ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Timothy Johnson


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The Johnsons Reunited:

Family of city's first citizen arrives


Road to Oconomowoc constructed

Article from the Jan 22, 1851 issue of the Watertown Chronicle


Personal account of early Watertown,

written by Timothy Johnson,

the first white settler [1836] of what is now Watertown


During the same summer I cut a road, with the assistance of three hired men - Philander Baldwin, Reeve Griswold and Charles Seaton - from Jefferson to Watertown, on the east side of the river, and one from Jefferson to a point near the present tavern stand of Austin Kellogg, in the town of Concord. Striking the extensive tamarac swamp there, which we regarded as impassable, we abandoned our intention of opening a road to Milwaukee.


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During the summer I built a cabin within the present village of Watertown, and erected the body and laid the floor of the log house now standing on my farm, on the west side of the river, about three fourths of a mile south of the village.


In the fall I sent for my family. About the time I expected them to arrive at Milwaukee I started for that place on horseback, following the Indian trails through lxonia, Oconomowoc and Summit, to Prairieville. I do not think that any white man had previously passed over that route. There was at that time no inhabitant between Watertown and Prairieville. Having been thrown from my horse in fording the Oconomowoc River, wetting me to the skin and rendering useless my fire matches, I passed a cold, comfortless night encamped by the side of a log near the junction of the Twin Lakes.


On reaching Milwaukee, I found my family had been there two days. I hired a man to carry them to Prairieville, where they remained about four weeks. I then hired their conveyance to the upper lake, on the Oconomowoc.  At that place I and my men dug out five poplar canoes, each 31 feet long, and l shrouded them together, and built a red cedar raft capable of bearing two or three tons weight, expecting to find little or no difficulty in floating them down the Oconomowoc and Rock to Watertown, with my family, furniture and provisions. But I was mistaken.  -  As we passed out of the lake, we found the water quite shallow, and some days did not travel to exceed 80 rods.


We camped nights on the shore, and usually cooked provisions enough to last us through the following day. We reached the head of the lower lake, where the village of Oconomowoc now stands, on the night of the fifth day after leaving the upper lake. That night was intensely cold, and in the morning we found the lake covered with ice strong enough to bear a man. Of course, we were compelled to abandon our expectations of reaching Watertown by water.


So leaving my family in a tent under charge of one of my men, (Mr. Griswold) I and Miller started for Watertown after my ox team, to convey my family thither, by land. Returning to Oconomowoc with the team, I took my family and a portion of my goods, and started for Watertown. At a stream now known as Battletown Creek, about three miles from Oconomowoc, we found it necessary to build a cabin for our accommodation, until we could bridge that stream. We were thus detained three or four days. We also cut the road all the way from that point to Watertown, which place we were three weeks and three days in reaching, from the time we left Prairieville. The road thus opened was the only one traveled between Watertown and Prairieville for many years; and for a long time was the cabin alluded to, the only building on the road.


Battletown Creek received its name from the following incident: A little difficulty occurred at the cabin one night, while we were building the bridge, between one of my men by the name of Gardner and myself, ending in a "clinch" in which I obtained the advantage of my antagonist. No blood was spilt, however, nor bones broken. The next morning one of my men wrote with a piece of red chalk, on the top of a stump near the cabin, "Battletown."  The creek thus took its name, which it has borne ever since.


I might have stated before, that my family landed at Watertown on the night of the 10th of December, 1836. Mrs. Johnson was the first white woman who settled in that town.


I must pass over a number of incidents which I had intended to weave into this narrative. Two only have I time to give.


In Jan. 1837, I bought a load of provisions at Milwaukee. One barrel of flour I could not get into my shantee, and left it for the night by the door. In the morning it was gone, as also a bed cord I had used to bind the load. I could easily determine from the tracks in the snow, that the thieves were Indians. I followed their track nearly to the present village of Lowell, but not overtaking them, I gave up the chase.


About two years afterward I ascertained the name of the mover in the theft. He said that he and his company lashed two poles together with the bed cord, a foot or so apart, and lashing the poles to the pack saddles of two ponies, placed the flour upon the kind of rack thus formed. From the vicinity of Lowell, they took a turn east and did not unload the flour until then reached Hustis' Rapids. The reason he assigned for the theft was, that while I was in Milwaukee after my provisions, he had sold a pony to my son for five gallons of whiskey and alleging that the article had been watered he maintained that the flour would no more than make good the supposed cheat!


