History of Pleasant Prairie

Pleasant Prairie Town Beginnings
By Holly Bjelajac

Reprinted from the Society’s 2011 spring newsletter, the Prairie Pioneer.  The historical stories below strive to educate those interested in learning about a different facet of Pleasant Prairie’s past.

The land that is now Pleasant Prairie was originally part of the Northwest Territory, which included the land of the current states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and was ceded to the United States from Britain in 1783 at the end of the Revolutionary War.  Over the next several decades, the land was redistributed as new states and territories were created.

To create finite boundaries between the lands of Native American tribal nations, the United States government called a meeting of all tribes from Wisconsin, Michigan and the Mississippi River Valley in 1825.  This meeting caused tension and segregation between the tribes; however, it allowed the United States to more easily acquire tribal land.  In 1833, Native American lands south and west of Milwaukee were ceded to the United States government. The tribes were allowed to maintain possession of the land until 1836 but, the government had the right to survey the land in the meantime.

Surveying began and reports of what a vast wilderness and land of opportunity existed on the western shores of Lake Michigan.  These stories made their way back to the ears and mouths in the east and many people dreamed of immigrating.

European settlement of Pleasant Prairie began in 1835 when Horace Woodbridge built a home and farm near the present Uline Corporate Campus on Highway Q and  Interstate 94.

Other early residents arrived in Pleasant Prairie that summer, including Christopher Derbyshire, whose wife Emily is credited with naming Pleasant Prairie and Abner Barlow, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.  These early residents settled in the center of Pleasant Prairie, located roughly where 104th Avenue and Bain Station Road   intersect today.
Most settlers migrated from the east in prairie schooners–a heavy wagon with a cover constructed from hickory bows and covered in heavy canvas.  From a distance, the canvas cover looked like the sail of a ship floating upon an ocean of deep prairie grass.  In the early days of settlement, there were not many trails or roads and the settlers endured a long and uncomfortable journey.  At night, the early pioneers would either sleep under the stars if the weather was good or in their wagons if the weather was not.

Upon arriving in Pleasant Prairie, many pioneers would still continue to live in their wagons, staking a claim on a plot of land before beginning construction on a permanent home, usually a shanty or cabin.

Claim jumping was a problem for the early residents of Pleasant Prairie. In some cases, the men would journey ahead to stake their claim on some land and to build a shanty or log cabin before returning to a larger city like Chicago for their family.  Many times the family would return to find someone else occupying their cabin and have to forcibly remove him.

Supplies were brought with the early settlers and included clothing, farm implements, and barrels of flour and salt. Early settlers would hunt wild game for food, supplementing the rest of their diet with wild vegetables and fruits.  The settlers made it through the first winter and while no one went hungry, supplies were greatly depleted by spring.  Flour was almost $10 per barrel and potatoes were almost impossible to find.

The melting of snow and onset of spring brought not only supplies to the settlers who survived the winter but also brought an exodus of new settlers.  Thomas Howland, along with his sons Meredith and Levi, arrived in Pleasant Prairie with their families.  The Howlands, like many other pioneers, were very self-sufficient.  The men would hunt in addition to establishing the family farm and building a home.  The women spun wool from their sheep into dresses, blankets and jeans and even made their own rope. Because Chicago and Milwaukee were the closest towns, the pioneers were forced to do their best to become independent.

The Road To Becoming A Town
By Holly Bjelajac

Reprinted from the Society’s 2011 spring newsletter, the Prairie Pioneer.  The historical stories below strive to educate those interested in learning about a different facet of Pleasant Prairie’s past.

“Wisconsin, Last risen star, not long the least, Already greeted from the East,”
-early resident Jason Lothrop at the July 4, 1936 celebration.

When the first settlers arrived in Pleasant Prairie in 1835, the State of Wisconsin did not exist.  After the Revolutionary War, the United States took control of the area, which was referred to as the Northwest Territory.  Over the next   several years, the land was split as new territories and states were created.

About one year after Horace Woodbridge, the first settler arrived in Pleasant Prairie, Congress created the Wisconsin Territory.  The act was passed on April 20, 1836 but did not go into effect until July 3, 1836.  The Wisconsin Territory covered not only the land included in the state today but also parts of Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and the Dakotas.

To celebrate the creation of the Wisconsin Territory, on July 4, 1836 residents from Southport (Kenosha), Somers and Pleasant Prairie gathered at Southport.  From Pleasant Prairie, sixty residents climbed into wagons adorned with American flags and set out to the party. Hundreds of people from neighboring communities attended the celebration.

