Site 12 Riverside School and Marquette County Historical Society

Site 12 Riverside School and Marquette County Historical Society

“The axe and plough were kept very busy; cattle, horses, sheep, and pigs multiplied; barns and corn-cribs were filled up, and man and beast were well fed; a schoolhouse was built, which was used also for a church; and in a very short time the new country began to look like an old one.”

John Muir

Welcome to the Marquette County Historical Society. If you were standing here in 1849 when the Muirs and other first settlers were moving into what we know today as Marquette County, you would have seen a river, wetlands, numerous springs, and a log cabin or two where the Village of Westfield was about to grow up.

Today this land and the buildings on it is home to the Marquette County Historical Society which preserves the history of all of Marquette County. If you are visiting at a time when we aren’t open, please come back again or call us to arrange for someone to accommodate your visit here.

This location is a good place to learn about the time of settlement when the Muir family was settling into their new home in the Township of Buffalo. We’ll talk about what was happening here as the Muirs were settling in another part of Marquette County and you’ll learn about Riverside School which was moved here and restored as an example of a one room school house. It was first located just south of John Muir Park in District Number 5. More about that later.

First, if you walk to the back of the house you'll see a mill pond. That pond was not in existence until, like many other locations in the county, a mill was built that needed the water from the pond to operate. There is no mill anymore, but the dam still exists to the north. If you walk around the corner and stand on the bridge, you’ll be able to see the dam and how the stream and pond levels differ.

A year before the Muirs arrived in 1849, James Mitchell settled here in what is now Westfield. The next year he sold his land to the Cochrane Brothers. They built a log house where the Village Inn stands today in downtown Westfield. They took in travelers. The small settlement was named Westfield because many of the people who came here to make their homes were from Westfield, New York.

The photo across the mill pond shows an opera house, a grist mill and a livery stable. All are gone today.

In 1850, a sawmill was built north of the log cabin and the mill pond was born. A post office was started with Robert Cochrane as postmaster. Post offices were located in people’s homes or later in stores. He carried the mail to and from Westfield to Packwaukee. If you’ve visited the stop in Packwaukee already, you’ll know how far that is. The mail was picked up from and delivered to Packwaukee by steam boat. Remember, there were no roads or only small trails at that time.

In 1853 a grist mill for grinding wheat was built by the Cochranes just a little north of where you are reading this. There was also a big log building that housed workers for the mills on the other side of the pond. The village was platted in 1856 but not incorporated until 1902. In 1903, Thomas Cochrane, Robert's son, built the house that stands here that is now part of the Marquette County Historical Society.

All along the mill pond, businesses grew up. Robert Cochrane had a big potato warehouse to the right or south on the mill pond. Across the pond was a hotel and an opera house, all gone now. In the winter when the pond was frozen, the children used to cut across it to go to school and to town. They also skated here. The pond was also used for ice that was used to store food. The photo shows ice cutting on the Montello Mill Pond.

The big blocks of ice they used in ice boxes, came from lakes and mill ponds like the one right here. Right about where the gazebo is today at the historical society was an ice house where the blocks were stored usually packed in saw dust to insulate them. The workers that Mrs. Cochrane fed in the kitchen of this home were ice cutters.

Water was very important and still is very important to us. People tend to build communities around water sources for their rich supply of foods, transportation routes, and for the settlers, water power.

Westfield has many springs. Springs are places where water comes right up out of the ground. There’s a spring right in the yard here and when the Cochranes and then the Nelsons lived here, there was a spring house or fountain house there. The running water kept it cool and they stored butter, cheese and eggs. Many people used these to keep their food cool. You'll learn about a spring you can visit later.

Where the school house sits was a carriage house that had room for a horse, a cow and buggies. It had a hayloft upstairs. People often kept a cow even in the village. It gave them milk and they made their own butter by churning the milk into butter. Of course they needed a horse and buggy for their transportation.

School districts were carved out of township lands as soon as settlers began building homes and raising children in the new state of Wisconsin. The first school in the Town of Westfield was opened in 1856. It stood across the mill pond and to the south on what is now Main Street. It was “one small room with two windows, one on each side….”