In the spring of 1837, six drunken Indians and their squaws came to my log house and asked for whiskey, saying, in their native language that they were "whiskey hungry."  I refused to let them have any.  This exasperated them, and one of their number catching up an ax, aimed a blow at my head but I warded it off, and jerking the ax from him, threw it at some rods distance.  I then seized a pitchfork, and striking him over the head, felled him to the ground.  Drawing to strike again, the instrument was caught by the remaining five Indians, and neither party was able to wrench it from the other.  Letting go with my right hand, I used my fist upon the "red skins," and knocking them all down, rushed into the house and bolted the door.  One of the Indians got the ax, and approaching the door, gave it a blow which is visible to this day.  I told him I would assuredly shoot him if he broke in the door.


A consultation took place between them, and picking up the Indian whom I had first struck, they departed, and encamped for the night near the present residence of Wm. M. Dennis. Early the next morning, the father of the wounded Indian visited me and said he wanted some whiskey to wash his papoose’s  head, as he was "much hurt." I told him he could not have the whiskey but that I would go up and see the fellow. I did so, and found the camp 30 strong. I examined the skull and found it was not broken, although it had been laid bare by the blow. I assisted in dressing the wound and left. - Had not the father of the young man voluntarily proclaimed that he was a "bad pappoose" this difficulty might have been attended with serious consequences.  As it was, l heard no more of it.


The Old Pioneer

takes one journey more

Watertown Gazette of 10 23 1913, “Watertown 57 Years Ago,”

        reprint of article from 10 23 1856 issue of the Watertown Gazette.


This week, Timothy Johnson, the first settler of Watertown, leaves this city for his new and far northwestern home, near the frontier boundary of the state, on Wolf creek — a beautiful stream with a valuable water privilege, on whose banks he has selected his final residence, and which flows into the Mississippi. 


At a time of life when most men seek retirement and repose, the Old Pioneer forsakes the spot he has seen rise from beginning when himself the only white man on it to a place of ten thousand inhabitants, and goes to a distant country, primitive as undisturbed nature can make it, there again, in the midst of the new world of strange scenery that will surround him, to commence the work of introducing another and better order of things.


An emperor of long-fallen Rome once said that he came to a city built of straw and left it built of marble.  Our still surviving founder can make a nobler boast than that he came here twenty years ago and beheld a wilderness without a city, and now, after having laid its foundations and watched over its growth thus far, he leaves a city without wilderness — a city rich in all the resources of civilization, and gradually drawing around itself whatever has a tendency to elevate and refine an enlightened community.


In thus bidding farewell to a fellow townsmen whose name has always been so intimately identified with the city within whose limits he was the first to make a permanent home, it may be appropriate to give a short sketch of one whose familiar presence we shall soon miss.


Timothy Johnson was born in Middleton, Middlesex County, Connecticut, on the 28th of June, 1792, and is consequently now in the sixty-fifth year of his age.  When only ten years old, he came with his parents to Turin, Lewis County, New York, then a new country, and just beginning to be broken into by the increasing tide of New England settlers.  In 1811, he was on the ground where Rochester now stands, which then contained only one house — all else being a vast and untenanted solitude. 


In 1816, he removed to Montville, in Medina County, Ohio, which state was then the favorite resort of such as sought new homes in the West.  Here he remained for twenty years, following ordinary pursuits, until the stories of a new, beautiful and fertile land beyond Lake Michigan began to be rumored abroad and excite his restless curiosity, ever on the lookout for something novel, exciting and adventurous.


The fame of Wisconsin at length reached his ears, and he resolutely determined to explore its magnificent forests, broad prairies and lovely lakes for himself.  He visited various portions of it, and for weeks was a solitary roamer over its then untraveled surface.  He threaded the valley of the Rock River, and was unsatisfied until his eye rested on the ground on which the city of Watertown has sprung into existence.  His quick and sure observation told him that here was a place that combined all the elements of a flourishing town.  Here was an ever-flowing stream, capable of being turned to various manufacturing purposes on the most extensive scale; here was a soil certain to yield the largest and finest crops; here were extensive ranges of heavy timber, ready to be transformed into good building material; here was a mild, healthy, delightful climate.  What more could any one desire who was longing for an unoccupied field of enterprise?


On the 10th of December, 1836, he pitched his tent here in the midst of the falling snow and a hundred Winnebago wigwams.  He has lived here ever since — a kind-hearted and obliging neighbor, ever ready to extend a helping hand and relieve distress — an active and liberal minded man — a useful and respected citizen.  The Indians who made this their charmed resort have disappeared, and the Anglo Americans have taken possession of their lands.  All has been changed.


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Our citizens know the rest — they know how family has followed family—how roads have been opened in all directions — how the towering woods have been cut down — how houses have been put up — how days of scarcity have been followed by days of plenty — how mills and manufactures have been erected along the length of our never failing water course — how the promising germs of institutions of learning for the education of the young have been planted — how temples of worship have arisen — how the solitary cottage of the first lonely pioneer was quickly made happy and cheerful by the log cabins of the new comers — how the narrow trail has been succeeded by the iron way — how the scattered settlements clustered into a hamlet — how the hamlet grew into a village — how the village enlarged into a city — though that city, with all its railroads, telegraphs, gasworks, elegant mansions, magnificent blocks, and many other characteristics of an advancing seat of enterprise and wealth, is hardly yet in the middle of the onward career. 


