located in southeastern Wisconsin, is one of the oldest and
wealthiest counties in the state. The diversified topography has
rolling hills, forests, prairies, marshes, meadows, and winding
It is a perfect square in shape,
containing 576 square miles (368,640 acres). There are 24 lakes, the
largest being Geneva Lake which is nine miles long, from one to
three miles wide, with water supplied by fresh springs.
The growth of the county has been
steady and permanent. In 1836, 27 families lived in the county in
log houses, and by 1990 the population has grown to 57,000. The
first residents of Walworth County came principally from New York
State. Other states represented were Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Illinois. Of those that came early
to the wilderness, the English were predominant. Norwegians
purchased land here after 1838, the Irish came after the famine of
1847, and the Germans arrived after the revolution of 1848. It was
only after many hardships of the early pioneers that Walworth County
became a "place of peace, comfort, and security."
Preceding the white settlers,
southern Wisconsin was the home of the Potawatomi Indians. The
Potawatomi, and Algonquian tribe whose home was central New York,
migrated to Montreal, then to Green Bay, and in the latter part of
the 18th Century to Lake Geneva. They had settlements on the north
shore and at the west end of the lake. It was here that Chief Big
Foot (Gros Pied) lived when the settlers arrived.
The county was first surveyed by
John Brink and John Hodgson in 1835 under the direction of a Mr.
Millett of Detroit, a government contractor.
The first claim in the county was
in the fall of 1835 by Jesse Meacham and Adolphus Spoor in Troy, but
they did not occupy the claim. When Meacham arrived at his claim in
May 1836, he found a Mr. Bigelow on his land. Since there was no law
or court at that time to settle the dispute, it was settled by a
fight, frontier style.
Christopher Payne has been given
the credit of being the first actual settler of the county. In
February 1836, he came from Pennsylvania to the shore of Lake Geneva
and cleared trees and brush near where the Whiting House, a large
hotel, later stood. After building his log cabin, he left for
Illinois. When he returned in April, he was greeted by a party of
surveyors who had claimed his land. They drove him from his claim
and burned his cabin. Payne returned with 30 armed men and, after
much argument, the surveyors accepted $2,000 for the land and
departed. Payne, who later remarked that he had "bought his own
pocketbook," lived until 1871.
With the opening of the west, the
county gained an increasing number of settlers. John S. Rockwell, a
clerk in the newly established government land office at Milwaukee,
formed a partnership to find a site for a new village. The location
for the new settlement they chose was the exact center of a proposed
new county. They named the village Elkhorn.
Walworth County was first organized
in 1838 when Milwaukee county was subdivided. It was named after
judge Rueben H. Walworth, chancellor of New York state. The first
election of officers was in the fall of 1838 and in December of
1839, Elkhorn was made the county seat. Shortly after, the first
county board was formed. The first courthouse was built in 1839 by
Rockwell in the north part of Elkhorn.
The Wisconsin School for the Deaf
was organized in 1852. The school stood on thirty-four acres of land
in Delavan and began with eight pupils. A State Normal School at
Whitewater was established in 1868 by Professor Oliver Arey.
The county's first newspaper, the
"Western Star", was published in 1845 by George Gale and Francis
Utter. The oldest newspaper that is still being published is the
"Elkhorn Independent" begun by Edgar J. and Alonzo L. Farnum in
Source: Walworth County Historical