History of Center, Wisconsin
From: History of Outagamie County, Wilsonsin
Thomas H. Ryan - Editor in Chief
Goodspeed Historical Allociates, Publishers
Chicago 1911

Town of Center. - In the old town of Lansing were settlements of people from various localities and countries, who while coming simultaneously were often referred to as distinctive settlements. In that portion of the town of Lansing now known as Center. Irish people from Columbiana county, Ohio, acquired the name Ohio Settlement, and for several years dominated the affairs of the town. not alone because they were first and most numerous but because of their deep interest in the welfare and progress of the town along educational, religious and material lines of improvement.

The first known settlers were the Barrys, David and his brother, who entered land in 1848; and early next spring settled in section 27. Entering Wisconsin by way of Green Bay they crossed the Oneida settlement, following practically what later became the Green Bay road to their new home.

The next to come was Peter Hephner, who with his family in October of that year came to the same section. In his family were several grown up sons and daughters, by whose marriages soon afterward new homes were builded and new farms settled. Nicholas M. Hephner, in the spring of 1850, went to Green Bay for his bride, and settled in section 21. Only a few weeks later; Mary A. Hephner was married to Matthew Nugent and settled on the south half of section 36. Owen Nugent, a younger brother, who came with Matthew, was married a year or two later to a younger Miss Hephner John Batley, a Massachusetts man, with his small family was the first in the northern part, settling in 1850 on section 11. James Cotter, with his family, came the same year to section 14. The Cotters and Hephners were neighbors in Ohio and formed the nucleus of the Ohio settlement in Center. Hephner had also located a land warrant for his former neighbor, Francis MeGillan, who in the fall of 1851 came to make a home in section 35. In the family were John, Thomas, Robert, James, Samuel, Margaret and Mary, who with zest entered into the material and social development of the settlement. Their house was a home for many a new settler until he could provide his own; and landseekers and casual travelers were welcomed, entertained and their undertakings furthered by the members of this family, whose only fee was the invitation, "Come and live among us." "McGillan's Corners" was known far and wide and today is commemorated in the name "Mackville." The McGilIan home was not completed (they were staying with the Hephners), when Edward Rogers joined them, stopping at John Lieth's. In the Rogers family were James, John and Patrick, and four or five girls who entered fully into the gaiety of the social functions of the settlement, their home when completed, being Only about a mile east of the corners. John Lieth came early in 1851 to section 26. He was the first of Scotland's sons in Center, locating on section 26. A sailor of the salt seas, he had some difficulty in "navigating" an ox team among the stumps, but successfully cleared his tract and made a good farm.

John Hennesey, from Ohio, lived near Mackville. John McIlhone, a Buckeye, too, joined the settlement about 1853, living southeast of Mackville, on south town line in section 36. J. Donovan, in section 35, on the town line, and Edward Powers, west of him in same section. Patrick Cannon came about 1851 and lived in section 25 "in the valley," near the Bleys. William Byrnes, in the same year, located in section 13 on the east town line. Patrick Donohue came later, bought the northwest quarter of section 35, letting his brother, James, have half of it. Gains Sibley bought his land in 1849, but did not settle until four or five years later He was a "Connecticut Yankee" and a progressive farmer, soon cleared his farm on Seymour road, which is "as fine a farm as is in Center today." Sumner Demming and Volney Shelley; brothers-in-law, cleared and fenced forty acres of land in Milwaukee county and received in payment two eighty acre tracts of wild land in Center, upon which they settled about 1856. Demming removed after a few years to Stockbridge. About the same time John Berthier came in and lived on a part of Hephner's farm. John Keefe, who came in 1852, lived in section 13. He afterward sold to Patrick Cotter, who came with his parents, in 1850. Bernard Murphy, though an Ohio man, was not regarded as belonging to the early "Ohio Settlement," arriving about 1856. Edward McGillan, however, was of the Buckeyes, belonging to the Ohio settlement. He was a brother of Francis and father of John, Thomas and Frank McGillan, the latter returning to Ohio, the others taking a prominent part in, the development of Center. Thomas A. Rees, a Welshman, settled about three miles west of "The Corners." James Campion lived a mile east of the town center, came about 1853, and enjoyed the confidence of his townsmen whom he served over twenty years as chairman, and later represented in the legislature.

