Washington County, Wisconsin
Source: History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin; transcribed by Barbara Ziegenmeyer


Erin is the southeastern town in Washington County. It is described in the Government survey as Town 9, in Range 18 east. It is the most picturesque region in the county. There are several small lakes in the town : Mud Lake, on Section 6, and Lowe's Lake, on Section 23, being the largest. The land in the northern part of the town is broken into undulations, which in the southeastern part of the town, become almost mountainous, attaining to the highest altitude in the long range of hills stretching in a northeasterly direction across the county, toward the Green Bay Peninsula. Southeast of the cluster of miniature mountains, the highest peak of which is the celebrated u Holy Hill," St. Mary's, lies a beautiful plat of country so nearly level as to be known as Toland's Prairie.

The early settlers of this town were Irish' Catholics. The first to enter land was Michael Lynch, who entered the northwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 35, November 27, 1841. During the succeeding two years, entries were made on nearly every available section in the township, as will be seen in the following list of Government purchases :
Name Section. Acres Date of Entry
Thomas Manning 9 160 May 31, 1848.
Joremiab Stott 9 80 October 31. 1843.
John McQuillen 10 80 June 5, 1843.
John Grady 13 40 July 15, 1843.
Pat Ryan 18 80 July 28, 1843.
Thomas Carroll 14 80 May 19. 1843.
James Lisk 14 80 May 27, 1843.
John Quinn 15 80 June 5, 1848.
John Lee 15 8 June 5, 1848
Pat Daley 15 40 June 5, 1843
John Makle 15 40 June 5, 1843
Daniel Courtnay 17 80 November 12, 1842
Richard Burnett 17 80 May 22, 1843
Jeremiah Conner 17 80 July 3, 1843
John Fitzgerald 17 80 July 3, 1843
James Kavanagh and Timothy McNamara 17 80 November 9, 1843
Dennis McEvoy 19 40 May 30, 1843
William Mountain 20 80 November 5, 1842
Michael O'Connel 20 80 Novmber 5, 1842
Andrew Ryan 20 40 November 7, 1842
Pat Sexton 20 40 November 7, 1842
Pat Welch 20 80 November 10, 1842
Martin Guilford 20 80 April 15, 1843
Dennis McEvoy 20 40 May 30, 1843
Jeremiah Donohue 21 80 November 5, 1842
William Mountain, Jr. 21 80 November 5, 1842
James Murphy 21 160 November 7, 1842
Bernard McCarville 22 120 November 14, 1842
James Lynch 22 80 November 14, 1842
John Mullen 22 80 March 22, 1843
Michael Healy 22 40 January 28, 1843
Edmund Russell 22 40 August 11, 1843
Michael O'Healy 22 40 October 27, 1843
Timothy Ahem 24 40 May 18, 1842
Michael and Tim Flynn 24 80 November 2? 1842
John Jacob Lowe. 25 560 September 19, 1842
Eleazer Rowley 25 40 November 27, 1841
James Gartland 26 80 November 7, 1842
Thomas Burke 26 40 June 9, 1843
Henry Kuntz 26 40 July 12, 1843
John Kenny 27 160 September 30, 1842
John Baston 27
November 13, 1842
Michael Bennet 27 80 May 22, 1843
Jeremiah Hickey 27 40 May 22, 1843
William Courtney 28 1200 November 3, 1842
Thomas Fitzgerald 28 120 November 3, 1842
Jeremiah Donahue 28 40 December 7, 1842
Patrick Toland 29 40 October 1, 1842
Andrew McCormick 29 160 October 24, 1842
James C. Hayburn 29 160 October 24, 1842
Pat Toland 30 120 October 1, 1842
William Stott 32 80 October 8, 1842
Felix Boyle 32 80 May 19, 1843
Charles Haswell 32 80 May 22, 1843
Charles Lynch 32 80 August 30, 1843
Tim Schiel 32 160 October 9, 1843
Pat Toland 32 80 October 18, 1843
John Lynch 33 80 October 7, 1842
James Kenealy 33 40 December 27, 1842
William Curtain 33 80 June 26, 1843
John Sullivan 33 40 June 30, 1843
William McGrath 34 80 September 24, 1842
Michael Gallagher 34 80 September 24, 1842
James Brennan 34 40 September 30, 1842
Michael McLaughlin. 34 200 September 30, 1842
William Foley 34 40 December 9, 1843
Michael Lynch 35 40 November 20, 1841
Michael Lynch. 35 40 December 30, 1842
John Wheelan 35 120 September 27, 1842
Peter Wheelan 35 80 September 27, 1842
Daniel Roberts 36 80 September 3, 1842
J. J, Lowe 36 160 September 19, 1842
John Shields 36 80 October 3, 1842
Martin and Ed Shehan 36 80 June 5, 1832
Peter Schneider 36 80 July 10, 1843
Joseph Roberts 36 80 September 13, 1843

