Village of Caledonia 5043 Chester Lane, Racine, WI 53402

Village of Caledonia History

(Town History, the Town incorporated into a Village in Yr. 2005)
 

From Trading Post to Town (1832-1842)
The first inhabitants of the area now known as Caledonia were Potowatomi Indians. Around 1832 Indian-French fur trader Jacques Vieau (also known as Jambeau) and his brother Louis started a trading post where the Caledonia-Mt. Pleasant Memorial Park is now located. This area was known as Skunk Grove and comprised about 1,150 acres. Both brothers married Potowatomi Indian women, which gave them an advantage when dealing with neighboring tribes. The trading post was reported to have existed at the time of the Black Hawk War in 1832. In 1833 the land of the Potowatomi Indians was purchased by the United States. The Indians stayed in the area until about 1835 before departing for Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The Vieaus were shrewd businessmen and purchased parcels on both sides of the mouth of the Root River. The land was considered to be very valuable for commerce and an important entry point to Racine County before the city became a major settlement. They sold their trading post and Skunk Grove properties to Gurden Hubbard of Chicago. Hubbard later sold a Skunk Grove parcel to Benjamin Reynolds and the Root River land to Captain Gilbert Knapp.

A controversy exists to this day as to who was the first white settler. Elam Beardsley and John Davis both staked out land around January 1835, with both claiming he was the first white settler. There is no question, however, that Mrs. Beardsley was the first white woman. Also filing claims in 1835 were Levi Blake and his three sons. Edward Bradley followed in September of that year, accompanied by Eldad Smith and Elisha Raymond, Sr. and his family. The first white child born in the town was Marie Adams, born September 2, 1835 to Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Adams.

Caledonia Neighborhoods
Early Caledonia had many distinct neighborhoods, with names like Sterns Crossing, Lamberton, Willow Creek, Tabor, Linwood, Ives Station, North Racine, Kilbournville, Skunk Grove, Husher and Thompsonville.

Sterns Crossing, was located at the Milwaukee Road railroad tracks on Highway G. In 1915 it had two general stores, a coal yard, a harness shop, an express office, a train depot and pickle factory.

Kilbournville, located at what is now the intersection of Highway G and I-94, had a church, school and general store. A post office that was located there was later moved to Sterns Crossing. St. Louis church and school, located just east of the neighborhood, are original buildings that still stand.

Lamberton is located at the northeast corner of the Village, near the Milwaukee County line and the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. This area was named after the family that settled there. A post office and school were the only establishments. The Lamberton School still stands at the corner of 7 Mile Road and Highway 32. Some of the former Lamberton property lies in what is now Crestview.

Tabor came into existence with the establishment of a train station, when the Chicago Northwestern railroad constructed a line between Chicago and Milwaukee. Some say Tabor is named after a Bohemian fortress, others say it is a Gypsy name meaning gathering place, and other say it was named after the Tabor brothers who first settled in the Town of Dover. Tabor consisted of one building run by John Elias, which contained a general store, tavern, implement shop and post office, located at what is now 6633 Douglas Avenue. The building served as a meeting place for residents, many of whom were Bohemian settlers. One remnant of the early neighborhood is Tabor Road, which today connects Highways 31 and 32.

Willow Creek, located southeast of Tabor, was more densely populated and had a public school.

Linwood, located on the Root River on what is now Highway 38, also had a public school. Linwood School still stands on Highway 38 and used by the Lions Club.

Ives Station, located on the Chicago Northwestern Railroad, had a large stone crushing operation. Vulcan Materials Company is now located at that site, along with Harris Metals.  St. Rita's Catholic Church and school are located on 40 acres of the former Horlick farm. The German Augustinians established their original monastery and parish in Ives in 1925 with the purchase of a cabbage warehouse, which had previously been the Ives Inn and the Ives Hotel.

Skunks Grove (Franksville) was an early trading post and probably the first area settled in what is now Caledonia. In 1915 it had two general stores, a church, an express and telegraph office, hotel, school, blacksmith and wagon repair, post office and other small businesses, including the production of blocks, sauerkraut and drain tiles. The Frank Pure Food company, a producer of sauerkraut, started there in 1907, and is probably how the neighborhood became known as Franksville.

Husher, north of Franksville, was a trading post and rallying center. The name reportedly originated when a resident thought the name should be Hoosier after the creek that flows through the area, but spelled it wrong when he submitted the name for approval.

Thompsonville (Whiteville) developed on the line between Raymond and Caledonia and was originally known as Whiteville. It was a chief trading point for farmers in the early 1900s because of its junction of three highways. The village had a general store, blacksmith shop, creamery, tailor shop, restaurant, taverns and a school. The neighborhood declined in prominence when the new railroad diverted business away from the area and highway 41, later I-94, split the neighborhood down the middle.

North Racine is located in an area that is now part of the City of Racine. This neighborhood showed some potential in 1915 with 23 blocks and 839 lots, but failed to meet the expectations of the developers. The Root River which divided North Racine from the southern more industrialized part of the city contributed to the lack of early development. The North Racine school building on Douglas Avenue was purchased by St. Rita's parish and used as its first school before it was sold to Lathrop Furniture in 1952.

