and Brandt store in 1864. Eventually Frederick's son and grandson W. F. and W. E. Brandt entered the business and the store operated until the mid-1930s. Schempf Brothers department store (205-207 E. Main St.) was probably the largest and most prominent in the community. Established by Germans George and Leonard Schempf in 1848 it continued to be operated by subsequent Schempfs until 1936.
In the hardware trade, the most important business was operated by the German Kusel family. Begun in 1849 by German immigrant Daniel Kusel, the store was operated by his sons Daniel and Frederick as the D. & F. Kusel store. Kusel hardware branched out into manufacturing dairy equipment for a while in the twentieth century, and their main store at 108-112 W. Main St., operated until well into the late twentieth century, has unfortunately just recently been demolished. A branch store, operated for a time at 207 E. Main (Schempf's Block), and the Kusel Dairy Equipment plant (100 W. Milwaukee St.) still exist. Other Germans who operated hardware businesses in Watertown included William Pritzlaff (307 E. Main St.); Henry Winkenwerder (207 E. Main St.); and Charles, Edward, and Richard Geschke (115 S. Second St.).
furniture store business also contained a number of prominent German families.
The Keck Furniture Store was started by German immigrant John Keck in the
1850s, and continued by Keck children and grandchildren until the present (110
Several important jewelers in Watertown were German immigrants or of German extraction. William Sproesser and his son William D. Sproesser operated a well- known jewelry store on Main Street (ill E. Main St.). William D. Sproesser also had business interests in the Globe Milling Company and the Merchants Bank. August Wiggenhorn began his jewelry store in 1861 and the family operated the business well into the twentieth century at 13 E. Main St. Carl and Otto Goeldner were also long-time German jewelers (113 E. Main St.). Other retail merchants of German heritage include boot and shoe dealers Henry and Fred Bertram (212 E. Main St.), Fred, Oscar and Ida Kurzweg (402 E. Main St.), Henry and Eugene Meyer (212 E. Main St.), Fred Pohlman (305 E. Main St.), and Leo Ruesch (210 W. Main St.). There were also grocers and meat cutters, and, of course, saloonkeepers, too numerous to mention that served the community and were of German heritage.
In industry, many Germans operated small shops making wagons, barrels, harnesses, or metal products. Some of the most successful included Richard and Max Blaesius, Emil Schultz, and Max Gaebler, founders of the Watertown Table Slide Company (321-25 Hart St.); William Hartig, developer of the Hartig Brewing Company (demolished); August Fuermann, founder of Fuermann Brewery (demolished); William Buchheit, grain dealer and founder of Buchheit Malting Company (110 S. Ninth St.); Otto Biefeld, co-founder and developer of the Otto Biefeld Company (113-115 S. Second St., 118-200 N. Water St., 1001 S. Second St.); Edward J. Brandt of Brandt Automatic Cashier Company, the city's most significant twentieth century industry (factory demolished, office: 515-17 S. First St.); Eugene and Constanz Wiggenhorn, founders of Wiggenhorn Brothers, cigar manufacturers, one of the largest of such firms in the state (all sites demolished); and A. F. Miller, the Schlueter Brothers, and the Wilkowski Brothers, other leading cigar manufacturers in the community (316 E. Main St., 105 W. Main St., 214 N. Fourth St. and 113 N. First Street).
All of the above persons and their commercial and industrial activities are fully described in detail in the Commerce chapter and the Industry chapter. Suffice it to say here that Germans in Watertown were not only a majority of the population, they were a majority of the important commercial and industrial families in the community and helped shape the type of community Watertown is today. What is particularly interesting is that the businesses the Germans engaged in were not particularly "German," other than brewing, indicating that while the Germans kept up their personal cultural traits, they adapted well to capitalism as practiced in America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
One of the formal institutions binding the German community together was the German language and German press. In most areas where a concentration of Germans existed, German writers established a German paper, and some, such as those in Milwaukee, had regional significance. Two German papers appeared in Watertown in the 1850s. David Blumenfeld and John Kopp established The Anzeiger in 1853 and Emil Rothe established Der Weltburger around 1858. In that same year, the two papers consolidated as Der Weltburger with Blumenfeld as publisher and Rothe as editor. Rothe (location of home unknown) was a German immigrant who came to Watertown in 1851. He was a talented orator and journalist and was a staunch Democrat. In 1869 Rothe left for Cincinnati and David Blumenfeld took over total control of the Weltburger. Blumenfeld (811 N. 4th St.) had immigrated to America from Germany in 1850. He came to Racine where he helped publish that community's early German newspaper for a brief period of time. In-1851 he went to Milwaukee where he worked for the Daily Banner and Volksfreund. In 1852 he came to Watertown. Blumenfeld controlled the Weltburger until 1904.
