Gasheree DeWitt Elwood and his new bride, Sarah Jeannette (Forest), arrived at the port of Milwaukee in late summer 1849. They had been married in July and left central New York for the new state of Wisconsin two months later.

Unlike many of the European immigrants who came to Wisconsin for cheap land, to escape military conscription, or simply in search of a better life, many of the New York and New England settlers who began filtering into Wisconsin had the means to buy land, grow wheat for a few seasons, operate a business, and then move farther west.

The Elwoods, however, came for another reason. “They, unlike most emigrants of that day, came not to improve their financial condition, but their health,” according to newspaper reports of Sarah Elwood’s presentation at the fifth annual “Old Settlers Club” reunion held at the Hubbard House (today Princeton Garage Antiques parking lot at 445 West Water Street) in February 1879.

DeWitt Elwood, 31, suffered from severe asthma. His father, a farmer, died when DeWitt was just two years old. He was educated in the New York common school system and worked as a farmer and teacher to earn tuition money for Cazenovia Seminary, sponsored by the Methodist church but open to all, and Fairfield Academy. However, he dropped out during his final year due to illness.

Elwood died young – at age 50 of consumption (tuberculosis) – but in his time here influenced not only the development of Green Lake County but also Wisconsin. He represented the local state Senate district in the Wisconsin Legislature for two years and served four terms as county register of deeds.

The 1860 map of Green Lake County shows Hamilton in relation to St. Marie.

After arriving in Milwaukee, the Elwoods purchased a strong horse and outfit for a tour of the one-year-old state in search of their new home. Traveling rough “corduroy” roads following former trails of the American Indians, the newlyweds visited the “embryo” of  cities such as Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Neenah, Appleton, Omro and Strong’s Landing (Berlin).

Sarah kept a journal of their travels. Here’s an entry dated September 28, 1849: “This afternoon, going still thro’ prairie and openings, we came nineteen miles to Princeton, a ‘leetle’ place on the Neena (Fox River). … We stayed all night in Princeton, at the tavern kept by John Knapp and his pleasant wife. After retiring for the night, we heard the stage driver remark to the landlady, ‘This is the best tavern between Stevens Points and Watertown.’ We looked out through the unchinked logs of our sleeping room and smiled. Our breakfast was served in the same room in which we slept, for the house was not fairly opened, and it was a good breakfast, too, for the season and place.”

John Knapp operated first in the log cabin built by Royal Treat at about the intersection of Main and Mechanic streets. Treat shared the cabin his first winter (1848-1849) in Treat’s Landing (Princeton) with Nelson Parsons, another early landowner here, and the Knapps, who in 1849 built Princeton’s first frame building near the northwest corner of Water and Pearl streets (today site of Twister, 602 West Water Street) for their tavern/inn.

After leaving Princeton, the Elwoods went on to Fort Winnebago (Portage), Madison, Lodi, and Prairie du Sac. They eventually decided to settle in the new village of Hamilton, platted in May 1849 by 21-year-old John S. Marsh, who lived on “Indian Lands” west of the Fox River.

Marsh’s parents, Canfield and Sophronia (Pettit) Marsh, had moved from the Racine area to Pleasant Valley Township in the 1840s and by the 1850 census owned real estate valued at $5,000, including the site of Hamilton on land just 1.5 miles north of Princeton originally purchased from the government at $1.25 per acre by Hiram Balcom in March 1849.

John Marsh, the original “proprietor” of Hamilton, and his wife Minerva sold their interests in Hamilton to Canfield Marsh for $1,600 in November 1849 (Deeds, Volume B, Page 577). They had sold six lots.

Elwood, meanwhile, took a job as surveyor for Marquette County.

“At the time of our removal to Hamilton, Dec. 18, 1849, there were 18 framed buildings and six shanties on the village plat and three framed buildings and one shanty just across the river,” Sarah Elwood told the Old Settlers Club in 1879. “A free bridge – a float bridge – had been built there, as well as at Princeton. The tavern built by Canfield Marsh and his son, C.J., was for several years one of the largest in the county. There were several two-story buildings and one three-story cabinet and wagon shop. The various trades were well represented, and dry goods and the usual articles found at a country store were plenty.”

This 1850s survey map shows the four communities on the east bank of the Fox River. I find the angle of the bridge in Princeton quite interesting. I assumed it would’ve been a straight line, similar to what it has been since the 1860s.
This map obtained from the Wisconsin Historical Society shows purchase dates for the land along the Fox River north of Princeton (bottom left, Henry Treat).