The first of the German settlers came in October, 1855, Conrad Boahler, Caspar Griesbach and Jacob Kober coming together, with their families, says Mr. Kober, all settling in section 28. This part of the town and the region west and northwest were virgin forest. Christian Wurhl, who lived near the Ellington line, and Frederick Sharnagel, a Mexican veteran, may have been a little earlier. The families of Peter Deml, Jo. Walheim, George Islinger, George Raab came in 1856, the latter settling at "the corners," the others more westerly. The Relins, who came about this time, were the first of the Mecklenburg Germans. Beside the parents, this family included William, Fred, Charley, John and a daughter, Lena Relin. The Bleys came about this time.

By 1857 the east half.of the town was already well settled by the Irish and Irish Buckeyes. The middle and northern portion was filling rapidly with Germans. The population was honest, intelligent and industrious, with good schools and homes. Excellent roads were being built Good farms, large barns and secure fences were to be seen everywhere. The land was rolling and well watered and contained a population of between 500 and 600. The first death had not yet occurred in the town. Another attraction was a valuable stone quarry with excellent building stone, which was being mined and marketed at Appleton; having been opened in section 28 as early as 1853.

Up to the later '50s the German settlers were mostly immigrants from the Fatherland, but following them came Germans from the vicinity of Milwaukee who, having improved their fortunes by tenant farming in that locality, now sought farms of their own in the wild lands of Center. Among them were Charles Rahmlow, Fred Prestin, George Sommers, John Speaker, on the school section in 1858 or 59. Fred Urban, Mr. Purath, Dr. Fred Meyer, George and John Langlotz and Leonard Schmidt, who soon after his arrival started a lime kiln on the ledge one and a half miles west of Mackville. Then came Wolfgang Spielbauer and family, who were Bohemians. Mike Weix lived next west of the lime kiln, William Koss north of the corners. The Lembkes, John and Nicholas Ellenbecker and Matt Schmidt brought the settlement to about 1860. Catholic and Protestant Germans in about equal numbers came during the five years 18554860, this influx continuing in increasing ratio until the early '70s, buying out many of the early English speaking settlers, and the town became almost wholly German.

In the spring of 1863 over thirty families settled in the town of Centre and during the following autumn nearly as many more located there. At this time Centre was attracting more attention than any other portion of the county, as far as settlement was concerned. During the summer and fall of 1865 the towns of Centre and Osborn were settled very fast, principally by farmers from the southern part of the state.

The earlier settlers were communicants of the Roman Catholic Church, mostly of Irish nativity or 'descent. The first of the German speaking settlers were adherents of the same faith, and the southern portion of the town has always been peopled largely with members of that body. An organization was formed very early and as soon as a priest could be secured at regular intervals a log building was constructed for a place of worship on the site of the present handsome building. There has been for many years a resident priest and a parochial school is maintained. With the coming of the Mecklenburg Germans, protestant services of the Evangelical Lutheran Church were held at homes until it became possible to establish a church. This was the mother organization of a number of congregations to the northward, and is strong in membership and active in work. At this writing, 1911, a handsome concrete residence is being built for the minister. A school is kept near the church, at which, in addition to the regular public school course, instruction in the German language is given and the religious training of the children is conducted.

The church and cemetery are located one and a half miles north of Mackville, in section 22, and the school and residence directly opposite in 'section 23. At Twelve Corners is a Lutheran church, and in section 17 is a Methodist church.

The first wagon to reach the town was drawn by a yoke of oxen and was owned by H. L. Blood; it contained two barrels of flour, and a road had to be cut to the town. Peter Hephner owned the first yoke of cattle in the town; he bought them of Jacob Cornelius in the Oneida Settlement, and the first wagon he bought of Mr. Blood of Appleton.

The first school meeting in the town was held at the house of Peter Hephner. Seven votes were cast. Peter Hephner was elected treasurer; N. M. Hephner, clerk; William Byrnes, director. Mrs. Leith taught the first three months for $25. She was a woman of education and refinement, and says a pupil taught the first two terms of school in her home: "There was a partition across the house separating us from the kitchen. There were no desks nor school furniture; we sat in chairs; our writing lessons, as well as our 'sums,' were done on our slates. There were eight or nine pupils representing the Cotter, McMillan' and two Barry families." The curriculum was "Readin', Ritin' and Rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hick'ry stick," but Mrs. Leith, the best woman in the world, kept her stick out of sight behind the door. "The first term was, I think, in the fall of 1852, and was followed by a spring term, and established District No. 1, securing thereby the school money from the state. A to schoolhouse was then built not far from the corners. There Was a plank along the wall for a desk on which to do our writing; in front of that were seats for the pupils; the seats and desk, as Well as the teacher's desk, were made of rough boards. The whole outfit, house and furniture, cost forty dollars." School No. 4, in the German settlement, was also held at first in a private house, Conrad Bochler's Mary McGillan was the first teacher. She had about thirteen pupils, nearly all German, and in teaching them the rudiments of English, acquired a good Dorking knowledge of German. Her salary was $18 per month in county orders, supposed to be worth seventy five cents on the dollar, but on presenting her order received face value in gold.