Der Weltburger had a number of known locations. Its first known location was in the Central Block (300 E. Main St., 1866). It then moved to 113-115 S. Second St. (1872-1889), then to 119 N. Second St. (1893-1899), then to 317 E. Main St. (1900), then to 117 N. Third St., its last location. After Blumenfeld's tenure, several editors operated the paper, but it never again reached the heights of significance it had under Blumenfeld's leadership. The operation became primarily a printing plant, and the paper officially closed down in 1932.
While the Germans were a populous force in Watertown they established no unique political institutions or traditions. They were generally supporters of the Democratic Party in the nineteenth century. And, after they achieved numerical significance and had a number of prominent businessman in their ranks, the Germans had numerous mayors and council members in local government, and some state house members from their community. Because no one person ever dominated city hall, no single German mayor made a significant difference in the operation of city government. Members of the Mulberger, Bertram, and Kusel families all served as mayor of Watertown.
But the most well-known German politician who ever lived in Watertown was Carl Schurz, although he did not do his most important political work there. Schurz was a "forty-eighter" who immigrated to America in 1852 with his wife Margarethe. He came to Watertown in 1855 and began his political career. He was a volatile force in the community since he supported the Republican party and was a radical anti-slavery advocate. He was briefly the editor of The Anzeiger but was reportedly booted out for his radical writing after only one issue. He began his own paper, Der Volkszeitung, but it only lasted for a few issues in 1857. Schurz and his wife lived on a farm at the northeastern edge of Watertown (off N. Fourth St.) in a fine Gothic Revival cottage (demolished). Unfortunately Schurz had financial difficulties and in 1859 he gave up the farm and moved to Milwaukee where his political career took off. He was immersed in Republican Party politics and was helpful in getting German votes for Abraham Lincoln. He served briefly as minister to Spain, but returned to serve in the Civil War. In 1867 he moved to St. Louis and was elected U. S. Senator from Missouri. He became Secretary of the Interior under Rutherford Hayes, then editor of the New York Evening Post, and was a writer. Schurz was one of the most significant German figures in the United States, and since his political career began in Watertown it is unfortunate that there are no extant historic resources related to him in the community.
The German institutions in Watertown helped make the community the unique place it is today. These institutions and traditions also represent the way certain ethnic groups kept their traditions and culture alive for long periods of time away from their homelands and before they became fully assimilated into American society.
There were two groups of settlers related to the British Isles. They were not large settlements, but one, the Irish, made a significant Impact on the community. The other settlement, the Walsh, was a small pocket within the community. Many of the most prominent "Irish" settlers came by way of other states in the country and could also be referred to as Yankees. Perhaps most of the Irish of Watertown came in this manner, since the Irish never established a wealth of ethnic institutions in the community. The other reason is that they came primarily as individual families, not in groups as some of the German immigrants did.
Some of the most prominent Irish or Irish descent citizens of Watertown include Edward Johnson, a pioneer druggist who came to Watertown from Ireland in 1844. William Dennis was of Irish heritage. He was important in the establishment of early government in Watertown. His Dennis Block (106-110 W. Main St.) was the first known location of formal city government, as council chambers were located in the upper floors of the block. But probably no Irish family was as influential as the Rogans. Patrick, James, and Peter Rogan were Irishmen who came from New York. Patrick Rogan (314 W. Main St.) was the most well-known of the brothers. He originally purchased a farm, but also had business interests in a sawmill and land. Much of his land was on the west side of the river where reportedly most of the Irish population lived. It was Patrick Rogan's donation of land that provided a site for St. Bernard's Church to build on in 1844.
