THE CITY GOVERNMENT
The bill incorporating the City of Racine was approved by Governor Nelson Dewey on August 8, 1848. It contained
fifty eight sections and defined in detail how the city government should be inaugurated, the duties of the various
officers, etc. The president of the village was authorized to "designate some time in the month of October,
1848, for holding the first election, and shall appoint three suitable persons in each ward of the city to be judges
of the first election under the provisions of this act, and also two suitable persons as clerks thereof in each
ward." The act also defined the boundaries of each of the five wards and further provided that the "Board
of Trustees of the Village of Racine shall determine who shall have been properly elected at the first election;
and the president of the Board of Trustees of said village shall administer the oath of office to the first mayor,
and such mayor shall administer the oath of office to the several aldermen who have been declared to be duly elected,
and also to all other officers in said city."
The officers to be elected were a mayor, clerk, treasurer, marshal, two aldermen from each ward, chief engineer
of the fire department, and one assessor for each ward. At the election Reuben M. Norton was chosen mayor; Isaiah
G. Parker, clerk; Charles G. Collins, treasurer; William L Utley, marshal; William K. May, S. C. Yout, Alanson
Filer, Roswell Morris, Moses Vilas, Lucas Bradley, Sidney A. Sage, S. S. Hurlburt, Hosea L. Allen and George D.
Fellows, aldermen; S. S. Dickinson, chief fire engineer; Alfred Cary and John W. Cary, assessors (only two elected).
On October 6, 1848, the City Council met for the first time. Mayor Norton was sworn in by Eli R. Cooley, president
of the Board of Trustees, who then retired from office and turned over the reins of government to the new mayor.
Marshall M. Strong was appointed city attorney and Moses Vilas was made city surveyor. The trustees submitted a
statement showing the financial condition of the village, which was accepted, and the funds on hands were turned
over to Treasurer Collins, after which the meeting adjourned.
From that time to the present the ordinary business and legislation of the city have gone forward in about the
same manner as in other cities of the same class. The original charter has been amended; a Board of Public Works
was established that has charge of all public improvements; also a Fire and Police Commission that looks after
the protection of the citizens and their property; and in 1905 a Park Board was created. Following is a list of
the mayors of Racine from 1848 to 1916, with the year in which they entered upon the duties of the office, and
each served until the election and qualification of his successor: Reuben M. Norton, 1848; Henry Bryan, 1849; Eli
R Cooley, 1850; William H. Waterman, 1851; William T Richmond, 1852; David McDonald, 1853; George Wustum, 1855;
Jerome I. Case, 1856; John W. Cary, 1857; Jerome I. Case, 1858; W. W. Vaughan, 1859; Jerome I. Case, 1860; George
C. Northrop, 1861; Alvin Raymond, 1862; George C. Northrop, 1863; Thomas Falvey, 1864; Joshua W. Hart, 1865; George
A. Thomson, 1866; M. B. Erskine, 1869; Reuben Doud, 1872; R. H. Baker, 1874; Reuben Doud, 1875; John G. Meacham,
1876; Ernest J. Hueffner, 1879; M. B. Erskine, 1880; W. P. Packard, 1881; T. G. Fish, 1883; M. M. Secor, 1884;
Joseph Miller, 1885; D. A. Olin, 1886; M. M. Secor, 1888; F L Mitchell, 1889; Adolph Weber, 1890; Jackson I. Case,
1891; David G. Janes, 1895; Frederick Graham, 1897; Michael Higgins, 1899; Peter B. Nelson, 1904; A. J. Horlick,
1907; W. S. Goodland, 1911; T. W. Thiesen, 1915.
The first move toward the establishment of a fire department was made while Racine was still under the village
government. At a meeting of the Board of Trustees on January 22, 1843, the constitution and by-laws of "Fire
Company, Engine No. 1," were presented by Alanson Filer, and the board adopted a resolution recognizing the
company as authorized by the village to extinguish fires. It was a volunteer company, and it may be interesting
to the people of Racine to know who were the first men in the city to offer their services in case of fire. Following
is the roster of the company: Foreman, Ludlow F. Lewis; members, W. R. P. Armstrong, Albert H. Blake, Edwin S.
Blake, Edward Brink, William D. Busbee, Louis Butterfield, J. R. Carpenter, Jr., William F. Cole, Edwin Colvin,
Eli R. Cooley, Lucius Cooper, Henry F. Cox, Jr., Ira Dean, Sidney S. Dickinson, George D. Fellows, Alanson Filer,
Elilin Filer, G. C. Flagg, Edwin Gould, S. F. Heath, H. D. Hott, John J. Humphrey, Benjamin Kelley, Joseph C. Knapp,
Samuel G. Knight, A. H. Lee, C. M. Mann, Henry L. Marsh, Matthew B. Mead, F. H. Orvis, I. N. Parker, Benjamin K.