The above list comprises the earliest settlers of the town. They were followed in 184445 by a sufficient number of like nationality and religion to take up all the good farming land in the township, indeed the town may be said to have been fairly settled a year before Nic Simon piloted the Rossmans to the site of Hartford village and cut the first tree. Since the pioneers first possessed the land, even to the present day, the nationality and religion has remained essentially unchanged, and many of the descendants of these early pioneers still possess the well tilled farms their fathers bought heavily covered with forest so many years ago.

The town was incorporated, and took the very fitting name of Erin, January 16, 1846. It was named at the suggestion of John Whelan.

The first town meeting was held at the house of Patrick Toland, April 6, 1846. The Chairman was William Dwire, and Thomas Carroll, still living, was Clerk.

The officers elected were:

Supervisors, William Dwire, Chairman, Thomas Carroll, John Lynch; Town Clerk, Thomas Fitzgerald; Town Treasurer, John Kenney; Assessors, Michael Healey, William Foley; Justices of the Peace, Thomas Carroll, William Paulding; School Commissioners, Thomas Bourke, Timothy McNamara, James Lynch ; Collector, William Sullivan.

There were seventy four votes cast at the first town meeting. The names upon the poll list were:

Patrick Toland, John Mullins, William Dwight, James Fitzpatrick, William McGrath, Ed Shehan, James Guitland, James Fitzgerald, Thomas Carroll, William Mountin, James Murphy, Martin Davy, Dennis Banks, Terrence O'Conner, Jeremiah Donahue, William Sullivan, Pat Daly, William Rawley, Edward Pepper, Pat Walsh, John Fitzgerald, Maurice Veale, Bartholomew Shea, William Paulding, Martin Shehan, Christopher Hayburn, Richard Burnett, James Shehan, James Lynch, Thomas Hearney, William Courtney, Baity Eseck, John Whelan, William Scott, James Cavanach, Jeremiah Hickey, Thomas Bourke, John Sullivan, Timothy McNamara, Michael Bennett, William Foley, John Kenney, William Mountin, Thomas Manning, Michael Healy, Andrew O'Brien, Pat Hayes, Michael Gallagher, Maurice Kenealy, Felix Call, Charles Lynch, Owen Fitzpatrick, Michael Flynn, John Lynch, Bernard McConville, John Mickle, Dan Courtney, John Buckley, Jeremiah Conner, John Barclay, William Monoghan. Pat Daly, John Stanton, Mark Jones, Edward Russell, Zedock Heaney, Timothy Garvey, John Reiley, Bernard Lynch, Pat Ryan, John Garvey, Daniel O'Connell, William O'Neil, James Kenealy.

The first mass was said by Father Rundig, in Barney Conwell's house. He came in from Prairieville (Waukesha) on foot. Soon after, the citizens helped to build a log church at Monches, where for some years the people of Erin worshiped. They have now two Catholic churches in the town, one a wooden church, built in 1857, on Section 9, near Thompson Post Office; the other, a new brick edifice on the summit of St. Mary's Hill, completed in 1881, of which further mention will be made. The population is nineteenths Catholic. The only Protestants in the town are Evangelical Germans. They have a small church on Section 1. The society forms part of the Hartford circuit of that denomination.

