TOPOGRAPHY - KICKAPOO RIVER - OTHER STREAMS - ORGANIZATION - FIRST SETTLEMENT BY BENDER FAMILY - OTHER PIONEERS - SCHOOLS - FIRST CHURCH BUILT BY UNITED BRETHREN - BAPTIST CHURCH - PUBLIC CEMETERIES - FIRST SAW-MILL - VILLAGE OF VIOLA - RURAL POSTOFFICES.
Forest was the ninth town in its organization in the county, being organized in April, 1855. Since its organization there has been but one change in its size, when township 11, range 2 west was taken from it and created into the town of Sylvan. As it well understood it is the northwestern town in the county and lies between Bloom on the east and Vernon county on the west, Sylvan bounding it on the south and Vernon county on the north.
The first settlement in this town was made in April, 1854, by Daniel and William Bender, two brothers who came together from Pennsylvania.
Daniel Bender was born in the year 1813, in Somerset county, Pennsylvania, where he resided until 1842. On coming to Forest he entered two hundred and forty acres of land on sections 32 and 33, where he lived the remainder of his life, dying in 1898. He came here from Adams county, Indiana, coming by team to Sturgis, Michigan, then by rail to Vernon, Illinois, thence by team to Muscoda, and there crossed the river to Orion, where he rented a house until he could build a log house, which was the first in the town, on his land. In about six weeks he moved into it and commenced pioneer life, under difficulties. He could not get away, however, so he persevered, went to work, and lived to see the county settled and developed.
William Bender, who, with his brother, was the first permanent settler in the town of Forest, was born in Somerset county, Penn., in 1824. He received a common school education, and at the age of thirty immigrated to Wisconsin and settled on section 20 of the above named town. He and his brother, Daniel, build the first building in the town, which was a log house of small dimensions, and constituted the dwelling place for both families. Mr. Bender entered a farm of eighty acres, on section 20, and still continues to reside there, having increased his landed possessions, however, to two hundred and forty acres, and together with his sons the possessor of eight hundred acres. He was a member of the Eleventh Regiment of Wisconsin volunteer infantry, enlisted in 1865, and he was discharged the same year. The family experienced all the hardships and privations of pioneer life.
In the fall of the same year, Peter Bender and wife, parents of the above named, arrived, and with them were other sons and daughters, as follows: Samuel Bender and wife, Elias Bender and family, Mrs. Elizabeth Shaffer and her family, Jonas Bender, and Hannah and Susanna Bender, the party numbering twenty-three, all coming from Somerset county, Pennsylvania. In February, 1855, Emanuel P Bender came, and in 1856 Peter Bender and family and Henry Bender arrived, all settling in the town of Forest.
Very soon after the Bender brothers settled in the town, others followed, and came to stay. Laal Cliff, it is said, was the next to follow. He came in June, 1854, and entered forty acres on section 7, where he spent the remainder of his life. William Cliff also came at that time and selected eighty acres on section 8, but he later removed to Minnesota. The Cliffs were natives of Vermont.
Jeremiah D Black, another of the pioneers, came during the same year and entered eighty acres on section 15.
On September 17, 1854, quite a party of pioneers arrived, consisting of Cyrus D Turner, Salma Rogers, Hartwell L Turner, William Turner, J L Jackson and John Fuller. Salma Rogers was born in Wyoming county, NY, in 1825, and his younger days were spent there. He obtained his education in the common schools, and in his youth learned the joiner's trade. In 1854, he, in company with Cyrus D and Hartwell L Turner, immigrated to the town of Forest, where he entered forty acres of land on section 19, and lived there until a few years ago, when he removed to Viola, where he now resides. Mr. Rogers enlisted in 1851 in the Twelfth Wisconsin infantry, Company I, and was commissioned second lieutenant, July 30, 1863. He held the office of town treasurer in 1865-6, and was justice of the peace for a number of years. A great deal of his active life was devoted to contracting, building, and in following the vocation of the millwright.
Cyrus Turner entered three hundred and twenty acres of land on section 18 and 19, and H L Turner entered three hundred and twenty acres on section 19, but he afterward moved over the line in Vernon county. William Turner entered forty acres on section 18, and J L Jackson entered land in the town of Liberty, Vernon county. John Fuller remained only a short time and then went to California, where he died.
