Roads into the Woods, 1841

Infrastructure Week Fortnight Month continues!

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.

Church, Frederic Edwin (American, 1826–1900), A Road into the Woods, brush and oil paint, graphite on cardboard, circa 1850-1860, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, online, accessed 27 April 2021. Creative Commons CC0 license, public domain. Click to open larger image in new window.

A quick recap

As recorded in the minutes of the second meeting of the Washington county commissioners, held February 24, 1841, at the home of Jonathan and Mary Clark’s neighbor William T. Bonniwell, commissioners Levi Ostrander, Reuben Wells and Barton Salisbury defined the county’s first road districts, and appointed road supervisors1. In the two most populated townships—the future Town of Mequon—there were four districts and supervisors:

  • Dist. No. 1 — John Western (or Weston?2), southeast quadrant
  • Dist. No. 2 — Jonathan M. Clark, northeast quadrant
  • Dist. No. 3 — William T. Bonniwell, northwest quadrant
  • Dist. No. 4 — George Manly, southwest quadrant

Two supervisors were appointed to serve nearby townships that were also swiftly settling with new immigrants:

  • Dist. No. 5 — Anthony D. Wisner, supervising T9-N, R20-E, the future Germantown
  • Dist. No. 6 — Samuel Drake, supervising T10-N, R21- and R22-E, the future towns of Grafton and Cedarburg

All the remaining part of the county comprised county road district No. 7, supervised by Aurora Adams. This meant that Mr. Adams was responsible for the development of roads over a very large—but mostly unsettled—area, 14 townships altogether. Here’s a map with boundaries added to show those first road districts (district No. 7 is not numbered or outlined):

Detail, showing the 1841 road districts in Washington County from Topographical map of Wisconsin Territory / compiled from the Public Surveys on file in the Surveyor General’s office … by Samuel Morrison, Elisha Dwelle [and] Joshua Hathaway, engraved by Doolittle & Munson, 1837.  American Geographical Society Library Digital Map Collection, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Click here for a link to the full map at UW-M and its complete bibliographic information. Click map to open larger image in new window.

Mequon’s first county roads

On February 24, 1841, the county commissioners approved road projects for the county’s first three roads. All three were within the two townships that later would become the town of Mequon, T9-N, R21-E and T9-N, R22-E. Pages 4 and 5 of the minutes show that the supervisors had come to the meeting prepared with proposals for roads, and had already had them evaluated by the about-to-be-appointed county road viewers.

A report was presented from road No. 1 commencing at the centre of the county road at the NW. corner of section 10 Town 9 Range 21 east thence running east on said section line two miles + three fourths reported favorable by the viewers. Barton Salisbury and Datus Cowan were viewers for the said road; the above road was was ordered to be recorded and to be called road No. 1. —

A report was presented from road No. 2 commencing at the centre of Green Bay road on the section line between sections 11 + 14 thence running west on said section line two miles and one hundred and eighty four rods[3], to the quarter post on said section line at the centre of sections 17 + 8 — reported favorable by the viewers. Barton Salisbury and Jesse Hubbard were viewers for the said road. the above road was ordered to be recorded and to be called road No. 2

A report was presented from road No. 3 commencing at the centre of the Green Bay road on the section line between sections 33 and 36 [sic, should read 23 and 26, see note 4, below], thence running west five miles and twenty six rods twelve links into town 9 Range 20 to the NW. corner of section 25 thence south two miles to the county line, reported favorable by the viewers, Barton Salisbury, Levi Ostrander and Anthony D. Wisner were viewers for said road The above road was ordered to be recorded, and to be called road No. 3.

[Minutes of the County Commissioners, Washington County, Wisconsin Territory, “Germantown Vol. A,” 1841-1846, pages 4-5.] Accessed at, April 16 2021. Click to open larger image in new window.

The first roads, mapped

So where were those first three county roads? So that we can have a better sense of where these roads were, and which of the county’s earliest farms were served by them, let’s map them on a detail from the oldest map we have that shows landowners in all of Washington and Ozaukee counties, circa 1874:

Map of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin 1873-4 / drawn, compiled and published by G.V. Nash & M.G. Tucker ; engraved & printed by J. Knauber & Co. ; colored and mounted by E.M. Harney. University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeAmerican Geographical Society Digital Map Collection, detail edited to show approximate routes of the first three county roads, 1841. Full copyright notice here, presented in this post as a public domain item and/or under fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Click to open larger image in new window.