Princeton and the neighboring river communities to the north – Hamilton, Shaw’s Landing (St. Marie) and State Centre – were vying for recognition as the best crossing point on this stretch of the Fox River for stagecoach lines and potentially railroads running from Watertown to Stevens Point and “the Pinery” as well as best shipping point on the Upper Fox-Wisconsin waterway. Each of them for a time had a floating bridge, ferry, and steamboat dock.

The Elwoods’ first home was west of the river, for the 1850 census shows them residing on the “Indian Lands” rather than Pleasant Valley Township east of the Fox.

The plat of the village of Hamilton was filed May 26, 1849.

Sarah Elwood diary, August 31, 1850: “This afternoon a steamboat stopped at this place. She is named the Badger State and is the first that ever puffed smoke on this part of Fox River.”

Of the four communities lining the Fox, Hamilton was the only one shown on I.A. Lapham’s 1850 map of Wisconsin.

The Hamilton Independent Temperance League formed in January 1851 and grew to 61 members. There was also a debating society, Ladies’ Benevolent Sewing Circle, and Hamilton Cemetery Association on land donated by Canfield Marsh.

This 1875 map shows a cemetery south of the Hamilton site and east of the intersection of County Roads J and P today. The cemetery at the top of the map is the St. Marie cemetery, which was renamed State Center Cemetery in 1881.

Austin Kellogg opened his house for religious services. Later the Hamilton school house doubled as a church on Sundays. Samuel Morse, cited by local historians as Princeton’s first blacksmith, operated a forge under oak trees west of the river near Hamilton before moving to Princeton.

The “Portrait and Biographical Album of Green Lake, Marquette and Waushara Counties,” published in 1890, noted Hamilton was “platted on a showy and extensive scale and looked as well on paper as any town of 3,000 population does now.”

Hamilton in 1850 included a large “public house” (another name for hotel, inn, tavern, or boarding house), three or four stores, and several shops and houses, according to the Milwaukee Sentinel & Gazette.

“I well remember making a trip to the Wisconsin Pinery in the fall of the year 1849, or it may have been 1850, certainly not later, in company with my brother, Miles Johnson, and a friend from Pennsylvania who was visiting with us,” Allen W. Johnson recalled for the Princeton Republic in August 1875. “We crossed the Fox River at Hamilton, then just started and a place of great expectations, on a crude ferry boat and that night stopped with Ed. Dakin at his shanty on White River, where he had made a claim, covering as he supposed a valuable mill site (Neshkoro). We went west as far as Stevens Point and brought back a load of pine lumber and a few bushels of cranberries. The lumber was sold at the new village on the river. Princeton was not then known by that name but was called Treat’s Landing. … In 1852 Princeton was a thriving village, and Hamilton was, as the boys said, a ‘played out town.’”

Hamilton’s population peaked at about 125, according to John Gillespy, who wrote the history of Green Lake County published by a Berlin printing company in 1860.

This map of Hamilton comes from an 1860 map of Green Lake County. I do not know why it does not match the original plat. By 1860, all that remained in Hamilton were four houses and a barn.

Here’s how Sarah Elwood recounted the Hamilton story: “Princeton, one and a half miles farther up the river, never ceased to believe that she was to be the city and used her utmost exertions to outstrip her rival. And Col. John Shaw, thinking he had the best site for a town, laid out one half a mile below Hamilton, and named it St. Marie. So, between the two rivals, Hamilton came to naught; or more properly speaking, was absorbed by them. The first building drawn from Hamilton was the hotel built by J.B. Winchell. It was taken to Princeton. Others followed. Still others went to St. Marie, and from there to Princeton. They were drawn by oxen and horses, from ten to forty yoke or span being attached to a building, according to its size.”

John Winchell

Local historians point to John Batey Winchell as the first settler in the future Princeton Township, then part of Pleasant Valley Township. He was a ninth-generation American who moved here from Indiana in 1846 for the cheap farmland and built a cabin near what is now the intersection of state Highways 23 and 73 about three miles east of Princeton.

A census of Marquette County (east of the Fox River) taken in June 1846 found 989 people living on land that would become Green Lake County, from Berlin in the north to Marquette and beyond to the south. The Indian Lands west of the river were not yet open to settlement but were dotted with squatters intending to secure pre-emption rights for the land when it became available.

Neither Shaw’s Landing nor Treat’s Landing existed when the 1846 census was taken, and neither John Shaw nor Royal Treat was included in the enumerator’s list. The only white people in what is now Princeton Township east of the Fox were the families of Winchell, Samuel Lamont and William Blackburn. The first settlers reached the future St. Marie Township land east of the river no earlier than 1847, according to county land abstracts.

