Early Area History

The Township of Windsor, first surveyed in 1834, was separated and organized as a Township in 1847. Located on one of the highest elevations in Dane County, it comprised the heart of what was known to the earliest trappers, traders, and settlers as “Winnebago Prairie.” The rolling prairie, which stretched from the Cherokee Marsh to the present site of Arlington, was the principal hunting ground of Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Native Americans, a Sioux tribe which inhabited the southern one-third of Wisconsin and the northern one-quarter of Illinois. The area was then covered with Indian campsites and ancient mounds, as well as several villages, one of the largest located at the site of Token Creek. Windsor Township was reconfigured in 1849 when Vienna and Westport Townships were created.


The first white settler in the township is believed to have been William Lawrence, a Yankee (native born American from New England), who arrived in 1841 and settled in Section 5. Lawrence purchased and farmed a significant amount of land and built the first travelers’ inn of eastern Dane County, known as Eagle Point Tavern. The inn was located just south of the present Highway DM exit to Morrisonville off Highway 51.


Other settlers, Yankees, English, and Scots, followed within the next year. James Morrison settled Section 6 where the community still bears his name (Morrisonville). Thomas Campbell settled in Section 17, acquiring land that eventually became the western portion of the village of DeForest. Charles Lawrence located in Section 34 at the site of Token Creek. In the late 1840s and 1850s, Norwegian and German immigrants began to move into the area in large numbers.


During the first half of the nineteenth century, Token Creek was one of  three  important communities in Dane County, the other two being Four Lakes (Madison) and Blue Mounds. It was located at the intersection of two major Native trails which became main travelers’ routes (one from Milwaukee to Prairie du Chien, now Highways 19 and 60; the other from Four Lakes to Portage City, now Portage Road and State Highway 51). Token Creek was the location of the first post office and first school in the township.  At one time, there was a dance hall, hotels, a library, and two grist mills at this historic location.


In 1853 Charles Durkee bought large quantities of land in Sections 16 and 17 of the township from Samuel Stevenson and Thomas Campbell.  He raised wheat on the land until he accepted a Presidential appointment as Territorial Governor of Utah. In 1856, he sold his holdings to Isaac N. DeForest, a settler of Belgian descent.  Mr. DeForest continued and expanded the wheat-growing operation.  In 1860, the Milwaukee Sentinel reported that the “DeForest wheat bonanza was rivaled only by that of the Red River Valley”.  Eventually Isaac DeForest platted out 29 lots on his land for sale.  A post office, known then as the North Windsor Post Office, was established marking the beginning of the village of DeForest. Following the Civil War, the economy and wheat prices crashed, forcing DeForest to sell off his land holdings and he then moved to Kansas. The village, however, survived and grew.

The community of Morrison was platted for James Morrison in 1871, at the time that the Madison-Portage line of the railroad was constructed. (The “ville” was added when the railroad created a sign for the stop, because another “Morrison” already existed in the state.) The community and name survive to this day.


The community of Windsor was established at this time, also, in Sections 29 and 30 of the township and continues to grow and serve this area.


The arrival of the railroad in the 1870s helped to define a new chapter in the area history. After the Madison to Portage Line was established, the economies of all communities along this route began to flourish and the populations grew significantly. Windsor, DeForest, and Morrisonville all became active centers, each with a depot, bank, hotels, warehouses, businesses, and homes—all supporting the surrounding farms.  After the Windsor Township High School was located in DeForest in 1895 and the importance of rail transportation began to decline, so did the growth of Windsor and Morrisonville.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email