This community was settled long before statehood

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Ginny Hall
Friday, April 26, 2013

A photo of this Mystery Place is HERE

At the northern intersection of County Highway P and Territorial Road is one of Walworth County’s forgotten communities -- Lyman. There used to be a school, church and cemetery here. The church building is being preserved and the cemetery next to it is kept in good condition and used occasionally.

In addition, there was a grocery store operated by A. F. Campbell and John Shereda, and a creamery. The creamery was located on the southeastern corner of the intersection. The 1907 plat book shows a short road just south of the creamery, creating an island triangle around the creamery. That road still existed when I came to the county in 1962. However, in recent years, the triangle was eliminated and there is only one road connecting with County P at that northern intersection.

The creamery was built around 1890, and Tom Kiernan and Will Dutton were the first cheese and butter makers. They had a grocery and dry goods store at one end of the creamery. This closed about 1912. The building was moved about 1914. John Deschner bought it as one of his farm barns. The 1873 plat book shows that L. Lyman had land east of this intersection on both sides of the road.

On the south side of this intersection and to the east is where Morris Fant Hawes, the township’s first settler lived. He was born in Orange County, NY, and at the age of 15 became a volunteer soldier in the War of 1812. After his marriage in 1818 to Sarah Lounsbury, they moved to Chautauqua County, NY and farmed there for 12 years. By then they had six children. They headed west around 1830, stopping in Michigan where he farmed and ran a small hotel. The depression of 1837 caused him to head west again and in August of that year he came to Richmond.

Squire Hawes was considered one of the wealthier of the early settlers, according to Prosper Cravath of Whitewater. Hawes had four yoke of oxen and three wagons. One of their wagons served as family carriage and also, parlor, bedroom and pantry as needed.

When Squire Hawes began building his log cabin, he brought glass and sash from Chicago, and used boards from the above wagon in building their home. The floor was earth because boards were too precious. Provisions also were scarce; sometimes the children were sent out to gather acorns for their meal.

According to Beckwith’s History of Walworth County, Hawes squatted on the land and in 1839 walked to Milwaukee for the land sale. When he got there he found out it was postponed. He walked home and then walked again a second time to buy his farm.

On Jan. 5, 1838 Francis Marion Hawes, the first white child in the township, was born in this cabin. Morris Hawes and a few of his neighbors built what was probably the first school in this township on a corner of his land. The first teacher was hired at $1.25 per week.

Hawes sold his improved claim for $500 and moved to another 375-acre farm where they lived for 20 years and raised nine children. Hawes represented the area when he was sent to Madison to the First Convention for drafting the State Constitution, but his wife’s illness caused him to be called home and he was not able to return to Madison until most of the work was completed. As a result he refused to claim pay for his efforts. In 1857, he and his invalid wife moved to Whitewater. She died July 28, 1859; he died January 13, 1868 at the age of 71.

If you drive north on County Highway P, you will see a driveway on your right as you start up the hill. This is the way to the Heart Prairie Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church. There is a plaque on the church which reads “... The second Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal church in the world. Established between Oct. 2, 1851 and June 16, 1853 by a settlement of immigrants from the parish of Holla (Holden), in Telemark, Norway.”

“Built on lands donated by Christopher Steenson and his family. Reverend Christian Willerup, circuit rider out of Cambridge, WI as the first minister. Ministers developed from the congregation were Rev. Christopher Steenson and his son, Rev. Steen A. Steenson, who became a missionary to Norway. Rev. Christopher Steenson and his two sisters, Anna Steenson Kestol and Caroline Steenson Johnson, are buried here with their families and other early church members....”

The church is Methodist rather than the usual (for Norwegians) Lutheran because the founder had a bad experience with the Lutheran denomination. Rev. Willerup was Danish. A membership list indicates there were at least seven members in 1853. The congregation would come with horse and buggy. Christopher Steenson, his brother and two sisters and their families, numbering 32 persons in total, came to this country on the ship “Vesta,” and arrived in September, 1851. On Oct. 2, 1851 he bought 162 acres in Sections 1 and 2 in the Town of Richmond for $600.

Fifteen to 18 families from Holla Parish came and settled in this general area. Although this church has not been used since the 1930s, descendants of the builders of this church still care for the building and adjoining cemetery.

Next door to the church is the East Richmond Cemetery. A paper dated June 26, 1853 indicates that a cemetery was established on the Christopher Steensen farm, where the Norwegian Methodist Episcopal Church is standing. It was established by Rev. Christian Willerup. Some records also call this the Lyman Methodist Cemetery. Old stones in the cemetery date back to 1852 (James Kestol) and Carrie Peterson (1812-1823).

You can still see where Lyman School used to be. The building is long gone but there is an opening in the trees as you head north on County P beyond the cemetery. Just before Richmond/Darien Townline Road, look to the west to see this opening.

Land for this school was either purchased from or given by the John Daugherty family. Joe Kestol, Sr. cut wood and took it to the school. The students would help him carry it to wood shed. Kestol gave these children a candy bar for their efforts.

Records indicate that the schoolhouse was 21-by-17.5-by-9.5-feet. The teacher in 1871 was C. L. Hatch. In 1909, Nevah O. Talcott taught nine students and received $25 salary; she had no previous teaching experience. In her report, she indicats that both outhouses were in poor condition and the schoolhouse leaked. The stove grate was broken, the wall paper was torn and dirty and there were no maps or charts. The school was cleaned according to a Sept. 1910 report.

Myrtle Kinney was a teacher here between 1926 and 1934. Her family lived across the road. Margaret Deschner taught here for two years. The school closed in 1940 and the building was torn down in May, 1945. The district joined Jt. No.1, Lakeview School.

The church, cemetery and a group of houses remain to let us know about this historic community. Take some time and visit the area.

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

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