OUTAGAMIE COUNTY - How it Got Its Name

The Township of Grand Chute was not the only government for the people of the Fox River Valley. As Lawrence University was rising from the wilderness, other changes were underway. On May 29, 1848, the Territory of Wisconsin was dissolved and Wisconsin officially joined the union as the thirtieth state. With statehood, the men of the Grand Chute area could elect representatives to the state legislature (women would not get the vote until the next century). In 1851, one of those legislators, State Senator Theodore Conkey, introduced a bill to divide Brown County in half, east to west. From the western part, Conkey proposed a new county to be called "Utaghamie." This was a common practice at the time. As settlers moved into Wisconsin and created their own little communities, counties were being carved out across the state. Conkey's bill passed through the legislature easily, although at one point the name of the county was changed from "Utaghamie" to "Fox." Then, against Conkey's wishes, the name was changed again to "Outagamie." In that form, with the Town of Grand Chute listed as the county seat, the bill was approved on February 17, 1851.

That April, the first elections were held for county officers. The first county board met on April 18, 1851, in Appleton, at the home and hotel of R.P. Edgerton. From the six elected supervisors, George Robinson was chosen as chairman and Lorenzo Darling as clerk. George Grignon was elected county treasurer, and Charles Turner as county surveyor. The first business was an official request to Brown County for all records of the land that was now in Outagamie County. From Appleton Public Library Resources.

Until 1848, all of what is now Appleton was called Grand Chute, after the rushing falls of the Fox River. Reeder Smith was the first person to use the name Appleton to describe the community surrounding the Lawrence Institute. He chose the name to honor the wife of Mr. Lawrence. She was Sarah Elizabeth Appleton, the daughter of William Appleton, a wealthy Boston merchant and member of Congress. Appleton was an important name in Boston, belonging to many prominent figures. One of these was Samuel Appleton, a cousin of William, who came to believe that the tiny village in Wisconsin was named for him, Samuel Appleton was born in Concord, New Hampshire, on June 22, 1766. He had a hard, frontier childhood, and received only a few years of schooling before becoming a teacher himself. After trying farming in the new territory of Maine, he worked as a storekeeper and went into business with his brother, Nathan Appleton. Their Boston enterprise was a success, and Samuel traveled for many years between America and Europe on business. As their worth increased, the brothers invested in the new cotton industry, in real estate, and in railroads. Eventually, Samuel became one of the leading men of New England finance. He also played a small part in politics, serving in the Massachusetts state legislature from 1828 to 1831, and as a presidential elector for Daniel Webster in 1836. When he was 53, Samuel Appleton married a widow, Mrs. Mary Gore. They had no children, but their niece, Frances, became prominent as the second wife of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was after her tragic death in a fire in 1861 that Longfellow wrote what many believe to be his greatest poem, "The Cross of Snow." At age 60, Samuel Appleton retired from business to devote his life to philanthropic activities. He gave his time and money to hospitals, colleges, museums, and historical societies. Among his many gifts is the Appleton Chapel at Harvard University, which is named for him. Upon his death on July 12, 1853, Samuel left a fortune of nearly one million dollars, which was divided among his family, friends, and favorite charities. Always looking for a new source of funds, Reeder Smith was well aware of Samuel Appleton's generosity. Contacting Mr. Lawrence, Smith suggested telling Samuel Appleton that the little community on the Fox River was named for him, rather than for Mr. Lawrence's wife. By deceiving Mr. Appleton in this way, they hoped to get some money for the Lawrence Institute. In a letter to a friend dated October 1, 1849, Mr. Lawrence explained that "Mr. Smith has had a number of interviews with old Sam Appleton for whom the town was named. He is a very liberal and a very rich man and eighty-five years old. He is very interested in the town and I hope may do something for the Institute." Reeder Smith's plan worked, and Samuel Appleton gave $10,000 to the school as an endowment for the library. As a gesture of appreciation, for many years all the books in the Lawrence library were marked with a bookplate taken from a portrait of Mr. Appleton. The original painting from which the bookplates were made now hangs in the Boston Atheneum. From Appleton Public Library Resources.