And now having witnessed all these wonderful revolutions, he bid adieu to the theatre of such peaceful triumphs of industry and intelligence, and voluntarily goes where the same incidents in the tragedy of life are to be enacted over once more before the hero passes from the stage.  With a form slightly bent down with weight of years, a countenance bearing the traces of care and labor, but with a spirit hopeful and firm as ever, with a light step, the gallant old pioneer starts away to make another experiment at empire building, hundreds of miles further towards the setting sun.


Prosperity crown his efforts.  May he long live and often revisit us.  We know he will never receive any other than the most hearty and cordial welcome, whenever he makes his appearance in our midst.


Founder's physique belied historical stature

A companion article to Johnson's writings, originally published in the Watertown Democrat on Feb 9, 1870.


Perhaps it will not be out of place, in this connection, if we attempt to give an outline of Mr. Johnson's personal appearance, as we were accustomed to see him some years ago. He was somewhat under the average size and weight, not very tall but slim, and without looking either powerful or robust, he struck one as being tough, sinewy and persistent - a man accustomed to activity,  exposure and outdoor life, and capable of enduring a great deal of fatigue and privation.  When we first saw him, his once erect form slightly stooped, from the effects of toil and years. His complexion was light, and in youth must have been florid and fair. His eyes were deep blue, and age had silvered his hair.  On all subjects that came within the range of his observation, he was well-informed, acute and practical in his conversation. Though something of a reader, his book knowledge was probably not extensive, as perhaps neither his tastes or pursuits led him in that direction. If, as we have been informed, in early manhood, he had been a Methodist exhorter, he must have been warm and fervent in his appeals. He was a good and accommodating neighbor but not disposed to be on very familiar or intimate terms with many. He was retiring and secluded in his habits, disposed to be reticent and keep his own counsel, and rather choosing to be by himself - there being something in the grandeur and stillness of the boundless forest, and in the solitude of the lonely journey that harmonized with his thoughts and feelings.  For a home, he seemed to prefer the distant frontier, with its trials and dangers, to the crowded city, with its rivalries and excitements.


These are the impressions we received when we first met him, more than seventeen years ago. We remember we had been here but a few days, when he called at our office, subscribed for the Democrat, and casually stated that he had taken all the papers ever published here. This led to a little talk, during which we ascertained that our visitor was the first settler of the place.



We are not aware that more than one likeness was ever taken of Mr. Johnson. That was obtained, at our suggestion, about fourteen years since, through the kindness of Mr. Curtis Cooley - who then had a Photograph Gallery, and the last time he was in his rooms, shortly before his death, he brought the negative into our office and gave it to us and it is still in our possession.


A fond farewell:  The Obituary of Timothy Johnson

Death of the Pioneer of Watertown

The Watertown Democrat, Feb 2, 1871


Mr. Timothy Johnson, the first settler of Watertown, died at Madison, Wis., at 8 o'clock on Sunday morning, the 29th of January, 1871, in the 79th year of his age.


He was born in Middletown, Conn., on the 28th of June, 1792. What his early educational advantages were we are not informed, but we presume they were fair, though the common schools of those days so soon after the close of the revolutionary war were by no means what they now are. While still a lad, he moved with his parents to central New York, then the land of promise for New Englanders. In 1816, he made a journey to the south, wandering about a couple of years in Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia. Not long after his return he married, purchased a farm near Rochester, sold that and bought another in Orleans County, which he afterwards exchanged for one in Montville, Medina County, Ohio, whither he removed in 1828. There he remained several years, when the roving desire again took possession of him, he visited the Maumee region, but finding no location that suited him, he extended his tour into Wisconsin, reaching the valley of the Rock River. He was so well pleased with the new country that he resolved to make it his home.


After various excursions previously made - sometimes by himself alone and sometimes in company with others - the 10th of December, 1836, found him, with his family, occupying the only house then standing within the limits of our city, which he had previously built with his own hands, the first permanent American settler ever located here. It was then a wild, woodland, untenanted, neighborless place, with all the hardships and deprivations of frontier life and none of the comforts of civilization. The Indians were still lingering about their familiar haunts, looking with distrust on those who were about to take their lands and drive them away. Here he remained a number of years, until a prosperous and flourishing community grew up around him, profiting little by the opportunities he had of securing a competence, when in 1856, he again resumed his youthful habit of exploring new territories, and in his old age, sought a home for himself in the Northwest portion of the state - Polk county, we believe he selected.