Perkins, John Ramsdell, William T Richmond, Charles F. Rogers, F. M. Rublee, A. C. St. John, Charles Smith, Edward
W. Smith, C. W. Spafard, James M. Sprague, George G. Stevens, Marshall M. Strong, James M. Titus, J. A. Titus,
Moses Vilas, William H. Waterman, Chester W. White, Theo. J. Wisner.
In this list will be recognized some of the most prominent men of that day. Three members of the company afterward
served as mayors of the city, four as presidents of the Village Board, and Marshall M. Strong and Alanson Filer
represented Racine County in the Legislature. The company was equipped with hand engine of the crank piston variety,
built by Russell Skinner, of Racine, and a limited supply of hose. Such a fire company now would be a laughing
stock, but old "No. 1" was the pride of Racine at the time it was organized.
On February 23, 1843, at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees, the constitution and by-laws of "Hook
and Ladder Company, No. 1," were presented by B. B. Jones. By resolution of the board, the company was made
a part of the fire department, but the membership of the company was limited to forty.
The Racine Engine Company was organized early in the year 1846, and on the 25th of April it was accepted by the
Board of Trustees. At the same time the hook and ladder company was reorganized. Thus remained the Racine fire
department until after the incorporation of the city in 1848. Sidney S. Dickinson was elected chief fire engineer
at the first city election, though little was done in 1848 toward the reorganization of the department, farther
than the passage of an ordinance defining the duties of the chief engineer and his assistants, etc. In 1849 Elijah
N. Akin was elected chief engineer and the real fire department can be said to date from this year.
In June, 1849, the No. 1 Company was reorganized, with C. W. Spafard as foreman and fifty three members. The old
Russell Skinner engine was discarded and one of more modern type purchased. The hook and ladder company was also
reorganized under the name of "Protection Hook and Ladder Company, No. 1," with Thomas W. Wright as foreman
and a membership of thirty. Engine Company No. 2 was organized a little later, with sixty one members and Sterling
P. Rounds as foreman, and before the close of the year a third company was organized. It was composed almost entirely
of Welshmen, numbered forty members and was under the foremanship of Evan Lewis. Three new engines were purchased
in 1849. They were built by L. Button & Company, of Racine. The one which took the place of the old Skinner
engine was called the "Racine"; Company No. 2 called their engine the "Fire King"; and Company
No. 3 christened theirs the "Star of the West". A little later three engine houses were built for the
three companies. No. 1 was located on the corner of Fourth and Wisconsin Streets; No. 2, on Main, near Second;
and No. 3, on Seventh, between Main and Wisconsin.
On January 4, 1866, about four o'clock in the morning, fire was discovered in a blacksmith shop on the north side
of Fifth Street, not far from Wisconsin Street. A keen northwesterly wind was blowing and the flames were soon
communicated to Buffham's paint shop, next door east, and in a short time the adjoining buildings were ignited.
The mercury was below zero and the department worked at great disadvantage in their efforts to control the flames.
The Racine House, the old historic tavern erected in 1837, although across the street, caught fire and the flying
sparks from that building ignited St. Luke's Church. All the buildings from the hotel to the court house were burned,
and the total loss was estimated at nearly two hundred thousand dollars. This was the most destructive fire in
Racine up to that time and it demonstrated the fact that the fire department as then constituted was unable to
cope with a real conflagration.
During the spring and summer following the great fire, various suggestions were made for the improvement of the
department, and on October 1, 1867, the H. C. Silsby Company, of Seneca Falls, New York, brought a steam fire engine
to Racine and tested it in the presence of the committee appointed for the purpose by the City Council. The test
was reported as "entirely satisfactory," so the engine was purchased and named the "Gem of the Lakes."
It was placed in the hands of the old No. 1 Company, whose hand engine was taken to the Fourth Ward and placed
in service there as the "Racine No. 4," a new company having been formed to take charge of it, part of
the old company following the engine to its new quarters. The first time the steam fire engine was called into
service was at the Clancy fire, corner of Main and Fourth Streets. Owing to the fact that no provision had been
made for taking the "Gem of the Lakes" to fires, it was drawn to the Clancy fire by hand. This, coupled
with the inexperience of the men in handling steam engines, caused so much delay that the old "Star of the
West" Company had a stream of water playing on the fire before the steamer could get into action. So much
sport was made of the new engine, from which so much had been expected, that the company disbanded. Men were then
constantly employed to take charge of the steamer and a team was engaged to draw it to fires. This was the first
step toward a paid fire department.
