Heart-shaped prairie lends its name to community

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Ginny Hall
Friday, April 5, 2013

A photo of this Mystery Place is HERE

If you have ever driven on County Highway O north of County Highway A, you probably drove through Heart Prairie. There is a highway sign indicating the name of this small community. Just before you come to Territorial Road you will see a white house to your left. It is the oldest house in the area and the oldest part of the house is the small south wing.

This was the home of James Holden, who named this area Heart Prairie.

He was the first white man to view the prairie from a hill and decided it was in the shape of a heart. The prairie covers six sections. A section is a square mile.


On the northwest corner of the intersection you will see a dusty pink house. That building used to be the Heart Prairie- Southside School, Joint District No. 3 with Sugar Creek. This district was organized May 30, 1843, at the home of D.S. Elting. Samuel Loomer was chosen moderator of the meeting. Officers elected included trustees Samuel Loomer, Robert K. Morris and Elting. District clerk was Elting and district collector was Edwin DeWolf.

Classes were first held at the Elting home. In November 1843, the district voted to build a school 18-by-18-foot, but before it was completed they voted to increase the size to 20-by-20-foot. The first schoolhouse was built on the northeast corner of the intersection on land Elting leased to the district. The building was to be completed by June 1845. Caroline Knight was hired to be the first teacher at a salary of $16.25 for 13 weeks of classes.

On Sept. 2, 1850, the district report to the town superintendent of schools described the building as being a frame school without an enclosed entryway or closet. The grounds would be less than an acre with no outdoor facilities for either gender. It would be furnished with black boards and outline maps.

In 1854, the district voted to raise $300 to build a new school -- 26-by-34-by-12 feet ... at or near the present site and “finished in a workmanlike manner.” The old schoolhouse was auctioned off. At that same meeting they voted to buy wood from Richard Fairchild at 84 cents a cord specified to be 2 foot wood, seasoned and fitted for the stove and piled up at the schoolhouse.

The finished school was described as 32.5-by 24.5-by-9.5 feet with a 6-by-8-inch chimney and 107 square feet of blackboards. In 1860, the district appointed a committee to look into the cost of an addition to the school.

The district dissolved on July 1, 1963. Robert Schoenbeck was the last school clerk. Part of the district attached to Elkhorn Joint District No. 1 and part joined Whitewater Joint Unified District No. 1.

James Holden is credited as being the first person who settled in LaGrange Township. In 1837, he first settled in what now is Sugar Creek Township. After he went to Chicago for supplies (then called Fort Dearborn) he came back to discover that his claim had been “jumped.” So he headed north of that area and claimed land in Heart Prairie.

Early settlers:

As you drive north you can see the Heart Prairie Cemetery on your left. There are some interesting large markers. The earliest ones appear to be those of Sally, wife of William (Lyon), who died March 1850, and Melinda McCracken who died in November 1851. Toward the back of the cemetery is a small stone with two lambs on top. It marks the graves of two children -- one born Oct. 31, 1867, and died Nov. 5, 1867, and the other, born Jan. 5, 1867, and died on June 11 of the same year. To the north of that marker is another one with only one lamb on top. This tombstone is difficult to read.

The open space just east of the cemetery on the same side of the road was the site of the First Methodist Episcopal church. The steps to the church were about in the location of the cemetery sign.

The first church was a “union” church and its first building was erected in 1861. It later changed to a Methodist Episcopal church.

On July 2, 1864, two acres of land was transfered to the trustees of the Heart Prairie Methodist Episcopal Church. On Sept. 18, 1894, the Heart Prairie Cemetery Association was formed. A.W. Cook was elected chairman and Geo. Mac Dougall, secretary. Trustees were Ed Malcomb, S.W. Case and A.W. Arnout.

On Sept. 7, 1911, five members of the association appeared before County Judge Lyon to apply for authorization to hold elections. The association had failed to hold an annual meeting for the last two years. After due notice was given, the judge so ordered that elections be held.

On May 9, 1913, the church deeded the cemetery property to the cemetery association. This was notarized on Oct. 24, 1913, and registered at the county Courthouse on Nov. 7, 1913.

On Dec. 3, 1949, the church deeded their property to the cemetery association. This was recorded with the county on Dec. 20 of that year. The church was torn down in the early 1950s. According to a report in April 1954, the cemetery association officially took over the old church yard property.

Patent holder:

It was in this area that George Esterly came in 1837. He purchased over 1,000 acres and put about 350 acres in wheat. He quickly decided that it was impossible to raise and harvest this much grain. At this time there was a machine that required four horses and 10 men and could cut and bind 20 acres in one day. Esterly began purchasing machines and experimenting; many of the machines proved to be failures. By 1844, he had perfected the Esterly Reaper that would harvest 10 acres in a half day. It took a lot less labor.

He tried to get his machine made in Milwaukee and contracted for five machines. However, the “skilled labor” was unable to finish the reapers and he had to absorb the cost of $1,200 for this failed venture. He then converted his barn into a workshop and proceeded to manufacture the reapers himself. This proved successful. He obtained his first patent in 1844 and moved his operation to Whitewater in 1857.

This little community has some interesting old houses. Heart Prairie had a cornet band around the turn of the century. A general store and post office was located on the east side of the road. An 1840 listing of Walworth County post offices includes Heart Prairie as one of 13 locations. On the north side of the community was a chair factory.

At the intersection to the north was a creamery; the foundation can still be seen in the grove of trees on the east side of the road. At one time it was operated by J.C. Kachel and later by the Heart Prairie Co-op. The farmers would bring the milk here and then wait to take the skim milk and buttermilk home to feed calves and pigs.

Nearby was a grocery store operated by S.A. Cook. According to one former resident, this was a meeting place where the farmers gathered at night to “chew the fat.” Later operators of the store included A.F. Campbell and Wallace Dunham.

This is where County O intersects with Peterson Road. Peterson Road was named for Lewis Peterson, son of an early pioneer. Lewis once had the only farm with buildings on this road.

Much of the land on either side of County O between Territorial and Peterson roads was purchased in 1839 by Edwin DeWolf. In 1844 he sold 250 acres to his brother, William, and moved to Milwaukee where he became the first superintendent of schools. In 1845, part of the land was sold to John Cooper. It in turn was sold to Noyes Niblack and Col. Wm. Johnson. The land changed hands a few more times. Part of it was deeded to the Heart Prairie Methodist Episcopal Church. Lots were sold and became the community of Heart Prairie.

Last updated: 8:46 am Wednesday, July 10, 2013

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