In politics, Erin was long know to as the banner town of the Democracy in Washington County. Prior to 1859, there was not a single vote cast for any but a Democrat, when it can be claimed as a party test. For twelve years, Erin was a unit for the Democracy. In 1860, the solid phalanx was broken for the first time; 182 votes being cast for Douglas, and one for Lincoln. In 1863, the Republican ticket received two votes; in 1868, the Republican vote had increased to ten; in 1880, the vote stood 200 Democrat, 59 Republican and 19 Greenback. The town has no village within its limits; no mill, no railroad. It is entirely agricultural, and boasts most excellent farms in all but the hilly region.

The range of hills runs through the town in a northeasterly direction. It is not continuous but broken and disjointed, the different elevations showing separate outlines standing like a row of sugar loaves ranged along the line of view. From whichever direction the hills are approached, one tall conical shape towers high above its fellows, and challenges the attention no less by its lofty height than by the beauty and symmetry of its outline. It is heavily wooded to the very top, on which stands a church looking as if hung in the sky. It is the church of St. Mary's Help, and has risen up from the deep forest and towers above the lofty hill, a mirage out of the mist of tradition and legend, warmed by the fervid heat of piety and faith.

Many years ago a farmer whose home was among the hills, was returning from the neighboring village of Hartford, late at night. The full moon had just risen, and as he approached St. Mary's Hill from the west, it stood in inky blackness between him and the silver eastern sky. The outline was as sharply defined as a silhouette, and on the very summit he saw the form of a cross and a kneeling figure. He watched the apparition for an hour, when the figure slowly arose and disappeared in the black woods of the hillside. Not many mornings after he again saw the strange figure on the top of the hill engaged in his devotions. The advent of the anchorite soon became generally known in the neighborhood, and his home was discovered in a cave which he had dug in a gorge on the east side of the hill. No one disturbed him. His only occupation seemed to be his pilgrimages to the hilltop to engage in prayer. He gradually grew familiar with the inhabitants, sufficiently to answer their friendly salutations, and occasionally engaged in religious converse with them. One farmer became his confidant, and to him he related the following history : His name was Francois Soubrio.   He was born some twenty miles from Strasburg, and, being of high birth, was educated for the priesthood. He became enamored of a lady near the monastery where he was pursuing his course of study, and finding his passion reciprocated, renounced his priestly vows and became openly betrothed. Disgraced in the eyes of his family and under the ban of the church, he postponed his marriage, and bidding farewell for a season to his affianced, he left, till, to use an Americanism, the matter might "blow over." At the end of a year, he returned to find his love " fickle as well as fair," and, in a frenzy of passion, slew her. He fled to America, landed at Quebec, and became a recluse in one of the monasteries of the quaint old city. Here he remained many years, tortured with continued remorse for his recreancy to his religious vows and the greater sin that lay even heavier on his heart. His only surcease from his troubles was in prayer, penance, and delving among some old French manuscripts that he had found in some musty corner of his retreat. Among them was a written manuscript purporting to be a diary kept by Jacques Marquette during the summer and fall of 1673, in which was a detailed account of his memorable voyage with Louis Joliet to the Mississippi River, via the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers, returning up the Illinois River and the western coast of Lake Michigan to Green Bay, from whence they started. His attention was particularly drawn to an account of an expedition from a creek, where he had landed on his return voyage, a hard day's march west, to a steep and lofty coneshaped hill which he climbed to the summit and thereon erected a rude stone altar, raised a cross, dedicated the spot as holy ground forever, in the name of his tutelary saint, Mary, and returning left it towering in its solitude.