As the little community of Appleton was growing around the Lawrence Institute, other villages were springing up in the same area. In 1849, George W. Lawe plotted a village on his property to the east of Appleton, which he named Lawesburg. Another group of investors, Morgan L. Martin, Theodore Conkey, and Abram B. Bowen, purchased the western part of Jean Benoit's land, just east of where Pierce Park is today. This property was platted in 1849 with the name of the village given as Martin. The next year, when the official plat was recorded, the name of the village had been changed to Grand Chute. In this way, by 1850, three tiny villages -- Grand Chute, Appleton, and Lawesburg -- were all nestled in a row along the Fox River. While those three villages were being established, the government for the area was exercised by the Township, which was also named Grand Chute. Townships, then as now, existed to provide services and collect taxes for areas that are not part of incorporated villages or cities. Because the villages of Grand Chute, Appleton, and Lawesburg were not yet incorporated, or officially recognized by the state of Wisconsin, the government for the people of those villages, as well as for the surrounding farmland, was provided by the Township of Grand Chute. The first official meeting for the Township of Grand Chute was held in Appleton on April 3, 1849, in the home of W.S. Warner. The first order of business was the election of town officers. Henry L. Blood was chosen as town chairman and assessor, Ezra L. Thurber as town clerk, John Stevens as inspector of schools, and Hiram Polly as treasurer and tax collector. In addition, two supervisors were selected, along with three constables, and four Justices of the peace. After the election of officers, a budget of $200 was adopted. To raise the money for the budget, a tax of $2.50 was imposed on each quarter section of deeded land. Any landowner unable or unwilling to pay the tax had the option of giving the township two days work instead. Between the second and tenth of September 1850, the United States government took the first census of the Town of Grand Chute. The census showed 619 people living in the township, within 120 families. There were 113 houses, including some lodging houses and small hotels. The population was young, with a median age of 21. One fourth of the citizens were children under the age of nine, only 55 were over the age of 40, and only 20 were 50 years old or above. This was a common pattern on the frontier. Older people were left behind in the East as the young sought their fortunes in the open, wild west. Another pattern was for families to move frequently. Of the 619 people listed in the 1850 census, only 102 were still there in 1860. Meanwhile, of course, thousands of others had arrived. The census revealed that only 89 of the township's 619 residents had been born in Wisconsin, and that most of those were children. Of the 392 born elsewhere in the United States, most came from New York or the New England states. Another 49 came from Canada, primarily the province of Ontario. Of those from Europe, 35 came from England, 20 from Ireland, 9 from Scotland, 12 from Germany, 12 from Holland, and one from Norway. The economic activity of the township can be determined from the occupations listed on that fi rst census. Fifty men described themselves as farmers, 32 as carpenters, and many more as laborers. There were six shoemakers, four tailors, ten merchants, and seven who worked in lumbering. Of the professional occupations, there were several teachers connected with Lawrence University, five lawyers, three physicians, and four clergymen, all with the Methodist Episcopal Church. Many of the men at the time were occupied with the construction of a canal and four locks on the Fox River. Between 1850 and 1852, about $32,500 was spent on that project. Similar construction was underway down the river at Little Chute. From Appleton Public Library Resources.










While friends at this annual greeting
are pledging their friendships anew
I take at this eighty-third milestone
Of my life, a hasty review

I have had many disappointments,
Have had heavy burdens to bear,
Yet hope has persistently buoyed me,
Above the dark rocks of despair.

Though my path has often been darkened
My mistakes and errors been rife,
Goodness and mercy have followed me,
Through all the days of my life.

To Him who has graciously kept me,
And given me fullness of days,
Be glory and honor forever,
Let all that have breath sound his Praise.

Tis a joy to live in this climate,
Partaking its luxuries rare,
And feasting on its fruits so delicious,
And breathe its salubrious air.

But there is a law of progression,
And it should be gladly obeyed,
For when we leave Earth we shall enter,
A School of a different grade.

God never intended his children,
Should always remain upon earth,
Attached to contemptible bodies
He therefore gives each a new birth.

I know my transition approaches,
But let it come early or late,
From Appleton to Paradise,
The change will be very great.

Appleton, February 22, 1899. Elihu Spencer

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