Native Americans lived on this land we now call Packwaukee for thousands of years. Evidence of their lives lies in the stone tools and pottery pieces unearthed by plow and settler, as well as by the multitudes of conical and effigy mounds that once dotted the land. Early settler diaries and written histories also verify that the first people who called this land home were Indians including the Menominee and Ho-Chunk (called Winnebago by fur traders and settlers). Indian tribes were displaced as settlement moved westward and treaties forced them from their land. Earlier maps indicate Mascoutin Indians located here.
The French first claimed “Ouisconsin” and when Father Marquette and Louis Joliet paddled from Green Bay to the Mississippi River in 1673, they would have passed by the Indian settlement at what is now Packwaukee. In an 1857 publication of the Wisconsin Historical Society, we learn that Pierre Grignon, a prominent fur trader who worked out of Green Bay/Kaukauna before 1760 until his death in 1795, told of a Montreal trader by the name of Gonville whose cabin was on Lac de Boeuf (Buffalo Lake). This cabin was located at what we now call Packwaukee. Gonville first lived with the Indians, but then built a cabin which other fur traders jokingly called “Fort Gonville.”
“Map of French Discovery” as of 1762 above shows the Mascoutin Indians occupying this area. The Mascoutin are the people that Father Marquette and Louis Joliet reported meeting near what is now Berlin in 1673. Other later maps show the Ho Chunk living in this area as well as the Menominee.
The first land claim filed in what was to become Marquette County was by John Noyes in 1836. He, along with James Lyman, platted a village named Buffalo on the south side of the Fox River. They expected 5,000 people to live there, but the village that thrived was on the opposite side of the river and named Packwaukee. In 1844, four years before Wisconsin statehood, the first frame building in what is now Marquette County was built in Packwaukee. It was a saloon called the Wigwam. The first owner’s name is unknown, but Thomas Gage who traded with the Indians and early settler Robert Neale were early proprietors according to the late local historian Fran Sprain.
The first crossing at the widening of the Fox River first called Lac du Bouef, then Buffalo Lake, was a ferry. November 14, 1850, Edward D. Pattingill and others petitioned for a ferry at Packwaukee. It was approved with open hours to be 6 AM to 6 PM.
2 span horses or oxen with wagon 30¢
1 span horses or oxen with wagon 20¢
Single horse and wagon 15¢
Single horse or yoke of oxen 15¢
Cattle, sheep, swine, 3¢ a head
Footmen 10¢ each
The ferry was soon replaced with a causeway built up of timber, lumber and debris with a float bridge in the center.
Navigation of the Fox River was essential to the new state of Wisconsin and dredging of the river began shortly after statehood. The Fox River flows north so Portage to Endeavor, The Fox River from its origins north of Pardeeville, past Packwaukee, Montello and Marquette is considered the Upper Fox. The Upper Fox twists and turns and is very shallow. To keep it open to steam boats dredging was done constantly.
Very soon after settlement, people built a crude causeway and bridge from the south side of the Fox River/Buffalo Lake to the north. This is a version of that bridge. They used float bridges or draw bridges that could be swung to the side to allow river traffic through.
Now let's learn about the little building that sits here. You can read about it on the signs in front. This photos shows the community, all volunteer effort to preserve this historic agrarian utilitarian building, most of which are lost over time. It's connected to John Muir and helps tell the story of farming and settlement in Marquette County.
This building which is now the home of the Packwaukee Museum is historically significant because it is representative of a utilitarian agriculture building used for well over 120 years. Most of these simple buildings fall down or are torn down after their usefulness is gone, but this one was saved and its story includes early settlement, hardworking farmers, and even the great naturalist John Muir. The building was originally located on the land the Muir family first settled after arriving here.
Two matching granaries were moved off of what was the Daniel Muir land. One went to George McGwin’s farm and the other to Howard McGwin’s farm. The McGwin brothers (along with brothers Samuel, Hugh and John) were born in the Ennis home that stood about where the granite marker is in John Muir Park across the lake from the Muirs.
This plain but sturdy granary was constantly used after its move, first by Howard McGwin, then by Reggie and Bessie (McGwin) Eggleston on their farm on County Road F, just north of John Muir Park. In the photo to the far right you can see a buggy shed that was attached to it on the left by Howard. The eastern section of the Eggleston farm was part of the original Daniel Muir land purchase.
Below is an illustration from the 1881 edition of Barns and Outbuildings by the O. Judd Co. that is located in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., shows the exact configuration of the historic granary that now serves as the home of the Packwaukee Museum. The window would have been screened to allow circulation of air. In preserving the building and adapting it for the museum, a cupola was added for air flow and other alterations were made to allow for exhibits. The siding, called shiplap, is original and traces of both red and blue paint were found on the wood. The building sat on a foundation of loose boulders, one of which now rests on early settler David Taylor’s grave in the Wee White Kirk Cemetery in the Town of Buffalo.