Winchell’s cabin, which he opened to travelers as a tavern, was the center of Pleasant Valley. It was the site of the first town meeting and first election and served as classroom and Methodist church. Pleasant Valley had a post office from 1852-1854.

Winchell did not tarry long, however. He bought four lots in Block D of the Hamilton plat from Canfield Marsh for $100 in December 1849 (Deeds, Volume B, Page 578) and built a hotel known as the Fox River House. He sold his farm and cabin east of Princeton to James Stimson for $473 in November 1850 (Deeds, Volume D, Page 73).

He also purchased Water Lot 27 in Princeton from Henry Treat, brother of Princeton founder Royal Treat (Deeds, Volume E, Page 95), and moved the Fox River House to about 523 Water Street (today site of Green 3). He renamed it The American, as advertised in Vol. I, No. I of the Marquette Mercury published in Berlin on March 6, 1851, but it was known in Princeton lore as the Fox River House.

Winchell sold his Hamilton lots to Aaron Everhard (Deeds, Volume E, Page 72).

“John B. Winchell, the irrepressible host of the Fox River House, seemed to be a perfect encyclopedia of useful information, and his capabilities were multifarious,” W. Johnson recalled for the Princeton Republic in August 1875. “Somehow he would manage to be deputy sheriff, serve on the grand jury, and a witness in eight out of ten cases, all at the same time.”

Winchell sold his tavern in Princeton in 1855 and moved west – but not that far west, at least not initially. According to the U.S. census, he was farming and owned real estate valued at $1,300 near Crystal Lake, Marquette County, in 1860. He had moved to Solano County, California, but continued to list his occupation as farmer in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. He died in 1897 in Butler County, Iowa. I believe he was living with his son.

Winchell’s sister told a Minneapolis newspaper in 1899 that John was “(deputy) sheriff of Marquette County for 10 years, was admitted to the bar and finally removed to Iowa.”

The former Fox River House at 523 West Water Street burned in 1897.

Princeton Republic, June 17, 1897 – “About 1 o’clock Tuesday morning, fire was discovered in the rear of the two-story wooden structure in which John Budnick’s saloon is situated. It was far past extinguishing before the fire department reached the spot. … The building where the fire originated belonged to the Clark estate, those most interested living in Fond du Lac. The west room was occupied by Wm. Whittemore, as a jewelry store and bicycle shop. The next room east was occupied by John Budnick as a saloon. … The old building now gone has a bit of history. It was once a hotel at the village of Hamilton, a mile down the river and was moved to Princeton when Hamilton’s high hopes were blasted by the want of people the originators expected when they set their stakes to build a mighty city. The hotel was, we believe, called the Fox River House at Hamilton and retained its name when moved to Princeton. It became a noted place in this village as a hostelrie.”

Hamilton’s fade

A list of Marquette County village populations in 1850 showed Hamilton with 98 residents and Princeton with 138. There was no listing for Shaw’s Landing, or St. Mary’s Landing, or State Centre. A stagecoach line from Oshkosh to Fort Winnebago in 1850 included stops in Hamilton and Princeton three times a week.

As Hamilton faded, several business owners moved their buildings to St. Marie. They included the dry goods stores owned by Buck & Cheney (Hiram and David, respectively) and Alfred Barnes (the Hamilton Emigrants’ Exchange) and the large hotel built by Marsh and known as the Cottage House.

“Tavern houses and stores have gone off bodily – the Cottage House at St. Marie, moved off under the steady pull of fifty-three yoke of oxen, whilst some less cumbersome took a more-lengthy flight to Princeton,” Gillespy noted in 1860.

I believe Marsh’s hotel was operated by his brother-in-law, Henry Candell. The 1850 census lists the hotel residents as Richard Burnett, shoemaker; G.W. Noble, physician; Aaron Everhard, physician; Ezra Everhard, groceryman; Allen Johnson, carpenter; Benjamin Graves, carpenter and joiner; Henry July, carpenter and joiner, L.P. Grout, merchant, William Gamon, merchant, J.B. Hill, blacksmith; James Pierce, merchant; John Elliot, hostler; Marvin Pierce, lawyer.

The name was changed to St. Marie Hotel, I believe, following the move north. (See earlier post, “In Search of St. Marie | The History,” on this site.) Another name change occurred about the same time.

Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, April 6, 1850 – “The Postmaster General has … changed the name of State Centre, Marquette County, to Namahkun (meaning sturgeon resort).”

The new post office served State Centre, Shaw’s Landing (St. Mary’s Landing) and Hamilton.

