Township of Grand Chute

 

As the little community of Appleton was growing around the Lawrence Institute, other villages were springing up in the same area. In 1849, George W. Lawe plotted a village on his property to the east of Appleton, which he named Lawesburg. Another group of investors, Morgan L. Martin, Theodore Conkey, and Abram B. Bowen, purchased the western part of Jean Benoit's land, just east of where Pierce Park is today. This property was platted in 1849 with the name of the village given as Martin. The next year, when the official plat was recorded, the name of the village had been changed to Grand Chute. In this way, by 1850, three tiny villages -- Grand Chute, Appleton, and Lawesburg -- were all nestled in a row along the Fox River.

While those three villages were being established, the government for the area was exercised by the Township, which was also named Grand Chute. Townships then, as now, existed to provide services and collect taxes for areas that are not part of incorporated villages or cities. Because the villages of Grand Chute, Appleton, and Lawesburg were not yet incorporated, or officially recognized by the state of Wisconsin, the government for the people of those villages, as well as for the surrounding farmland, was provided by the Township of Grand Chute.

The first official meeting for the Township of Grand Chute was held in Appleton on April 3, 1849, in the home of W.S. Warner. The first order of business was the election of town officers. Henry L. Blood was chosen as town chairman and assessor, Ezra L. Thurber as town clerk, John Stevens as inspector of schools, and Hiram Polly as treasurer and tax collector. In addition, two supervisors were selected, along with three constables, and four justices of the peace. After the election of officers, a budget of $200 was adopted. To raise the money for the budget, a tax of $2.50 was imposed on each quarter section of deeded land. Any landowner unable or unwilling to pay the tax had the option of giving the township two days work instead.

Between the second and tenth of September 1850, the United States government took the first census of the Town of Grand Chute. The census showed 619 people living in the township, within 120 families. There were 113 houses, including some lodging houses and small hotels. The population was young, with a median age of 21. One fourth of the citizens were children under the age of nine, only 55 were over the age of 40, and only 20 were 50 years old or above. This was a common pattern on the frontier. Older people were left behind in the East as the young sought their fortunes in the open, wild west. Another pattern was for families to move frequently. Of the 619 people listed in the 1850 census, only 102 were still there in 1860. Meanwhile, of course, thousands of others had arrived.

The census revealed that only 89 of the township's 619 residents had been born in Wisconsin, and that most of those were children. Of the 392 born elsewhere in the United States, most came from New York or the New England states. Another 49 came from Canada, primarily the province of Ontario. Of those from Europe, 35 came from England, 20 from Ireland, 9 from Scotland, 12 from Germany, 12 from Holland, and one from Norway.

The economic activity of the township can be determined from the occupations listed on that first census. Fifty men described themselves as farmers, 32 as carpenters, and many more as laborers. There were six shoemakers, four tailors, ten merchants, and seven who worked in lumbering. Of the professional occupations, there were several teachers connected with Lawrence University, five lawyers, three physicians, and four clergymen, all with the Methodist Episcopal Church. Many of the men at the time were occupied with the construction of a canal and four locks on the Fox River. Between 1850 and 1852, about $32,500 was spent on that project. Similar construction was underway down the river at Little Chute.