CAPTAIN WILLIAM PLOCKER'S INN
|CAPT. WILLIAM PLOCKER was born in London, England, May 28, 1811. His father was a Hollander, who spelled his name Plokker, and his mother was an English lady. He was educated and brought up in Amsterdam, Holland. He left there as recorded above, landing at Boston July 1, 1827. In 1829, he moved to Orleans County, N. Y., and engaged in farming, teaching, and clerking. In 1839-40, he was Collector of canal tolls at Brockport, N. Y., and later, cashier in Buffalo and Albany of the Western Transportation Company. In 1845-47, he was clerk and then Master of the fine steamer Wiskonsin, plying between Buffalo and Chicago. From this he obtained the title of Captain, by which he was always afterward known. In 1847, he settled at Fairwater, Fond du Lac County, where he thereafter lived and accumulated a competence (The History of Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, Chicago: Western Publishing Co., 1880).||
Portrait from The History of
Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin
In 1848, having just been appointed first postmaster in Fairwater, Captain William Plocker constructed "a large structure with a porch running completely around it, and serving as a wayside tavern where travelers might find lodging" (Brandon Times, Mar. 7, 1935). Located just south of the village where Wisconsin's military road crossed a stagecoach line running through Dodge County, Poy Sippi, and on to Wausau, it "was a two story building of the Gothic Revival style, which was popular in Wisconsin from about 1850 to 1880" (Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter, Oct. 13, 1994).
Gottlieb and Henrietta Stelter, ca. 1900, seated in front of their home, the original
Plocker Inn building. (Photo courtesy Oliver and Frances Stelter).
The inn was a popular stop. "After the bone rattling ride over the primitive road, the passengers relished the chance to stretch their legs, enjoy a drink at the well-worn bar, a hot meal and a good night's sleep. 'Captain' William Plocker, who emigrated in 1827 from Holland, was its bachelor proprietor. Business was brisk in its early years and he employed a housekeeper and two domestic servants" (Commonwealth Reporter, Oct. 5, 1993).
First floor plan of the Plocker Inn. The second floor covered the entire
main area of the first floor and contained 6 bedrooms. The bottom of
the drawing was the east face of the inn. (Courtesy Oliver and Frances Stelter)
With the arrival of the railroads in Wisconsin during the 1850's, trains slowly began replacing wagon and stagecoaches as the common mode of transportation. As early as the 1860 census, Plocker was already listing his occupation as farming rather than tavern keeping, and "on November 1, 1875, Plocker sold his inn and 325 acres of land in the Town of Metomen to Gottlieb and Henrietta Stelter for $13,000. Plocker returned to Boston where he died December 20, 1878, following a fall on a streetcar" (Commonwealth Reporter, Oct. 5, 1993). Apparently following the sale of the inn and farm, Captain Plocker moved to the village of Brandon. Brandon's 1877 Incorporation Census lists him as one of the village's residents, and records identify him as the its first village president.
The Stelters made the inn their home despite the fact that, constructed of barn timbers and stone and clay mortar, the "walls were so thick it prevented the installation of electricity" (Commonwealth Reporter, Oct. 5, 1993).
The old inn in use as a storage building after having been moved from its
foundations in 1916. (Photo courtesy Oliver and Frances Stelter).
The second generation of Stelters to live in the inn, George and Alvina, raised four sons in the structure, Myron, Arthur, Eugene ("Oliver"), and Roy. In 1916, they moved the inn to serve as a storage building and built a new home on the original foundation. The old building was damaged by water in the succeeding years and was eventually demolished in 1943 or 1944, although the parlor was salvaged for a garage on the farm and is still in use by a third generation of the family, Oliver and Frances Stelter.
The parlor of Plocker's Inn, in use as a garage and storage building after
the rest of the building was dismantled in the early 1940's. (Photo
courtesy Oliver and Frances Stelter).
