Mills farm once sheltered runaway slave
The Dr. Jesse C. Mills farm can be seen on the north side of Wisconsin Highway 11 about a mile west of Spring Prairie. It is the first farm west of Town Line Road, separating Spring Prairie and Lafayette townships.
This farm is highlighted in the map of the Bur Spur Trail of Wisconsin's Underground Railroad, developed by the Burlington Historical Society. It features sites in eastern Walworth County, Burlington and Rochester in Racine County.
The Mills farm is one of the sites where Joshua Glover was hidden on his 1854 escape to freedom. Glover was a slave who in 1852 escaped from his owner in St. Louis. On March 10, 1854, he was captured in Racine and jailed in Milwaukee. A crowd of sympathizers rammed the jail and set him free.
He was taken to Prairieville, the early name for Waukesha, then to Rochester and back to Racine. He was then taken west into Walworth County. According to the Bur Spur map information, he spent some time in our county awaiting the arrival of the proper boat to take him north. Glover spent several weeks at the Mills farm before being taken to other sites in the area, eventually making his way to freedom in Canada.
Mills served on the county board in 1842 representing the town of Spring Prairie. He served two sessions in the Wisconsin Territorial Assembly, 1840 to 1841 and 1841 to 1842. He served in the state senate in 1857 but was listed as being in Elkhorn. That year he also was on the county board representing that township as chairman of its supervisors.
The 1857 plat map shows that this farm was now owned by J. Durthick. In 1873 the owner was shown as William and J. Durthick and in 1891 it was listed as Derthick Brothers. In 1930 the owner was shown as John Derthick Est. In both 1907 and 1921 the owner is listed as J.H. Derthick. The 1882 “History of Walworth County” lists a John Derthick on the executive committee of the Walworth County Agricultural Society, representing Spring Prairie.
Albert Beckwith's “History of Walworth County” indicates that Julius Derthick and his wife, Esther, came to this county from Portage County, Ohio, in 1854 along with their sons, John H. and Walter G. They also had four daughters. Julius was an associate supervisor for the town of Lafayette in 1860; Walter had that position in 1866 and 1867 and John served it in 1873.
Walter was born in Portage County on Dec. 8, 1839. He married Mary Bell, daughter of Nathaniel Bell. After Mary's mother died an early death, she lived in the house of her uncle, Dr. Mills. Walter served in the state assembly in 1882 and occasionally as a justice of the peace. Their only daughter, Helen Bell, was a teacher in Elkhorn.
John Henry also was born in Portage County in 1842. He was 12 when he came to this county with his parents. He attended district schools and in 1861 and 1862 attended the University of Illinois and then Milton College the next two years. He returned back to the county and farmed the family homestead. In 1885, he moved to Elkhorn when he served as county sheriff, beginning in 1884. He served for two years and then went back to the farm. In 1891 he was again elected sheriff for a two-year term. He went back to farming for the next 12 years before retiring in Elkhorn. There he served as school clerk for several years.
The plat book, which is labeled “after 1837 and before 1948,” shows that Edna Steele was the owner of this farm. In 1975 the owner is listed as Zella and Woodrow Coyle. Woodrow Coyle is shown as the owner in 1980. In 1982 Morehaven Farms is the owner.
The plat books of 1986 and 1988 say the owner was Gary M. Wright. In 1990 and 1992 the owner was Caryl M. Wright. From 1994 through 2012, the owner is shown as Thomas R. and Renae R. Woellort.
Ginny Hall, a historian from Delavan, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.