In September of 1849 a number of families immigrated from Aldenberg, Indiana, and settled near the Turkey River. After selecting homesteads, since all families were of the Catholic faith, their thoughts centered on the founding of a church. After purchasing land in an Indian location with log huts, the best of these huts was assigned for the use as a chapel. After it was dedicated it came to be known as the Old Mission; the name has been retained to the present day.
Pioneer farm families who had a part in organizing the Old Mission Church were Jos. Huber, Anton Stadel, Andrew Meyer, George Beckel, Jos. Spillman and Jacob Rausch. The Priest sent to take charge of this humble church was Rev. G.H. Plathe.
In the spring of 1849 Josiah Goddard came to Washington Township and bought the land that had been the Old Indian Trading Post location in section 18. The land was purchased from a Mr. Olmstead.
Harrison Goddard, who recorded a few paragraphs regarding the early history of the township states that he was 9 years old when the family came overland from Greene County, Wisconsin. The family spent the winter of 1849 and 1850 in an abandoned building of Old Fort Atkinson. He stated that a man by the name of Alexander Falconer, who was a discharged soldier and had held the rank of first sergeant, was in charge of the Old Fort during that winter. In June of 1850, his father Josiah Goddard moved his family to the old trading post farm.
The nearest place to buy groceries at that time was McGregor, about 50 miles away. Most food was secured by grinding corn into meal. Pumpkins were cut into strips, dried and used during the winter for pies and sauce. He mentions that in the summer of 1850 a band of Indians came to the Goddard farm and pointing to a patch of early corn, which was in roasting-ear stage, indicated they wanted some. A sack full was gladly gathered for the Indians.
Josiah Goddard was the postmaster for a post office established in 1851 in Lewiston, 2 1/2 miles southeast of Fort Atkinson on what is known as the Wendel Riha farm, then owned by Francis Rogers.
Records show that the first white male child born in the township after a permanent settlement established was George A. Meyer, whose birthday was August 1, 1849. The first white female child born was Mary Krumm, born August 5, 1849. Her father Gottlieb Krumm came to Fort Atkinson in 1848.
After the removal of the Winnebago Indians from the Old Fort in 1848, the Fort was officially sold in 1853 to John M. Flowers for $3.521. A Mr. Finkle and Mr. Clark were the builders of a gristmill in Fort Atkinson in 1857. The population is recorded as being about "500 souls." Dr. E. Hazen is listed as the teacher of the first school at the Fort with a Mr. Sharp, originally from Fayette, as the owner and keeper of the first hotel, which was in one of the Fort buildings.
What was then known as the new town of Fort Atkinson was begun in 1869, the same year the railroad came through. The first church building was erected about the same time and a Methodist Church was built soon after. It was located on the old town site and built by S.B. Dunlop, a wealthy farmer. According to the history, it was built "largely with his money."
The town was incorporated in 1895 and Wm. Becker was the first mayor. In 1853 the little wooden Catholic Church at Old Mission was destroyed by fire. Pioneer farmers of the day decided to rebuild the church 2 miles east of a site then called Twin Springs, which now known as Festina.
The present church commonly known as the "Smallest Church" was built on the site where the original wood structure stood. It was dedicated June 15, 1885, with the expense being borne by John Gartner and the Joseph Huber family.
Because of Old Fort Atkinson, the old platted village of Lewiston, the Indian School and Old Mission church, Washington Township has more than its share of early history handed down from early day happenings.
Phil Huber who resides just south of Fort Atkinson states that as a boy he remembers an Indian burial party moving along the road with horses carrying the body of a young Indian girl. Burial was made on the east bank of the Turkey River about one mile south of the Old Mission Church.
Washington Township has records of seven cemeteries and burial places. It has the largest number of any township in the county. Probably the oldest one, for which the location is vague, is the burial ground adjoining Old Fort Atkinson. This is the one that was used during the time the soldiers were stationed there.
Second oldest is probably the one adjoining the St. Anthony of Padua (Smallest Church) in section 27. The land was set aside for a cemetery in 1849. There were about 90 burials with only 12 of them being well marked. Probably the next oldest is what might be called the Riha or Young cemetery located in section 28. A rock wall surrounds the small burial ground; at least one Civil War veteran is buried in this little known area.
Next oldest, based on information available, would be the cemetery which adjoins the crumbling St. James Lutheran Church located just north of Old Fort Atkinson. A large cemetery for the St. John's Catholic Church at Fort Atkinson is located southeast of the town. It was set aside in 1875 as a burial ground.
Land was set aside for the Our Lady of Seven Dolars Church cemetery at Festina in 1858 and more than 500 burials are recorded in this platted cemetery. To the southwest of the town of Fort Atkinson is the Oak Hill Cemetery for Protestant burial, which is platted. The date set aside for burial purposes and total number of burials was not secured by the 1964 survey.
Please, contact the county coordinator to submit additions or corrections.
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