Stories from Nels Monson, A City Historian
Sarah Dibley Fowle
Sarah Dibley Fowle could be thought of as the “Founding Mother” of South Milwaukee. Arriving here from her native England in the summer of 1835, Sarah—along with her husband John Fowle and their nine children became the first family to settle in what is now South Milwaukee. Their original sixteen by twenty-foot log cabin sat on the lake bluff near where the Grant Park Clubhouse sits today. In March 1837, Sarah wrote a letter to her sister back home. It gives her account of the family’s voyage from England as well as some of the hardships endured in their new lives as pioneers here in Wisconsin. The letter also announces the birth of a tenth child —Horace Nicholas Fowle—who arrived on February 26, 1837. He was the second child born in the settlement. Eventually, Horace would come to own the original Fowle homestead, and in 1892 would build the beautiful Queene-Anne style home that serves today as the golf-course clubhouse. Sarah Dibley Fowle died in 1855 at the age of sixty-five and is buried in the Fowle family plot in the cemetery of the First Congregational Church. Sarah Dibley Fowle lives on in her wonderful letter which serves to illustrate for us today just what it took to survive in those earliest days of South Milwaukee’s history.

– Nels J Monson

Roger Sherman Hoar

Roger Sherman Hoar is perhaps the most notable South Milwaukeean that you have never heard of. Descended from one of America’s most distinguished families, he was born in 1887 in Waltham, Massachusetts—in fact, his great-great-grandfather was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. A 1909 graduate of Harvard, he would become a lawyer, politician, college instructor, patented inventor, Army officer, and prolific Science-Fiction author. He also dated Miss Rose Fitzgerald before she became Mrs. Rose Kennedy. After serving as an artillery officer during WW1, Roger Sherman Hoar moved to South Milwaukee in 1921 and was hired as a corporate attorney for the Bucyrus Company. Shortly afterwards he built the beautiful Georgian Colonial that still stands at 1503 Fairview Avenue. He named this house “The Milestone.” Hoar was very active in local affairs and was chairman of the citizen’s committee that successfully called for the creation of the Oak Creek Parkway. In 1934, Hoar was called to Washington by President FDR where he was instrumental in the creation of the Employee Unemployment Benefits Act. Under the name “Ralph Milne Farley,” Hoar immersed himself in the writing of pulp-magazine science fiction. He would pen over a dozen novels as well as numerous stories published in Weird Tales, Argosy, and Amazing Stories magazines. His most notable work was the Radio Man series. In 1931 he joined a group of writers known as the “Milwaukee Fictioneers.” Another member of the Fictioneers was Robert Bloch, who in 1959 wrote the book Psycho— which was turned into a famous Alfred Hitchcock movie. Roger Sherman Hoar died in his home of a heart attack on October 10, 1963, aged 76 and is buried in his family’s plot in Massachusetts.

–      Nels J Monson

Click below to view some of the books by Ralph Milne Farley aka Roger Sherman Hoar

Emma Abbott
When one thinks of famous South Milwaukeeans, the name Emma Abbott doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Yet, in terms of her impact on the nineteenth-century American cultural scene she really has no equal. Born in 1850, by the time young Emma arrived here from Peoria, Illinois with her parents and four siblings, she was already a talented singer and musician. The Abbott family came here around 1868 and their home stood on the west side of Chicago Avenue near Oak Street. Her parents, Seth and Almira Abbott were both musically inclined and her father earned a meager living as a music teacher. While her family settled in, Emma toured the Midwest with various vocal groups. By 1871 she was in New York studying opera. She spent the next few years continuing her studies in Europe, all the while honing her skill as an operatic soprano. Returning to America in 1876, Emma was instrumental in introducing opera to the American public. She was the first woman to manage her own touring company—the Emma Abbott English Opera Company, — whose lavish performances were very popular with the American audiences. Perhaps in keeping with her humble upbringing, she insisted on keeping her ticket prices low, making opera more available to the middle-classes. Even so, she achieved great financial success and—as a devout Christian—was known to be a generous donor to many charitable causes. During a concert tour, forty-year-old Emma unexpectantly died of “late-stage pneumonia” on January 5, 1891, in Salt Lake City. She is buried in Gloucester, Massachusetts alongside her husband, Eugene Wetherell. Though Emma herself spent just a short time here, her family remained here about five years, giving South Milwaukee a fair claim to the Abbott family as one-time residents.

–      Nels J Monson

Mary Augusta Higgins
Born in a log cabin near the intersection of Hawthorne and North Chicago Avenues on February 22, 1837, Mary Augusta Higgins was the first child born in the settlement known today as South Milwaukee. She was the daughter of Elihu Higgins and Eliza Rawson Higgins. SM historical footnote notwithstanding, Mary Augusta would grow to lead a remarkable life. Short, headstrong, and feisty, she was a colorful character who had three husbands and spent much of her life as a pioneer innkeeper in Utah and Colorado. In 1885, “Gusty” married A. G. Wallihan in Rawlins, Wyoming. Together they ran a roadhouse and post office near Lay, Colorado. There, Augusta became an expert marksman and hunter—very unusual for a woman at that time. Around 1889, she hung up her rifle and picked up a camera. Sharing a love for the out-of-doors, she and A. G. immersed themselves in pursuit of wildlife photography. The couple are considered to be the first wildlife photographers in America. Their efforts earned the admiration of Theodore Roosevelt, who arranged an invitation to display their work at the 1900 Paris Exposition. In 1904, they were awarded a bronze medal at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. They published two books of their photographs, Hoofs, Claws, and Antlers of the Rocky Mountains (1894) and Camera Shots At Big Game (1901). Both books had the introductions written by Teddy Roosevelt. A. G. and Augusta returned to South Milwaukee in 1903 to visit friends and family before continuing to Washington D. C. at the personal invitation of the President. In 1910, several South Milwaukee residents received invitations to their Silver Anniversary celebration in Lay. On September 27, 1922, 85-year-old Mary Augusta died at her home near Lay. She was followed thirteen years later by her beloved husband, and currently lay together in a family cemetery on their old homestead.

–      Nels J Monson