Interesting Highlights of the Early History of Ozaukee County
By Herbert H Peters
Creating the County Early Settlers Farms and Mills Industries Develop
Draft Riot Indian Scare Construct Roads Today 1982
When the white men first came to this land now known as Ozaukee County, they found the native Menomonee, Pottawatomi, Sac and Fox Indian tribes of the Algonquin nation living peacefully in a land of outstanding natural beauty. Dense forests of hardwoods and evergreens covered the rolling hills. In the many valleys were streams of clear, cool, ever flowing water threading their way to the sandy shore of Lake Michigan.

Between 1670 and 1680, the first white men to visit this land were the French traders, LaSalle and Joliet. They came down the west shore of Lake Michigan to establish trading and military posts in the name of France, and the Jesuits, Allouez, Hennepin and Marquette, to bring Christianity to the native red men. No definite settlement of the territory was made by France, however, and in 1761 she yielded her rights to the English who claimed possession until after the Revolutionary War.

By the Treaty of 1835, the Indian tribes gave up their homeland and were moved to the country west of the Mississippi.

The first sale of lands by the government in Ozaukee County was made at Green Bay on November 24, 1835 to Wooster Harrison and Associates. They acquired the lands at the mouth of Sauk Creek, platted it and called it Wisconsin City. Later the name was changed to Washington City, and now it is known as Port Washington;

Creating the County Table of Contents

The land making up Ozaukee County was originally part of Milwaukee County which made up the entire southeast section of Wisconsin. In 1830 the first Wisconsin Territorial Legislature set off from Milwaukee County a portion of this land and called it Washington County.

Because of the continued great dissension between several of the communities, principally Port Washington, Cedarburg, Grafton, and West Bend concerning the location of the county seat, the people finally caused the division of Washington County into the two present Ozaukee and Washington Counties.

Early Settlers Table of Contents
The organization of Ozaukee County was affected by an act of the Legislature passed March 7, 1853. The county contains an area of only 232 square miles, the smallest in the state and is made up of seven townships. They are Belgium, Cedarburg, Fredonia, Grafton, Mequon, Port Washington and Saukville.

The name Ozaukee is of Indian derivation. It means "yellow earth" and is descriptive of the sand and clay soil of the county.

Among the early settlers who came into the county were the Yankees from the east who came into the settled communities to establish business, to practice their professions and to become the early political leaders. Abraham Lincoln, as a young lawyer looking for a suitable location to establish an office, visited this territory and stopped at Port Washington for a short time. Leland Stanford, a lawyer, practiced his profession here between 1848 and 1852. After being defeated for the office of district attorney, he became discouraged and left for California where he became governor of the state and with his wealth founded Stanford University.

However, the real pioneers into the county were the hardy and thrifty people from Germany, Luxemburg, Belgium and Ireland who went into the wild forest lands to develop agriculture, build homes, churches and schools. Each people preferred certain sections of the county and settled in groups so that even today we know the Luxemburgers are from the Town of Belgium, the Germans from Cedarburg, and the Irish from Fredonia and Mequon.

Farms and Mills Table of Contents

The glaciers which passed over the land thousands of years ago left a comparatively flat land surface. They also deposited a heavy coat of rich soil which is ideal for the raising of all grains, grasses, and garden crops. As early as 1853 the pioneer farmers began the raising of horses, cattle, hogs and sheep.

Ozaukee County is credited with originating the custom of having a market day or fair once a month. The first such fair was held in the village of Saukville and the custom spread rapidly to all other sections.

The first real industries established in this new land were the gristmills built near the Milwaukee River, Cedar Creek and Sauk Creek because they afforded excellent water power. Today, evidence remains of such early mills and dams built for the grinding of grains. The best example of such a site can be found near the village of Saukville on present CTH "O" and the Milwaukee River.

Some of the very earliest of these mills using natural water power are still in operation today. They are located in Thiensville, Cedarburg and Grafton. The mill at Thiensville and one at Cedarburg are still used as flour mills, others at Cedarburg and Grafton remain as woolen mills and produce some of the finest woolen yarns in the country. Several very old structures originally used as mills in Cedarburg and Hamilton still stand originally built but are used for other purposes.

Industries Develop Table of Contents

The coming of railroads in 1870 opened the possibility of the development of other industries in this territory. Within the same year the Milwaukee and Northern Railroad which ran through the central part of the county and the Milwaukee, Manitowoc, and Green Bay Railroad which was to go through the eastern section, were given charters to build and operate railroad lines.

The improvement of the harbor at Port Washington in the year 1870 also aided greatly in the exporting of farm and industrial products and in the importing of essential goods needed throughout Ozaukee County.

The timber which was cut during land clearing operations was cut up in the many sawmills and was used to build homes and barns, for railroad ties, and in cooper shops which built barrels and made shake shingles.

Other natural resources which developed local industries were niagra limestone and a high quality clay and sand used in the manufacture of building materials such as brick and tile. The most prominent of the quarries which were operated were the Lake Shore Quarry near Lake Church, Drucker Quarry near Port Washington and Groths at Cedarburg and Grafton.

All of the old mills and large structures as well as small homes, schools and churches were built of this native limestone. Probably the most prominent of such structures are the County Courthouse and St. Mary's Church at Port Washington.

Draft Riot Table of Contents

The population of the County in 1860 was about 14,000. The varied industries which were developed between 1854 and 1861 brought in many people from foreign lands. These were people who left their home country to escape the demands of military service so common there and to establish a new life in this land of peace and good will.

It is therefore understandable that they would develop a strong feeling of opposition to the draft for the army, as the North and the South went to war. The resistance grew very bitter until on November 10, 1862, there occurred the historic Draft Riot in Port Washington.

Troops sent from Milwaukee had little difficulty in stopping the riot. After the situation was properly explained to the people, most of whom could neither read nor write English, the draft could have been abolished; for men, young and old flocked to enlist. The record of Ozaukee men and women in the Civil War, and in the wars that followed can be better nowhere in the nation.

Indian Scare Table of Contents

During the month of September, 1862, the people of the county were thrown into a state of utter confusion by what is known as the "Great Indian Scare." Without any foundation, a report was circulated throughout this section of the state declaring that Indians in great numbers were coming, killing everyone and destroying all property.

The story coming as it did when the people were in a great state of excitement due to the war, could not have spread faster and created a greater panic. When not a single hostile Indian was found by searching parties and the militia from Milwaukee, everyone returned to their homes realizing they had been caught by a false story.

Construct Roads Table of Contents

The earliest and only roads in the county up to 1844 were the Green Bay Road running north and south through the county and the DeKorra Road running east and west. They were military roads surveyed and cleared by the government.

Later several private road companies were given permission to establish and build private roads and collect toll from those using them. Among such roads were the Cedarburg Plank Road, the Fond du Lac Road, the Ulao Road and the Saukville-Grafton Road.

Because highway transportation was demanding then as now, a thorough system of highways was developed through the years by the help of local and federal funds. Ozaukee County today has one of the best systems of County Trunk highways in the state. No person lives more than two miles from a hard surfaced asphalt road.

Today Table of Contents

It is inconceivable to be able to record here in such small space a complete narration of all things of historical value. Therefore, only the highlights of the early history is given and the advancements in agriculture, industry and general mode of life must be lift as a future epic in the annals of Ozaukee County.

Note: Herb Peters served Ozaukee County as the Highway Commission and upon retirement took the part time job of Park Commissioner. This narrative as of this time is unknown when it was written. Herb died September 17, 1982

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