Early Surveys Made in Sauk County and Some Incidents Connected with Field Work

William H. Canfield - Surveyor

William H. Canfield - Surveyor

By H.E. French, City Engineer
June 16, 1928

In presenting the above titled article to the Sauk County Historical Society there should be some explanation outlining the methods of the original surveys employed by the United States government. In the year 1780, the territory embraced for the survey included Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Tennessee, also that portion of Minnesota lying east of the Mississippi River, all of Alabama and Mississippi lying north of the 31st parallel. This territory was held by the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia under grants from Great Britain during the Colonial period. These territorial rights were surrendered to the general government of the union by the last named states at different times and constituted the nucleus of the public domain, being the remainder of the territory ceded to the United States under the treaty of 1783. This constituted the public domain of the United States on April 30, 1803, which is the date of the Louisiana Purchase and for which the original survey and disposition laws were made.

Plan of Surveys

The present system of surveys was inaugurated by a committee of the Continental Congress of which Thomas Jefferson was chairman. After a number of amendments the ordinance provided for townships of sub-dividing the sections as the owners of the properties requested. It was comparatively easy at that time to sub-divide the sections into the units of areas desired by the owners as the section corners established by the government were still intact and their only problem was to run a straight line between them. However easy it might have been at that time, they very often were in error due to the wearing of the links in their chains and the crude method of running lines with the compass only, so that the county surveyor of today finds it impossible to apply purely scientific and theoretical methods in recovering the original lines without plunging the entire community into litigation. His problem is to place the line where it was originally located whether it be right or wrong, using all the evidence that is possible to secure.

First County Surveyor

Arriving at the period where the county surveyor is to function, we find that William H. Canfield is the first one in Sauk County to make any record of his survey which was July 6, 1849, on a survey of the Steel farm just north of the Shults Corners on the Delton road and is still identified as the Steel property. However, Chas. O. Baxter laid out the Adams plat of the city of Baraboo in April 1847, calling himself district surveyor, evidently appearing that the office of county surveyor had not as yet been legalized. 

Meet Indian Chief

Mr. Baxter had previously journeyed over the Baraboo bluffs from the Sauk prairie with four others in 1839, the trail leading to the present waterworks dam where they visited the Indian chief, Caliminee, and claiming they were the first white men to cross the bluffs from the Prairie to the Baraboo River. Undoubtedly Mr. Canfield had made previous surveys to 1849 but the county survey records show the above mentioned survey to be the first that was recorded. The next survey of any note was the laying out of the village of Garrison by Canfield in 1851, in the town of Greenfield, comprising the area between the Baraboo River and the present trunk highway number 33, about a mile southwest of Butterfield Bridge. A dam existed across the Baraboo River at that time and there is some thought of renewing the same, there being between 6 and 7 feet of head to develop. 

Certain portions of Sauk City were laid out in the same year of 1851, the first addition being known as Haraszthy, by C.O. Baxter, followed by Canfield in the same year, his addition being known as Westfield. The village of Manchester was laid out in October, 1853, by Canfield, comprising the entire island adjacent to the Baraboo waterworks dam and extending east along the west side of the river to Draper’s Creek. There are still some of the lots in this addition on the city’s tax roll.

Each 10 Children, Both 19

In the same year the village of New Haven was platted in the town of Sumpter by Canfield, now known as Kings Corners. It appears that Hosea King was the owner and Mr. Canfield describes the old gentleman as being married to his second wife while she also was married to her second husband, and while he had 10 children and his wife 10, between them both they only had 19. The village of Sandusky was platted in 1855 by Giles Stevens working through the Christmas holidays. The next plat for the city of Baraboo was by C.O. Baxter, comprising the original plat which took in most of the so called South Side, Mr. Baxter still terming himself district surveyor. The village of Lyons was platted by Canfield in 1846, also terming himself district surveyor, showing again that office of county surveyor had not been established. The stone monuments that Mr. Canfield established in Lyons are still standing and have given good service in running out the work in the city of Baraboo. The village of Ironton was also run out by Canfield in 1857. The village of Norris, now Delton, was platted by Edward Norris in 1850. An addition to Manchester was made by Peter Folsom in 1850 which took in the area on the north side of Water Street in the city of Baraboo, just north of the waterworks dam. The village of Reedsburg, original town, was run out by E. G. Wheeler in 1852 for David C. Reed and Geo. H. Irwin. The early work around Newport comprised the following plats: There were two plats of Newport, then followed Dell Creek, the village of Dell Creek and Steel addition to Dell Creek all in the order named in the years 1850 and 1851. These plats are so crude that it is practically impossible to make an intelligent survey to recover the original lines. The surveyors were Edward Norris and Rensler Cronk doing the work for John Marshall and others. The title of the entire area has now been quieted by the present owners, Mr. House and W.J. Newman.

