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The city of Ripon, illustrated
by A. Ruger, Chicago
Lithographing Co., 1867
(Library of  Congress  - 
G4124.R7A3 1867 .R8 Rug 198)



     In February, 1849, myself and sons, from my home near by, where I had lived the preceding four years, came upon the beautiful spot--now Ripon--with axes in hand to strike the first blows which were to change this beauty of nature into a village, that, with the help of the pioneers, is now a beautiful city--a fine specimen of the work of man. The boys could not resist that feeling for the beautiful which made them regret the necessity of spoiling so perfect a picture, and I was as soft in my feelings as they; but man must labor and must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow--the ax must go to the tree--feeling must yield to fertility. Then and there I struck the blow which began what is now the city of Ripon. I purchased the ground with certain conditions, some of which were that I should build a grist-mill and public house within a year, and that I should keep the house myself for twelve months. I was to have the water-power and every alternate lot. This called for an outlay of at least $10,000, and was a big undertaking; for what few dollars I had were in wild lands around what afterward became the city of Ripon, and in the improvements I had been able to make; but the mill was completed, the house was built and both were running in time. The hotel was called the Ripon House, then the American; now Wood's Hotel occupies the site.
     When the house was finished (that is, the Ripon House) we had to give an opening party, for this was the custom in those days, and it was a great event. The parties of those times were social, and brought great good feeling--extending acquaintances and making friendships over a large section of country. People came from considerable distances to meet each other and find neighbors.
     It was no small job to make Ripon to equal or outdo its neighbors; all of them had two, three or more years the start of us. We were on no navigable waters; we then had no railroads; and our little stream, although beautiful, was small for a water-power.
     One of our first and best efforts was the commencing of a college. We were then laughed and jeered at for calling it a college, but how is it now? I think it is worthy of the name, and of all the efforts we made to get it. When Ripon had not a dozen dwellings, we put up and inclosed the first college building. Our object was to draw around us a class of inhabitants that would have pride to educate their children, and they would be good for every good work. But it was a great undertaking; the country was new and the settlers very poor; and we had to resort to every honorable means to induce them to take hold of the work. I well remember our getting up a Fourth of July celebration so as to get the people together. We were all too poor to pay 50 cents for a dinner, so we made it a picnic, and the people came out in crowds. Speakers addressed the assemblage, dwelling upon the advantages of a college and working up an intense interest. With an old fife and drum at the head, we formed a procession and worked up such enthusiasm that every one was for doing all he could.
     A newspaper was another item in the early progress of Ripon which required effort and labor to establish, and without this the city might still have been little else than a four-corners. We made many efforts to get a printer among us, but without success, until in 1853 one of our own number, A. P. Mapes, was induced to start the Herald, and blow a horn for Ripon. We have had since that time several papers started, and they have been generally conducted with ability. Among the early editors were E. L. Runals, C. J. Allen, T. J. Mapes and George W. Parker.
     In 1849, we had no churches. Episcopal services, by the Rev. Mr. Ingraham, of Dartford, were sometimes held in a shanty on the bank of Silver Creek, and, occasionally, the Rev. Mr. Murphy, of Waupun, held Baptist services. He preached at Ceresco to the Wisconsin Phalanx; but the Phalanx, through their President, Warren Chase, had to report to the Governor of the State yearly, and in one of his reports Mr. Chase said: "We have religious services by the Baptists, but not of that high order that the people are prepared to appreciate." Elder Murphy preached no more. That admirable system of the Methodist Church, by which their circuit minister travels between rich and poor settlements, and can get out of the poor into the rich before he starves, is an excellent arrangement, for which all new settlements should thank them. To this system we were also indebted for occasional religious services.
     In 1849, where the public square now is in Ripon was brush and underwood. The population of the place then consisted of myself and family and of my two sons and their families. Then came the Pedricks--father and sons; then E. L. Northrup and wife, and with them, as clerk, E. P. Brockway; then Asa Hill and family; then--well they came so fast after this that I cannot follow them; but it was from these first settlers that our help in energy and liberty came.
     In 1849, the present town of Ripon, the post office, and what is now the First Ward of the city, was called Ceresco. Now they are all Ripon. Some may ask, why these names? And why this change? Ceresco was the name given to the entire town by the Wisconsin Phalanx, an association that had settled in the valley in 1844, and who had control of all town matters in its earliest days.
     Ripon was at first the name of what is now only part of the city. It originated in this way: At the time I purchased of Gov. Horner, he asked the privilege of giving the name to our village. This I granted with these restrictions: First, that it should not be a personal name; second, that it should not be like any other name in the United States; third, that it should not be an Indian name; and lastly, that the name should be short. Horner's ancestors came from Ripon, England. That name he selected; and as it was not open to any of the objections I had mentioned, it was adopted.
     In 1849, we had no railroads except some of basswood with the rails running the wrong way, and if any of us made a trip to Milwaukee in a week it was considered a fast time. We now make the journey in a day, and grumble because it is slow.
     In 1849, the naked prairies were our only race-course and fair-grounds, and there were no associations to run them. Now we have a beautiful driving-park and fair-grounds, with a fine inclosure, track, stands, buildings and everything complete, but, above all, two hundred stock-holders--two hundred as live men as ever associated in any enterprise. The organization of this association--"The Ripon Agricultural Association"--and the getting-up of its grounds and buildings in thirty days, and the extraordinary success of its undertakings, are something bordering on the marvelous! These two hundred men are just as liberal, go-ahead, energetic men as you find anywhere. It is to these and others like them that the city of Ripon owes most of its prosperity.
     Pioneers always have some doleful tales to tell of privations and hardships gone through with in settling up a new country, but I have none to relate.
When I was a boy, I had some of the experience in the hardships of clearing up heavy timber, but here we had none of that. Our meadows were all ready to put in the scythe and cut all the hay we wanted. The ground was already cleared, ready to put in the plow. Could there be anything more delightful than our work in improving our prairie farms? And they have paid so well! You farmers must not get the blues. Wheat will rise in value. And if it does not, raise something else. Your lands are rich, you have good markets at your door, and you get your lumber here in Ripon as cheap as it can be purchased anywhere in the country. The climate here is as good as any in the world; not long droughts, but alternate rain and sunshine. I hear some wishing they could sell out and go where the winters are shorter. Why are you so fearful of winter? You are not obliged to do more than make the contrast agreeable. Your fuel is cheap; so fill your stove, look out of the window and whistle at the cold. Do not go away from Central Wisconsin to find a better place—you cannot do it! You may be proud to say, when away from home, that you hail from Ripon.

* An account by the circuit minister referred to, Rev. W. G. Miller, D. D., was published in 1875 by I. L. Hauser & Co. of Milwaukee. The text, Thirty Years in the Itinerancy, is available in electronic format on the Library of Congress Web site, Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910.

Last updated 3/7/99

This site represents an ongoing effort to collect information related to the history of the town and city of Ripon. If you have information to share, please contact Bob Schuster by email at rmschust@facstaff.wisc.edu or at 6020 Kristi Circle, Monona, Wisconsin 53716 (608) 221-1421.