Hello everyone, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a chapter from Milton’s Story and I wanted to say I am sorry about that. I discovered that finding information was more difficult than I had anticipated. Getting research help from the Historical Society was disappointing. So much so that I gave up trying. The Janesville Library and the County Historical Society have been helpful. For that I am thankful.
The favorite saying from the Historical society was “Have you checked the Bicentennial book?” Well yes, but I am a professional and I don’t want to regurgitate already known information nor do I want to put myself into a situation where I can be accused of plagiarism. This has been a fun and interesting project for me. I hope it has also been for those that have been reading Milton’s Story. I don’t want to give up on it yet so be patient as I figure out how I am going to proceed. One option is to skip over Milton and begin another community entirely. I haven’t yet decided whether that is an option I will take.
I will continue working to keep the County Park posts and other things of interest coming for you as I figure this setback out.
This is the second in the series of posts about the men that had a direct impact on the building of Milton into the community it is. Peter McEwan was one of the first white men to come to Rock County and settle in what is now Milton. He was born in Scotland in 1809 in Chapel Hill near Perthshire. After completing his education he found employment as a clerk in a mercantile shop and later went into business for himself, in the town of Auchtereader. He operated his business until the age of 25, when in that year of 1834 the desire to explore the world struck and he decided to move to America. He settled in Philadelphia for a while then moved to Niagara Canada at the invitation of John Young. Peter went to Canada and worked as a salesman for Mr. Young for three years, when the desire to explore came again to visit.
In May of 1837 Peter McEwan joined company with a group of people traveling to the Wisconsin Territory. After reaching Milwaukee he joined another smaller group and came to the area that would be known as Prairie du Lac. He liked what he saw, the soil was rich and good for farming, so set out for what would become Janesville to find who owned the land. After securing claim to the NE ¼ of section 34 and two other 80 tracts in this section as well as the SE ¼ of section 27 Peter hired a man to begin breaking ground and he went back to Canada to settle his business there.
He returned to Wisconsin in July with a stock of merchandise, a load of lumber and some tools. He built himself a good size cabin in section 34 and set about farming. His Mother Elizabeth, Brothers William and James as well as his four sisters moved to America the following year and joined him in the new community.
Peter spent the next 18 years helping build the growing town. For several years he owned one of the first mercantile businesses in town with his brother William. He sold lots on the south end of the town square to several people for their homes and businesses. One lot was sold in 1844 to a merchant named John Alexander who had his business in the McEwan home prior to opening his own shop on the land he purchased from McEwan.
Another lot was sold Alexander Paul who moved his business to that location and also built a grain storage building to store grain accepted in exchange for goods. Peter McEwan also gave land to the Congregational Church in order for them to be able to build their church which still stands on the south side of the park.
In 1855 Peter McEwan returned to Auchtereader Scotland for a visit. While there he met and married Lillian Syme. They came back to America and lived here until 1858 when they moved back to Scotland to stay. Peter returned twice for a visit, once in 1862 and again in 1876. This was the last time Peter McEwan would see his American home, his family and friends. He died January 30, 1879 at his home in Perth Scotland.
The portrait of Peter McEwan above is from the Portrait and Biographical Album of Rock County 1879 courtesy of Rock county Historical Society. Their assistance with my research is greatly appreciated
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.
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.