With the creation of a dam with 18 feet of a head, this entire area is now being developed into a summer resort which will include artificial bathing beaches.

Harrisburg and Others

A village named Harrisburg was laid out for J.W. and I.W. Harris in 1853 by A.W. Seymour, located about two miles southwest of Black Hawk on present Trunk Line B. It is identified at present by a church, school house, and a few residences. The next village plat was Jonesville, surveyed by Josiah Dortt in 1854, in section 17, township 8 north range 4 east. Locating this plat on the county map it should be southeast of Spring Green, along the north side of the Wisconsin River. The village of Loganville was formerly called Westfield and was surveyed by S. S. Brown in 1855 and the village of Merrimack was also surveyed in the same year by I.G.M. Barthelmeau, county surveyor of Columbia County. The Otterville village plat was surveyed by Canfield in 1856, located in the southwest ¼ of the southwest 1/4 , section 4, township 10 north, range 6 east, which locates it between what is called Stone’s Pocket and Baxter Hollow; at the present time in the town of Sumpter. The village of Spring Green was surveyed by H.C. Putman, civil engineer, in 1857, for Garwood Green. The village of Delton was surveyed by Edward Norris in 1850. It was named at that time the village of Norris, afterwards changed to Delton and again changed in the past year to Mirror Lake. Valton village, in the town of Woodland, was surveyed by G.G. Daniels in 1858. The village of Prairie du Sac was apparently the first village in Sauk County to be surveyed. The work was done by Calvin Frink, John LaMeseuro and David B. Croker in the year 1840. The government land sale occurred in 1843 and the above parties purchased this area at $15 per acre. 
Early Mill

The first surveyed dam in Sauk County was run out by Canfield and constructed by Robert Bryant in 1841. It was located near the mouth of Honey Creek and is now known as Lodde’s Mill. It was termed at that time Bill Johnson’s Coffee Mill and Mr. Canfield states that it required more than common honesty to toll our grist, apparently meaning that parties taking grist there had to run it out themselves when the proprietor was not there.

The first railroad survey was made in 1853 from Madison to Baraboo and was intended to be a link with the Northern Pacific Railroad. In 1863 another preliminary survey was run from Madison to LaCrosse by way of Baraboo and in 1870 another survey was made, probably on same location, which was immediately followed by construction.

Fall of Baraboo River

One of the first water powers on the Baraboo River was the so-called Maxwell Dam, now known as the Baraboo Waterworks Dam. The present Oak Street Dam was under construction about the same time, said period of construction running from 1847 to 1849. Mr. Canfield’s level notes taken in these early days along the Baraboo River are well defined. His total fall in the Baraboo rapids, so called approximated about 48 feet and the respective heads of the present four dams confirm his work.

During the period of time between 1840 and the completion of the service of Nathaniel Darrow as county surveyor, there were 13 holding the office county surveyor in the following order named: C.O. Baxter, W.H. Canfield, Edward Norris, Josiah Dortt, W.C. Newell, Giles Stevens, S.I. Seymour, Darwin Woodward, R.G. Evenden, D.B. Hulburt, S.P. Barney, G. Schranke and Nathaniel Darrow. Giles Stevens served early in the 50’s and most of his work was on the location of those highways which one travels on going from Baraboo to Spring Green and Richland Center. Mr. Stevens is remembered by the member of the Sauk County Bar as Capt. Stevens, an attorney practicing in Reedsburg after his return from the Civil War where he made an enviable record.