The gathering infirmities of his advanced period of life rendering him too feeble to endure the exposure and toils of the lonely pioneer, he again returned to this city, to pass the rest of his declining days in quietude and repose with his children, who watched over him with all kindness and solicitude. But shadows and darkness began to cloud his once clear and vigorous mind. His misty language and listless groping exhibited unmistakable signs of mental depression and alienation. His malady did not assume a violent form, but showed itself in strange ways that too plainly indicated reason was losing its "proud empire" over his thoughts and actions. For his more skillful treatment, he was taken to the Asylum at Madison, where he lingered, without much suffering or pain, until death came to gently draw aside the veil from his overcast and wandering intellect, release his spirit from its bodily imprisonment, and disclose the realities and splendors of the world beyond the grave there.  "There is no night there."


Mr. Johnson was a man of close observation, good intelligence, sound judgment, and remarkable, even among the proverbially generous pioneer elm, for his unfailing and genial hospitality. When his rude and solitary log cabin was the only habitation in all this vicinity that could offer shelter to the traveler, the belated wayfarer or stranger was sure of a hearty welcome to his roof, and readily entertained with the best he could furnish. Some of our oldest citizens - among whom is Gen. L. A. Cole - passed their first night, after reaching here, weary and fatigued, at his fireside and partook of their first meal at his table. He was a kind, accommodating neighbor and true friend.


Of Mr. Johnson's family four daughters and three sons survive, viz: Mrs. Philander Baldwin of Iowa; Mrs. P. V. Brown and Mrs. J. A. Chadwick, of this city; Mrs. Dwight Goodrich, now in Pilatka, Florida, where she is spending the winter with her husband for the benefit of his health, Henry Johnson of Dexterville, Wood county, Charles Johnson of Milwaukee, and John B. Johnson of Portage, Wis.


Cross Reference:  Portrait of Mrs. Sheldon Holmes, granddaughter of Timothy Johnson.  Obit for Mrs. Sheldon Holmes (nee Nettie Chadwick  


Holmes, Nettie nee Chadwick (Sheldon)


The funeral took place on Wednesday the 1st of February, at the residence of his son-in-law, Mr. John A. Chadwick, attended by a large number of former neighbors, and a few of the surviving companions of his pioneer days.  


Death of the First Settler of Watertown:  Mr. Timothy Johnson.

The Watertown Republican, Feb 1, 1871


Again the painful duties evolves upon us of chronicling the death of another early settler of Watertown, this time the first white man who settled where the city of Watertown now stands - Mr. Timothy Johnson.  Mr. Johnson died in the Hospital for the Insane, at Madison on Sunday morning last, in the 79th year of his age.


In the month of June 1836 Mr. Johnson came up Rock River in a canoe, to the spot where Watertown now stands.  Finding the location favorable, he built the first house here ever erected by a white man, near the site of the present residence of Mr. A. W. Carlin, in the 3d ward.  After a residence here of about 20 years, during which time he lived to see the spot, where but a few short years before the Indians reigned supreme growing into a large and flourishing town, he again engaged in the life of a pioneer in the St. Croix region of this state.  Here he remained nearly four years, but he finally returned to this city, and for several years resided with his daughters, Mrs. J. A. Chadwick and Mrs. T. V. Brown; until by reason of his demented physical and mental condition, it was necessary to place him in the Hospital for the Insane at Madison.  His mind remained impaired up to the time of his death, but his health was generally good, and he appeared to enjoy life under the kind treatment he met with.  He received a paralytic stroke which was the immediate cause of his death.


Mr. Johnson was born in Middletown, Conn., June 28th, 1792.  He early emigrated to Rochester, N.Y., where he married.  From Rochester he moved to Medina, Ohio, from whence he came west.  Mr. Johnson was possessed of all the strong and marked characteristics of the pioneer.  Fearless, independent and honest, he outwardly, perhaps, to some, did not always show the warm, tender heart that beat within him.  Before his late affliction Mr. Johnson was possessed of more than ordinary mind, much given to research, and he was able to express his ideas very aptly in his own peculiar way.


The old pioneer goes down to his grave full of years, and the places which knew him will know him no more, but the memory of the first settler of Watertown will ever remain green in the minds of our people.



Timothy Johnson


The Founding of Watertown

as seen through the eyes of

Timothy Johnsons daughter



W. F. Jannke III


When I stated a desire to write about Timothy Johnson, the founder of our fair city, I was faced with a dilemma: what can I say that hasn’t already been said or that I could say in one article instead of a mini-series? I puzzled and puzzed until I came across a copy if a speech which had been written by Jane (Johnson) Chadwick, one of Johnson’s daughters. Her speech was presented before an old settlers meeting in the late 1880s and a version of it had been published in the Watertown Gazette. But I had a copy of her original notes, which contain charming colloquialisms (as well as a very personalized form of spelling!). This manuscript, the original of which is in the collections of the Watertown Historical Society, I felt presented a very unique perspective on the founding of our city, through the eyes of a young girl. 