Next is a photo of the Westfield school building. It's the one on the left, after it became a grocery store in 1859. The porch and false front would have been added then.

Early County Board records show that schools were one of the first items discussed in these meetings for the new settlers. Schools, elections, roads and ferries across rivers were all on the docket at these meetings.

Now let’s talk about the little school house that was once in John Muir's neighborhood.

Although young John Muir only attended school for a few months in Marquette County, schools and learning were very important to him and the settlers. School districts were carved out of township lands as soon as settlers began building homes and raising children in the new state of Wisconsin. Both Muir homesteads were in Buffalo Township. The first school there was called the Log School and it sat in the southeast corner of the county. It was later called Midland, then Browning.

“…a schoolhouse was built, which was used also for a church; and in a very short time the new country began to look like an old one.”

The Muir family had connections to at least two schools that the children attended. John attended the log school after the family moved to Hickory Hill. Like many schools at the time, the first was often built of logs, then was replaced with a frame building. These small one-room school houses dotted the dirt roads throughout rural America. A school was also built close to the Fountain Lake. We believe that it, too, was first a log building, then rebuilt as a frame building. This is the school building you see here on the grounds of the Marquette County Historical Society.

The school district the Muirs were in when they lived at Fountain Lake Farm, District Number 5, was formed in 1853. Although John did not attend school here, his family would have attended worship services there since schools were also used for churches.

In My Boyhood and Youth, Muir says, “Three or four years after 1849 more settlers came and a school house was built that was also used as a church.”

Sarah Galloway, John Muir’s sister, writes later, when she and husband David owned the Fountain Lake Farm, that Anna, their daughter, went to religious meetings at an old log school house near Fountain Lake.

It’s probable that Sarah and David’s children attended Riverside School. James Whitehead recalls that he attended with them when he went to Riverside. Sarah is John's sister and David her husband. The frame, clapboard covered building was moved after the school was closed in the 1940s and was turned into a garage. Then, it was donated it to the Marquette County Historical Society. Enrollment in this little school that taught children through grade 8 during its 100+ years in operation was as high as 25 children but often was 6 to 8.

These are photos of the documents to set up District 5 in Buffalo Township. This little school house was the school in that district. You can see Daniel Muir's name on the list of residents in that district.

The Buffalo Town Board voted money to start a library that was first housed in Phillip Gray’s Home near Fountain Lake. David Gray, John Muir's friend, helped choose the books. That was in 1854. Daniel Muir checked some books out as you can see in the records of this lending library from 1856.

Learning was very important to early settlers all around Marquette County. School districts were being set up in all the townships just like in the township of Buffalo.

The Marquette County Historical Society moved District 5 Riverside School to its grounds in Westfield in 2009. Above is a photo of what it looked like when it was moved here. The schoolhouse stood on the crest of a hill just south of what is now John Muir Park. The exact year of the frame Riverside School building is still open for research and discussion but its structure is very similar to the Wee White Kirk church building that was built in 1865, however, we know that Mary Ann Stanton who came to America from England with her family in 1849 taught school in "a one room schoolhouse" that was Riverside School in 1857. Since she did not refer to Riverside as a log school, it is possible this building is as old as 1857. We believe a log school may have preceded it.

This school building was used into the 1940s and many changes were made to it over the years. It is restored to capture the spirit and history of one room school houses. Here are some photos of how the building changed over the years.

Above is the earliest known photo of Riverside School. Note the six over six windows. In earlier times, it was difficult to make large pieces of glass so older windows have smaller panes. This stood just south of what is now John Muir Park and is the same building restored on the historical society grounds. Most of the siding is original to the building. You can go around to the back and see initials carved into the wood by former students.

Click the button below to listen to the Marquette County Township Song. The poem was recited in one room school houses around the county at one time. It was put to music in recent years.

This 1936 photo shows two over two windows with a bell tower added, screen door added, and a transom added over the second door. You can also see a pipe coming out the side of the building for a kerosene stove that was added. The first heat was provided by a wood stove that sat by the chimney inside.

