History of Burlington Township, Racine County, 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


This township occupies the southwest corner of the county. On the north it is bounded by the Town of Rochester; on the east by Dover Township and Kenosha County; on the south by Kenosha County, and on the west by the County of Walworth. It is six miles wide from east to west and seven miles in extent from north to south, having an area of forty two squares miles. The surface is pleasantly diversified, the Fox River flowing from north to south through the central portion, and in this township are three pretty lakes - Long, Brown's and Bonner's.

The settlement of the township began about the middle of December, 1835, when Moses Smith and William Whiting located claims near the present City of Burlington, Whiting selecting his claim on the east side of the Fox River and Smith on the west side, near the place where the Perkins mill was afterward erected. Their claims were what the pioneers called "jack-knife" claims, the boundaries being marked by cutting their names in the bark of trees, with the date when the claim was made. Such a title would hardly have been respected some years later, but in 1835 land was plentiful and new comers had no difficulty in locating claims without infringing upon the possessions of their neighbors.

Smith and Whiting were soon afterward joined by B. C. Perce and Lemuel Smith. Judge Charles E. Dyer, in an address delivered before the Old Settlers' Society at Burlington, February 22. 1871, says: "On the 27th of December, 1835, Moses Smith, William Whiting, B. C. Perce and Lemuel Smith built a shanty in a little grove in the river bend on the east side of the Fox River. They cut a large white oak tree near where Muth's Brewery now stands, built a rude log but on the present farm of David Bushnell, spent three days prospecting and surveying on both sides of the river, and finally constructed a cabin on the west side."

The following month Enoch D. Woodbridge settled on the east side of the river and built the body of a log house, which was afterward completed and became part of the tavern kept by Ruel Nims. In February, 1836, Nathan H. Darling made a claim on what was afterward known as the Rooker farm. He was acting as the agent of Nelson R. Norton, who perfected the title and improved the claim. Other settlers of 1836 were: James Nelson, David Bushnell, Origen Perkins, Herman Loomis, Silas Peck, George Newman, Charles and Jared Fox.

James Nelson came in May and built a log house and a blacksmith shop on the east side of the river, near where Durgin's bridge was afterward thrown across the stream. He was the first blacksmith to ply his trade in that part of Racine County. David Bushnell came in July and his first residence was the log hut which had been built by Whiting, Perce and the Smiths the previous winter. This he reconstructed and lived in it until he could erect a better house. It seems that all the parties interested in building this but had abandoned their claim except Whiting, whose interest was purchased by Mr. Bushnell, and at the land sales in 1839 the land was bought by Stephen Bushnell. Origen Perkins located his claim in August and built a log house, to which he brought his family early the following year. Heman Loomis came in September and located a claim southeast of the present City of Burlington, which claim afterward became known as the Loomis farm. Silas Peck arrived with his family a little later and built his cabin on the claim adjoining that of B. C. Perce. George Newman and the Foxes came later in the year.

Among those who came to Burlington in 1838 were: William F. Lyon, Ruel Nims, Stephen Bushnell, Pliny M. Perkins, Samuel C. Vaughan and Lewis Royce. Mr. Lyon remained but a few months, at the end of which time he removed to Walworth County. Ruel Nims acquired the log house that had been started by Mr. Woodbridge two years before, occupying it for the first time on January 10, 1837. He subsequently opened a tavern the first established house for the entertainment of travelers in Burlington. Stephen Bushnell came in March and afterward purchased the land claimed by David Bushnell, as above stated. Pliny M. Perkins first came in May, bringing a drove of hogs and cattle from Joliet, Illinois, but did not become a resident at that time. He returned the following year, however, and took a claim. Samuel C. Vaughan formed a partnership with Moses Smith and they built the first mill, which was known as the "up and down saw mill." The mill building is said to have been the first frame structure in Burlington. Lewis Royce was a New Englander. He arrived in Burlington on the first day of September and soon afterward established a lime kiln, burning about three hundred bushels before the close of the year. Mr. Royce was the first lawyer to locate in Burlington, but there were few lawsuits in those days and he found his lime kiln more productive than the practice of his profession, though he was learned in the law.

The year 1838 witnessed the arrival of Liberty Fisk, Ephraim S. Sawyer, Henry Edmonds, Nelson R. Norton and a few others. Mr. Norton came in February and took possession of his claim that had been made for him two years before by Nathan H. Darling. In the spring following he built a frame house, bringing the lumber from Chicago, where he had formerly lived. It is said that he built the first bridge over the Chicago River. Mr. Sawyer bought 275 acres of land at the land sale and lived upon his farm for many years. Henry Edmonds built a small log blacksmith shop near the mill. The first school in the town of Burlington was taught in the summer of 1838 by Sarah Bacon.

The first towns (townships) in Racine County were established by the act of January 2, 1838. Under the provisions of this act the territory now comprising the Town of Burlington was included in the Town of Rochester. On March 9, 1839, Governor Henry Dodge approved "An act to establish certain towns in the Counties of Milwaukee, Brown, Racine and Walworth, and to provide for the election of officers therein."

Section 21 of this act provided: "That the country bounded on the north by the Towns of Rochester, on the east by the Towns of Racine (Mount Pleasant) and Southport, on the south by the Town of Salem, and on the west by Walworth County, be, and the same is hereby set off into a separate town by the name of Burlington; and the polls of election shall be opened at the house of S. Nims."

As originally created, the Town of Burlington included all the present Town of Dover, in Racine County, and a large part of the present Town of Brighton, in Kenosha County. The returns of the election held at the house of Mr. Nims cannot be found, but it is known that Origen Perkins was the first justice of the peace. The following incident, illustrating "Squire" Perkins' methods of transacting legal business, was told by Judge Dyer in his address to the Old Settlers' Society: "On one occasion a man called upon him for a warrant with which to make an arrest. He found Mr Perkins digging a ditch. The complaint must be made then and there, but the justice had neither paper, pen nor ink Perhaps Mr. P. did not deem the offense a very grave one, but in the emergency of the case he pulled off one of his boots, took from his pocket a piece of chalk, wrote the complainant's statement on the boot leg, made him hold up his hand and swear to it, and then told him he would issue a warrant as soon as he went to the house."

The first white child born in the town was a son of George Newman, who was born in May or June, 1837. The first marriage was that of William McLaughlin and Amanda (or Alvira) Hayes. Mrs. McLaughlin died a few months after her marriage and was the first white person to the in the township The first crop of grain was harvested by Moses Smith, in 1837, and in the fall of that year the first bridge was built over the Fox River. It was floored with hewn logs. The first school house was built in 1839.

For several years the growth of Burlington was "slow but sure," but with the completion of the Racine, Janesville & Mississippi (now the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul) Railroad to the Village of Burlington in 1855 the development was more rapid. Burlington is now one of the most populous and wealthy townships in the county. In 1910 the population, exclusive of the City of Burlington, was 1,129, and in 1915 the property (not including the city) was valued for tax purposes at $2,871,043. A history of the City of Burlington will be found in Chapter VIII

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