Family history concerns grab me every now and then and take up all my available brain space and time. When I found the old ledger of my great great grandfather, John Alexander Pierce, with records of his flour mills in Troy and Genoa, I spent a couple days reading, thinking, and then taking the old book to a bindery in Madison to have a new spine attached.
The accounts are written in a couple hands, begin in 1880 and continue to 1910, though those are clearly written by his son, George Edmund, my great grandfather. There are egg and butter accounts that have nothing to go with the mills. There were loose papers inside too - tax receipts, and hand written treasurer's reports from the Sugar Creek School District #4. All are destined for the historical documents collection at UW Whitewater.
The internet, besides being a black hole of time, is also a gold mine of otherwise hard-to-find information. I found an e-text of the 1882 History of Walworth County, and this biographical sketch of J.A. Pierce:
J.A. Pierce. farmer and mill owner, resides on section 9; has land on sections 2,3,9,10, 16 and 21, Sugar Creek, and other tracts in LaGrange, Troy, an Bloomfield, of this county, aggregating 1,000 acres. He has two flouring mills, one in Genoa, with four run of stone; capacity, fifty barrels per day. The subject of this sketch was born in Williamsburg, near the River St. Lawrence, in Canada West, Dec. 11, 1816; is the son of John and Maria A. (McFarling) Pierce. He came to Wisconsin in 1845, and settled on Sec. 9, Sugar Creek, Walworth Co., where he still resides. He commenced in a small way , with limited means, and has since accumulated a large property. In 1857, he bought the mill at Genoa Junction, and in 1869, bought the mill in Troy, situated one and one-half miles from East Troy, and three miles from Troy Center. He was married in 1847 to Miss Mary Chambers, daughter of William Chambers of Geneva, Wis. They had five children -- J. Albert, Eliza, George E., William Austin and Guy R. The oldest, J.A., married Anna High, and lives in Eden Dakota. Eliza died in childhood. Mrs. Pierce died in January 1870. Mr. Pierce was married in Geneva, April, 1871, to Hannah Morehouse, his present wife, daughter of Henry and Mary Morehouse. Mrs. Pierce was born in England. Though not an office-seeker, Mr. Pierce served his time as town clerk several terms, two terms as assessor, and has been Clerk of his School District, No. 5, six years, was president of the Elkhorn Bank, Elkhorn, Wis., from 1857-1861. Mr. Pierce, in 1853, imported from Canada the first wheat that was sown in Walworth County, viz., Scotch, Fyfe, Canada Club, and China Pearl. He also, in the same year, introduced and successfully used the first automatic self-raking reaper ever used in Wisconsin. He also introduced the first grain sowing drill in Walworth County, and from its continued use he attributes much of his profitable success in raising wheat. Mr. Pierce feels keenly his disappointment of the Air Line Railroad failing to come to time by not furnishing him the long promised railroad, which has been for many years graded through his farm in Sugar Creek, on which was to have been a railroad station and depot, which inevitably would have resulted much pro bon publico, although he does not despair of yet attaining in the near future the consummation of that desirable project.
The railroad was never built.
I was interested that great great Grandpa Pierce was an agricultural innovator, experimenting with the newest technology of the time, since my dad and brother both sold farm equipment. I was also interested that JA Pierce grew wheat, since many of the German and Scandinavian settlers in the area were mainly interested in dairy - as were my grandfather and father. At one time, Wisconsin was the sixth largest producer of wheat in the United States - but the crop depleted the land, and it fell from favor. My maternal great great grandfather in Washington state also raised wheat.
Even Facebook is a source of family history information. A former classmate grew up in the house that JA Pierce built in the 1840s. The building is torn down now, but a quick request to my friend resulted in a photo of the old homestead for my files.
How cool is that?