Jane Melissa Johnson was the fourth known child born to Timothy and Lucretia (Brownell) Johnson.  She was born August 14, 1827 in Rochester, NY. She married John Chadwick, another pioneer settler, in 1842 and they had at least four children. She died in Watertown on April 14, 1898 and together with her husband they are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, not far from the grave site of her parents.


       Lucretia (Brownwell) Johnson


Here, in her own words, is Jane Chadwick’s story:


I will date this little manuscript September 20, the day we started from Medina, Ohio, for our western home, then called the Northwest Territory, later allied Wisconsin Territory. Then there was no settlement to speak of this side of Green Bay. There was a fort at Portage where a few soldiers were stationed. The settlements were few and far apart as I said. We started September 20, came to Cleveland and there took a schooner for Milwaukee. At that time there were no steamers running farther than Detroit. We lay six days in Cuyhaguy River windbound, then another week on the St. Clair flats, then a day or two in Mackinac and when we landed in Milwaukee we had been on the boat three weeks, it being then the first of October.


Milwaukee was a small village then, [having] only two hotels, one called the Bellaview, the other [the] Cottage Inn. The east side of the river was Juneau’s side and the west side was called Kilbourn Town. On the east side Mr. Juneau had a trading post for the Indians. The Indians had unbounded love and reverence for him. They called him Solimo Nichisin Solimo, [which means] good in our language. We stayed in Milwaukee five days. My father [met] us there, he having come here in early spring. He did not dare to leave his claim for fear of someone jumping [it], for the land was not then in market and if they should only be gone for a short time perhaps when they returned they would find another occupant as much at home as you were when you left, so you see it was quite necessary for one to stay and keep close watch over what he had. In those days might was right; [there was] no law to speak of and it stood one in hand to guard well his own. I think perhaps that is in a measure the same now.


We started from Milwaukee [and] went as far as Prairieville, now Waukesha. There we again stopped for four weeks. There not being any road cut through, my father thought he would dig out some canoes and come down the Oconomowoc stream. So he made four. He fastened two together making quite a craft. We loaded what few household goods we possessed and again started for our new home we had heard so much about, the land of promise to us. But our boats were green and heavy and the stream too small, so the consequence was the men had to wade a good part of the way and push the craft. Our intention was to come down the Oconomowoc, then down Rock River to our home, then nameless but now our long loved Watertown.


Well, it was now in November. The weather was getting cold and we had managed to get as far as the first lake and the ice had frozen so hard they had to break it with poles. But by hugging the shore we managed to get through the first lake, now called Fowler and Labelle. We again pitched our tent and in the morning the lake was frozen over so hard the Indians could walk across. Well here we were, frozen in. The next thing to do was to stay where we were until my father could come here and get his team, consisting of a yoke of oxen and wagon, which took one week, we camping there all this time. I forgot to mention there were three men with us, helping us: Messers. Miller, Griswold and Baldwin. Mr. Griswold stayed with us whilst my father, my oldest brother, then only 14 years old, and the other two men came for the team. My father had cut some hay and they had to take some to feed the oxen.


It got a little warmer and we again took up our line of march, cutting the road through the Rock River woods, which was thick heavy timber, and many times not getting but a very short distance, not being worthwhile to move our camp. There not being a house between here and Waukesha , we got along so slowly we all got very tired, so my oldest brother, Henry, my two older sisters Mrs. Baldwin and Mrs. Brown, and myself, then only nine, started afoot from Pipersville and followed an Indian trail until we reached here.


There was one little log shanty here. It stood about where the new Opera House is [Editor’s Note:  Today the Elk’s Club ]. We found a French man in it. He was very glad to see us. All he had to eat was some salt pork and we brought a loaf of bread, of course [it was] not very good such as we could make on our way as we journeyed along. But such as it was I never had a meal taste better than that fried pork and bread did. That cold night of long ago was my first night in Watertown. Two days later the rest of the family came, which was the 12 of December, 1836. [Editor’s Note:  Mrs. Chadwick is in error.  The Johnson family, according to all other sources, including that of her father in 1851, arrived in Watertown on December 10, 1836, not December 12th.]  The snow had fallen to the depth of two feet and it was very cold. Thus bedded our long and tedious journey of about three months. People complain now of slow trains, but when you can start from here at seven in the morning and get to Minneapolis at 3:30, a distance of three hundred miles, I think it quite an improvement on ‘36 times.


When we left Waukesha we bought vegetables for the winter. But before we reached here they were all frozen. Our journey here was such a long and expensive one. What we thought would do for our winter supplies was nearly gone, so after my father had got a little rested he had to start again for Milwaukee for more supplies for the winter. He bought one barrel of pork for which he paid $40.00 and two barrels of flour for which he paid $20.00 a piece. Butter was 50 cents a pound, too much a delicacy to indulge in very much, and other things in proportion.


When my father reached home our little shanty was too small to hold all, so we put one barrel of flour outside and covered it as well as we could. But before morning the Indians had stolen it and father followed them for two days but could not catch them. They had two ponies and put poles across from one to the other and laid the barrel on the poles. That was quite a loss for it took so much time to go for it, as well as paying for it.


We had the body of a hewn log house up but it had no roof nor floor and that had to be made by hand, cut and split out of logs and hewn and the shingles made the same. But it was finished and I think we moved in January. It was very comfortable. Then we had to think about how we were to get our seed for our spring sowing. So after we had got settled in our new house, father cut and hewed timber for building purposes and rafted it down the river, I think, to Janesville, where he sold it and bought potatoes for which he paid five dollars per bushel and beans the same. That of course did not mean many to eat, we had none all winter. But as soon as they could grow we had a plenty, for the soil was very rich and yielded abundantly. I never saw such lovely gardens as we used to have.


When we came here our nearest neighbor was Mr. Dwight Foster, living at Fort Atkinson. They moved there the same fall we came here. We did not quarrel but lived as all good neighbors should, in peace and harmony with each other. [It was] not very neighborly for we were twenty-five miles apart. 


When my father came here he claimed where the most of our city is on the east side of the river. He sold to Mr. George J. Goodhue his interest in the water power and [in] the summer of 1837 he built a dam across the river and a sawmill. It seemed very nice to have lumber without making it by hand. The first year after the dam was built the fish came up here in such swarms they seemed to fill the river full. We had them in every form, fried, boiled, baked, and roasted. Also smoked and salted. In fact we had fish enough.


Our little town was first called Johnson’s Rapids after its founder but later was named Watertown. Judge Hyer had the honor of naming our city. Some of the oldest settlers will remember him. He, with Thomas Brayton, settled in Aztalan. There were two or three brothers of the Braytons, one they called Honey Brayton. This was a little anecdote they used to relate about him. He used to be fond [of] making a little money out of people as they were traveling through the country. So one night a wayfarer happened to stay with him all night. In the morning he charged him 75 cents, 25 cents a meal. He said he slept on a turnpost bedstead and had honey on the table. Thus he derived his name; them days we never thought of charging anyone for a night’s lodging or meal. We were only too glad to see them, that was recompense enough. We did not have so much to offer, but it was freely given.


The first religious meeting here was at my father’s house, the Rev. Mr. Halstead officiating. He was a Methodist circuit preacher. He came about noon, weary and almost sick. My mother got him some dinner and he went to bed to refresh himself so he could preach in the evening. We children (there being seven of us) were sent in different directions to notify the people that there would be preaching at our house that evening. I think there were about 12 or 15 present. But the poor man was so tired and sick he had to sit in his chair to preach. That was the fall of 1837. After that we had meetings about once a month. A Mr. Pillsbury was on the circuit with him.


The first school here was taught by Miss Dolly Piper. She taught two summers. She was a lovely lady [and] a daughter of Mr. Benjamin Piper of Pipersville. The first male teacher was my husband, Mr. J. A. Chadwick. The first postmaster was Mr. Patrick Rogan. [ Editor’s Note:  The first postmaster in Watertown was William M. Dennis, not Patrick Rogan. ]. The first store here was kept by Mr. Luther and John Cole. It seemed so nice to have a place where we could do our trading without going to Milwaukee. One time, in company with three or four of my friends, Mr. John Cole said the one that got married first should have a stone jar that stood there filled with snuff. Well, I was most always up to snuff so I got the jar. And a good husband too.


Mr. Linus R. Cady kept the first hardware store here; Mr. Stephen March had the first furniture store here; Mr. William R. Perry had the first cooper shop; the first lawyer here was Mr. John Richards. He came here in a very early day, I think in ‘37. The first death here was a Mr. Bass. He came here with two others [and] was hired to come here and jump people’s claims. They got to drinking and quarreling and killed Bass. They came in the night to have my father go to their shanty, but he refused to go, saying if he was dead he could do nothing for him. But in the morning he, with another man, went to where they were and found him laying by the fire, his flesh nearly burned off one side. They had to send to Milwaukee for a coroner to hold an inquest and my father, with one or two others, made the burial case made of planks split and hewn from logs. Not very beautiful but I presume quite substantial. In grading the streets a few years ago [in 1859] he was found and laid to rest in the cemetery. That was our first death and burial. 


