HISTORY OF AVON, WISCONSIN
Sugar River near Avon, Wisconsin
Recorded here are six different versions of Avon, Wisconsin's early days. All of the information recorded here was found and copied at the Rock County Historical Society in Janesville, Wisconsin. The information is presented in chronological order.
From the Combination Atlas Map of Rock County. 1873.
This is the least valuable township in the county for agricultural purposes, as there is a great portion of it either timber land or so sandy as to render it comparatively worthless for the raising of many kinds of grain; the soil is a light sandy loam. Along Sugar Creek is a large, fine bottom, capable of producing great quantities of grass and hay. The village of Avon is located on Sugar Creek or River, where there is a very fine flouring-mill, cheese factory, etc. The town was settled in 1844. Among the early settlers were Joseph Kinney, Jr., Mr. Northrup, Joseph Huntley, William Crippen, H Beales, W. F. Thompson, William Grimes, and Joseph Watson. The population is principally American; yet, in the northeast part of the town, there are a great many Norwegians, who are of the enterprising class and make good citizens. The improvements of the town are not so good as the other towns adjoining; but every year adds more to the few good buildings already existing.
(Click here to see a copy of the 1873 map. - John)
From History of Rock County, Wisconsin. 1879.
The village of Avon is located upon Sand Prairie, on Sections 17 and 20, in the town of the same name. The prairie is a beautiful one - level, but sandy, hence it's name. It extends along the Sugar River for many miles. The village is situated near the river, "where there is," says a writer in 1856, "a grist mill and saw mill, two stores and a blacksmith shop." Since that time, the place has grown some; but it is still of small dimensions.
Farmland on Nelson Road, near Avon, that was once owned by my g,g,g grandfather Montgomery Harper.
From the Janesville Gazette Weekend Edition. Saturday, November 16, 1929.
Avon's Urban Dreams Blasted by Railroad
How often do railroads make or break the destinies and hopes of towns and communities!
Fifty years ago the people of the town and village of Avon had hopes and ambitions that their town would become a communal and trading center. They had a good water power site and they could see no reason why advancement and progress should not come to them.
Believing all this, A. B. Carpenter, Beloit, platted a village here in the center of a large piece of land which he had purchased of the government, and the lots were sold to hopeful speculators and others who had faith in Avon, both as a township and village. About 1879 William Brown built a grist mill, which for several years did a fine business, despite the fact that the spring freshets of the Sugar River swept out the mill dam every year or so and it had to be rebuilt at considerable expense.
Later, however, the Albany mill was built and this, together with the competition of the Beloit mills, worked against the Avon mill, which was finally sold by Mr. Brown to Mr. Kirke, who sold it in turn to John and Charles Woolsey. They disposed of the property to August Winkle, and he sold to F. Finch, who, after the river had torn out the dam for the last time, transferred it again to Mr. Kirke, who had built it originally. It was then sold to Will Blue, who later tore down the building, leaving Avon with a dam by a mill site, but "no mill by a dam-site." (The mill property was eventually sold to John Holmes who sold it to our ancestor John Freedlund in 1893 for $75. The land has since been transferred to the Natural Land Institute and is considered public property that can be visited anytime. - John)
For years the hopes of the community were centered upon the promised coming of the Sugar Valley Railroad, which was to run from Shirland, Ill., to Brodhead. This road was actually surveyed and part of the grading done, when came the news that the road had been bought by the Milwaukee and Mineral Point Railroad and that the project would be abandoned.
Still the town struggled on. A store, blacksmith shop and a cheese factory were built, while three churches, Adventist, Methodist, and Baptist, took care of the religious needs of the community. These churches, with the exception of the Baptist, are now memories, the buildings having been used for other purposes. The Baptist Church has survived and its members still have a church just east of the village, where Rev. J. W. Zimmermann, Brodhead, holds services every Sunday. (NOTE: There is an error in this article. The surviving church was the one east of town, but it was the Methodist Church. A history of that church appears later.)
In the days when Avon aspired to be on the map, a store was built by the Blue brothers, Harry and Will, Harry taking the active management. Twelve years later it was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt and run by Lee Blue and Chan Hopkins. Later, a Durand, Ill. banker bought the store and put in a large stock. One day it was discovered that the store had been cleaned of its stock, the banker missing, and the funds of his bank gone. The bank depositors foreclosed on the store and it was purchased by A. B. Carpenter. The store is now run by John Gilbertson, who was born and raised in this community.
