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Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail

History of Dorset Valley

Dorset Valley History

We would like to share a little history of the Dorset Valley settlement. Hope you enjoy reading!

“Dorset is located in Wilton Township, Section 26. In 1854, Harvey Sowle, son Hiram came to Dorset from Dorset, Bennington County, Vermont with three brothers and their families and the Hayward family. They named Dorset, Monroe Count after their home in Vermont. Harvey Sowle was a direct descendent of George Sowle, on of the signers of the Mayflower Compact and one of the pilgrim fathers who established the first colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts. His father, 3 brothers and 7 sisters make up the seventh generation. he marries 17 October 1869 to Luella Jackson and had three children, Mrs. Frank Drow, Lamont and Herbert. He married the second time on the 23 March 1878 to Edna King Smith and had 14 children.

From a copy of Dorset, Vermont Journal, we learn of the death of Wesson Sowle II who died 21 March, 1888 at age 98 years. He with two brothers, Hiram and James, established a settlement at Dorset, Monroe County, Wisconsin, in 1854.

Other Yankees coming at this time were La Rue, Abbott, Upton, Platner, and Petigras. Most of this early group were Methodists and were served by circuit riders. One of these was Rev. Isaac Springer who married Mary Ann Sowle, daughter of Wesson at Dorset in 1860. He was the son of the famed Rev. Elihu Springer who was head of the Northwest Circuit for the Methodist religion. Her sister, Minerva marries Rev. Joel Brown in 1859 at Dorset. Of the three brothers that came to Dorset, James died at Wilton, Hiram is buried at Tomah, and Wesson returned to Vermont.

On top of the hill is the only remaining evidence of the active community, its cemetery. Many stones have fallen over and deteriorated and it is not used for burial today. People of all denominations are buried there. Some of the early stones bear the names of La Rue, Abbott, Grant, Fishcer, Harrington, Carver, Mitchel, Whittaker, O’Day, Blosdgett, Titus, McKnitire, Scovil, Belcher, Saxby, Calkins, Fink, Vail, Upham, Sowle, and Crary.

The Dorset Schoolhouse is over 100 years old. it is well taken care of by its owner, Harvey Drews. In the early day, the older boys and girls attended school during the winter after the fall work was done. School ran for 7 to 8 months. Many funerals were held in the school building, sometimes as many as 3 a week and school would be out during services. Most were buried in the Dorset Cemetery.

The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad was built in the mid 1800′s. Tunnel No. 1 was built with all hand labor. The men started at either end of the tunnel and met in the middle. An operator was on duty 24 hours a day until about 1908. Cars were loaded with potatoes, hay and wood and shipped out. Much hay was shipped in because of the drought of 1910. This was the main railroad between Chicago and Minneapolis. The last train went by July 1964. The railroad bed has been converted to the Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail. At one time six passenger and four freight trains went every 24 hours.

Ryan’s , the first Irish settlers came about 1850 from Vermont. Other Irish settlers were Carbon, Schehan, McGarvey, Kamishy, O’Leary, and Gallagher. Ferdinand Waege was the first German to come to the Dorset area arriving about 1875. John Gallagher’s mother, Nora Ryan, and her sister as children would peek through the fence to watch the German, as they had never seen a German before.

Burr Hubbard had a cooper shop, making wooden barrels with wooden hoops. Burr Hubbard was born in 1818 and died in 1912. The undertaker was from Ontario drove the only car in his funeral procession. The funeral was held in the schoolhouse and burial in Dorset Cemetery.” (1)

The school house was closed in the spring of 1963 when the Wilton School district consolidated with the Kendall and Elroy school districts. The country schoolhouses, were closed, the high schools in the three towns were changed into grade schools, and a new high school was built in Elroy. Harvey and Dolores Drews purchased the schoolhouse primarily for the well that had been drilled in 1954, when the school was remodeled and indoor plumbing added. The well is still used today as the source of water for the barn that is adjacent to the schoolhouse. The rest of the schoolhouse was used for storage until 1998 when it was remodeled as a restaurant and opened on February 28, 2000.

(1) This text was taken from Monroe Country, Wisconsin Pictorial History 1976. Published by Tomah Journal Printing Co. Tomah WI 54660

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