Take a closer look

Be sure to click on the map and zoom in on the larger image. Note that all three of the county’s 1841 roads run mostly east-west, and all three begin at—or intersect—the federal Green Bay road which runs in a generally north-south direction. All four roads are still in use today, and they still connect some of the town’s oldest and most important population centers, businesses, houses of worship and civic resources.

Road No. 1 lies mostly in Jonathan M. Clark’s road district, and is the original, shorter, version of the present Bonniwell Road. The “Bonniwell School,” would be built at its western end in 1843, and as the road traveled east it connected the many farms of the Bonniwell Settlement—including the neighboring Jonathan Clark farm5—with Green Bay road, the rest of old Washington county, and the burgeoning city of Milwaukee to the south.

Road No. 2, now known as Highland Road, connected Peter Turck’s property, and sawmill, to customers throughout the area. It also served settler families living in the southern part of the Bonniwell settlement.

Road No. 3 is the present east-west Mequon Road (Routes 57/167) and, in Germantown, the north-south Country Aire Drive and Fond du Lac Road. In 1841 it connected the southern part of the future town of Mequon with the southeast part of what would become the town of Germantown. Over the next few years, Road No. 3 would also facilitate the settlement of people into the Freistadt colony and the village of Thiensville.

I hope you’re enjoying our look at Mequon’s early road projects. Later this week I’ll have one or two more posts on these early civic “improvements,” before we move on to other topics.

Stay well, and don’t forget your sunscreen.



  1. Click here to open a pdf of the original handwritten Washington county minutes. See our recent post, County Government – Early Records, for more details and full bibliographic information. The February 24, 1841, meeting is recorded on the first three surviving pages of the minutes, pages originally numbered 3 – 5 (original pages 1 and 2 are missing).

  2. Speaking of (possible) errors, the surname of the supervisor of road district No. 1 is clearly spelled Western in the original minutes. I thought this was an error, as John Weston was a key figure in some early census records (and other documents?) of the early Mequon settlers. But the name John Western is used in these 1841 minutes, and appears in several places in the 1881 History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties. These are—probably?—one and the same man, but at this time I’m not quite sure.

  3. Per Wikipedia, “the rod or perch or pole (sometimes also lug) is a surveyor’s tool and unit of length of various historical definitions, often between 3 and 8 meters. In modern US customary units it is defined as ​16 12 US survey feet, equal to exactly ​1320 of a surveyor’s mile, or a quarter of a surveyor’s chain, and is approximately 5.0292 meters. The rod is useful as a unit of length because whole number multiples of it can form one acre of square measure. The ‘perfect acre’ is a rectangular area of 43,560 square feet, bounded by sides 660 feet (a furlong) long and 66 feet wide (220 yards and 22 yards) or, equivalently, 40 rods and 4 rods. An acre is therefore 160 square rods or 10 square chains.” Furthermore, a link in US customary units (modern definition) is exactly 66100 of a US survey foot, or exactly 7.92 inches.

    So the length of road No. 2 (2 miles and 184 rods) would equal 2 miles and 3036 feet, just over two and a half miles altogether.

    Road no. 3 (five miles, twenty six rods and twelve links) would equal a fraction more than five miles and 524 feet.

  4. Previously (see Monday Map Day! – First County Roads, 1841, note 4), the commissioners—or the clerk recording the minutes—made an error in describing the boundaries of road district no. 4. There is a similar error in this description of the starting point of road No. 3. In the rectangular survey system, “sections 33 and 36” are not adjacent, but sections 23 and 26 are. Likewise, a starting point between sections 23 and 26 makes perfect sense with the remainder of the road description, so I have drawn road No. 3 based on a starting point between sections 23 and 26 of T9N-R21E.

  5. Mary (Turck) Clark sold the Mequon farm in 1872. When this map was made in 1874, Mary and daughters Josie and Jennie were living in Milwaukee. The former Clark farm, the southeast quarter of section 3, was now owned by Thomas Doyle.

3 thoughts on “Roads into the Woods, 1841

  1. Pingback: Another Road into the Woods, 1841 | Clark House Historian

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