Francois felt that his mission, whereby to work out his full atonement, was declared to him. He fell on his knees, and vowed to rediscover the holy hill and re-erect the long ago moldered cross upon its summit. From this description of the coast, and a rough map made by Joliet, which was with the manuscript, he had little difficulty in locating the spot. He went to Chicago, where he was arrested in his journey by a serious illness, which left him a confirmed paralytic with only the partial use of his lower limbs. In this crippled condition he at last reached the end of his pilgrimage, and late one evening crawled through the thick wood on his knees to the summit of the hill, where he spent the remainder of the night in prayer to the holy Saint Mary. With the dawn he rose from his knees in all the vigor of his early manhood, his palsy gone and health fully restored.

On the spot where his miraculous cure was wrought, he built a rude chapel, and each day and night, and often twice and thrice, he went up to pay his devotions, so often that the path he trod became definitely marked. Along the path he erected crosses at regular intervals, before which he knelt as he ascended and descended, doing extreme penance often by making the pilgrimage on his bare knees. The people had heard so much of his story as related to his miraculous cure, and soon sought relief from their bodily ailments through prayer at the hermit's shrine.

To return to Francois, the hermit. He remained in the vicinity, living in a rude hut built out from the mouth of the cave he first inhabited, for seven years, when he disappeared as mysteriously as he came. Whether he is dead or alive is not known. There is a rumor that he was seen in Chicago after his disappearance and it is told that his apparition is sometimes seen in the dusk of evening, kneeling at some of the various crosses along his old path, or gliding in and out of the rude chapel where the sacred relics of his early shrine are still preserved.

On the top of the hill, on the site of the first rude chapel erected by Francois, a fine brick church has just been completed (1881) ; it is called the Church of St. Mary's Help. It is 42x90 feet in size, with a spire eighty feet in height. The top of the hill is 824 feet above the level of Lake Michigan, and some three hundred feet above the summits of neighboring hills. The church is thus the prominent object in the landscape from every view within a radius of ten miles. It is approached by a winding road from the northeast side of the hill. Along the road at every turn, is erected a cross—fourteen in all—before which pilgrims can be seen at all hours of every day, prostrate in prayer.

On the left, at the beginning of the ascent, is the gorge where Francois lived and the remains of his hut are still to be seen. A parsonage for the officiating priest will soon be built on the site of the hermit's cave.

Half way up the hill, in a rude building not over twelve feet square, is the hermit's altar, the cross and the rude images of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus, with which he instituted his early shrine and before which, it is firmly believed by a cloud of willing witnesses, that miraculous cures have been and are still being wrought. Inside the structure are crutches, bandages, trusses, canes and other insignia of suffering and distress, left there by the rejoicing recipients of St. Mary's favor. A brass kettle, formerly used by Francois for culinary purposes, hangs on the wall and serves as the font. The chapel is daily thronged by worshipers many of whom come from long distances.

The hillsides are still covered with the primeval forest, and an air of grandeur and solemnity pervades the region that makes each comer feel that " the place whereon he stands is holy ground."

The population has changed but little in number for the past twenty years. A. few German and Norwegian families have come into the northeastern and southwestern portions of the town, yet, with this change, it still remains more generally Irish than any other town in the State.

The principal agricultural products of 1880, were as follows : Wheat, 43,000 bushels; corn, 24,000; oats, 35,000; barley, 6,000; rye, 2,000; potatoes, 10,000; apples, 2,000; butter, 21,000 pounds; 3,865 acres were sown to grain ; there were 72 acres of apple orchards, and 1,118 bearing trees. There are 6,342 acres of growing timber in the town. The number of milch cows reported was 432.

The town officers for 1881 were : Supervisors, Mike Foley, Chairman, John Sullivan, John Pick ; Town Clerk, Edward O'Neil; Assessor, Richard Veeal; Treasurer, Edward Shehan.

The population of the town, according to the census of 1880, was 1,265, of which seven eighths are Irish or of Irish descent.

There were, in 1881, two post offices in the town: Thompson, Section 9, and Toland's Prairie, Section 19.

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