About 1844 (I do not know if this date is correct, it seems a little early to me. - John) a stock company was organized and a cheese factory built, which under the management of Stephen Gardner, did a fine business until his death. Then the business ran down and the building was finally sold for a barn.
Since the first days of civilization the village blacksmith, in song, story, and reality, has been a potential part of every village and for over 50 years Avon has had its worthy smiths in the persons of William Watson, Henry Meyers, and others who have helped keep Avon on the map.
To the southeast of the village of Avon you can still find the remnants of the
grading for the Sugar Valley Railroad Line.
From Luther Valley Centennial 1839-1939. 1939.
Avon Village Once Had Hopes Of Being Important In Trade
Avon, located at the southwest corner of Rock, County, is bounded on the west by Green County and the south by the Illinois state line. In it's original state, about one-half of the land was prairie, the rest burr oak and white oak openings. Previous to its establishment as a separate town, Avon was part of Newark Township.
By an act of the territorial legislature, approved Feb. 11, 1847, Avon was set apart and named. It was directed that a "town meeting" should be held on the first Tuesday of April, 1848, at the house of William Crippen.
Among the names of the early settlers may be mentioned the following: Joseph Kinney, Jr., Joseph Huntley, William Crippen, Horace Beals, W. F. Thompson, William Grimes, and William Watson. Among the pioneers of this town were Norwegians.
Avon village had two churches, a school, the steam flour mill of J. Finch, a general store, a shoe maker's shop, and a pump factory. It has no railroads, although one was planned. The grade was built, but the tracks were never laid.
Mill Pond at Avon, Wisconsin - May 2003. The mill is no longer standing.
Of the buildings and concerns, only the school remains unchanged. The two churches were the Advent and Baptist. After many years the Advent Church was used by the Methodist, and the Rev. Mr. Nuzum, father of Dr. Nuzum, of Janesville, was the minister. Later the church was sold and used as a barn. The Baptist Church, built in 1858, became the M. W. A. Hall. At the present time Avon Township has one church located in the center of the township. It was built in 1892 and called Avon Methodist Church until June, 1938 when it was incorporated, and is now known as the Avon Community Church.
Among the early families who did much toward the erection of the church were Thomas Norris, Ben Burcalow, Dave Bullis, George Boss, Rufus Barr, John Henry, William Henry, Le Roy Stokes, Steven Gardner, and a host of others who donated time and money to help build the church. The first minister was the Rev. Mr. Woodruff, who supplied the Methodist Church at Brodhead. The first funeral held was for Mrs. Rufus Barr. The church was not quite finished at the time.
One of the chief amusements of the time was the one horse-drawn wagon show of Al Ringling and Fred White, both deceased. Fred White, Jr., now lives at Browntown, Wis.
These shows were put on in the evening in school houses, halls, etc. Al Ringling was the master of sleight of hand tricks. A juggling act, during which he kept five plates in the air, was Fred White's specialty. White's son, a boy of 10 at the time, played the violin. He later became a school teacher, and taught many of the citizens of Avon.
The race and the dam at Avon to run the flour mill was built by a Mr. Woolsey, of Rockford, Ill.
The house where the Will Schmitz's live was used as a hotel at one time and the lumber for it was hauled by oxen from Milwaukee. At one time there was also a cheese factory in Avon.
The first "play day" held in Rock County was at Avon 20 years ago.
The following is an excerpt from the church program for the Golden Jubilee of the Avon Community Church, Sunday August 23, 1942, written by Mrs. Clayton (Nettie Henry) McNitt.
Nettie Henry and Esther Freedlund with the Avon Center School on the left
and the Avon M. E. Church on the right. Taken 1900.
Early Avon History
Many years ago Avon was quite a thriving village with two churches, a school house, a saw mill, a steam flour mill run by Mr. Finch, two general stores with a Mr. Wosley and Mr. Brown as proprietors. Mr. Chauncey Hopkins, father of Mont Hopkins of Brodhead, had a blacksmith shop and Mr. Afholter had a shoe shop and made shoes and boots to order. At one time there was a cheese factory, also a pump factory. One of the stores had a Post Office in it, the mail being carried from Brodhead by Mr. Jim Lane and later by his wife, who delivered mail for many years. Older people tell of three different doctors who practiced there, namely Dr. Buckridge, Green, and Dobson.
The first house built in the village was the one now occupied by Mr. Will Schmitz, the lumber for it being hauled from Milwaukee by oxen. In those days it was used as a hotel. An old Rock County atlas printed years ago shows the farm now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Joe Heitz as one of the show places for the county. It was then the Stephen Gardner farm and the picture shows lovely trees and lawn and a fine set of buildings. Stephen Gardner has a number of grandchildren still living in the vicinity. This atlas was printed in 1873.