"When we came to Center," says one who was a young girl at the time, "there was no direct road to Appleton, and for several years we had to go west a roundabout way or east by the old 'tamarac road.' Coming to Center we came directly from Green Bay through the Oneida settlement through what is now Freedom, over the Green Bay and Wolf River route, a two days' journey. Mr. Hephner met us at Green Bay with wagons, and when it came near nightfall we were yet in the reservation. It was proposed to stop there for the night, but my mother would not consent to stop among the Indians, fearing we would be robbed of all our possessions. We pushed on until we reached a white settlement. Though at that time very fearful of the Indians, she never afterward showed any alarm nor fear of them when they frequently camped in our neighborhood, and she became noted among them for her kindness and generosity. I have seen them come in and sit around the fire and mother would cut bread and give them until all was gone, and when my sisters protested, she' would say: 'We have flour and there is fire; we can make more.' I was always afraid of them and could not help trembling, though mother chided me for it. Once I remember a very big black fellow whom we had seen before and knew as Join, came in with a long knife in his hand feeling of its edge, and looking most horrible. It was evening, too, and I was terrified. Mother said: 'Now, he isn't going to hurt you,' and approachi g the Indian said: 'John, what do you mean by coming in here with that knife in Your hand? Put it back in your belt at once.' John; who had picked up a good deal of English, replied: 'Me no hurt white squaw, me want cabbage.' The cabbage was outdoors and he could have taken' it without asking, but he didn't want to steal it. They were extremely fond of white folks' bread and butter. Pork, too, was a luxury they craved, and were willing to exchange plenty of venison for it, fresh or salt, though they used no salt in their cooking. When we reached Center, we stopped at Mr. Hephner's until our log house could be built. It was rather larger than the most of log houses, using logs as long as could be procured and handled conveniently, hewed on one side, the spaces between chinked with sticks and made tight and smooth with clay mortar. The great fireplace, wide and deep, was built up of stone six or seven feet, all outdoors, and above that the chimney built of sticks and plastered with clay. The earliest marriage I recall was that of William Monahan and Ella Cotter; I was too young to attend the festivities, but my elder brother attended. I think the ceremony was performed at Little Chute. There had been earlier marriages, probably that of Marshall Hephner and Helen Sage was the first in which our town was interested. Miss Sage was living at Green Bay. They had become acquainted on the boat coming out from the East in the fall of 1849, and next spring the marriage was consummated. This wedding was soon followed by that of Matthew Nugent and Mary Ann Hephner, both of the Ohio settlement. Father Young, in 1851, from Freedom, was the first priest I recall. Other priests from Little Chute for several years held services at Hephners and McGillans until the building of the to church at McGillan's Corners about 1857 or 1858. Father Dale, I think, was the first to serve the church, residing in Appleton. There were a number of German families by this time and sermons were given in that language and in English. Peter Hephner gave the plot of four acres on the southwest corner of his farm for a burial place and church, and here the first burials within the town were made, though the cemetery was not consecrated until the church was built. One of the first interments was a school boy, Conrad Kober, whose death was accidental. Probably the first death was that of Mr. Lieth's child, May 15, 1852. The burial was in the old cemetery at Appleton.

