Jefferson County Ghost Towns
Watertown Daily Times, “In Times Square”, 03 05 1988
We had an interesting conversation with Eva Melcher of Fort Atkinson the other day, in which she told us about some "ghost towns" in Jefferson County as well as the number of post offices which were at one time located in the area.
She produced an old Jefferson County map which was current for the period Jan. 15, 1895, through March 15, 1904. That map listed several communities which today are no more than a wide spot in the road. The map also listed the communities in the county which had post offices during that era.
Some of the "ghost towns" she listed and which were included on the map, were Ebenezer, Aliceton, Navan, Harvey, Bernhard, Ripley and Weiner. Today these towns are nothing more than a township road, but back then they must have been the center of some activities because they all had post offices.
There are several other communities which are still known today, but no longer have a post office. They include Grellton, Farmington, Concord (then known as Union Center) and Oakland.
This old map also lists all of the old one-room schools in the county, and the list is a long one. At that time none of the schools had names other than "School No. 6" etc. However, it appears from the map that no one lived more than a few miles from a school. The location of the schools all over the county also makes me pause and reflect as to whether or not some of the tales we hear today about how far some of the older folks had to walk to school had been exaggerated a bit!
Mrs. Melcher has some first-hand information on Aliceton because she was born and raised there.
For those who don't know where Aliceton is (or was) it is located about five miles south of Watertown on County Trunk Highway D. A road named Aliceton Road branches off of D and that's where that little town was located. Today County Trunk D has been reconstructed and moved a bit so Aliceton Road is a more accurate location.
She said Francis W. Metcalf built a store and a house at that location, and was the first and only postmaster of Aliceton. He was postmaster from 1895 until 1904. He married Alice Aspinwall and it was in honor of her first name that he proclaimed that location to be Aliceton.
Back then Aliceton consisted of a butter factory (later a cheese factory), the Metcalf house, another home, a horse barn and a chicken house.
Metcalf's store was also the location of the post office. The store, Mrs. Melcher recalled, offered dry goods, groceries, kerosene, shoe strings, and "you name it."
Mrs. Melcher said her mother clerked there in 1898, handing out mail. In fact, the first customer she had was a fellow by the name of Herman Hilker who later became her husband.
Just in case we have some doubters as to whether or not Aliceton ever existed or if it had a post office, we are including here a copy of a postmark from Aliceton. The letter was postmarked June 27, 1899, from the Helenville Insurance Company and has three postmarks. In addition to the one from Aliceton, it was postmarked at Helenville and Watertown. Also, adjacent to this column is a picture of two structures in Aliceton back at the turn of the century.
The store was sold by Metcalf around 1900, primarily because of the failing health of his wife. The business was sold to Theodore Kleinsteiber who operated it until the early 1900s. A major reason for the demise of the business was the opening of the Van Camp Condensery in Watertown. That caused a drop in the factory business and consequently in the store business. The store and the factory were torn down in recent years, but Mrs. Melcher said she remembers just like it was yesterday when the men used to gather at the store on Saturday nights during Kleinsteiber's ownership to play sheepshead by lamplight.
We suspect there are probably some other stories out there about these other "ghost towns” and would be happy to share them with our readers if someone comes forward with the information.
Cross Reference to images our society obtained in 2012: