Spring Prairie once named for an early settler

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Ginny Hall | January 10, 2014

Spring Prairie has been known by several different names … Spring Brook, Franklin and Hemenway. The latter was an adaptation of an early settler's name. Abigail A. Whitmore Hemenway suggested the name Spring Prairie because of the natural springs that discharged into Spring Brook, a branch of Spring Creek. 

The central place of the early community was Dr. Hemenway's. His two-story log home was built in 1837 and included his home, office, store, boarding home, public meeting place, polling place and tavern.  His brick hotel was built in 1845. That building can be seen at the northwest corner of the intersection of Wisconsin highways 11 and 120.

According to Albert Beckwith's “History of Walworth County,” Hemenway's brick house was sold in 1845 to William H. Rogers.  Three years later the owner was Nathan A. Howes. In 1854, Franklin Walbridge became the owner and in 1857 it was bought by Capt. Ezra F. Weed. Today, it is a private home.

The first sermon preached in the town was held at Dr. Hemenway's home on July 10, 1836. It was conducted by Col. Samuel Phoenix, a traveling Methodist minister and soon founder of Delavan. 

Hemenway's house was also the first post office in Walworth County. Dr. Hemenway was the first postmaster beginning in 1838. According to the 1891 plat book, this building was located on the northeast corner of the intersection of Wisconsin highways 11 and 120. The first frame house in the community was built in 1836. 

Hemenway's house was a site of the Underground Railroad in Walworth County. No slave was ever recaptured here in Walworth County. Dr. Hemenway was known for his hospitality; everyone was welcome at his home.

According to the 1882 “History of Walworth County,” the first township meeting to elect officers was held in April 1842.

According to the 1873 plat book, Spring Prairie Township had several excellent schools and three churches. In 1850 the population of this community was 1,419; in 1870 the population was 1,209. 

The first settler was Palmer Gardiner, who came April 15, 1836. He had the first grindstone in the county. It was too heavy to borrow and took two men to turn. It was a good day's work to get an ax or scythe sharpened. 

The first death recorded in Walworth County was the daughter of Sylvester G. Smith on Spring or Gardner's Prairie on July 3, 1837.

In 1847 Josiah Puffer opened a shoe and boot shop. He came to the area in 1839 from Massachusetts and was a farmer at first. He learned shoe making in the east at the age of 14.

A vinegar and cider factory is shown on the south end of Spring Prairie on the east side of the road in the 1891 plat book.
Ginny Hall, a historian from Delavan, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.

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