Town of Caledonia Founded in 1842
By 1842 the area’s population had grown enough to qualify it for township status. On February 7, 1842 Territorial Governor Doty signed an Act establishing the Town of Caledonia. The first election of the Town Board was held at the home of Levi Blake, an early settler from Caledonia County in Vermont. Seventy-nine voters turned out to elect Ezra Beardsley as Chairman; O. Morse as Clerk; E. Beardsley as Assessor; J. Wheeler as Treasurer; H. Benet as Collector; William Sears and O. Joy as Road Commissioners; H. Morse as School Director; Jepe Estes as Constable; W. Houns as Weights & Measures and J. Cannon as Fence Viewer. On the agenda of the first meeting was a vote for funds to support the common schools, a 50 cents per day fee for officers services, fence size regulations along public highways, and a decision to raise $25 for a road contingency fund.

Levi Blake came to Racine County with his three sons and settled by the Root River near Skunk Grove (Franksville) in February 1835 and staked a claim of more than 600 acres. The new town was named Caledonia, after Mr. Blake’s beloved county.  It is interesting to note that Caledonia means Scotland in Latin.

The first Caledonia town hall was built in 1877 on the south corner of 5 Mile Road and Highway 38. The white building was sold by the town and then repurchased in 1999, and donated to the Caledonia Historical Society. The Historical Society moved the building to Linwood Park, and is seeking donations to restore it. The Society plans to use the building for educational programs on Caledonia's history.

Bohemian Heritage & The 1888 Schoolhouse
Caledonia was one of the first Bohemian farming settlements in Wisconsin and quite possibly the United States. So many Bohemians settled in Caledonia and the City of Racine that Racine became known as the Czech Bethlehem. Both communities became outstanding centers of Bohemian culture. Bohemian Karel Jonas, whose statue stands at the corner of Douglas Avenue and High Street in Racine, began the first Czech language newspaper in the United States and compiled and published a Czech-English dictionary. Other Bohemians served as mayors: William Svoboda became the first Socialist mayor of Racine in 1931, and Martin Sector, a trunk manufacturer, served as mayor of Racine.

One of Caledonia's early entrepreneurs was Jan Novak who came to the area from Czechoslovakia, settling with his family on 5-1/2 mile Road to make pottery around 1890. Novak purchased 40 acres of land along Lake Michigan because of the clay he found there. Most of his clay was taken from a ravine on the south side of his property. His creations were formed on a lathe in his home and had a characteristic mottled brown effect ranging in shades from reddish brown to light tan and brownish green. He made everything from baking pans to water containers and pitchers.

Bohemians were from an area now known as the Czech Republic.The first Bohemians settled in Caledonia in the spring of 1849.  Many settled in an area between Five Mile and Seven Mile Roads. This area was named Tabor after a famous fortress in the homeland. Like many Europeans, Bohemians came to America to escape religious turmoil and low wages, to purchase their own land and provide for a better future for their families. The earliest settlers were mostly farmers and skilled trade workers, along with some intellectuals. Within about five years there were a hundred Bohemian families in the area. The first farmers cleared their land and then sold or traded the wood for household staples. Wheat and other grains were the first crops. Later, the farmers diversified by growing strawberries, cabbage and sugar beets. They also raised cattle and sold milk.

Divided between free-thinkers and traditionalists in their beliefs, the Bohemians built churches and meeting halls to foster and enhance their beliefs and culture. In 1877 they established a Bohemian Cemetery on Five Mile Road. In 1888 they built a schoolhouse at Five Mile Road and Highway 31. This new one-room structure served mainly to teach the Bohemian language and culture. Children attended regular country schools on weekdays and joined adults at the Bohemian school on weekends. The building was used for weekend classes until around 1916.

By World War I, the children of the two Bohemian factions--free thinkers and Roman Catholics-- had inter-married or married into other ethnic groups. As the immigrants became more comfortable in their new country, an emphasis on preserving Bohemian culture declined. The schoolhouse became a meeting place for the Bohemian Society and for area social events. The Caledonia Women's Reading Circle met there until a town community center was built. By the 1950s the building was rarely used. The Bohemian Men's Lodge, which owned the building, turned it over to the Bohemian Cemetery Association, which transferred ownership to the Racine County Historical Museum, now the Racine Heritage Museum, in 1974.

The museum opens the 1888 Schoolhouse to the public once a year. For 25 years the museum has held classroom sessions for local school children in the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. Over 2,000 students enjoy the schoolhouse experience each year. They and the teachers dress in the style of clothing worn in 1888. Students sit at the same desks the Bohemians sat in, learn lessons from the books of that era, and visit the outhouses behind the schoolhouse.

Credits: Jodi Guemmer, The Pictorial, June 23, 1976; Franksville History, published by the Franksville Business Association; and the Racine Heritage Museum, 2003.