In an issue of the Brodhead Independent published in the summer of 1892 there was an interesting article telling of a big gala day in which an estimated five hundred people were present. That seems like a lot of people to be assembled in one place when we know most folks didn't even have a buggy in those days. There were races of all kinds, even horse races and a small circus. (Perhaps it was Al Ringling and Fred White. The paper failed to state.) The Methodist ladies served lunch.
There was to have been a railroad thru the village and much of the work was completed when the plan was abandoned but much of the old grade still stands to bear witness to a dead hope for Avon as a city.
Avon even had a brass band at one time, so we are told, with Harry Ballou as director.
One of the churches was an Advent and the other a Baptist and for many years people in the vicinity worshipped in these churches. Older people tell of walking a distance of some four miles to an evening service, other young people joining them along the way until there was quite a crowd on arriving at the church. Finally we are told the Advent congregation grew small and they sold their church and went to the Baptist church to worship. The Advent church was used as a barn and torn down about 1918. There was a large Sunday school in the Baptist church and Lizzie Norris was one of the teachers. Rev. Nuzum, father of Dr. Nuzum, of Janesville, was pastor. Eventually the Baptist church was sold to the M. W. A. for a hall. This building, the Gilbertson store and the schoolhouse are all that remain of those important places. The shoe shop is used as a dwelling now occupied by Elliot Bull.
In the year of 1891 church services and Sunday school were held in the Avon Center schoolhouse with Rev. Warren Woodruff as pastor, but the schoolhouse was small and the following spring, which was 50 years ago, a movement was made to erect a new church. Several people in the community solicited for funds for the building. Rev. Woodruff helped a great deal to raise money for the work. Those few remaining friends who had the pleasure of having known him refer to him as "such a good Christian man and an earnest worker."
People gave willingly and James Taylor, grandfather of the Taylor children now living on Highway 81, always allowed "he had a horse in that church." Ready cash not being available at the time, he pledged the amount of money a certain horse would bring at a sale, to be given to the church building fund. Stephen Gardner is said to have given $100 and would have given $500 had the church been built in Avon village. The Boss and Norris families are said to have given quite large sums. John Slocum also gave. Some thought that an odd name but the family were very faithful to the church and made many friends. Most everyone in the community gave money and helped with the work in many ways.
John Henry gave the land for the new church and the late Ben Burcalow turned the first shovel of dirt for the foundation. M. S. Freeman (deceased), husband of Mrs. Helena Freeman, who still resides in Spring Valley Township did the mason work, walking a distance of six miles morning and night. The people of the community hauled the stone from the Freeman quarry and the lumber from Brodhead.
An interesting story is told of how Mr. L. M. Olds, father of Mrs. Lottie Hooker, brought a load of lumber from town and sat his box of groceries on the ground while unloading. When the job was finished John Henry's dog was found to be finishing up the meat much to Mr. Olds dismay. Mr. Henry went home and got meat from his own meat barrel, so Mr. Olds didn't have to go home meatless after all.
Mr. Arthur Knezel, now living in Brodhead, and Newell Fitch, deceased, did the carpenter work for two dollars a day. They were supposed to board around the neighborhood a week at a place. The first week they were at Mrs. Hulda Boss's and from there they went to Tom Norris's but before that week was over one of the Norris family became ill with scarlet fever so naturally they got no further. The men folks in the community came in to help with the building when they had any spare time and Art said we always found something they could do. He also said Rev. Woodruff drove down and worked right with them much of the time. Said they walked home on a couple of occasions not by road but as the crow flies. Rice and Son did the plastering. Cunningham the painting, and Pauley and Patterson built the chimney. Mr. R. A. Barr, father of the late Rufi Barr, paid for the printing and painting of the church, name and date appearing above the doors and he also paid for having it repainted several times. Mrs. John Henry and Mrs. Wm. Burcalow boarded some of the men.
The first service to be held in the church was the funeral of Mrs. R. A. Barr, mother of Rufi Barr, recently deceased. The church wasn't done then and Albert Henry recalls how he cultivated corn for Joe Ross while Joe went and helped work on the church so the funeral could be held there. There were no doubt others who helped that day also, but will not try to mention names. This service was held Monday, June 13, 1892, and conducted by Rev. Woodruff.