On April 6, 1868, the council passed an ordinance establishing fire limits, within which buildings must conform
to certain regulations Engine House No. 2 was remodeled for the steamer and the old hand engine there was sold
to the Town of West Bend. In 1871 the council purchased a second Silsby engine, which was known as "L. S.
Blake, No. 2"; hand engine No. 3 was sold to Savannah, Illinois, and the "Gem of the Lakes" was
renamed the "John Vaughan." After several more years of service it was considered unfit for further use
and turned back to the Silsby Manufacturing Company as part payment for the steamer "John G. Meacham."
In September, 1877, the fire marshal sold hand engine No. 4 to the Town of Burlington, Wisconsin, and a chemical
engine — the "Henry Mitchell" — took its place. It was a good piece of apparatus in its day, but the
improvements in firefighting machinery finally relegated it to the scrap pile.
In 1883 the department was made a full paid institution and since that time the city has not depended upon "volunteers"
to extinguish fires. The last published report of the City of Racine shows six engine houses, with forty three
men on the payroll, which amounted to $42,810 for the year. The equipment was valued at $50,526, exclusive of the
value of the buildings and grounds. More than half of the fire apparatus of the city is now of the auto motor type
and of the most approved designs.
Today fire fighting is a regular business, but the members of the paid fire department miss many of the pleasurable
incidents of the old volunteer days. Sterling P. Rounds, who was foreman of the old "Fire King" Company,
and who afterward went to Chicago, in writing to a friend in Racine, recounted a number of happenings while he
was connected with the company. He says:
"It was composed of the young business men and 'live' boys of the town. It was named 'Fire King,' after
the crack company of Buffalo, of which its foreman had recently been secretary. The neat brick engine house at
the foot of Main Street was built for it. The first trial of the engine, on its arrival at Percy Dutton's pier,
was a success and the boys were delighted. Very soon after it came, a fire occurred on the hill (since graded down)
west of the engine house and, as the boys had to take water from the river, a very long distance, there was some
delay. One of the aldermen, who had opposed the purchase of the engine, impatiently remarked: 'Now that we want
firemen, they are not on hand; where is this boasted new company?' The words were scarcely out of his mouth when
the stream of water filled the long line of hose, and Bill McCarty, who held the pipe and who had listened with
disgust to the 'blowing' of the old fraud, turned the nozzle upon him. His hat went one way, the alderman the other,
and he was fully aware where the new company was.
"At the great tournament which took place at Chicago in the fall of 1850, where were gathered the crack companies
from Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee and other cities, both the Racine companies were present.
The sixty wide awake young fellows of No. 2 attracted much attention. After the parade, and at the competition,
though seventh in the line of twenty two companies, at the word, 'Break line and take water,' we divided the honors
with No. 9 of Buffalo of having the first water through the hose, and at the burning of the old 'Tremont,' the
following night, had the first water on the fire, though Sol Cather and 'Dar' Munroe did fall in the cistern when
"The Racine companies went to Chicago and returned by boat. They arrived at Racine about midnight, but somehow
the news of the honorable record made at the tournament had preceded them and it seemed as if the entire population
had turned out to welcome the boys home. Bonfires were lighted, the old cannon was brought out, and salute after
salute was fired as the steamboat hove in sight, while cheer upon cheer greeted the boys as they landed at the
pier, and followed them to their engine houses. Nor were they allowed to go to their beds. Groups gathered at the
'Empire,' the 'St Charles' and other popular places of resort, and as the story was repeated the enthusiasm grew
wilder and more noisy until daylight appeared."
When Racine was incorporated under the act of August 8, 1848, the only police officer provided for was the city
marshal. As the city grew, the marshal was authorized to appoint deputies from time to time. For ten years the
marshal, his deputies and the county sheriff discharged all the duties of a police force, but on October 18, 1858,
the City Council voted to establish a police system. Ten days later Andrew Dusolt was appointed chief of police;
William Finch was appointed patrolman on November 5, 1858, and F. E. Clark was made the third member of the force
on January 3, 1859.
About a week after the great Chicago fire in October, 1871, owing to the excitement and the great demand for precautionary
measures, a number of extra patrolmen were appointed and were under the control of Lewis Dickinson, the city marshal.
