Monthly Archives: April 2016

Chapter Eight

First Milton House

The picture above is courtesy of the Milton Historical society. The structure on the left is the Goodrich home, built in 1838. The structure on the right is the first Milton House built in 1839. The buildings were taken down sometime in the late 1920’s

The building Begins

1839 was not an extraordinarily busy year but it was productive. With Joseph and his family back in Wisconsin, one of the first things he did was build another frame building behind his home to be used as a hotel. Survey crews were working their way through the area planning a road from Chicago to Madison. This pleased Joseph because found that his site for a home and business were indeed in just the right spot. His hotel would be put to very good use.

Mid-July brought activity. Being a man of many talents with farming being one of them, Joseph realized that he had a need for a barn and planned a barn raising.  On the 18th of July in 1839 several men from the community came to help build the barn. During the construction they spoke at length about petitioning the Government for a post office.

A meeting was held at Peter McEwan’s home to discuss the possibilities for a community name for the post office. Joseph suggested Grainfield. This was debated by those present but the vote was in favor of Prairie du Lac, which is what they had been calling their new community. The petition was written, sent off and was returned rejected. It seems a small village north and west of Madison had previously been given a post office using the name Prairie du Sac and the Government thought the names would be confusing.

Well this was disappointing and another meeting was held on October 1,1839 to discuss possible alternatives. Daniel Butts suggested Milton, everyone agreed this would be a good choice and the petition was drafted, sent and, this time, accepted. Prairie du Lac had become Milton. The first postmaster was Joseph Goodrich. He held the office for several years, until W. T. Morgan took over the position… But that’s another story!


Chapter Five


The Journey West

In September of 1838 after the business of purchasing land, building a home, business and well had been completed Joseph left James Pierce in charge and headed back east to bring his family to their new Prairie Home.

It was full on winter by the time Joseph got back to New York and he was full of stories about how wonderful the land was for farming and what a great opportunity for a new life this prairie was. Many people listened and not wanting to delay the return trip until spring,  Joseph Goodrich together with a party of 12 and 4 covered wagons packed with personal belongings and supplies for the store, started the return journey back to Prairie du Lac on January 30, 1839.

An Overland journey could not have been an easy in the best of weather conditions, but in the depths of winter a journey of such a distance was full of potential dangers. On the first day out of New York the wagon that Mrs. Goodrich was riding in overturned and she broke her collarbone. The doctor did his best to set it properly, but under the conditions available he was not able to, so Mrs. Goodrich was forced to make the journey west in pain with her arm in a sling to hold the broken bone in place as best as possible.

Days slowly turned into weeks. The weather began to warm and the travelers reached the small community of Chicago. As the wagons crossed the thin ice on the Calumet River the ice gave way causing of one of the wagons to fall into the freezing water. The horse drowned in the panic of the moment but the wagon was pulled out. After examining the contents it was found that some of the best merchandise for the store had gotten wet.

The travelers continued the journey and after 34 dreary, cold and muddy days on the road Joseph Goodrich arrived with his family and the rest of the group on March 4, 1839.

They were home and the building would begin.


Chapter Seven

House and cabin

This picture was taken in the early 1900’s, the exact date the picture was taken is unknown. On the right is the home Joseph Goodrich built-in 1838. On the left is the cabin brought from Lima which still sits behind the Milton House.

The Homecoming

After the travelers difficult 34 day journey through snow, cold and mud. Joseph Goodrich with his family and the rest of the exhausted group, arrived in Prairie du Lac on a dark and gloomy March 4 in 1839. Each member of the group was looking forward to being warm and dry in the house that Joseph had built prior to returning to New York. Unfortunately this was not going to be the case. When they arrived they found James Pierce not home and the door was locked. They would discover later that he had gone to Janesville for the mail and a few other provisions. Well, this was not the homecoming that Joseph envisioned for his family! Being a man of action he sought assistance from the blacksmith Orrin Sprague, of all people, for tools to open the door.

Once in the house Nancy and the rest of the group had a chance to take a look at their new home. The house was not at all a large building, 16 x 20 feet, but it was solidly built of oak timbers with a small window on each of the two floors.

Furnishings in the home were not what they were used to back in New York but they would serve them well. There were three–legged stools and table that was one foot wide and 12 feet long that rested on saw horses. After meals the table was taken outside and leaned against the house until it was needed again. At bedtime the stools were moved and beds were made on the floor. It was crowded as there were 14 people living in the little house, but they were happy.

Their home would serve many purposes. A loft area above served as the store and held a stock of goods for sale. As there was no established communities in the area. Settlers made the journey to purchase goods and supplies from this prairie store. The little home also later served as the post office and church. The family also welcomed travelers for the night.