Appearing in an issue of the Brodhead Independent, printed the week before in the Avon Squibs, was the following item: The new M. E. Church at the center will be ready for dedication a week from Sunday. It is a very neat little church.
Another item reads as follows: The new M. E. Church of Avon was dedicated last Sunday, June 19, with appropriate services. Rev. M. Evans of Janesville officiating. Sufficient money was raised to pay all of the indebtedness and leave a surplus of $70 to provide carpets, stove, chandeliers, etc. The cost of the building was $800. Some who are with us on this memorial day will no doubt recall that day perhaps sitting along the edge of the platform to make seat room for their elders.
After a period of years the John Henry farm was sold to Mr. O. J. Green. Mr. and Mrs. Green were much interested in the work of the church, and in 1938 it was discovered that the deed to the piece of land the church was built on would go back to the farm if services were discontinued at any time. That same year, while they still had the farm in their possession, they took the necessary steps to have it changed, so that the land as well as the building would belong to the people of the community. Since then the church has been known as The Avon Community Church. This change was completed about two or three weeks before Mr. Green passed away.
How wonderful it would be if it were possible to write on these pages all the names of the good people who have attended this, our church faithfully in the days gone by. We can only give a few and let your mind supply the rest as you read. Ben Burcalows, Bosses, Norrises, Chamberlins, Braces, Bullises, Emerys, Taylors, Johnsons, Olds, the Stokes families, the Henrys, Barrs, Motts, Gilbertsons, Bryces, Breeds, Fosters, Sills, Gardners, Slocums, Anna Johnson, Robertsons, Wallers, McNitts, Smiths, Lapps, Albert Swinsons, Timms, Rosses, Burris, Brummers, Grimes, Resteigens, Clarks, Schmitzes, Greens, Hawkinses.
Avon Community Church, formerly known as the Avon M. E. Church, October, 2002.
From a March 23, 1966 newspaper that is unfortunately not named in the article. It is most likely the Beloit Daily News or the Janesville Gazette.
AVON - Town That Might Have Been
This building was once the Avon Baptist Church.
Had some of the ambitious plans of its early residents materialized, the settlement of Avon, in southwestern Rock County, might have prospered and grown into a sizeable community. Some old timers go so far as to say that the time was when Avon's chances for development looked a heap better than Brodhead's - or even Beloit's.
Nobody knows for sure why Avon was named after the English river made famous by it's connection with Shakespeare. At any rate, the first permanent settlement was made there in 1844 - earlier than most other communities in the area.
At one time, Avon's population exceeded 400, and the town had two stores, a cheese factory, shoe shop, tailor shop, blacksmith shop, pump factory, two churches, a school, a sawmill and a grist mill. There was also a post office.
The Avon of today has a population of about 50, no business, no school and no church, although there is one down the road a piece. The old Avon Store closed about seven years back, after many years under the proprietership of the late William Bussey of Brodhead.
The Avon Lumber Company, operated by Clayton McNitt, is located east of the settlement, and is worthy of mention as an Avon-connected establishment though it is not in the "downtown area."
Early purchases of government land along the Sugar River, by one Knowles Taylor, were inspired by plans to harness the stream for water power. That never materialized, unfortunately for Avon.
Avon's brightest hope of amounting to something was the railroad. When plans were laid for the Sugar River Railroad, Avon was right on the main line, along with a similar hamlet called Decatur, in Green County. The line was to connect the area with Chicago, and the project developed to a point where grading of the right-of-way had been partially completed. Remains of the grading are visible just to the east of the settlement.
The railroad idea fell through when the Milwaukee Road extended a line west through Hanover and Orfordville. That ruined Avon's chances for greatness, but Decatur still was in the running. For some reason, however, the village of Decatur declined to pay the Milwaukee Road people a $7000 bonus. This led to re-routing of the line and the bringing of prosperity to Brodhead.
The Charles Schmitz family still resides in the first house built in Avon. The 120 year old home is just east of the Avon store. Schmitz recalls bits of Avon history as told by his father and his grandfather.
Early settlers in Avon were primarily of Norwegian descent, although there were several English families homesteading in the community. A history of the town observes that the English "never multiplied like the Norwegians."
Perhaps one of Avon's most famous sons was Homer C. Taylor, a breeder of Jersey cattle. The son of an Avon homesteader, James Taylor, Homer bred and exhibited the famous "Brown Bessie," a Jersey cow that was the champion of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.
Schmitz is one of the few remaining descendants of Early Avon families. Others are Walton and Orson Green, and Ed Gilbertson.
Back To John's History of Avon