Joseph Schafer, director of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, found in William Plocker a representative of the talented and learned farmers settling Wisconsin during the state's early years. Writing in The Winnebago-Horicon Basin (State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1937), Schafer observed:
|The majority of these farmers, undaunted by each
and all of the evils described, even throwing in an occasional outbreak of incendiarism
and, of course, the black crook for good measure, kept steadily at their productive
labors, lightening and humanizing them in customary ways. They visited friends, went to
town, attended club meetings, school gatherings, church and camp meeting. They read,
pondered farm problems, promoted fairs and stock shows and farmers' conventions. Many were
well known breeders of fine live stock and not a few were highly cultivated men; such men
as any state could feel proud to number among its citizens.
There was, for example, the London-born and Amsterdam-bred Captain William Plocker, mentioned above as the distressed harvester in 1860 of 5,000 bushels of wheat when his granaries had been designed to store 4,000 bushels. Plocker's career was intriguing. Born in 1811, he came to America, landing at Boston in 1827. Two years later be was farming in Orleans county, New York; then, for more than ten years, be collected the canal tolls at Brockport on the Grand canal. He was also, for a time, cashier of the Western transportation company, at Buffalo and for two years, 1845-47, was skipper of the steamer Wiskonsan which ran from Buffalo to Chicago from which experience he derived the title of captain that remained with him thereafter. In the year 1847, Plocker settled at Fairwater, town of Metomen, Fond du Lac county, where he developed an ample and productive farm and became a man of note in the community, becoming supervisor of his town, town clerk, chairman of the county board, and member of the state legislature.
Captain Plocker was interested in many things besides the science of agriculture which he pursued with practical success. He loved music--in fact, his death occurred in Boston, December 21, 1878, while he was on his way to the hotel from a concert. He was also concerned about architecture, studying critically the new structures in Fond du Lac as be passed them from time to time. But his chief delight was his library which was large for the time, rich in solid masterpieces of literature, philosophy, history, and other works, mostly carefully read, not added for display. The captain was a member of the state historical society and by his will bequeathed to that society his Nuremberg bible, published in 1610, one of the handsome early German editions. Plocker was the type of man, rare in any society or occupation, who did much to free Wisconsin farming, in the early period, of the suspicion of sordidness. There was no suggestion of the peasant about him; rather, he was the cosmopolitan living contentedly on a Wisconsin farm."
That Schafer was correct in identifying Captain Plocker as a man of broad interests and exceptional talents is perhaps best indicated in his unusual will, described in the 1880 History of Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin:
|His will was remarkably clear and concise, and
written in that elegant hand which, even after three-score years had passed, was the pride
of the "Captain." The special cash legacies of the will amounted to about
$6,000, and the remainder of his large property was divided ratably among his sisters and
brother, or their heirs. The special legacies were, however, to all appearances, bestowed
upon faithful servants or cherished friends--no one whom he loved being forgotten.
The document ends in rhyme--
Then follows the signature of William Plocker.
Then follow the signatures of C. P. Knapp, Leander Ferguson and William D. Ash. In one clause of the will is disclosed a bit of the tenderest romance, strongly characteristic of the fidelity and constancy of the man, which, as the party interested is now living in the county, will not be mentioned further. Suffice it to say it furnishes one of the reasons why he lived and died an old bachelor.