In order to gain a little more space, Joseph bought a cabin from the Lima area and had it moved to Prairie Du Lac and created an annex to the house. Joseph had his family with him. Now the business of building a community could begin.

Chapter Six


The Orrin Sprague Story

Joseph Goodrich, if you remember, left for New York to bring his family back in September of 1838. After arriving he naturally began talking about what a wonderful place Prairie du Lac was. He spoke at length about how rich the soil was for farming and what a great opportunity for a new life this prairie would provide for those hardy enough to come. Many people listened with great interest, one of these people was Orrin Sprague.

Orrin Sprague was a blacksmith and farmer. He married Amelia Cady in 1828 and they made their home in Pennsylvania. Together they had 15 children over the years, but sadly a set of twins died at a young age. They lived in Pennsylvania until 1830, when he moved his wife and first born son to Alfred New York. Mr. Sprague worked to provide for his growing family, and upon hearing of the wide open opportunity in Wisconsin, he swiftly sold everything he could and moved his family to here. They arrived in November and needed to get themselves set for the winter without delay.

Mr. Sprague went straight to Peter McEwan and told him that Joseph Goodrich had sent him on ahead to set up a blacksmith shop and he was to give him some land for the purpose of building a shop and a cabin for his family. Taking him at his word Mr. Mc Ewen did just that and set out a plot of land in the southeast corner of section 27 of his own claim. Mr. Sprague got straight to work as winter was setting in and time was of the essence.

Having a blacksmith shop in the area was a great convenience to the local farmers. Prior to the shop being opened anything that required a blacksmiths skill involved a journey to either Kenosha or Racine. This was quite a trip and the result being lost time from home and the fields.

Well, when Joseph returned in the spring of 1839 he was not at all pleased to see that Orrin had come. You see the story is that these two men were not on the best of terms. While I’ve not discovered what the basis of the bad blood between the two men may have been. The fact was, Sprague was here and a blacksmith was needed in the community.

Ezra later told the story that the first lot sold after his father aquired title to his land was a lot sold to Mr. Sprague in Apirl of 1840. [I have not been able to pinpoint the location of this particular lot, nor have I been able to verify whether or not the blacksmith shop that sits on the Milton House property was in fact owned by Mr. Sprague. While he was the first blacksmith in town, he was not the only one.] 

Time passed, Milton grew and so did Mr. Spragues family and business which allowed him to purchase over 500 acres of land north of town in section 14 where he begin farming. Mr. Orrin Sprague died at the age of 77 while visiting his  one of his daughters in the state of Iowa. He was brought back here and laid to rest in the Otter Creek Cemetery.

*The picture above is not the property owned by Orrin Sprague*

Chapter Four

Photo taken by Sharon Siverly
*See below

The Well Story

With land and shelter taken care of, the final necessity for starting a new life was a dependable source of drinking water. There was plentiful water in the lake directly to the east but it wasn’t good for drinking, so a well had to be dug.

Digging a well by hand is no easy feat but Joseph and James were no strangers to the task and didn’t anticipate any problems. After digging down 16 feet the men discovered that the subsoil of Wisconsin was not at all like New York. The soil was caving in along the sides faster than it could be shored up. Joseph decided the walls of the well would need to be lined in order to continue safely. He built an eight foot square frame of oak and lowered it into the well. Boards were lowered to shore up the area not covered by the frame but problems still arose, so Joseph called for Daniel Butts assistance.

Mr. Butts also had previous experience digging wells, and together the team found water at 50 feet. The last of the loose subsoil was drawn out of the well using pails tied to bed cords sent down and drawn back out hand over hand, which surely caused some amount of blistering and pain.

Mr. Goodrich was very pleased that the well was done but he wanted it to be stone. The men gathered stones from the surrounding area and Joseph use them to finish the well. With the necessities now in place, Mr. Goodrich was comfortable that everything was good and began the journey back to New York for his family in September of 1838.

Later on in the icy cold of winter. The water level began to get low, so James volunteered to go down the well to see what was causing the problem. Carefully climbing from stone to stone, he worked his way down and discovered that sand accumulated causing a displacement of the water. Henry Crandall, who had returned with his family in November, lowered a pail down that they used to take up the sand and restore the water level.

As he was climbing out James came to a spot that he could barely fit through. Stones had become loose and were dangerously close to collapse. He did his best to hold them in place as Henry sent the pail back down and lifted the stones out of the well one at a time. James then gingerly worked his way up and out to find Henry white as a sheet for fear of his young companions life and limb.

Repairs to the well might be needed, but at least on that cold day in winter they had water!

*The photo of the well above was taken behind the Milton House. This may have once been a working well but is most likely not the well spoken of in the story.