St. Bernard's Church (100 S. Church St.) was the Irish Catholic church in Watertown. It was also relatively middle class for a Catholic church. It even had a temperance society that was active state-wide, a somewhat incongruous group for an Irish dominated church. Besides a few notable citizens and a major church, the Irish left few other institutions that had significance in the community. Like the other non-German groups in Watertown, they were a noticeable, but small variation in the heavily German community.
Similar patterns developed for the Welsh in the community, only the Welsh were an even smaller group than the Irish. Most of them came via other areas of the United States and probably could be also classified as Yankees. But they did establish a Calvinistic Welsh Congregational Church and built a church building on N. Washington St. (demolished). Probably the most noted of the Welsh citizens in Watertown was Joseph Davies, a local attorney who went on to a nationally distinguished government career. He was born in 1876 and was educated in Watertown schools and at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He practiced law in Watertown and served three terms as district attorney. He left Watertown and achieved success as a trial lawyer. He worked with President Woodrow Wilson as the first Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and as an economic advisor. Later, he served Franklin Roosevelt in his administration. He was the U. S. Ambassador to Russia, Belgium and Luxembourg to climax his career. Unfortunately, his residence where he began his illustrious career, 400 S. Second St, is demolished.
One of the settlements closely related to the Germans in Watertown was the small Bohemian settlement in the community. Most came in the 1850s and raised produce on small plots in the southeastern part of the city. Reportedly the entire group of Bohemians lived within a ten mile radius of Tivoli Island around the old Watertown Plank Road. Historically, the Bohemians and Czechs organized social and fraternal groups similar to the Germans, but there is no indication that any group founded by local Bohemians became significant in the community. This is probably because they were a small concentration, and attended St. Henry's Catholic Church, the German Catholic church in the community, and found many of their fraternal and social needs met there. However, local custom states that each summer the Bohemians held a picnic on Tivoli Island, often joined by groups from Racine and Milwaukee. This suggests a possible formal association with other Bohemians in the state, but so far none has been documented. The Bohemians were most noted for their neatly kept gardens and their unique food.
Yankee and Southern Settlement
Like most early settlements in Wisconsin, the Yankees were the first to arrive and settle an area. But rarely did they congregate in great numbers enough to create a distinctively Yankee community. Rather, they were community leaders, helping establish American government and traditions, and were usually successful business leaders, as well. But in many cases the Yankees moved on, wanting new challenges, and the ones that stayed became blended into a homogeneous community with the immigrants that came after the Yankees. In the case of Watertown, while the Yankees were a significant group, and largely successful in government, business, and industry, they became more and more over- shadowed by the vast numbers of Germans who immigrated to Watertown in the 1840s and 1850s. Individual Yankee families continued to be important and successful members of the community as the nineteenth century progressed, but they blended in with the German community in the twentieth century, and there were eventually many German families that reached the success and status level of the Yankees by the late nineteenth century.
The first Yankee to arrive in Watertown was Timothy Johnson, the first settler. Johnson explored much of the Rock River Valley before deciding to claim land at the Watertown site. But Johnson's cabin did not become the center of the community. He was quickly overshadowed by the Irish-Yankee Rogan family and other pioneer Yankees such as Luther and John Cole and John Richards. The Yankees made their mark more as Individuals than as a group, yet several institutions were dominated by Yankees. The individuals and institutions will be discussed below.
One Yankee church was the First Congregational Church (312 Wisconsin). Founded in 1845 by the Rev. Stephen Peet, a noted missionary, it was one of the churches dominated by a Yankee congregation. Another Yankee church was the Episcopal church in Watertown, St. Paul's (413 S. Second St.), founded in 1847. And the first church in Watertown was also a Yankee church. Known originally as the Methodist Episcopal church, services for this congregation began as early as 1837. In 1844 a formal parish was organized and unfortunately the pioneer church building and its 1908 replacement are no longer extant.