This arrangement was only temporary, however, and after the excitement quieted down the extra men were dismissed
During the next nine years an additional patrolman was appointed now and then, until in 1880 the force consisted
of the marshal, chief and nine patrolmen, or eleven men in all.
According to the last published report of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, the Racine police force now
consists of thirty five men, to wit: One chief, one captain, three sergeants, two detectives, one lineman and twenty
seven patrolmen. The cost of the force for the year 1914 — the year included in the report — was $33,218.74.
Few cities the size of Racine are better provided with fire and police protection. And it is greatly to the credit
of the city that some years ago a pension fund was started for the firemen and policemen, so that when a man grows
old in the service he can be retired with the assurance that he will not be in absolute want in his old age. At
the close of the year 1914 the firemen's pension fund amounted to $20,134.85, of which $19,000 was invested in
interest bearing securities, and the police pension fund had reached $16,279.84, with $15,000 invested in bonds.
Prior to 1905 the City of Racine had no public parks. In his annual message of that year to the City Council,
Peter B. Nelson, then mayor of the city, called attention to the need of public parks. In order to get the matter
in tangible shape, on January 25, 1905, Mayor Nelson appointed the following citizens members of a park commission:
C. R. Carpenter, Michael Higgins, A. C. Hanson, F. L. Norton and Andrew Simonson. At the April election following,
the question of issuing bonds to the amount of $50,000 for the purchase of lands and the establishment of public
parks. The proposition was defeated by a vote of 2,237 to 1,473. Racine was therefore in the peculiar situation
of having a park commission with nothing to do. The outlook was certainly not encouraging, but Mayor Nelson and
the park commission refused to give up the fight for public parks. As a beginning, the board petitioned the City
Council to set aside for park purposes a strip of land off the east and south sides of Mound Cemetery, extending
from West Sixth Street to Twelfth Street and from the top of the bluff to the Root River. The petition was granted
and the tract of land was named Riverside Park.
In June, 1905, the board asked the council to appropriate $1,000, on condition that the board raise a like sum
by subscription, which the council agreed to do, and the canvass for funds began. Before the close of the year
$4,000 had been subscribed, one of the first and largest being that of the Woman's Club of $1,000. With this $5,000
as a working fund the board secured an option of Horlick Park, north of Sixth Street, which was finally purchased
by William Horlick and donated to the city, hence the name Jens Jensen, a landscape gardener of Chicago, was engaged
to outline a general plan for a park system.
The next step was to secure an option on ten acres of ground lying between Horlick Park on the west and the Root
River for $5,000. The day before the option expired the subject was brought to the attention of William Mitchell
Lewis, who purchased the tract and presented it to the city for a playground. Later Mr. Lewis gave $5,000 toward
the improvement of the park, which is now known as Lewis Field.
As early as October 24, 1905, the park board entered into a lease and option of purchase with Charles Erskine for
the forty seven acres comprising Washington Park. The lease was to run for three years from September 15, 1905,
and just before its expiration the board exercised its option and purchased the ground for $20,487.50, giving to
the city a park of unusual beauty. In his report immediately following the purchase, A. A. Fisk, superintendent
of parks, said: "Washington Park will ever be the popular picnic park because of the natural woodland. The
woods should ever be retained in its wild condition. Its natural beauty far surpasses anything that could otherwise
The North Shore or Bathing Beach Park was purchased from James Cape & Sons in July, 1908, for $10,000, and
money for the erection of a suitable bath house was raised by subscription within a week. A life line was strung
on posts, which were driven into the bottom of the lake, and a life boat was anchored at a convenient point for
use in emergencies. The operating expenses have been met by the small rentals received for bathing suits, towels
and dressing booths, and the bathing beach is one of Racine's popular resorts during the warm weather.
Lake Shore Park, fronting the lake between Thirteenth and Sixteenth Streets, was donated to the city by Andrew
Simonson. C. R. Carpenter, W. M. Lewis and George D. Fellows, giving to the city more than two blocks on the bluff
overlooking the lake at that point. This is not a large park, but it has proved to be a popular resting place for
the people in that section of the city.
On July 6, 1905, Judge J. E. Dodge donated to the city 170 feet on Wisconsin Street, between Seventeenth and Eighteenth
Streets. This was named Dodge Park. Other small parks are: East Park, West Park, Monument and St. Clair Squares,
Colbert and Simonson Parks, Lutz Square, and the ends of Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Seventeenth
Streets, from Lake Avenue to the lake. These will never become as popular as the larger parks, with their golf
links, tennis courts, etc., but when the plans of the park commission are carried out each one of them will become
a beauty spot for the people of Racine to gaze upon with pleasure.