The few first years of our living here were attended with many trials and privations [and] also some pleasures. We used to look forward to our holiday festivities with a great deal of pleasure. Sometimes we would go to Jefferson and sometimes their people would come here to attend our parties. But as the country became more settled we knew less of our more distant friends and, in fact, hardly knew them at all. I hope our meeting here may renew our old friendship and form new ones. I feel that it was not us that had to bear the burden but our fathers and mothers who had it to bear, who had to care for us before we could care for ourselves. But they have nearly all gone to another home.  The home where sorrows never come.  If we are prepared for that journey, let’s go hand in hand to our Old Settler’s meeting there.  Please excuse my many shortcomings.


Mrs. J. A. Chadwick



04 14       LECTURE

Next Sunday afternoon, at 2 o’clock, Mr. Timothy Johnson will deliver a lecture at the Liberal Church.  Mr. Johnson is the pioneer settler of Watertown, well known to all citizens, and will no doubt deliver an interesting and instructive address on the comprehensive topic he has chosen.




. . . It would hardly be excusable for me to conclude this communication without mentioning the fact that I made the acquaintance of Mr. Timothy Johnson, the first settler of Watertown.  The old gentleman still looks hale and hearty.  Long may he continue so.  He has lived to see the spot which he knew as a wilderness grow into a flourishing city of several thousand inhabitants.  I hope he may live long to enjoy its comforts.






1907 Homecoming Day, Recognition of, Watch Fob





A tombstone in a graveyard

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Watertown, rich in history, has been somewhat behind other towns in perpetuating the names and places of historical significance.  Other towns, or to be more exact, organizations in other towns, have taken it upon themselves to keep alive memories of the past by certain physical signs.


In Oak Hill cemetery Timothy Johnson, the first white man to make his home in Watertown, is buried, unknown and almost forgotten, with no indication that this rugged pioneer who successfully combatted the dangers, hardships and ordeals of nearly 100 years ago in this now attractive city, was the first white settled in “Johnson’s Rapids.” 


A tombstone in a cemetery

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Marking this grave would be another worthy project and an inexpensive one, too, for the much talked about historical society.


11 12       JOHNSON GRANDDAUGHTER (____-1932

       Granddaughter of First Watertown Settler Is Dead.


Mrs. Emma Fuller, 83, granddaughter of Timothy Johnson, first white settler in Watertown, died Saturday night, 11/12/32 at the home of her nephew, Edward Brown, Town of Shields, where she had made her home for the past 2 years.


She had been in failing health for some time and her death was due to the infirmities of old age.  With the exception of a few years, Mrs. Fuller spent her entire life in Watertown.


She was born here, being a daughter of the late P. V. Brown, for many years a banker here and at one time cashier of the Watertown National Bank.  Her husband, John Fuller, preceded her in death.  There are no children surviving.  Two sisters, Mrs. H. F. Heidenbran of Bay City, Michigan and Mrs. A. C. Judd of Chicago together with 3 brothers: H. P. Brown, Duluth, Minnesota; C. D. Brown of Spokane, Washington, and L. V. Brown, Los Angeles, California, survive.


Mrs. Fuller was a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church.  She was well known among the older people of the community, her family having long been prominent in community life in this section.  The funeral will be held Tuesday afternoon from the Nowack Funeral Home with burial in the family lot in Oak Hill.       WDTimes, 11/14/32




07 04                




The Bethesda Lutheran Home on whose property the city marker designating the site of the first cabin to be erected by a settler in Watertown is located, will be paid $25.00 per year to maintain the plot around the marker which up to a short time ago was virtually hidden in weeds and was sadly neglected.


The city council recently reached an agreement with the institution to have it maintain the site, after the city street department grades it properly.




A grandson of Watertown's first white settler and founder of Watertown, Timothy Johnson, will come here for the city's centennial celebration.  He is Edward L. Johnson of Pewaukee, where he operates a drug store with Edward Panter, former Watertown druggist.  Mr. Panter at one time managed the Ford-Hopkins drug store.


The two were in Watertown yesterday calling on a few old friends and while here dropped into the Times building.  Mr. Johnson said that they had read about the coming centennial festivities and decided that while they were in the vicinity they'd better come here to give the city a quick once-over again and then announced they'd be back for the celebration, notably for the parade on June 27.


Mr. Johnson was not born in Watertown, even though his grandfather first came here in 1836 to settle what is now the city of Watertown.  The grandson was born in Pittsville, Wis.  His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Johnson.




       Mural at Lindberg’s by the River




Watertown's newest park, the Timothy Johnson Park designated for the fourteenth ward, a movement which began in the common council some time ago, is being placed under the jurisdiction of the Watertown Park and Recreation Commission.  Timothy Johnson was Watertown's first white settler, coming here in 1836.  One hundred years later the city celebrated the centennial of his arrival with a parade and several days of festivities, among the foremost observances in the city's history.  Some years ago the Watertown Historical Society erected a marker to Mr. Johnson on the shores of Rock River near the Bethesda Lutheran Home which was the site of his cabin.


