Township History - 1880
Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin

(From the "History of Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin" published by the Western HistoricalCompany, Chicago, IL. - 1880)


Alto is the southwestern township in Fond du Lac County. It is bounded on thenorth by Metomen, east by Waupun, south by Trenton, in Dodge County, and westby Mackford, in Green Lake County. It is Township 14 North, in Range 14 East. It contains 23,153.31 acres, which is 93.31 acres more than thirty-six full sections. It was subdivided by John Brink in November, 1834, and in his field notes hewrote: "This township is second rate, and rolling, save its marshes. It is thinlytimbered with burr oak, white oak, yellow and black oak, except its prairies andmarshes, where trees are wholly wanting. The soil is of a yellow, ashy color, ofclay loam and sand. The streams are sluggish and have a muddy channel." Fullyone-fourth of its area is marsh, most of which yields valuable hay product. Nearlyone-half was openings and timber land, which is highly prized by wheat-raisers. The remainder is prairie, rolling, warm and rich. The South Fork of the RockRiver passes through the entire width of the town in its southern part, having twoprincipal branches coming in from the north. These, with brooks and springs, giveabundant supply of water. Notwithstanding the United States Surveyor markedthe soil of the town "second rate," it is, in fact, rich and highly productive. Wheatand wood are the chief exports. Waupun and Brandon afford convenient markets.

Frances D. Bowman, formerly of Rochester, N. Y., was the first settler in Alto,having located on Section 36 late in 1841, and for more than two years, was the"monarch of all he surveyed" in the town. His daughter, born in l842 was the firstbirth, and his son, born in 1844, was the second child in the town. After spendinga season there, he went to Ohio and bought a flock of sheep and drove them toAlto, while he was still the "Robinson Crusoe" of the town. William Talcott wasprobably the second settler, and came early in 1844. Silas Miller, a lay preacher ofthe Methodist Episcopal Church, came the same year; he named "Alto." MarcusThwing, Dr. Green, Mr. Hillyer and perhaps a few others came with their familiesin 1844. Martin Grider is undoubtedly the earliest settler who still lives in thetown; he moved his family into Alto in May, 1845, but he had entered land andsowed wheat in the fall of 1844. Mr. Bowman sold his claim in 1845 to F. F.Davis. Mr. Davis was afterward Sheriff of the county. His daughter, Cornelia C.,died of consumption on the 7th of December, 1845. In the summer of 1846, MissAngeline Booth taught the first school in Alto in the house of Mr. Davis, and thefirst religious meeting in the town was also at his house - preaching by SilasMiller, the father of Rev. W. G. Miller, who is now so favorably known inWisconsin. Silas Miller built a saw-mill on a branch of Rock River, in thesoutheast part of the town, in 1845. The first advent of a Hollander (said to havebeen a Mr. Meenk) into Alto was in 1845, and now three-fourths of the populationare of that nationality. Politically, Alto is the banner Republican town of thecounty. In 1875, the inhabitants numbered 1,430. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St.Paul Railway passes through the northeast corner of this town, but the neareststation is, on the north, Brandon, and on the south, Waupun.

Alto was organized on the 6th of April, 1847, at a meeting held in the schoolhousenear Miller's mill, in the southeast part of the town. Townsend Green wasModerator, and Benjamin Davis and Frederick Talcott were Clerks. The northhalf of Alto had previously been connected with Metomen, and the south half withWaupun, for town purposes. The first town officers elected were: Chairman, M.Talcott; Side Supervisors, J. R. Mathews and William Talcott; Town Clerk, G.W. Sexmith; Justices of the Peace, F. F. Davis, G. W. Sexmith and HenryBoardman; Assessors, Daniel W. Briggs; Treasurer, Zephaniah Miller; SchoolCommissioners, David Adams, T. Green and F. Talcott. At this first town meetingthe proposition to confer "equal suffrage to colored people" was voted down byfive majority. The "anti-license" ticket was carried at the same election by twelvemajority. The town officers of Alto in the spring of 1880 are: Chairman, G. H.Downey; Side Supervisors, John Bruins and William J. Boom; Treasurer, JohnGysbers; Assessor, John W. Kastein; Clerk, William H. Smithers.

The first school district was organized March 18,1850, at a meeting, of whichGeorge W. Sexmith was Chairman and Z. Miller Secretary, held for that purpose. The first officers were: George W. Sexmith, Director; A. McMasters, Clerk, andJohn L. Sargent, Treasurer. The first schoolhouse, a frame building, 24x18 feet,was erected, that season, on Section 23, and Clara F. Pierce taught the first schoolin it, during three months, at $5 per month. The tax first raised amounted to $85for all purposes. In 1877, a building costing $1,400 was erected. Alto now hasnine schools, of which three are in union districts.

In 1856, February 13, land was bought, in Section 23, for a church building, onwhich "Ebenezer Church" now stands. It was organized as the Reformed Church,with forty-seven members, which number has swollen to about two hundred,embracing 100 families. The congregation is divided into three classes, whichmeet on different week-days to receive instruction. The first Trustees of thischurch were M. Mensink, F. Beeuwkos, M. Duven, G. Duitman, G. Stilsel, C.Landaal, J. Straks, J. Landaal, L. Sligster and J. W. Kastein. The first settlementof the people composing this church, who are Hollanders, in Alto, was in 1846,near the center of the town. They immediately began to hold religious services inprivate houses, building a church of logs in 1848, which building, 16x26 feet, wasalso used for a schoolhouse. These people now form, in this part of the town, avery large, thrifty and respectable portion of the inhabitants, the 101 schoolchildren in District No.1 being all Hollanders.

There are now seven churches in Alto, and all, save one, are well sustained. TheFirst Reformed or "Ebenezer" Church was first organized. The others are theSecond Reformed or "Ebenezer" Church, which was recently built, mainly at theexpense of Henry Bruins; the Dutch Presbyterian and the Dutch Congregational,the German Methodist and the Methodist Episcopal Churches, and oneCongregational Church, in which no regular meetings are held, the society beingmuch reduced by deaths and removals.

Alto has two stores, but neither a village, nor a saloon, nor a post office; though,in early days, a post office, called Black Hawk, was located in the center of a largeprairie of the same name, on a spot which the celebrated Indian chieftain andwarrior of that name is said to have once used as a camp.

The following have served as Chairmen and Clerks of the town of Alto: 1847,Milton Talcott and George W. Sexmith; 1848, S. A. Carpenter and G. W.Sexmith; 1849, Henry Boardman and G. A. Russell; 1850, Daniel Wilcox and R.M. Harwood; 1851, H. Boardman and A. McMaster; 1852, James McElroy andR. M. Harwood; 1853, William Brisbane and R. M. Harwood; 1854, R. M.Harwood and D. Adams; 1855-56, R. M. Harwood filled both offices; 1857, 0. L.Olmstead and R. M. Harwood; 1858, R. M. Harwood filled both offices; 1859-60, J. McElroy and A. J. Mattoon; 1861, A. J. Mattoon and R. M. Harwood; 1862, J. McElroy and R. M. Harwood; 1863, J. McElroy and A. J. Mattoon; 1864, Jehiel Wight and A. J. Mattoon; 1865, J. McElroy and A. J. Mattoon servedtwo terms; 1868, J. McElroy and A. J. Mattoon (Mattoon died and W. H. Smithersappointed to fill the vacancy, and has since continuously held the office). TheChairmen since then have been: 1869, J. McElroy; 1870, H. C. Williams; 1871, J.McElroy; 1872, J. McElroy. Mr. McElroy served a portion of the term, and wassucceeded by G. H. Downley, who has since held the office.

Thanks to Ron Friedel for preparing these pages in html format.

last modified:
13 Mar 2007
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** Ruth Shaw Worthing, The History of Fond du Lac County, as told by its Place-Names, 1976.
** The History of Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880.

** Portrait and Biographical Album of Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, Chicago: Acme Publishing Company, 1889.
** A. T. Glaze, Incidents and Anecdotes of Early Days and History of Business in the City and County of Fond du Lac from Early Times to the Present, Fond du Lac: P. B. Haber Printing Company, 1905.
** Maurice McKenna, ed., History of Fond du Lac County, Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912. 
** Wisconsin Volunteers: War of the Rebellion 1861-1865 
** Plat Book of Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, C. M. Foote & Co.  1893