E. W. Leach Tells About Pioneer Days

Racine Journal-News, April 7, 1931

Racine Man, Authority On History of County, Speaker at Meeting of Burlington Historical Society.

Although only a very few of its members were in attendance, the Burlington Historical society held a very interesting meeting at its rooms in the Conkey street school on Monday evening. The speaker was E. W. Leach of Racine, a man recognized as an authority on things historical in Racine county.

Mr. Leach told many interesting incidents in the history of the growth and development of what is now Racine county. Among other things he told of a stage line which in 1845 ran between Racine and Janesville, following first the old government road, and later the plank road. He displayed a waybill of the line on which a record was kept of the trip. This record included the names of the passengers. On this particular trip one of the passengers was none other than Mr. Strang, founder of the city of Voree, an early Morman settlement. Mr. Leach presented the waybill to the local society, a gift which is very much appreciated.

Long Known.

Wisconsin was long known to the whites but never really settled by the early explorers. Three dates mentioned stand out in connection with the early settlement of the state and this county. The first discoverers were the French. In 1534 Cartier discovered the St. Lawrence river. In 1634 Nicolet discovered Green Bay in what is now Wisconsin, the first white man to arrive there. In 1734 Capt. Gilbert Knapp located at what is now Racine, so, at intervals of 100 years successive discoveries bring us to the actual settlement of Racine county.

Mr. Leach pointed out that although the French were the discoverers of Wisconsin, they made little effort to settle it. Langlade at Green Bay in 1764 was in reality the first permanent settler in the country discovered by Nicolet in 1634, and it was not until 1834 and 1835 that the real settlement of the country, a settlement by Anglo-Saxons, began. In speaking of the formation of the state Mr. Leach sketched its transfer from one to another of the successive territories until it reached statehood.

Racine’s Name.

Many people ask how Racine city and county received their names, said Mr. Leach. The village founded by Capt. Knapp was called Root River, and Port Gilbert, but, according to a record on file in the historical collections in Madison, the name Racine was selected at a meeting of settlers held in the spring of 1836. The name, according to these records, was suggested by Capt. Knapp. Racine, in French signifies “root,” the name given the river. At the same time it was held fourth that it was the name of a distinguished poet, and in addition that there was not another city in the United States with a similar name. The county took its name from the city when it was created by an act of the legislature in 1836.

At the time of its creation Rock and Walworth counties were attached to Racine county for judicial purposes, Mr. Leach informed his audience. Kenosha county was originally a part of Racine county. Another interesting fact given by Mr. Leach was the order in which the townships in the county were created. The original three were Racine, (taking in the eastern portion), Mt. Pleasant (the central portion) and Rochester (the western portion of the county). Later a town of Orwall was formed, but this later was absorbed in other townships. The present townships were created in the following order after the original ones named above: Burlington, Caledonia, Yorkville, Raymond, Norway, Dover, and Waterford.

First Telephone Here.

Mr. Leach in his talk mentoned the Bottomley papers, which consist of letters written back to England, as among the interesting and priceless bits of Racine county history. He also told of a visit to Helen Milligan, a relative of Capt. Knapp, and one of the first white women to come to Racine county.

In closing he related the fact that despite the fact that Bell is generally credited with the invention of the telephone, the croaking of a frog in a Racine county swamp led to the discovery of the fact that the human voice could be transmitted over a wire. This discovery was made prior to Bell’s invention. It was made by S. D. Cushman, who was in the employ of the Erie and Michigan Telegraph company.

This company was engaged in setting a line of poles west from Racine. A telegraph instrument at the point of farthest construction kept the linement in constant communication with the offices at Racine. Cushman was experimenting with a lightning arrester, and in testing it out during a storm, he heard a frog croaking over the wire. Unconsciously he had stumbled upon the principle of the telephone transmitter, for the croaking came from the far end of the line where it ended in a swamp. Spurred on by this discovery he continued his experiment, and during the construction of the line it was found that the human voice could be transmitted over the wire and this means of communications was used. Later Mr. Cushman and associates spent thousands of dollars on litigation against Bell, but lost their suits.

During the business session, which preceded Mr. Leach’s address, O. C. Hulett gave a report of the progress made to date on plans for the Strang memorial. Herbert Duckett read a letter from a Mrs. Strong at Lake Mills, requesting information relative to the last resting place of a relative. Mr. Duckett stated that through records made by the society on its trips to abandoned cemeteries, he had been able to give the requested information.

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