Amusing Incident

The irregularity of alignment and changes of grade are very apparent along these highways due to the topography of the country which demand these sudden changes mentioned to satisfy certain limitations in grade and alignment for convenient travel. In those days from the lack of the present highways, the county surveyors were not warranted in going out on a job unless there were several jobs in the community to compensate for the time and difficulty in going to and from the work and the records show that the surveyors served at least a month in certain territories before returning to their homes. One record mentions an amusing incident where a deputy county surveyor was sent out on one of these jobs and became intoxicated and it required the real county surveyor to take another set of instruments to go out and locate the deputy. This story might apply to the incident that Mr. Van Orden relates about Mr. Canfield, if one could conceive of him rambling through the woods with his instrument on his shoulder in an intoxicated condition. While Mr. Van Orden was clerking in the express office soon after he came to Baraboo, a shipment of Canfield’s instruments arrived in the office from some point in the county. A day or so later a farmer drove in with his rig, requesting from Mr. Van Orden, “Where is that damn compass that Canfield got lost with out west of here?” One who understands the function of the compass will appreciate the situation.

Mr. Darrow’s notes very often stated “that there must be something wrong with the former surveys”. It’s a conceded fact that no two surveyors agree, which is only too true at times in the work of this nature and we can well appreciate the state of mind of Mr. Darrow and any other surveyor at the present time who is trying to recover the lines of the government surveys. As we have previously stated if the county surveyor strictly applies the literal interpretation of the original notes with our modern instruments he will have a sad awakening to the situation in attempting to utilizing the physical and personal evidences of the lines and corners and infusing such scientific methods as will give it at least some flavor of the modern methods of surveying on new work.

Outstanding Figure

Of the thirteen county surveyors, the one outstanding figure is William H. Canfield and it is my pleasure and interest to be able to tell somewhat of his character and work. Throughout all his notes he has shown great interest in his work, demonstrating at times that the nature of his work was more to him than the compensation he usually received and there were times when his receipts just about paid his transportation. A number of his surveys are accompanied with sketches showing the nature of the scenery together with such philosophical notes that showed his heart and soul was in his work. Citing one instance in a survey he was making on what is called Babb’s Prairie, west of Reedsburg; he was endeavoring to recover a corner and on approaching within a short distance of where the stake should be he found a well preserved oak stake. He found in the evidence form persons living in the vicinity that it was placed there promiscuously by James W. Babb, the first settler to till the soil in the town of Reedsburg. He, therefore, left it standing, although it was not within 20 feet of where it should be for the establishment of said corner. He then states in his notes that the said Babb Prairie compares favorably with the Garden of Eden and the Baraboo River with the River Euphrates.

William H. Canfield

We should not forget the interest he manifested in the Sauk County Old Settlers’ Association to the time the association acquired the grounds at Devils Lake. He was elected secretary at its first meeting in June, 1872, and held the office till the late nineties. He apparently wished no publicity and as an example of his retiring disposition, Mr. Van Orden relates again his attitude in objecting to place his name on the Man Mound tablet as the first person to survey the mound. Later Mrs. Darbey, his daughter, insisted on him thanking Mr. Van Orden so he wandered into the bank one day, still maintain his views, stating among other things, “Why that darn thing must have cost you 10 to 15 dollars.” It probably cost not less than $100. I believe this table is the only physical identity of Mr. Canfield in the county, outside of his writings, and it would seem that there should be a more lasting memorial to the memory of one who has so faithfully carried on the early history of Sauk County.

Editor’s Note: For some reason the grave of Mr. Canfield in Walnut Hill Cemetery, Baraboo, has not been marked with stone or tablet. The last resting place of one, who made so many surveys, recorded so much of local history and noted so many Indian mounds should be known to the passer by.

The above article on early surveys is the result of Mr. French and his assistant, H.C. Amundsen, indexing the records of the several surveyors of the county.