Newsletter - December 2015


Burlington Historian

December 2015

Historical Society's Christmas Program to Again Feature Rochelle Pennington

     The Burlington Historical Society’s 2015 Christmas program will be held Sunday, December 6, in the Stars and Stripes Room of Veterans Terrace in Burlington at 1:30 p.m. The program will feature a presentation by Wisconsin author Rochelle Pennington on “The Hidden History of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’.”
     Ms. Pennington has presented various programs at the Society’s Christmas get-togethers for the past several years, with each being interesting, educational, and very well-received.
     This year’s fascinating program takes a close-up look at the literary genius of Charles Dickens, England’s most celebrated Victorian novelist, and explores the hidden history behind the author’s 1843 Christmas classic.
     What events inspired the “Carol” to be written? Who was it written for? How did Dickens’ historical novel “single-handedly resurrect” Christmas at a time when factories were open and churches were closed on December 25th? By 1900 no other book in the world, except the Bible, had sold more copies.
     Ms. Pennington’s narrative will offer factual perspective and behind-the-scenes insights into the epic influence of Dickens’ immortal characters: Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley, and a trio of Christmas ghosts.
     The presentation by Ms. Pennington, who has authored several books, including “The Christmas Tree Ship” and “An Old-Fashioned Christmas: Tinsel, Gingerbread Men and Billie-the-Brownie,” will be preceded by a short business meeting of the Burlington Historical Society. Veterans Terrace is located near Echo Park and the White River bridge at 589 Milwaukee Avenue (Hwys. 36 and 83). Refreshments will be served. There is no charge for the program.

President’s Message

     The seasons seem to go faster every year. But remember, the hours of sunlight change for the better on December 22nd, just a couple of weeks away.
    Our annual Christmas Program and annual Society meeting is December 6th at the Veterans Terrace, which again should be well-attended. This year’s program is “The Hidden History of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’ ” These programs always lead us on the way to the Christmas spirit and anticipated gatherings with family and friends.
     Another reminder and invitation to stop in at our Museum on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4 for a nostalgic tour of Burlington’s historic past. Many visitors mention how many years it has been since their last visit and always find something they have never seen before.
    We hope to see you over the holidays and we wish one and all a very Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year.
             Dennis Tully 

Log Cabin Goes Into Hibernation

     The 2015 Pioneer Log Cabin season has come to a successful close. Hundreds of visitors enjoyed discovering the cabin and learning its history from our dedicated docents. Thursday nights were extremely busy with the Cabin being open in conjunction with the Farmers’ Market held in Wehmhoff Square. The Burlington Historical Society is so grateful for Jackie Heiligenthal, Lori Hintz, Jim Kubath, Helen Lena, Noel C. Payne, Deborah Schlitz, and Bernard Walli, our faithful docents who gave their time to share Burlington’s history with those visiting the Log Cabin. New faces are always needed and welcome! For more information on becoming a docent, call Jackie Heiligenthal at 262-661-4272. See you next spring!

E. N. White Mausoleum at Burlington Cemetery
White mausoleum
     Visitors to Burlington Cemetery are often curious about the large white mausoleum (pictured at right) near the front of the cemetery a short way beyond the Civil War monument.
      The mausoleum, one of the largest structures in the cemetery, commemorates Elias Nelson “E N” White and his family.
     White came to Burlington late in 1867, renting a recently built stone store building on what is now North Pine Street about where Bear Realty is currently located. White started a pork packing business in the basement, while fitting up the first floor as a store selling groceries, crockery, dry goods, and other products.
    He later went into the wool-buying business, making Burlington one of the best-known wool centers in what was then known as the “northwest.” He also became president of Burlington’s People’s State Bank and served in the Wisconsin State Assembly where his bill protecting the water level of Brown’s Lake became law.

Boston Wool House     In 1877 White entered the flour milling business of the Perkins family, but sold back his interest about six months later and re-opened the Burlington Woolen Mill, which he ran for about a year before selling out. He then bought the property on the southwest corner of Chestnut and Dodge streets, where he built a large building called the Boston Wool House (shown at left), where he returned to the wool-buying business, taking in over 200,000 pounds of wool in most years.
     After serving as a village supervisor, White was elected as Burlington’s village president in 1893 and served in that office until April 1898.
    White died January 24, 1916. In his will, White bequeathed $2,000 to the Burlington Cemetery Association and set aside $5,000 for the mausoleum. The mausoleum was completed in 1917.

