Stepping into Rural Wisconsin: Grandpa Charly's Life Vignettes, from Prussia to the Midwest

Appendix A: The Land Transactions (by Edward J. Kuehn)

Important Papers
Documents given to Ed by his sister, which included the deed to Grandpa Charly's farm.

Details of the Land Transactions

I became interested in researching the history of my grandparent’s farm after finding the land contract and deed abstract among other Kuehn family memorabilia I had been given.  What raised my curiosity, among all of the documents, was a neatly folded bundle of aged paper documents in a thick blue paper envelope on which the words, “Valuable Papers” was printed.  Carefully slipping those papers out of the envelope and slowly unfolding the fragile documents I realized what I had found was the real estate abstract for the Ripon farm my grandparents had purchased.


“Real Estate Abstract, A summary of the details of each deed and/or mortgage transaction for a parcel…”  In looking at this abstract I realized it was important because it provided not only a list of the land transactions specific to the farm my grandparents bought but traced a period of historical property development in Ripon.  It allowed an insight to people’s lives, the joys or sorrows they would have experienced with each recorded event, as the property passed from one owner to the next.  On the bright side would have been the feelings of belonging to a place when one buys property.  On the sad side would have been the realization of inheriting land because someone dear has passed on. Or, the sinking feeling of possibly losing ownership of the land through bankruptcy when someone would be forced to relinquish ownership.

Stepping into Rural Wisconsin
Page from the original deed abstract.

The Writing and Verbiage

As I paged through the abstract I found that the transactions recorded up until the late 1800’s had been handwritten with later additions being typewritten. Before places were named they were identified by proximity to connecting longitude (range) and latitude (township) lines.

This image is an example of a page from the abstract (computer enhanced to make it readable.)  The first entry on the page, dated 1854, is between Simpson and Mapes.  Mapes was one of the founders of Ripon and at one time, as shown in this transaction, owned the NW ¼ of Section 28 which contained the southwest portion of Ripon (where Charly and Hulda's farm was). The dark band across the page is where an early type of transparent tape was used to repair the page.

With the use of computers over the past couple of decades these records are archived electronically making researching land transactions easier.  But, the indexing is still the same using:

  • Range
  • Township
  • Section
  • Lot numbers
  • Parcel numbers, etc.

One of the names I noticed near the beginning of the abstract was David Mapes, one of Ripon’s founding fathers.  By researching the transactions that led to entries being made in the abstract I was able to trace a connection between the ownership of land in that part of early Ripon to what would years later become my grandparents farm. Each time the land changed hands, was subdivided, or used as collateral, an entry was recorded in the abstract.  It was from the entries, on abstract pages that I was able to reconstruct the ownership history for Lots 18 and 19.


Some History on Wisconsin Land Deals

The story of this land began decades earlier, many years before Charles and Hulda were born, when families who had been living in the eastern part of the United States, accepted the challenge of moving to “the new northwest,” now the Midwest, to settle this part of the United States.

At the time the “new northwest” part of the United States was still known as the “Wisconsin Territory,” having gained that designation in 1836.  From this time on “the population exploded from 11,683 in 1836 to 155,277 in 1846.”

On May 29, 1848 Wisconsin was granted statehood, “when the census was taken in 1850, its population had increased to 304,456.”  Having been granted statehood also made federal funding programs available to Wisconsin.


Utopian Socialism as a way of life (Ceresco)

It was during this same time period, in early 1844, that two settlements were established in the same vicinity in the east central part of the Wisconsin Territory, one being organized by Warren Chase on land that had been acquired specifically to set up a communal living experiment based on “the theories of Charles Fourier, as a new social philosophy.”

This new concept, Utopian Socialism, provided that all members in the commune owned shares according to their talents or what they had brought to the association.  That group named their settlement Ceresco and it was located generally in a two block radius of the present day intersection of Union and State streets in Ripon.

The other settlement, which had been named Ripon, was a mile or so east of Ceresco and had been established generally on what is now the “square” in Ripon on land owned by David P. Mapes.   After a few years the Ceresco communal living experiment was dissolved with the members of that association having “right of first refusal” for land owned and occupied by that group.  Land that wasn’t sold to association members became available for purchase by the general public.


Ripon is formed

Not long after the dissolution of the Ceresco association, the two settlements were merged under the name Ripon.  That’s where the post office for the two settlements would be located.  Mapes having donated the tract of land where the Ripon settlement was located was, therefore, one of the city founders.

In an article Mapes wrote some years later, he states “In February, 1849, myself and sons from my home near by where I had lived the preceding four years, came upon the beautiful spot--now Ripon-- with axes in hand to strike the first blows which were to change this beauty of nature into a village, that, with the help of the pioneers , is now a beautiful city-- a fine specimen of the work of man”.

Mapes goes on in the article describing  how the location developed also naming some of the early settlers.  One of the family names mentioned is Pedrick which is of significance in that I have drawn much from his written history of Ripon and its people.

When I first began looking into the land history, what struck me was the amount of organization that had been established at that time for recording that information.

A standardized method for recording and archiving records of land ownership and transfers was important.  However, in order to have a standardized method of record keeping there had to be a standardized structure for how land is laid out, how it is measured and how the land parcels are described.  Mapping the land by surveying it establishes the boundaries on a plat map.  Placing markers in the ground or identifying natural features at strategic locations provides a point from which land descriptions can be established.

When all of that preliminary information has been documented, then there is the need for recording land ownership and ownership changes.  This too has a specific procedure  to it. In the days when land was first acquired from the government, different terminology was used to describe the transactions.   Terminology we now use when land changes hands is called a Title or Deed transfer and if there is a financing arrangement it’s called a Mortgage.