Oshkosh Democrat, June 7, 1850 – “We learn that Mr. (Canfield) Marsh has made an arrangement with Col. Shaw so that there are no longer any rival interests in regard to the town. Hamilton will have no impediment now and it will be able to make strong pretensions to the county seat.”

Princeton’s three rivals to the north combined under the single name St. Marie in 1851.

Oshkosh Democrat, March 28, 1851 – “The proprietors of the towns of Hamilton, Shaw’s Landing and State Centre have united their interests, abandoned all the old names, and adopted a new one, St. Marie. The plats all join. It is a beautiful locality, and a smart thriving town must grow up there.”

The post office changed again in 1852, to La Cote St. Marie. (It closed in 1864.)

The “Portrait and Biographical Album” reported that Hamilton also about the same time lost its bridge, “which the fates in an angry flood at the breaking up of the river in the spring carried downstream, thus sealing the doom of this unstable product of speculation.”

Canfield Marsh, who also served as justice of the peace, sold the remaining lots and his interests in Hamilton to John Everhard for $1,000 in July 1851 (Deeds, Volume E, Page 40). Marsh died in 1859.

John Marsh ended up in Chicago, where he worked for 35 years as a bookeeper and auditor for the custom-house. He passed in 1899. “He had been a crippled for more than thirty years, his lower limbs having become paralyzed through rheumatism,” an obituary in The Inter Ocean newspaper reported.

By 1860 all that remained of Hamilton were four houses and a barn. “Its rise, progress and final destiny show the mutability of calculations based on purely speculative principles, with no warrant for success except the visionary estimates of the credulity of mankind,” historian Gillespy opined.

Hamilton site, 2023.

Elwood’s legacy

When St. Marie followed Hamilton into history in the 1860s, G. DeWitt Elwood purchased nearly all of the land when it became available and helped convert most of it to farmland.

Elwood had cultivated a deep interest in agriculture and education throughout his life. While in the state Senate, he chaired committees overseeing public education.

Samuel D. Hastings, who presented a memoir of Elwood to the Wisconsin Historical Society in November 1870, reported, “He was much respected by his associates, and soon became one of the most honored and influential members of the Senate.”

Elected to his first term in November 1864, he was named chairman of the committee on legislative expenditures and a member of important committees dealing with finance and education. One of the more important bills dealt with how to dispose of the swamp and overflowed lands and what to do with the proceeds. It had been a political hot potato for several sessions, and the matter had been made so complicated by previous legislation that no one knew what to do. More than two million acres were affected.

“Many long and earnest consultations were had over it by men from all parts of the state, but in putting it into the form in which it finally passed, thus making it acceptable to the people of the state generally, and putting to rest forever a question that had occasioned so much feeling and so much earnest discussion, the clear head and plain practical common sense of Mr. Elwood had a controlling influence,” Hastings reported. “… He came to Madison in the summer of 1865, and did the work in a most correct and satisfactory manner. The original document in the handwriting of Mr. Elwood, on file in the School Land Office at the Capitol, is a model of neatness and accuracy.”

Elwood chaired the committee on Education, School and University Lands during the 1866 legislative session. He helped pass an act requiring the expenses of the management of the various trust funds of the state to be paid from the general fund rather than school fund, thereby sensibly increasing the annual proceeds of the various literature funds.

After his stint in the Senate, Elwood spent much of his time at the county offices updating an abstract of the land titles of the county, a project he started several years earlier and nearly completed.

Throughout his public service, his lung problems had worsened. He was in constant pain doing work that a friend said “would have severely taxed the mental and bodily powers of a strong, healthy man.”

Elwood died in March 1868 at his home in St. Marie. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Berlin.

The Princeton Republic ran a long, moving tribute to Elwood signed by K, “an intimate acquaintance and friend:” “… About three weeks before his death, Mr. Elwood left his work at Dartford and came home – to die. … He had stood at his post until his hitherto indomitable spirit, now sympathizing with a diseased body, was subdued and broken. He had worked while the day lasted, but the shadows of night were now settling around him, in which no man could work. He was fully satisfied that his hour had come, and that any further attempt to continue in life would be useless and hopeless. He approached death with characteristic composure, and philosophic resignation; and it is believed died sustained with Christian consolations, and with a Christian’s hope.”

“In his death the state has lost one of its best and most useful citizens; one who did much to promote its prosperity – whose deeds will live after him, and whose example it will ever be safe to follow,” Hastings noted.

Sarah Elwood later married Aaron Bailey of Berlin. She died in 1894.

Please let me know if you have any corrections, suggestions, or photos to help tell this story.

Thank you for reading and caring about local history.

The former Hamilton site in 2023.

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