History of The CIty of Burlington, Wisconsin
From: Racine, Belle City of the lakes
and Racine County, Wisconsin.
Fanny's Stone, Supervising Editor
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Chicago 1916


With the exception of Racine, the history of which is given in the preceding chapter, Burlington is the only city in the county. It is pleasantly situated at the junction of the Fox and White Rivers, in the western part of Burlington Township, about twenty five miles from Racine. According to Judge Charles E. Dyer, the first white men to settle in that part of the county were Moses Smith and William Whiting, who came to the Fox River Valley in December, 1835, and the former is credited with having built the first house within the present city limits He located his claim on the west side of the Fox River, where in May, 1836, he built a log house, having passed the winter in a hastily constructed shanty on the east side, in company with Mr. Whiting, B. C. Perce and Lemuel Smith. In connection with Samuel C. Vaughan, he built a saw mill, with a run of buhrs for grinding corn. It was not much of a mill, as compared with the flour mills of the present day, but it could "crack corn" and soon became known for miles around.

Late in the year 1838 Pliny M. Perkins, a miller by trade, came to Burlington and bought the mill and water power from Smith & Vaughan. He had a little capital and built a frame mill with "three run of stone," two of which were grinding wheat and one for corn. Eight years later he built the "big mill," as it was called - 40 by 60 feet and four stories in height. It was destroyed by fire in 1864, but he immediately rebuilt. Again he was burned out in 1874, though he had retired three years before, leaving the mill in charge of his two sons, Edward and James. Then a large stone mill was erected that at the time it was completed was considered the best in Southeastern Wisconsin and which was for many years one of Burlington's leading enterprises. Mr. Perkins was the first miller in Wisconsin to ship flour to New York, via the lakes, and Milwaukee depended largely upon Burlington in those days for its bread supply. Subsequently the Burlington Mills shipped flour in large quantities to European countries.

At the land sale in Milwaukee, in the spring of 1839, the original site of Burlington - the northeast quarter of Section 32, Township 3, Range 19, was purchased by Silas Peck, who employed A. W. Doolittle, then county surveyor, to plat the town. The survey was made by Mr. Doolittle on May 21, 1839, and at the same time Mr. Perkins employed him to lay out "Pliny M. Perkins' First Addition." Both plats were filed with the register of deeds three days later. Perkins' second addition to Burlington was filed on April 9, 1850.

Quite a little settlement had grown up, however, before the town was regularly laid out. In January, 1836, Enoch D. Woodbridge built a log house on the east side of the Fox River. It was afterward occupied by Ruel Nins, who came about a year later, enlarged the house and opened the first tavern in what is now the City of Burlington. James Nelson, the first blacksmith, opened his shop in May, 1836, and the following month B. C. Perce erected a building for a store on the bank of the river overlooking Smith & Vaughan's mill pond. Silas Peck, who afterward became the proprietor of the town, also came in 1836 and built his house next to Perce's store. Early in the year 1837 a postoffiee was established under the name of "Foxville," and Moses Smith was appointed the first postmaster. It was on the mail route from Racine to Mineral Point and received mail weekly. Before the establishment of the postoffice the settlement was known as the "Lower Forks," the "Upper Forks" being where the Muskeg Creek enters the Fox River, at the present Village of Rochester.

After the removal of the Indians to the west side of the Mississippi River in 1837, the settlement of Racine County went forward with greater strides, and the little colony at the "Lower Forks" received its share of immigrants. Lewis Royce, a lawyer from Vermont, came to Burlington and built his house a short distance west of where the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Station was afterward established Not finding many clients, he built a lime kiln and burnt about three hundred bushels the first year he was engaged in the business. Origen Perkins also located there in 1837. He built his house near the place where the brick yard was later opened and was the first justice of the peace. Among those who settled in the village in 1838 were Liberty Fisk and Henry Edmonds, the latter opening a blacksmith shop not far from the mill. Miss Sarah Bacon taught the first school in the summer of 1838, in a house that faced the public square, but was afterward removed to Chestnut Street. She was engaged by Lewis Royce, who was later a member of the first Board of School Commissioners.

Dr. Edward G. Dyer, the first physician, came in 1839, about the time the town was platted by Mr Doolittle, and took up his residence in the log house built by Origen Perkins, who had removed to his farm. Other settlers of 1839 were Richard Brown, L. O. Eastman and Ephraim Perkins, the father of Pliny M. and Origen Perkins. On July 4, 1839, a "Grand Celebration" was held in the grove on the east side of the Fox River, probably the first in that part of Wisconsin. Stephen Bushnell furnished the dinner and Rev. Jason Lothrop delivered the principal address. Thus these pioneers, far from the "busy haunts of men," did not forget that they were American citizens, and demonstrated their loyalty to the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

Although B. C. Perce erected a building for a store in 1836, he did not engage in business as a merchant. The honor of being the first merchant in Burlington belongs to Pliny M. Perkins, who put in a small stock of goods in the log house built by Moses Smith. He began business in 1839, but the following year he and Hugh McLaughlin erected a large frame building, the west half of which was used by Mr. Perkins as a store and in the east half Mr. McLaughlin opened the "Burlington Hotel," which he kept for several years. The building was dedicated on New Year's evening, in 1840, by a grand ball.

Game was plentiful around the village and a large part of Mr. Perkins' trade was in powder, lead and shot, taking in exchange muskrat and other skins In the winter of 1839-40 David Bushnell counted 105 deer in a single herd, as they forded the river near his claim. Long billed snipe, prairie chickens and other small game fowl were abundant and afforded a fair mark for the hunter.

In 1843 Pliny M. Perkins erected the first woolen mill in Racine County on the bank of Fox River, directly opposite his grist mill. It was 35 by 60 feet and two stories high above the basement. Thirty years later he enlarged the building to 50 by 100 feet and added two stories to its height. With its enlarged capacity Mr. Perkins used from 75,000 to 100,000 pounds of wool annually

In 1855 the Racine & Mississippi Railroad (now the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul) was completed to Burlington and the town experienced its first boom. Some twenty years later the Chicago & Fond du Lac Division of the Wisconsin Central was built and not long after it was completed the preliminary steps were taken to incorporate Burlington as a village according to the laws of Wisconsin. The incorporation Was not completed, however, until 1886. On July 28, 1886, a census was taken and showed a population of 1,744 within the territory it was proposed to include in the village limits. A petition was then filed with the circuit court on the 27th of September. The court granted the petition and ordered an election on the question to be held on the 3d of November. The proposition was carried by a substantial majority and on November 30, 1886, the first village officers were elected, to wit: E. Merton, president; F. Reuschlein, clerk; Hubert Wagner, J. B. Buell, Frank Schemmer, B. Brehm, C. W. Wood and R. T. Davis, trustees.

Early in the year 1900 Burlington was incorporated as a city. The first city election was held on April 3, 1900, and resulted as follows: G. C. Basch, mayor; George W. Waller, city clerk; L. J. Brehm, city treasurer; Louis A. Reuschlein, assessor; William A. Colby, R. M. Aldrich, S. M. Reinard and F. G. Richardson, supervisors - one from each of the four wards. There were also elected two aldermen 'from each ward, viz.: First Ward, C. B. Wagner and Edward F. Rakow; Second Ward, William Meadows and Charles A. Jones; Third Ward, John Reynolds and Charles Schemmer.

Following is a list of the mayors of Burlington, with the year when each was elected: G. C. Basch, 1900; Edward F. Rakow, 1901; Charles B. Wagner, 1903; J. G. Mutter, 1904; Edward F. Rakow, 1907; H. E. Zimmerman, 1908; Edward F. Rakow, 1912; H. A. Runkel, 1915.

Waterworks - On October 12, 1889, the Village Board passed an ordinance submitting to the voters the proposition to issue bonds to an amount not exceeding $20,000 for the purpose of establishing a system of waterworks. A majority expressed themselves in favor of the bonds, but, as is usual in such cases, some delay was experienced in the building of the plant. The supply of water comes from artesian wells and is noted for its purity. Very few cities of similar size are better supplied with water of as fine a quality. The plant is owned by the city.

An electric light plant was built by a private company about twenty years ago. When the Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company built the interurban line to Burlington it acquired the local light plant and is still operating it, after making a number of needed improvements.

The Burlington Gas Company was established in 1907. The officers in 1916 were: H. A. Runkel, president; W. H. Bushman, secretary; Edward F. Rakow, manager. The company has a modern plant, about twelve miles of mains, and is now operated in connection with the Wisconsin Gas & Electric Company.

The postoffice previously mentioned as having been established in the early part of 1837, under the name of Foxville, has developed until the receipts for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 1916, amounted to $15,515.68. Free city delivery was introduced on June 15, 1908. Besides the postmaster and assistant postmaster, the office now employs three city carriers, one parcels post carrier, six rural carriers, one substitute carrier, five clerks and one substitute clerk, or nineteen persons in all. The Burlington office is also the source of a star mail route, which carries mail to the postoffices at Rochester and Waterford. Congress recently made an appropriation of $72,000 for a new postoffice building.

Among the Burlington manufacturing interests are a brass foundry, a large veneer and basket works, a blanket factory which has recently established a branch in Chicago, brick and tile works, a condensed milk plant, a vending machine factory, and a number of smaller concerns, such as cigar factories, etc. The city has well paved streets, good sidewalks, a number of fine churches, a good public school system, two banks, two weekly newspapers, a telephone exchange, good hotels, an opera house, a Business Men's Association, and a number of cozy homes The population in 1910 was 3,212, an increase of 686 during the preceding decade, and in 1915 the assessed valuation of the property was 84.230,848.

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