His collection of stereoscopic views number over five hundred, and covered the places most interesting to him in Europe and America. Many of them were very fine. The Nuremberg Bible, bequeathed in the will to the State Historical Society, is a book about 18x12 inches, and six inches in thickness. It is heavily bound in what appears to be thick, whitish hog-skin, and is in perfect condition, although printed in 1710. It is in good German, printed on thick, yellow paper which looks as if it might have been made of wheat straw and water--the straw not finely cut--as it undoubtedly was. The title-page is in glaring red ink, which has not faded, apparently, in the least, All the principal events are finely but quaintly illustrated by steel engravings. Many of the passages are greatly dissimilar from the corresponding ones in modern Bibles, the fault, probably, of translating into German. His scrap book is of absorbing interest. On the first page is a yellow leaf of paper on which is written in brown ink and in the "Captain's" clear hand, the following:
Everything he ever did is thus accurately noted down. His father paid his passage money for the trip here mentioned, but in order to gratify his desire for information, he worked before the mast as a common seaman. This "scrap-book"contains all the notes he ever gave and receipts for all the money expended by or for him. He must have been an honest man, or he would not have dared thus to preserve for the public the record of every act of his life! Among other receipts is one for board, washing, room-rent and fires at the Park Hotel, Madison, for $129.70 in full, and signed by M. H. Irish. The amount included all his expenditures while in Madison as Assemblyman from the First district. This was the only time the Captain ever was in the Legislature. On the middle pages of the book, which is a large one, are bills of various denominations of all the insolvent State banks, as well as counterfeit bills on those and other banks--each marked "fraud," "failed," or "counterfeit," as the case might be, with the date of issue or failure. Among these--and there are very many of them--is a counterfeit on the Wisconsin Fire and Marine Bank, of Milwaukee, dated July 4, 1847, and signed by Alexander Mitchell. It must have cost some time and money to collect even these bank bills. Further on may be found page after page of signatures. These comprise almost all the prominent men of the county and State--many of them marked, as is the signature of Gen. Halbert E. Paine, "a good friend of mine;" or "an honest man," or "good business man," as he might know the different men. He has also at least a thousand signatures of such persons as Jeff Davis, Mrs. L. H. Sigourney, Lincoln, John G. Saxe, Fillmore and the leading authors, statesmen and poets, beginning from the earliest colonial times. when or how he became possessed of them he left nothing to indicate. The signatures of the prominent county and State men were evidently clipped from business or other letters received during the last twenty-five years. Further on in this scrap-book, appear to be all the letters he had ever received, many of them fifty years old and written in various languages. also all the receipted bills of expenses in his European travels. These bills are all modest.
The manuscript book of "Anecdotes and Comicalities," mentioned in his will, is one of the most interesting in the whole collection. All the incidents, stories, jokes, anecdotes and peculiarities of all he ever knew, are recorded in his own hand in the quaintest, drollest manner imaginable. Sometimes an anecdote is written in the form of a snake, or like a triangle, or a house, parallelogram, crescent, full circle, star or whatever at the time seemed to strike his fancy. Every letter and mark of punctuation is perfect throughout. Probably no other book was ever written like it in the world. It is quaint, interesting and valuable. He had also a large number of Chinese and Pacific Island curiosities, some of them not to be duplicated in any antiquarian in the country. He saved, arranged systematically, and properly marked, everything coming into his possession. All his newspaper, secret society and other receipt papers were arranged in groups, and all the papers received from the federal Government, and so on, in other groups.
The Fort Wilkins Agate, one of the greatest newspaper curiosities extant, was found carefully preserved. The first copy is dated July 4, 1846. It is a folio, and all printed with a quill pen. It is as fine as ordinary bourgeois type. The name of the editor and printer could not be learned, but from the peculiar expressions it may be presumed to be the work of the Captain. He had also carefully preserved his first commission as Postmaster of Fairwater, which is signed by Cave Johnson as Postmaster General, and dated July 1, 1848. His collection of postage and revenue stamps was also large and valuable.
Captain Plocker died in Boston in 1878 and is buried in the Fairwater cemetery. An account of his death follows:
Captain William Plocker of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was returning from a concert which he had attended in Music Hall last evening, accompanied by a lady, and while standing in a horse-car was seen to fall. Several gentlemen picked him up and carried him into Dr. H. G. Newton's, on Tremont Street. Dr. A. W. K. Newton was called, owing to the absence of Dr. H. G. Newton, who rendered all possible aid, but the unfortunate man died in a few minutes. Medical Examiner Draper was summoned, and arrived about 1 o'clock this morning. Upon investigation it was found that Captain Plocker was on here from the West for the purpose of procuring medical aid. He had been attacked with heart disease for a long time, which was the cause of his death. Upon his person were found valuable papers and about $400 in money. The body was delivered to the care of Undertaker Smith. (Boston Globe, Dec. 21, 1878)
Captain Plocker's marker in
the Fairwater Cemetery
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|Last updated 1/17/2000||This site is part of an ongoing project to document the history of the village of Fairwater. If you have information to share, please contact Bob Schuster by email at email@example.com or at 6020 Kristi Circle, Monona, Wisconsin 53716, (608) 221-1421.|