Early Burlington Settler Speaks of Pioneer Experiences

          The following article (slightly edited) appeared in the Standard Democrat of June 19, 1897

      Orson Sheldon Sends Greetings to the Old Settlers Society

     At the meeting of the Old Settlers society in Union Grove on Thursday, President Dutton read the following letter from Orson Sheldon, of this city. Mr. Sheldon is now 90 years old and is enjoying very good health. The letter reads:

     Your kind invitation to attend the approaching annual reunion of the Old Settlers at Union Grove reminds me of my early experience in that heretofore almost unknown territory.
     I was for ten years a resident of the city of Utica, Michigan, twenty miles north of the city of Detroit. In consultation with Mr. James C. McKesson we decided to remove to Wisconsin. I then shipped my household goods via the lakes to Racine, and on the tenth of January (1842) followed with my wife and three babies, the youngest only three months old, in company with McKesson, his wife and one child. We left Utica in a closely covered sleigh and with a span of horses, the property of Mr. McKesson. We made the trip in fourteen days, reaching what was then known as Mound Prairie, Wisconsin, now the most westerly town of Kenosha county, where McKesson purchased a farm on which he now resides. After getting my family comfortably quartered in the residence of a hospitable family, I started out one Monday morning on foot, prospecting for a permanent residence. Passing through Lake Geneva and several other points where I found one or more men planning and platting a village with the hope of making it a business point. I came to Janesville, then a small village on the east side of the river, nor was there any settlement on the west side. The entire surface of the earth was covered with a dense forest.
     Stopping there over night, I then returned via Delavan, Elkhorn and Spring Prairie, thence to Rochester and Waterford, returning to Burlington. I chanced to meet Benjamin Forbes, a former old acquaintance in New York state, and on stating to him that I was in pursuit of a location for a permanent residence, he spoke very favorably of Burlington, and as they had a good water power, and grist mill and saw mill in operation, I thought it the most desirable point I had found and decided to make it my permanent home. I then went back to Mound Prairie and found McKesson planning a business trip to Milwaukee. I decided to go with him, and on returning from Milwaukee we passed through Racine, where I found my household goods in the possession of Mr. A. P. Dutton, our honorable president of today's gathering.
     At Racine I traded my watch for a cook stove and a few cooking utensils, all of which we placed in McKesson's sleigh and returned home. I then brought my family from Mound Prairie and after being comfortably settled and paying McKesson for his services, I was near to my bottom dollar and must look for work to support my family. I had brought with me a well-helved chopping axe, and I applied to Gov. Geo. W. Gregg for work, as he was then preparing to burn a brick kiln in the early spring. I chopped for him until he said he had plenty of wood for his use at 50 cents a day. I then applied to Origen Perkins, a former resident of the village. He set me to felling and cutting up certain trees he had marked for cutting on his timber lot not far away. I chopped for him until he said he had a full year’s supply. I then went to his residence and cut up and fitted it for family use, and while doing this I occasionally spent an evening at the store of E. Perkins & Son to get acquainted with the people. I noticed they had in their store a clerk that was troubled with the swell head (alias big head) and what he did not know he thought was not worth knowing. They evidently kept him because no other could be obtained. At a convenient opportunity I applied to the junior partner of the firm for a clerkship in one of the stores and was promised a position, if I could give satisfactory reference. He wrote up one and I had it signed by all the county officers, the secretary of state and all the principal business men. I presented this to the senior partner of the firm, who was so well satisfied with it that he discharged the clerk with the big head and gave me the position at a satisfactory salary, which I held for three years. As their milling business increased so rapidly they decided to pull down their saw mill and small grist mill and build a large flouring mill, which with their large farming business was all they could well attend to, and proposed to sell me their stock of merchandise at first cost, which I thought best to purchase. I had some farming lands near the city of Alton, Ill., which I sold and with the proceeds of the sale I purchased their stock and continued the business for a number of years with success. My ambition was not fully satisfied, so I thought to enlarge my operations, which I did, to such an extent that I found myself heavily involved and became a bankrupt. At an advanced age and with the loss of my former elastic nerve force, I could not recover my former business relations. With my nearly blind eyes and nearly deaf ears, I have taken a back seat in a remote corner and sit in quiet meditation on the past. Sincerely regretting that I can not be with you and wishing the old settlers may have a pleasant time at this and many a future reunion I am ever your friend.