James Whitehead, son of Benjamin Whitehead, and friend and correspondent with John Muir, (shown in the photo above) recalled going to school with the younger Muir children. It’s likely that Whitehead, who lived where the Moundville Town Hall (building is formerly Pleasant View School) is located on County Road O, attended Riverside school just like John Muir’s niece and nephew, daughter and son of Sarah Muir and her husband David Galloway. Pleasant View wasn't built yet at that time.

James Whitehead recalled his first day of school in 1855 “...again I see myself a boy of eight—barefooted, sunburned, with dinner pail in hand, and a younger sister by my side, on my way to school. On coming in sight ...and standing in the path which led from the road to the door, we held council as to how we should proceed. It was, of course, decided that, I, as a primitive specimen of manhood, should lead the way. Pushing forward, I boldly opened the door and took the hindmost seat I could find, hoping thus to escape the observation of the scholars, not one of whom I had ever seen before….The boys, of course, acted with proper decorum, but the girls opposite,….turned boldly round in their seats which caused my cheeks to burn with shame…..All my feelings rose in revolt against such treatment. Amid this suppressed tumult of thought and passion, the teacher called on me to read. The piece selected was entitled 'A Mother's Influence' and may be found in McGuffy’s Fourth Reader. ….Never have I, since attaining the years of manhood, though I have frequently tried, been able to read that piece with anything like the satisfaction to myself as upon the occasion referred to.”

Be sure to check out the collection of McGuffy Readers in our exhibit building.


John Muir wrote a poem about the log school he attended when he lived at Hickory Hill. You might enjoy reading it as you sit looking over the mill pond. Here is part of it:

Old log schoolhouse, warped, and gnarled, and leaky;

Opening thy crooked ribs and seams and knots

To rain and snow and all the winds of heaven

To keep thee sweet and healthy! Many a storm

Hath played wild music beating on roof and gable,

Loosely boarded, telling all the weather,

As if some wondrous instrument thou wert,

Speaking aloud, through all times and seasons,

Thy parts of speech so strangely varied, mixing

With stranger speech within, called English grammar.

While yet the trunks of which thy walls are built

Stood on the hills with outspread leaves and branches,

A shelter, then, thou wert for gladsome birds,

That made sweet music ring about their nests.

And still a noisy nest thou art and shelter

For callow, birdlike children soft and downy,

Logs woven about them, piled and jointed,

Crossed like sticks and straws, and roughly plastered

With clay and mud like nests of mason Robins.


Hath hacked small readers voices and the nerves

Of teachers, in tones strident, rough, and rusty,

In lessons never-ending, never-mending

With grammar, too, old schoolhouse, thou hast suffered,

While Plato, Milton, Shakespeare, have been murdered,

Torn limb from limb in analytic puzzles

And wondrous parsing, passing comprehension,

The poetry and meaning blown to atoms--

sacrifices in the glorious cause

Of higher all-embracing education.


Class-meeting converts' speeches; low, tearful,

Sobbing promises to walk the narrow way

Henceforward, and prayers for light and strength,

Conscious of weakness and they know not what.

Not so the brawny fighting backwoods brother.

With jaw advanced, and bulging muscles rigid,

He shouts and stamps and makes thy old logs rattle

With rough defiance, calling 'Hither come

Ye men or devils, come all together,

Ye who would bar the narrow way to heaven.

Armed for the fight with Christ, my Captain, leading,

I fear no foe earthborn or from the pit.

Come on! come on!' as though he were addressing

Some foe in sight, yet maybe semi-conscious

The foe was far away, and like to stay far.

Every ism and doxy hath been sounded

On every key within thy patient walls

Old schoolhouse; blasts of strong revival,

Enough to blow thy dovetailed logs asunder,

While souls were being saved, and pulled, and twisted

All out of shape, till they no longer fitted

The frightened bodies that to each belonged.