A petition, June 18, 1852, called for a special town meeting to be held at the house of N. M. Hephner for the purpose of filling the vacancies occasioned by separating the town of Freedom from Lansing, which occurred June 5, 1852. The petitioners were N. M. Hephner, Peter Hephner, J. Leith, J. Reef, J. Batley, M. Nugent, James Cotter, Ed. Rogers, P. Barry, D. Barry, F. McGillan, I. A. Johns, Thomas A. Rees. Notices were posted and the election was held July 5, 1852. This town meeting was in effect an organization of a new town. True, the name of the town Lansing remained, but it was an empty heritage. The seat of town government had been within the territory of Freedom, the officers had in general been residents there also, the most of the public improvements were there and the public money was largely expended there. The greater number of voters resided there also, in proportion of nearly 3 to 1. Each section was apparently willing to separate from the other, but the setting off of Freedom deprived Lansing of her officers, but by this petition and notices given as at the creation of a new town the offices were filled as follows: Nicholas M. Hephner, chairman; John Batley and Matthew Nugent, supervisors; John Lieth, town clerk; Joseph A. Jones, treasurer; N. M. Hephner, assessor; John Lieth, superintendent of schools; John Batley, Peter Hephner, David Barry and John Reef, justices of the peace; Matthew Nugent, Joseph A. Jones and Nicholas M. Hephner, constables; John Reef, sealer of weights and measures; Peter Hephner, overseer of highways. As usual, the first attention was given to road making, and such roads as had been already established were cut out and repaired. Hephner's Road was laid March, 1850, from the southeast corner of section 15 to the southeast corner of section 27, then a direct course to the southeast corner of section 35. In August also a road was laid from the west boundary on the line between sections 18 and 19, east to a point on the line between sections 18 and 19 to intersect a diagonal road running southeast to the Green Bay road.

At the the election held November 2, 1852, fifteen votes were polled, the electoral candidates for Pierce and King for president and vice president receiving fourteen "and the free soil candidate received one." There was evidently some doubt as to the legality of the special election of July 5, 1852, for under date of April 30, 1853, is found a resolution of the board of supervisors of the old town of Lansing and_ town of Center "Whereas, it appears the petition the citizens of the town of Lansing sent to the. Legislature, praying them to legalize the acts of the towns officers of last year, and change the name from Lansing to Center, the bill has passed the Legislature, and we now recognize the town of Center in lieu of the town of Lansing, and all proceedings done by the town board in the name of either Lansing or Center since the first day of April, 1853, shall be legal and stand correct for the town of Center."

May 19, 1860, the two northern townships entire were included with a portion of township 22, in school district No. 5, but since the first school meeting was ordered held at John Battey's it is likely the schoolhouse was built in what is now Center. Progress on roads was made, but that there was difficulty unsurmountable and the board finally gave up is indicated by the following record dated March 10, 1857: "Resolved by the town board of Center, that at a subsequent meeting of the town board, held April 19, 1855, the former board made an appropriation to the different highways in said town, placing said apportionment in path master's hands for expenditure, etc. Now, whereas, by the supreme power of. the Almighty that rules above and other different impediments that have occurred, they have been unable to comply with the aforesaid restrictions. And be it now resolved by this board that the aforesaid act or resolution be and. is hereby repealed, and the same shall take effect before and after this date."

It might occur to the reader that political differences were the cause of dissension and that the rival political factions permitted such differences to influence town affairs. That this cannot be true is shown by the returns of the general election, November 2, 1852, when of fifteen voters only one dissented from the general opinion of the town. So unanimous in political opinion were the electors of Center that there is found on record as a matter of town business the following minutes of a meeting October 15, 1856, to appoint delegates to attend a democratic convention at Appleton. N. M. Hephner and Thomas McGillan were unanimously "chosen as delegates to represent the town. of Center in convention, with full power to transfer their power to either in case of but one attending. After a few remarks on the welfare of the democratic party, adjourned." At the general election the following month the Buchanan and Breckenridge electors received 45 and Fremont and Dayton 5 votes, and at the next general election James B. Cross, for governor, received the total vote. 47, the opposition none, and with one exception every candidate of that political complication received the unanimous vote of the town, and on the question of negro suffrage, submitted at the same election, not one vote was east in its favor.

To reach Appleton by the most direct course it was necessary to cross an extensive swamp along the southern side of the town. This was crossed by a causeway or corduroy. This was put in in a dry period and filled in with dirt. The next spring the water rose above the roadway and washed out the filling; the buoyancy of the logs raised them to the surface in places. Probably no other road in the town, of similar length, cost as much to build and maintain as this, and now after a lapse of nearly sixty years there is an occasional bump reminiscent of early road making. Other improvements followed throughout the town, keeping abreast of or in advance of the improvements of other towns in the vicinity. In 1868 the town of Center erected a large and comfortable town hall. It was designed as a structure in which all their public meetings should be held. Other towns made preparations to do likewise at this date. The town improvements are still advancing, the roads are yearly being put in better condition and developed along lines of scientific road making.

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