Some of the rarest historical artifacts are those that had utilitarian purpose because no one sees them as valuable. Thus, this little granary represents not just a John Muir connection, but more importantly, an example of farm life in America. Nephew to Bessie, Ken McGwin, recalls up to 900 bushels of oats being stored in the bins that lined the walls. Oats, rye, and sometimes clover seed would fill the bins. Oats and rye were carried in burlap bags, then dumped in the bins, but the precious clover seed was stored in sacks, at times stored in the farm houses because it was so important as a cash crop to get families through the year. Year after year, this granary saw the incoming glories of harvest and the emptying of the bins as grain was taken out either to sell or to take to the mill or fed to animals.
John Muir and his family visited Packwaukee. Read more below.
Above is the program for the July 4th celebration in Portage, then called Fort Winnebago, printed in the River Times on June 28, 1852. We can’t find the program for the Packwaukee celebration the Muirs may have attended, but it would have been similar, if somewhat smaller. The reading of the Declaration of Independence was standard fare at that time. Note that they have Revolutionary War Soldiers included. The Revolutionary War peace treaty was signed in 1783 making it possible that a veteran of the war (who was a young soldier) could still be alive in 1852.
There is information that the Muir family spent one of their first July 4th holiday in America in Packwaukee. Letters between boyhood friends of Muir’s, David Gray and David Taylor, reveal that the celebration those two boys attended included a fife and drum. Other records tell us Reverend Post delivered the Fourth of July “blessing of the God of nations” and that veterans of the Revolutionary War were in attendance. In 1850 when the Muirs may celebrated here, there were 15 families living in Packwaukee.
Below is the Dr. Bass family celebrating July 4 in Montello about 1888.
Packwaukee was an important stop on both land and water routes. When David Galloway, John Muir’s brother-in-law, brought his parents from Scotland, they took the stage coach from Milwaukee to Packwaukee where he already had a home built for them. Below is a photo of the wharf that once was very busy as barges and steam ships hauled people, mail and products up and down the Fox River.
More than just history, Washington Park in Packwaukee has become a bird park. With the support of the Packwaukee Town Board, Muirland Bird Club and High Marq Environmental School students installed a Purple Martin House, wren houses, and bluebird houses in the park. They also, with generous donations, planted two rows of Snowdrift Crabapple trees. These trees were chosen because they are native to Wisconsin and produces small, easy to eat fruit that stays on the tree all winter. The bird houses produced wren and bluebird fledglings the first year after being installed. Muirland Bird Club under the direction of Daryl Christensen, President, monitors the houses.
Historic Packwaukee is a perfect place to come for a look at history, a picnic in the park and a place to watch birds. Look for the Purple Martin House and the other houses in the park. With luck, you'll see a bluebird feeding young or even the first flight of a fledgling. Below, Daryl Christensen, President of Muirland Bird Club, demonstrates how a Purple Martin house is taken down for cleaning. Muirland Bird Club and the Town of Packwaukee collaborated to install this house in Washington Square Park in Packwaukee. Purple Martins are fascinating birds that eat hordes of mosquitos and other flying insects. It is very special to have them return year after year to nest.
To learn more of Packwaukee history, visit the Packwaukee Public Library which holds a treasure trove of historical information and documents you can use to learn more about early Packwaukee. Additionally, you can see the school house bell which is over 105 years old. Community volunteers saved the bell and built the structure for its display a few years ago.
The building of the bell structure was a labor of love. Jeanne Metcalf donated stones from the family farm. Jody Bowman did the carpentry and Doug Slama did the stone work. The Metcalf family also donated the plaque that notes the date of dedication and dates the bell from 1910.
No one knows exactly when the bell was made and hung in its first school house home. For some years it stood in front of the larger, newer school which burned in 2000. The building was being used as a town hall and library at the time.
Dan Klawitter and Glen Wilkomm who were at the dedication and who attended school in Packwaukee, said that janitor and bus driver Denny Nielson rang the bell at the start and end of the school day. “We knew it was time to get home and start chores,” recalled Wilkomm about the end-of-the-day ringing. “You could hear that bell for miles.”
The photos of the schools in Packwaukee are below. The first was taken of the first school in 1894. The notes on the photo in the collections of the Marquette County Historical Society say that the right side of the building was built first and the left side was added later. It’s probable that the bell hung in the cupola on the roof.
This photo of the brick school was taken in 1915. The building was later used for the library and town hall until it burned in 2000. The bell sat outside of the school during its town hall days.
To learn more about what's happening at the Packwaukee Public Library, use the link below the school photos.