The general system of parks, as outlined by Mr. Jensen and approved by the park board, contemplates the connecting
of the larger parks by driveways, such as Riverside Drive and Carlisle Boulevard, and when completed the city will
have a park system of which every citizen — even those who voted against the bond issue in 1905 — may well be proud.
On March 12, 1882, J. S. Foster, of Chicago, addressed the Racine City Council on the subject of waterworks.
At that time the city had no authority, to put in waterworks along the lines suggested by Mr. Foster's address,
and on the 14th a committee of the council, to whom the matter had been referred, recommended legislation that
would enable the city to enter into a contract with any company to build a system that would supply the city with
water. During the legislative session, in the winter of 1882-83, a special law was enacted giving the city the
desired authority, and on May 7, 1883, the council passed an ordinance granting to the Holly Manufacturing Company,
of Lockport, New York, a franchise for twenty five years to build, equip and operate a waterworks plant for the
purpose of supplying the City of Racine with water, and including the exclusive privilege of laying mains upon
the streets of the city.
The Holly Company failed to exercise the privileges granted by the franchise ordinance, and on March 18, 1886,
a franchise was granted to the Racine Water Company. This ordinance was approved by Mayor Joseph Miller the next
day and was accepted by A. H. Howland, president of the company. The new company went to work immediately upon
a plant A pumping station was built on the lake shore just north of the Root River, a stand pipe of steel with
a capacity of 330,480 gallons was erected on Tenth Street, and a twenty four inch cast iron pipe was run out 7,240
feet into the lake, where the end was turned up and is encased in a crib. The stand pipe was afterward encased
with brick, with a roof of concrete and a castellated top. The daily pumping capacity of the plant is 8,500,000
gallons. The first section of main was laid on July 1, 1886, water was first turned into the mains on January 11,
1887, the water tower was filled on the 27th of the same month, and on February 1, 1887, the first private consumers
The franchise granted by the ordinance of March 18, 1886, was for twenty five years. Upon its expiration in 1911
some of the citizens expressed themselves in favor of having the city purchase the plant and give Racine a municipal
waterworks, but nothing definite along that line has been done up to this time. It is probable, however, that within
a few years the works will be owned by the city.
GAS AND ELELTRIC LIGHT
On February 24, 1855, Governor William A. Barstow approved an act of the Wisconsin Legislature incorporating
the "Racine Gas Light and Coke Company." A meeting of the stockholders was held on April 16, 1855, when
A. P. Dutton was elected president; J. B. Rowley, secretary, and G. C. Northrop, treasurer. At a second meeting,
held on May 9, 1855, the president and secretary were authorized to make a contract with the firm of Parkins, Harper
& Company, of Chicago, for the erection of a gas works for 840,000. In 1866 the Legislature annulled the charter
of the company and passed an act incorporating the "Racine Gas Light Company," which purchased the works
and began business with a capital stock of 841,000. The capital stock was increased to $100,000 about 1877 and
continued to furnish the people of Racine with gas until the company was merged into the Wisconsin Gas and Electric
Company, a few years ago.
On June 20, 1887, the City Council passed an ordinance granting to John Rodgers, "his heirs, associates or
assigns," the right to use the streets and alleys of the city for the erection of poles and the running of
wires to supply the people with electric light. This was the first move toward an electric light plant in Racine.
Mr. Rodgers evidently failed to establish his plant in accordance with the terms of the ordinance, for on March
11, 1892, the Belle City Street Railway Company was granted a franchise to furnish electricity for lighting purposes.
The light plant established under this franchise was afterward turned over to the Milwaukee Electric Railway &
Light Company when it acquired the Belle City Street Railway system.
In addition to the municipal utilities and advantages enumerated in this chapter, the City of Racine has a substantial
city hall, erected in 1883 on the southeast corner of Main and Third Streets, in which are the city offices, council
chamber, etc. At the close of the year 1914 the sewer system included over eighty miles of sewer, put in at a cost
of $649,642.62. There are thirty five miles of brick and asphalt paved streets, which cost $1,311,271.15, and many
miles of excellent cement sidewalks The city has a fine public library, with about ten thousand volumes of well
selected books, a number of fine school buildings and church edifices, and many pretty residences. Its manufacturing,
mercantile and banking interests compare favorably with those of other cities of its size. With a population of
over forty thousand and property assessed at $55,770,026; with a wide awake, progressive people; with its excellent
transportation facilities, both by lake and railroad, Racine has well earned the appellation it has so long borne
of "The Belle City of the Lakes."
[Return to part 1 of Racine History.]