Note: Mr. Sheldon died Dec. 29, 1898, at age 91.

     Orson Sheldon was born in Rupert, Vt., Aug. 12, 1807, to Chauncey and Lucy (Whitney) Sheldon. Chauncey was a soldier through the whole extent of the war of 1812.
     Orson was the oldest of 10 children. He first married Rose Ann Lippitt by whom he had seven children – four boys and three girls. The family moved from Michigan to Burlington, Wis., in Dec. 1842.
     Orson was a member of the Territorial legislature in Wisconsin in 1845 and 1846. He had earlier been a member of the Michigan legislature.
After Rose Ann’s death in 1854, Orson married Mrs. Phebe Bristol, nee Cox. Phebe died in 1888. Orson went to live with his son, William C., in Savanna, Illinois, in 1897.

“Go Tell Aunt Rhody. . .”

Contributed by Priscilla Crowley

     Everyone who reads this story has lived through the experience of school Christmas programs for your own children and probably for your grandchildren. The teachers all work so hard to put on an impressive program but because kids will be kids you never know exactly what you will get. They practice for weeks ahead, everyone has their songs or lines down pat and then BOOM – it comes to the real deal and in the audience are not just the other students and teachers, but parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other assorted friends and relatives. That’s a whole game changer. Do you remember sitting in the audience and willing your child to not forget their lines or not to sing off key or not to do any one of a hundred things that might affect the outcome of the performance? Remember the sigh of relief when their portion of the program was finished and everything went okay – no one fell off the risers – no one fainted – no one forgot their lines or played a wrong note on their instrument or pulled their dress up over their head or stuck their fingers in their mouth and just stood there with a blank expression on their face– ahh – life is good!
     But, I’ll bet you remember even better the times that things didn’t exactly go according to plan and someone did forget their lines or played a wrong note or froze and couldn’t utter a sound when it was their turn to sing. These are the endearing times – the times that make you realize that it really doesn’t matter if everything wasn’t perfect, it doesn’t matter if someone screwed up, it is and always will be one of the “best Christmas programs ever.” You love them all just the same and it creates a wonderful family memory to pass on.
     Every year I tell myself – get started early – get your shopping done – get your planning done – don’t wait till the last minute. I never know exactly how it happens but before I know it, it’s December 22nd and guess what? – I have no idea what I am serving for Christmas dinner, I don’t have all the wrapping done – the tree is up but nothing much is on it yet – there are a “few” presents left to be bought and wrapped – there are a million and one details that need to be worked out and the list I so competently made in October has gotten put away in a safe place, which means I will never, ever find it and it will take an archeological dig to find it in a 100 years or so. I can hear the comments now, “Look how organized this woman was, left nothing to chance, made sure everything was accomplished – all the presents bought and wrapped – I wonder if everyone was like this back then?” Ha! Little do they know!!
     In spite of my lack of organizational skills, Christmas always turns out – everyone gets a present, everyone gets fed, the decorations all get put up and everyone thoroughly enjoys the holiday season. I don’t know exactly how the “magic of the season” works, I just know that it does. I guess a little faith goes a long way. The important part of the holiday season is not always about all of these things – it’s about feelings and memories and the joy of living. The memories make it all worthwhile as far as I’m concerned so even if at the Christmas Concert every song comes out sounding like the old children’s song “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” and no one sings quite on key or plays on key and no one remembers all of their lines - it doesn’t matter. The season comes whether we are organized or not – whether everything is perfect or not – whether we’re ready or not. Remember the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge – they didn’t want Christmas to come – Bah! Humbug! and it came anyway. So hang on and take the ride. Enjoy – children aren’t little forever – nothing stays the same – we need to enjoy the feelings, sights and sounds of the holiday season with everything we have. We need to create happy memories and don’t sweat the small stuff.
     Anticipation is half the fun and the feeling you get when family and friends are gathered and the children are over-excited and everything is absolutely at its chaotic best cannot be bought in a store or duplicated in any way. It comes from the heart and is more precious than any gift ever given. The joy is there for everyone, you just have to open yourself up to it. From the Historical Society – Happy Holidays to you all and remember you are making memories for future generations to enjoy – it’s one of the best gifts you can ever give.