When land was originally obtained from the government (available only to US citizens) no money changed hands, except for a small filing fee, the only change was in land ownership.  Those transactions were called “patents.  It is similar to when an inventor obtains a patent, they are granted the right of ownership by the government.

Much of the land in the Wisconsin Territory, prior to becoming a state, was still in the hands of the United States government.


The Technical Details

In the early days each transaction was handwritten on the next available, pre-numbered, page in a  large binder.  When the numbered page on which the transaction was recorded was known an entry was then made in an index book indicating which binder the entry was made along with the page number.  The binders were called “Volumes.”

There are three types of transactions: Patents, Deeds and Mortgages. Each has its own set of volumes and its own, separate index.  The transactions are recorded in the index by section, subdivision or other recognized layout directing one to the volume and page in which the detail for the type of transaction being recorded.  I was surprised, specifically in the case of the land parcels I was researching, how often the parcels changed hands among a small group of people in those early days.

As mentioned earlier that some of these land deals were among a small group of people.  The following is an example of one such transaction:

By July 1854, after Mapes had apparently satisfied the mortgage between he and Lyman on the eighty acre property described above, there was a transaction involving Mapes, Jacob Beckwith, Josiah Simpson and Jacob M. Dox.  To understand what took place requires a careful reading of the actual deed.  The transaction can be summarized as Josiah Simpson agreeing to purchase the NW ¼ of Section 28, that is a 160 acre plot which includes the eighty acres owned by Mapes, with Mapes holding the mortgage. Mapes then assigned that mortgage to Jacob M Dox, for a transaction dated back in December 1849, six years earlier.  This was likely to satisfy, in part or in full, another deal between himself and Dox the details of which I could not find.   Dox then instructed his attorney, Jacob Beckwith, to “perform the necessary financial transaction” giving Simpson ownership of the 160 acre plot.

To complete this deal Mapes offered a Quit Claim Deed, for his eighty acre portion, to Simpson and for Simpson to take responsibility for satisfying the remaining mortgage, whether that was money owed to Mapes or Dox is unclear.

What is clear is that Simpson now owned the 160 acre NW ¼ of Section 28 and owed someone money either, or maybe both, Mapes and Dox who held the mortgage.


Connecting the Dots

As I trace the records through the abstract it reveals that the land, originally owned by David Mapes, as it was changing owners, was being subdivided and sold as smaller  parcels.  Also, the descriptions of land parcels use less legal terms and more common language, in some cases measurements along property lines, map directions or acreages, at times with a combination of recording methods being used.  For example: When talking about a land boundary a visual image is portrayed by saying it lies west of a certain highway leading from Ripon to Watertown and along a road angling out of Ripon in a southwesterly direction connecting to the Fairwater road.

Looking at a plat of Ripon from that time period, the mid 1850s, the abstractor is more than likely referring to Griswold street.  It occurred to me that  “Watertown” was perhaps being used as a pun for the village named Fairwater.  All of these entries were included in this abstract because within each described parcel was contained the land that would eventually become the little farm my grandparents bought.

The rapid exchange of land ownership would almost come to a halt over the next few years.  These were the early years of the Civil War.  How much of an impact the war had on the development of Ripon is hard to say.  Some development of the property I’ve been describing had continued as is noted in an almost hidden reference in an 1864 description of property W. B. Kingsbury sold to Daniel Jenkinson.  Tracing the description given in the deed on a plat map suggests that road is now Thomas street.

It wasn’t many years after the war had officially ended when the frequent turnover of land ownership, of these properties, resumes. The first of these events occurred with the death of Mr. Jenkinson in June 1871.   According to what is written in the abstract, his will dated 1861, stated all his properties should be divided two thirds to Griffith Beynon and one third to Jedediah Bowen appointing them as co-executors.

I was unable to find any connection between these three parties that would tell us why Jenkinson named Beynon and Bowen in his will.  Bowen was another civic minded person who brought a wealth of business acumen to a developing city as Ripon was at that time.  He served two separate terms as mayor and started several businesses in Ripon, also playing a role in the early days of the college.  Some of the Bowen family’s land was on Thorne street and now belongs to the college, specifically a parcel still known as Bowen’s Woods.

A couple years later, in 1873, Beynon sold the portion of the land he inherited from Jenkinson to Bowen.  A few years would pass with no recorded real estate activity on Lots 18 and 19 until, in February 1877, when Bowen sold the two lots to Wilhelmine Swartz.

Later that year the abstract shows what would be the beginnings of a whole sequence of events, related to Lots 18 and 19.  From the time of this purchase, the property was held by someone in the same family, whether an immediate family member, someone related to them or someone who inherited a portion of the property from another family member upon the death of the previous owner, or for other unknown reasons, until the end of that century.  Little information is known, or could be found, about any of these individuals.

However, two years into the new century, in 1902, after receiving certification of clear title to Lots 18 and 19, now owned by Edward Swartz, the land was sold to Gottlieb Tabbert.  A year later, in August, Gottlieb would sell the land to his nephew Fred Tabbert. One of the conditions written in the abstract to satisfy the mortgage would be “for the support and maintenance of the second party,” meaning that Fred was to take care of his uncle for as long as Gottlieb lived. Gottlieb died a month later.  The mortgage was satisfied at a later date,  being discharged by court order.

These were the two lots that made up the little farm Charles and Hulda purchased from Fred Tabbert, on a land contract, in 1907.