Location of this park 



09 30       Flag flown at park



The Obituary of Charles Johnson


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11/20/1924 <> Charles Johnson Will Be Buried Here Saturday.


Charles Johnson, son of Timothy Johnson, who was the first white settler in Watertown, died at his home in Milwaukee, 505 1/2 35th Street Wednesday afternoon, 11/19/24.  He was 86 years of age, having been the first white child born in Watertown.


The date of his birth was 8/25/1838.  He resided here until 1865 when he went to Milwaukee.  He was an engineer for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad for many years, running the engine until he was 80 years of age.


Mr. Johnson was married to Margaret Robinson of this city in 1862.  She preceded him in death 24 years ago. 


Johnson is survived by two daughters and two sons.  They are Miss Myrtle Johnson, Miss Adelaide Johnson, C. S. Johnson of Milwaukee and Frank Johnson of West Allis.


Two grandsons, sons of Frank Johnson, also survive.  They are Russell and Harold.  There is also one brother, John Johnson who resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


He was a member of the Veteran's Association of Employees of the Milwaukee Road and of Excelsior Lodge No. 20, I.0.0.F., Milwaukee.


The body will be brought to Watertown at 1:45 o'clock Saturday afternoon and services will be conducted at Oak Hill Cemetery under the auspices of the Excelsior Lodge No. 20, 1.0.0.F. of Milwaukee at 2:30 o'clock.


C. S. Johnson of Milwaukee was in the city today making arrangements for the funeral of his father, Charles Johnson.


1908       Charles Johnson return visit to Watertown, son of Timothy.




[ 1 ]  First deed to a land grant was in 1836 and went to James Rogan.  Timothy Johnson, made his first land claims at Aztalan, then in Jefferson and subsequently 1,000 acres in Watertown, but apparently this was recorded after Rogan's.  Both came here in 1836.


Minnie Krueger, recollection of her mother having worked before her marriage for Timothy Johnson.


       Mrs. Sheldon Holmes, granddaughter of Timothy Johnson


JOHNSON STREET.  Named after Timothy; is near marker on what used to be grounds of Bethesda.


TIMOTHY JOHNSON’S OWN STORY (story written for Watertown High School 1936 Orbit)


I was born in Middletown, Connecticut, on June 28 in the year of Our Lord 1792.  I left home when at the age of 17. I travelled through the different portions of the United States.  After various excursions I came to a beautiful sight of fertile black loam and best of all a clean river.  I built a temporary cabin there, and using this point as my home, I directed my travels from it.  Once while walking over some nice land I felt as though a million eyes were watching my every movement.  My suspicions were all too soon confirmed.  Before I had time to collect my thoughts, I was confronted by an ugly half naked savage.  He was of an excellent build, though, and I was afraid of my life.  He just grunted a little while a few members of his murderous band robbed me of my provisions and the only bad effect I received was a few pangs of hunger from having to go without food for forty-eight hours.


It was at this time that I stopped at a spot which I discovered to be a very pretty little rapids.  I finally went back to my shack but couldn’t rest for I was continually thinking of that rustic dell. Soon after this excursion I went back to the rapids and staked a claim for about one hundred acres.  The principal part of Watertown is now built upon this ground.


In June I decided that a yoke of oxen and wagons were necessary.  The only place to purchase these were Milwaukee, and so I made the necessary provisions for the many mile journey.  Upon arriving in Milwaukee I looked up some former acquaintances.  After much discussion I persuaded them to come back with me.  This they did, a little reluctantly perhaps.  They were my old comrades Phil Baldwin, Reeve Griswold, and Charles Seaton.  We very industriously began to clear the land of its debris, and after many days of hard labor had a road made from my shanty up to the east side of the rapids.  After this we went together and built a log cabin.  I find that the railroad junction is now situated at this place.  My friends became envious of me, like all humanity, and each staked out a claim for one thousand acres surrounding my territory.


I liked my new home very much and wanted to enjoy its pleasures and hardships with my beloved family.  They were exceedingly eager to come, and after much difficulty in computing and figuring time we came to the conclusion that we should meet in Milwaukee.


I left the rapids on horseback at a fixed time and followed an old Indian trail through Ixonia, Oconomowoc and Prairieville (now Waukesha) to Milwaukee.  It was a trip that remained in my memory during the remainder of my life.


I met my family and another friend, Rich Miller, who was going to join our settlement.  At this time we were compelled to dig out three poplar canoes and construct a raft that would bear the weight of one ton.  Our homeward journey was a difficult one.  It took us five days to reach Oconomowoc.  From there we were forced to travel the remaining twelve miles by horse and wagon.


Thus it was, my friends, that the little settlement of Johnsons Rapids was founded.





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History of Watertown, Wisconsin