This is a revised and updated version of a post that originally appeared here on May 25, 2020. Please be sure to read the Notes & Updates, below, for new information.
Lest We Forget
Graves of Unknown Union Soldiers, Memphis National Cemetery, photo by Clayton B. Fraser, (Library of Congress), public domain. Memphis National Cemetery is the final resting place of Mequon’s Watson Peter Woodworth, and almost 14,000 of his Union Army comrades.
As we begin to recover1 from the worst pandemic in a century, a quick glance at the news will show that many Americans are celebrating this “Memorial Day Weekend” in our now usual way, as “the first day of summer.” Beaches and parks are open, stores entice customers with deals and sales, and people are crowding shoulder to shoulder in swimming pools and along ocean boardwalks.
But for many of us, Memorial Day remains rooted in its origins as Decoration Day. The first national observance was in 1868, when retired general John A. Logan, commander and chief of the Grand Army of the Republic—the Union veterans’ organization—issued his General Order Number 11, designating May 30 as a memorial day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
This Memorial Day, let’s remember those Clark House family, friends, and Mequon neighbors who served in the Civil War, and what they fought—and died—for. The History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties (1881) lists these 65 volunteers from Mequon:
In early 1841, before the commissioners approved county roads Nos. 1, 2, and 3, there was already one federal road in the county. The Green Bay road was a federal road, cut by the troops of the U.S. army’s 5th regiment. It ran generally south to north, joining Ft. Dearborn in Chicago to the regiment’s headquarters at Ft. Howard in Green Bay. Along the way it passed through a number of growing settlements including the three villages that would become Milwaukee, and the future towns of Mequon, Cedarburg, and Grafton. On the map below the Green Bay road is west of and occasionally parallels the Milwaukee River. It is sometimes labeled Green Bay Road, and sometimes—in the southern part of this map—Plank Road (the planking came later, in the 1850s).
Mapping out the first three Washington/Ozaukee county roads is not difficult. The proposals by the road supervisors, as recorded in the official minutes1, were quite precise. Clear starting and ending points were given, using the standard terminology of towns, ranges, sections, quarter sections and so on, and the lengths of each proposed road had been precisely measured in miles, with fractional miles given as a number of additional chains, rods or links. A map of those first three roads—superimposed on a later map of Washington and Ozaukee counties from 1874—looks like this:
Our Infrastructure! series— a short group of posts focused on the first county government “improvements” in old Washington/Ozaukee county began (almost a month ago!) with Monday: Map Day!, discussing the 1841 appointment of the first county road supervisors and the organization of the county’s first seven road districts. That was followed up with a discussion of surveyors, their tools, and Jonathan M. Clark’s experiences as a military road builder. Today we’ll take a look at the first few roads laid out and built in old Washington/Ozaukee county in early 1841.
Revised May 13, 2022 to correct spelling of Nathaniel Currier’s name.
It’s mid-May in southeastern Wisconsin, and with luck the last frost is behind us. For the past weeks and months farmers and gardeners have been tending to the soil and preparing for planting. At this time of year in the 1840s and ’50s, Jonathan M. Clark would have done much the same, hitching up his team of oxen to a steel-bladed plow to cut and turn over the tough prairie grasses and break up the soil of his newly-cleared lands.
It’s been a busy few weeks here at the Historian’s (actual) house, and I’m (very) slowly transcribing handwritten documents and making maps to illustrate the work of Jonathan M. Clark and his fellow road supervisors as they mapped and built old Washington County’s first roads in early 1841. While you’re waiting for those posts, check out our previous installments in this series — County Government – Early Records and Monday: Map Day! — for some interesting background, maps, and first-hand records.
Jonathan Clark – surveyor?
What did Jonathan Clark know about surveying and road building? Probably quite a bit. Like most farmers—then and now—Jonathan would not have been successful without a good understanding of maps, distances, land boundaries and how to best use and navigate the fields, forests and wetlands of his property.
If you recall our earlier posts detailing JMC’s military service (starting with Fort Howard, October 1833 (part 1) and including Ouisconsin Territory, 1836), you’ll remember that his unit, the U.S. Army’s 5th infantry regiment, was responsible for laying out and cutting the new military road that would ultimately connect Ft. Howard in Green Bay, Ft. Winnebago near Portage, and Ft. Crawford at Prairie du Chien. Jonathan’s Co. K was involved in this work for the better part of his final two years of service (1835-1836). This assignment would give him hands-on experience in surveying, map-making, grubbing out roads and building serviceable bridges with the materials at hand. By the time he arrived in Mequon, in late 1839, it’s possible that Jonathan Clark was the most experienced road builder (and one of the better surveyors) in early Washington/Ozaukee county.
Today, May 3, 2021, marks the 200th birthday anniversary of Mary Turck, the eldest child of Peter Turck and Rachael (Gay) Turck, and future spouse of Jonathan M. Clark. Mary and Jonathan were married in old Washington county on March 15, 1840, and began to farm their Mequon land the same year. They went on to build their handsome stone house—now the Jonathan Clark House Museum—in 1848.