John H Crandall, a Baptist preacher, came here from Indiana in 1854, and entered three hundred and twenty acres of land on sections 19 and 30. He lived there a few years, then removed to the town of Eagle, where he died. E P Fay came in 1854 and entered land on section 18, settling thereon in 1855. Jacob Bennett came in 1854, and the year following located on section 7. George Fruit and James Guthrie came at an early day and located on section 12, where they continued to reside throughout long and useful lives. Levi Knable also came in 1854, and entered land on section 30. David Johns came in October, 1854, and entered eighty acres of land on section 30. He was followed the same year by J K, H W and J W Ambrose. J K entered one hundred and twenty acres of land on section 34, H W entered one hundred and twenty on section 28, and J W selected one hundred and twenty acres on section 34. J P Neher came in 1854 and entered eighty acres on section 34, but a number of years afterward removed to California, and then later returned to Richland county, where he died. Jeremiah Clark came in 1854 and entered one hundred and sixty acres of land on section 26.
R J Darnell was also one of the settlers of 1854. He bought a farm of eighty acres on section 36, but removed to Kansas from there and later to Illinois. He was a leading man, and was the first postmaster at Forest postoffice. Levi Gochenour came in 1854 and entered one hundred and sixty acres of land on section 27, remaining there until the time of his death, in 1861. In 1855 George Croninger, Andrew Carpenter, John Booher, Isaac Phifer, James Rockwell and a Mr. Todd all came. Mr. Croninger bought land on sections 8 and 17, erected a house on the former section, where he made his home throughout a long and active life. Mr. Carpenter settled on the southeast quarter of section 10, John Booher on section 11, and Mr. Rockwell located on section 10, where he died. Mr. Phifer settled on section 11, but afterward removed to Iowa.
Alfred Loveless, a native of the state of New York, came in 1856 and bought forty acres of land on section 18, where he lived until the time of his death. He was a prominent man in the county and held many positions of trust and responsibility.
The early schools are spoken of in the chapter on "Educational Development," but it is germane to the subject to say here that the educational interests in the town of Forest have kept pace with the onward march of civilization in other directions. The log structure of pioneer days soon gave place to the more pretentious buildings of the middle period, and these, in turn, to the modern and finely equipped buildings of the present day. Among the first teachers of the township was Helen Jackson.
Rev. Adam Shambaugh was the first preacher in the town, and the first church edifice in the town was erected on the northeastern part of section 11, by the United Brethern denomination. This was prior to the breaking out of the Civil war. There was a Freewill Baptist church on Goose creek, which was of hewn logs and a substantial building, and the Baptists also erected a church building on section 22.
The first burial places in the town were usually private grounds, established on the farms as necessity required; but finally cemeteries were laid out, and these "cities of the dead," of which there are several in the town of Forest, receive the care and attention that is due them.
The first saw-mill in the town was erected by S Rogers and Adam Shambaugh, on section 2, in 1857-8, and the first grist-mill was erected by the latter in 1860, on the same section. In the fall of 1883 Blakely Sons & Rogers put up a steam saw-mill on section 4. A twenty-eight horse power steam engine was put in, and the mill was equipped with a circular saw.
There is but one village in the town of Forest --- Viola. From the early days of its existence it has been a popular trading point, and in late years it has progressed until it does quite a flourishing business, being sustained by an excellent farming country. In writing of churches, schools and other public enterprises, this village has been frequently mentioned. The various industries incident to villages of this size, together with the social, religious, educational and political functions, are all represented, while the mercantile and other business interests are quite extensive.
The first saw-mill in the village was erected in 1856 by H L Turner, and it stood just across the line in Vernon county. One year later a grist-mill was erected by the same person on Camp creek in section 19. Cushman & Sons afterward purchased the mill property in the village and their mills became widely known in both Richland and Vernon counties.
Rural postoffices for the accommodation of the people were early established, some of which were kept in the farm houses. They have been discontinued on the adoption of the admirable system of "rural free delivery," which brings almost every farmer in daily contact with the outside world, and his mail is left at his door. Add to this the convenience of the modern telephone, and the isolation of country life is reduced to the minimum.
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