Where are we?

CLARK, Jonathan house square crop  July,  2015

Jonathan Clark House, Mequon, Wisconsin, July, 2015. Photograph by Reed Perkins

Where are we? Well, if you’re looking at this handsome stone house in real life, you’re standing by the front door of the Jonathan Clark House Museum, looking northward. On a modern map you can find it at 13615 N. Cedarburg Road—on the intersection with Bonniwell Road—Mequon, Wisconsin. If you’d like to visit the museum, click here for more info.

But “Where are we?” is never a simple question when it comes to historic places, because the answer often changes over time. Along with “Where are we?” we need to ask “When are we?” The answer to “Where are we?” is surprisingly varied—and useful for further research—throughout the lives of Jonathan and Mary Clark.

When Jonathan M. Clark was born in 1812—far away from Mequon—this place was a vast, dense hardwood forest. The canopy was said to rise two hundred feet above the forest floor, with trees so close to each other that it was difficult for a man on horseback to ride between them. From 1809 to 1818 this land was part of the Illinois Territory. It was inhabited by a number of Native American peoples, primarily the Menominee and Potawatomi. Except for the occasional explorer or fur trader, European-Americans were almost unknown in this area until the relocation of most Native-Americans during the early 1830s.

Illinois was admitted to the Union as a state in 1818 and the northern part of the old Illinois Territory, including all of present-day Wisconsin, was detached and added to Michigan Territory. So when Private Jonathan M. Clark reported for duty with the U.S. Army at Fort Howard (Green Bay) in October, 1833, he arrived in Brown County, Michigan Territory. The Brown County of 1833 comprised the entire eastern half of the future state of Wisconsin. As more and more settlers arrived during the 1830s and 1840s, new counties would be carved out of the original Brown County, until it reached its present size in the 1850s.

During Jonathan’s army service, the future site of the Clark house became part of Milwaukee County, which was organized from Brown County by act of the Michigan territorial legislature on August 25, 1835. On July 3, 1836, in preparation for Michigan statehood, Congress divided the Michigan Territory, and created the new Wisconsin Territory, comprising all of the present states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, and the parts of North and South Dakota east of the Missouri River. So when Sergeant Jonathan M. Clark was honorably discharged from the army in September, 1836, Fort Howard (Green Bay) had not moved, but was now located in Brown County, Wisconsin Territory.

The Wisconsin territorial legislature met for the first time in late 1836. On December 7, 1836 the legislature created Washington County from parts of Brown and Milwaukee counties, and the future Clark home was now located in Washington County. But the new county was not quite independent, as its civil and judicial powers remained functions of Milwaukee County. Washington County gained its civil powers by act of the legislature on February 19, 1840 and judicial powers by act of the legislature on February 20, 1845.

It’s not clear exactly when Jonathan Clark first arrived at the site of his future home, but it must have been before June 1, 1840, when he was enumerated on the federal census in Washington County, Wiskonsin [sic] Territory. He was probably already living on the parcel of land that he was to purchase from the federal government on March 3, 1843, namely

the West half of the South East quarter of Section three, Township nine North, Range twenty one East [of the 4th Prime Meridian] in the District of Lands subject to sale in Milwaukee, Wiscons[in] Territory, containing eighty acres.

The following year, on September 10, 1844, Jonathan Clark, purchased the east half of the same section, making him the owner of the full 160 acres comprising the southeast quarter of Section 3, Township 9-North, Range 21-East of the 4th Prime Meridian.

By the time of the next federal census, Jonathan and family hadn’t moved, but the county and territory had evolved again. On October 7, 1850 they were enumerated among the “Free Inhabitants of Mequon, Dist. 15, in the County of Washington, State of Wisconsin.”

Less than three years later, on March 7, 1853, Ozaukee County was formed from the eastern townships of Washington County. When Jonathan died, on February 20 (or 29), 1857, it was as a resident of Mequon, Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. On July 20, 1860, when the next federal census was taken, Mary Clark and her eight children—along with her youngest brother, Benjamin Turck, and a Prussian laborer named John Frenz—were still living at the house.

During the decade that follows, the Clark children came to maturity. Some married and moved away; others remained nearby. Mary Clark soon moved to Milwaukee; in the 1862 Milwaukee city directory, Mrs. Mary Clark was living at 474 Jefferson, Milwaukee, the same address as her father Peter Turck. But it appears she did not sell the Mequon farm until John and Catherine Doyle purchased the property in 1872.

Why does this matter to us? Well, if you are interested in the history of this house and its owners, and you are searching for evidence of their lives and stories, then you need to know where to look. And, as you can see, the evidence for Jonathan and Mary Clark will be indexed or found in many more places than the Mequon, Ozaukee County, or State of Wisconsin archives.