The July 4th celebration included refreshments, speakers, singing and much more.  Jason Lothrop, an early Pleasant   Prairie resident, historian and publisher of an early newspaper, gave a toast at the event, which was remembered for the next 175 years.

The Town of Pleasant Prairie was created by the Wisconsin territorial government in 1836; however, the first town election was not held until April 1842. The election was held on the second Tuesday of April on the farm of Daniel Stevens.  These first elected officials of Pleasant Prairie were paid seventy-five cents per day during the time that they served for Pleasant Prairie.

Results from the 1842
Town of Pleasant Prairie Election

Town Supervisor: John Dexter
Town Clerk: Oscar Dana
Treasurer: William Stanley
Assessors: Alvin G. French, John Yates and Daniel Harkins
Highway Commissioners: Thomas Howland,  Alensom Bacon and J. Hooker
School Inspectors: Oscar Dana, Peter Bacon and Henry Lull
Constables: James M. Bacon, Aleck W. Dimick and Henry Windsor
Fence Viewers: Daniel Stevens, Patrick McDonald, and Henry Miller

The Dublin School
By Holly Bjelajac

Reprinted from the Society’s 2011 spring newsletter, the Prairie Pioneer.  The historical stories below strive to educate those interested in learning about a different facet of Pleasant Prairie’s past.

The Dublin School, also known as School District #7 in Pleasant Prairie, has always stood at the intersection of 39th Avenue and Tobin Road (116th Street).  The building that currently stands on the southeast corner of 39th Avenue and 116th Street was the third and final Dublin school building.  While no one knows the exact reason the school was named Dublin, it is most likely because many of the families who lived in the district were from or around     Dublin, Ireland.
The first reference to School District #7 was made in a letter in 1844 giving a summary about all the school districts in Pleasant Prairie.  In 1844, there were 24  children between the ages of four and  sixteen years old living in the district.  Out of the 24 eligible, 20 children attended the school.  The school had 10 male and 10 female pupils.  For 12 weeks, they attended school under the instruction of two female teachers.  The Town of Pleasant Prairie, contributed $25 for operating expenses of the school.
In 1866, children were still attending classes in the first school house building according to a    report signed by John Oliver, the Pleasant Prairie town clerk and Thomas Riley, the school     district clerk.  At that time, the school was in poor condition and only had two sides, which were constructed out of pine.  The school could accommodate 30 pupils.  The district had 39 eligible pupils but   only had 34 attend.  The pupils were instructed by one female teacher who earned $17 per month in the summer and $25 per month in the winter.  For the whole school term, she earned $151.
The school district continued to grow and in 1874, there were 54 eligible students who could attend school.  Out of the 54, 36 attended school.  At this point, the school had one male and one female teacher. The male teacher earned $43.75 per month for a total of $175 for the school term.  The female teacher earned $26 per month for a total of $78 for the term.
In 1883, it was decided that the old school building was in such poor condition that a new school needed to be built.  The second school house of District #7 opened on October 1, 1883.  The cost of construction was $600.  In addition to being used as a school, the building was also used for community events.  According to Eva Riley Thomey, “It is told that the school desks and seats of this school were fastened to boards forming skids that would pass through the front entrance door.  This was to make it possible to clear the school room and convert it into a dance hall.”
In 1898, the school teacher was Julia Kelly, who earned $32 per month and $256 to teach for the term.  She had 13 male and 11 female students.

The second school building was used until it began to need repairs in 1927.  At a meeting on March 2, 1927, town residents voted 58-20 to build a new school rather than to  repair the old building.
The third and final Dublin School was built out of brick at the southeast corner of 39th Avenue and 116h Street.  The school was originally a two-room school and had   indoor plumbing as the State of Wisconsin now had    regulations regarding school conditions.  Prior to this, the other two school buildings only had outhouses.  The town of Pleasant Prairie spent $15,000 to build the third school building.

The Dublin School opened on October 12, 1927. The school was used for almost 45 years before Prairie Lane School was opened to accommodate the overcrowded schools located in southeastern   Kenosha County.  Prairie Lane School was opened with four classrooms and a gymnasium.  The school became known as District #15, a joint district between Pleasant Prairie and Somers.  When Prairie Lane School opened in the fall of 1954, the Lamb (Limerick), Hannan, Sheridan Road and Dublin schools sent most of their students to Prairie Lane.  However, classes continued at Dublin School until the doors finally closed in 1971.

Over the years, the Dublin School building has served as the home to a few local businesses with the most recent by a local developer.  In December 2012, the Elizabeth J. Riley Charitable Trust purchased the property and currently leases the property to the Pleasant Prairie Historical Society for $1 a year for the Historical Society offices and hosting of events.