Playing at judgment day in lightsome humor,

Calling, 'Ho! all ye saints that love the Lord,

Rise up now quickly and take these benches

On the right side there. And now ye sinners

Cross over to the left, and stand in row,

And be ye separate as sheep and goats

That I may count ye, and get the true statistics

To give the Master and myself some notion

How fare these flocks supernal and infernal

In this section of his backwoods pastures.'

Then halting suddenly to blow his nose

And spit, and bite some fresh tobacco,

He waves his hand and cries, 'Now all be seated,

And mix up as ye will, but pray remember

When all your hardened cases come to trial

In the upper court, I fairly warned ye

To settle here with me as Heaven's agent,

To get a ticket by the gospel route,

The only route through our denomination.


dust to dust . . . perchance to sift and drift in vapor,

far and wide o'er hill and dale and grassy plain,

to take new forms of beauty.

The Westfield area was once filled with springs where clear, cold water bubbled out of the ground. Most of them are covered over, dry or capped today, but there are still two places you can see spring water flowing free. One is at the Kravick Realty building downtown in Westfield. In the basement there, are several tanks that once were used to raise trout. The cold water rushing through the tanks from the natural springs was perfect for the fish. Today only one tank is still used but you can enter the building and look through a hole in the floor at the large trout in one of the basement tanks.

Another spring or artesian well is located across the road from Pioneer Community Park. You will see it marked on the map below. People come there and fill up containers to take home.

Above are some folks who are ready to hike the Westfield Community Trail which begins in Pioneer Park...see the Village Map above. It makes its way over a drumlin, a land formation made by the glacier. Here are some land formations you can find in Marquette County. Look for more information in Family Fun and at other sites.

Kettles Big potholes made from melting chunks of ice. Sometimes they become kettle lakes.

Drumlins Elongated hills of sediment

Tunnel Channel Long valley made by the flow of water under the glacier

Erratics Boulders and rocks dropped by the glacier often carried from many miles away.

Moraines Piles of rock and gravel left behind by the glacier.

There is a special tree in Westfield on Pioneer Drive. You can see it marked on the map. Marquette County resident David Hamel identified a Swamp White Oak growing in Westfield last year. The UW-Green Bay Herbarium says, “It is widely distributed in southern Wisconsin, but seldom abundant, and uncommon to rare in the northern third of the state. It is usually found in moist to wet soil.” It is on my list of things to do to get some photos of this rare tree growing in a Village. Its location would once have been part of the wet riverside land before it was built up and paved over. Still, this little tree bravely stands right by the Industrial Park. David measured it and said it is 19th out of 28 Wisconsin Champion Swamp White Oaks.

You’ve learned just a littleabout the history of the first settlers in Marquette County and about this oneroom school house that once stood in John Muir’s Neighborhood. Hopefully you'll take time to explore Westfield and saunter on the Westfield Community Trail. Plan to return and learn more about the history ofMarquette County when you can.

Another place you'll want to visit is the Westfield Public Library. The link to the library is provided below as is a photo and story of the first library. Today's library is a vibrant, modern library with many resources and many activities you can enjoy.

The Westfield Library has been in existence since 1908 when the Westfield Study Club began borrowing books from a travelling library in Madison and keeping them in different member’s homes to lend out. In 1934, the Study Club asked the Village Board to establish a library and in that same year, the Village began to rent space in William Fuller’s book store for $5 a month. The lending library was located at the front of his store, which also sold candy, at 301 South Main Street. The little building, now painted red, still stands there today and is pictured above.

The library made its home there for 15 years. The first year, the Village voted the sum of $100 for rent and the purchase of books. The little store was heated with coal, making the dusting of the books a daily requirement. Ruth Hamilton, Clara Schwark, Belle Haney and others were librarians, all working without pay at that time. Grace Kerst was the longest serving librarian. Kerst began working at the library in 1945 and retired in 1975.

In 1947, the library moved to the then Village Hall and in 1961 moved to the “new” Village Hall which is now the Fire Department. Ethel Everhard Memorial Library building moved to its present home in 1972. It was built with the generous bequest of Ethel and Mabel Everhard’s estates.