There were a number of Yankees who were significant in commerce and industry. John and Luther Cole established the first store in the community in 1841. They also set the precedent for Main Street being the commercial center of the community by locating there. The store was short-lived, but John Cole continued to contribute to commerce by erecting two brick blocks downtown. Two of the early banks in Watertown were begun by Yankees. Daniel Jones, a native of New Hampshire started the Jefferson County Bank in the 1850s. It was suspended in 1862 and Jones joined with William Dennis who had formed the Bank of Wisconsin. Together they formed the Wisconsin National Bank (116 W. Main St.) The Bank of Watertown was founded by A. L. Pritchard, a New Yorker who never moved to Watertown. Its long-time cashier, though, was William H. Clark, another New Yorker who came to Watertown in 1854. Its original building (14 E. Main St.) was replaced by a new structure in 1911.
A number of prominent professionals in the community were of Yankee descent. In fact, they dominated the ranks of prominent professionals during much of the nineteenth century, even in a predominantly German community. John Richards, who built the impressive Octagon House (919 Charles St.) was an attorney who was a native of Massachusetts. He practiced law in Watertown and also invested in several industries. Other Yankee professionals included attorney Theodore Prentiss (802 Clyman St.), from Vermont; attorney Calvin B. Skinner (311 Milwaukee St.), from Now York; attorney Harlow Pease (700 Clyman St.), from Massachusetts; physician Martin Barber (419 N. Washington St.), from New York; and dentist Albert Solliday (114 S. Church St.), from Pennsylvania.
Several Yankees were instrumental in forming the early English-language press in Watertown. The first newspaper, the Watertown Chronicle, was published by J. A. Hadley. Hadley came from New Hampshire in 1847 and immediately began publishing the paper. Hadley was also a local and state politician. D. W. Ballou founded a long-time and important paper, the Watertown Democrat in 1854. Ballou was a New Englander who worked in New York State before coming to Watertown. The Democrat operated until 1882 when it merged with the Watertown Gazette. The Watertown Gazette was founded in 1879 and in 1880 taken over by its long-time editor and publisher, James Moore, a Yankee from New York City. The Gazette was an important weekly newspaper that published until 1937, when Moore died.
The Yankees were behind the earliest industrial development in the community. Luther Cole and John Richards were developers of the upper power site (Concord Avenue) and developed a flour mill, sawmill, and linseed oil mill at the site (all demolished). Luther Cole and E. S. Bailey also built the first flour mill at the middle dam site (downtown). The Old Yellow Mill (demolished) was built in 1842-43. Yankees were primarily involved in pioneer industries. George and Marshall J. Woodard founded a baking firm in 1865 on N. Water St. (demolished). The firm, subsequently Woodard and Stone, after the addition of a partner, Yankee Jesse Stone, was one of the most successful industries in the community in the nineteenth century.
While Yankees in Watertown were important in religion, commerce, and industry, they made their mark in politics and government, particularly during the pioneer era. The Yankees who came first brought with them an understanding of American government and the English language that made them primary candidates for public office in the new settlement. It was not until foreign immigrants assimilated in language and customs that they made an impact in local government. This happened relatively quickly to German immigrants in Watertown, because many of them were well-educated and quick to understand American language and customs, yet the Yankees were responsible for filling many of the prominent political offices in Watertown in the nineteenth century.
The Post Office was a governmental function that was particularly transient in the pioneer era in Watertown. But beginning in 1867, a New York immigrant, Justus T. Moak (405 Milwaukee St.), began a 23-year career as postmaster that stabilized the office in the community. At the state level, there were several Yankees who made a mark on government. Patrick Rogan, an Irish-Yankee (314 W. Main St.) was a four-term state assembly person. Theodore Prentiss, the attorney (802 Clyman St.). was an assembly person in 1860-61. Jesse Stone (300 S. Washington St.) reached the greatest heights in state government. An English- Yankee, he was active in Republican politics and served several terms in the state assembly. In 1898 he was elected Lt. Governor, was re-elected in 1900 and served until his death in 1902.
The Yankees were an essential element in creating a community that, although populous with German immigrants, was an American one, with American social and governmental institutions. And the Yankees provided much of the capital and business knowledge that began the commercial and industrial growth of the community. Each of the ethnic groups mentioned offered much that made the community what it is today. The Germans, from their sheer numbers, had the greatest impact in terms of the character of the community and the establishment of ethnic institutions. But the other groups added to the variety and flavor of the community as well, and if they did not leave more tangible resources, they left a history of Individuals who contributed to the growth and development of the community.
History of Watertown, Wisconsin