Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
March 31, 1999, Page 23
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
IN THE Good Old Days
Compiled by Dee Zimmerman
Wilcox – York Center – Clark County
Each hamlet within Clark County, as well as other communities in the state, started through the influences of energetic, enthused early settlers. Many of those hamlets have diminished with only a landmark or two remaining and some with no trace of any identifying structure – just memories held by those who at some time had lived in its midst.
Clark County’s twelfth organized township was the Town of York, designated as such in 1873. Originally, it consisted of the present town of York and the north half of Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in what is now Grant Township. The first town meeting was held at the home of LeRoy B. Osgood. On March 20, 1874, the north half of Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 were taken from York and added to Grant, leaving York with its present boundaries. The township centered around the hamlet of Wilcox, named after Silas Wilcox, who was a foreman of nearby logging camps. It was later named York Center. The name “York” was chosen because a considerable number of its settlers came from the state of New York.
Adonijah Benedict, an early settler, was influential in establishing the York Center Community. Born in about 1836, Adonijah was a son of Solomon and Emory Benedict, who lived on a farm in New York State. The family moved to Wisconsin, being early settlers of Fond du Lac County where Solomon was offered land at $5 an acre on the site of what is now the thriving city of Fond du Lac.
Arriving in Fond du Lac County, the Solomon Benedict family had three children with them. Two other children were born to them later; then they had three sons and two daughters.
They secured a tract of land in the timber, about thirty miles from Sheboygan, which was their nearest market. Often, Benedict walked to Sheboygan with a produce pack on his back and returned with supplies in the same manner. He had the help of a team of oxen in clearing the lad and built a log building for shelter. He cleared and improved the acreage until it became a fine farm.
An ardent member of the Methodist Church, Benedict helped build the church edifice in his vicinity and, prior to that, religious services were held in their log cabin. Solomon Benedict died at the age of 63.
After the Benedict family moved to Fond du Lac County, the son, Adonijah, purchased 20 acres of his own and continued in agricultural work.
He put up a frame house for a residence and married Clarissa Bryant in 1852, taking his bride to their new home. While engaged in clearing more land, the Civil War broke out, and he and his brother, William Edgar, enlisted. Adonijah became a member of Company A 21st regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers. Enlisting in 1862, he served three years, during which time he was made prisoner and afterwards paroled. During his absence, his wife and three sons, Sanford W., Adelbert R., and Charles H., remained on their farm. They had one more child, Frederick, later.
In 1873, the Benedict family moved by sleigh in the winter, from Fond du Lac County to Clark County, arriving in York Township. They located at York Center, where the town hall now stands. They purchased 40 acres of wild land. The family took up residence in an old shanty in the center of their tract. Benedict built a log house, set back on a hill in the center of the tract, after clearing a road to the site. They had a sleigh, a team of horses and $50 when they arrived in Clark County. The next summer they obtained a cow. For some time, he worked in the woods with oxen he got by trading, receiving the oxen and cow for his team of horses.
After living there a number of years, they had cleared the 40 acres, established a farm and then built a brick house to replace the log structure.
The Benedict family, having been members of a Methodist congregation in Fond du Lac County, wanted to continue their religious affiliations when they arrived here. At the time, church services were being held in a log school house south of the County Farm on the southwest corner of York Township. It was located south of the Cty C and Cardinal Avenue intersection.
Benedict started organizing a Sunday School in the area where he lived and served as the class leader. A new log school house had been on Livingston’s land, one-fourth mile west and a half-mild north of the York Center site. Church worship services were also started, using the school house for their worship center.
Adonijah Benedict arrived in Clark County in 1873. He was influential in starting a Sunday School after arriving and settling in the York Center Community. In the early 1880s he assisted in building the York Center Methodist Church.
Rev. J. J. Greer, who served as a minister in the Spencer area, started traveling, walking or horseback, to the York Center location to conduct church services. With his influence in 1881, plans began to develop in building a new Methodist church for the York Center area residents.
A grant of six acres of land was secured from the Fox River land Co. as a site on which to build the new church and plot out a cemetery beside it. Other settlers in the community who were also eager to have a church in their midst, joined in with the work. Logs were cut from the newly acquired six acres, hauled to a nearby mill and sawed into lumber for building the church. While the logs were being cut and sawed, others cleared the land of brush and stumps. Blocks were hewed out of logs for the foundation, later to be replaced by stones. Wooden benches were nailed together, servicing as temporary pews. Some of the earlier settlers, who had been buried in homestead yards, were removed to the new cemetery.
Rev. Foster came to fill the pastorate position of the new, York Center Church in September 1884. Some on the early membership roll included names of Lawrence, Benedict, Rowe, Lindsley, Pease, Palmer, Bolten, Snyder, Phalon, Galland and Gibson.
The York Center Post Office was established in 1887 in the George Lindsley home. Lindsley was a stagecoach driver at that time, running the business from his property one-fourth mile west of York Center. After the general store was built nearby, the Post Office was moved to a space within the store.
In 1904, the rural mail delivery routes were established in Clark County which ended the York Center post office.
The general store was purchased by Adonijah Benedict in 1889. At that time, he also became the postmaster. As the general store became a center of the community, a portion of the building was used for a barber shop business. Benedict also was township assessor for four years, chairman of the township board four or five years and justice of peace for ten or twelve years, besides serving as an official of his school district, which he helped to establish. Later, he sold the store to William E. Benedict, his grandson, who conducted the business.
Melvin Lawrence was the last general store owner in 1918. Sometime later, Lawrence sold the buildings, and they were town down. Abie Turner built a house on the site, and then constructed a gasoline station and small garage.
At the turn of the century, the Woodman Lodge Hall and the York Town Hall buildings were located next to the general store, across the road from the church. Circa 1910, an added entertainment came to the community – silent movies were shown in the Woodman Hall.
The Woodman Hall, general store and York Town Hall were on the left side of the road, looking east. The York Center Methodist Church and, the long horse barn were on the right side of the road. Those traveling to attend church services or business at the store were able to shelter their horses in the barn.
A skimming station for separating cream from milk for butter making was established one-fourth mile east of the general store.
A fire destroyed the skimming station in 1904 while it was owned by Ross Paulson. The York Center Cheese Factory was located one fourth mile west and one mile north of York Center. The factory was owned and operated by Emil Schoenfeld for four years. Later Schoenfeld established a farm in the community.
The introduction of automobiles in the area, made traveling out of the community more alluring and accessible. As auto travel increased, business at the general store decreased, to the point of “closing-up shop.” The York Center Town Hall occupies a site near the former general store’s lot – all that remains on that side of the road.
The Methodist Church, the first established building in York Center, still remains on the same location, as of 1884. The church, having been remodeled occasionally through the years, had its biggest renovating project accomplished about 4 years ago.
The York Center Methodist Church as it appeared at about the turn of the Century. The gravel road in front of the church is now a blacktop surface road and known as Highway K.
The church structure was built in 1884, without a basement under it. Wishing for more space and a fellowship hall, the congregation members made plans for a lower-level addition.
The church building was carefully jacked up with blocks strategically placed under the framework. As some community residents drove by on Highway K, they saw the blocked-up church. Becoming curious at what they had seen, they were compelled to ask the next congregation member they met up with, “What are you doing with your church?” After hearing an explanation, some comments were, “That will never work,” or “How do you think you can do that?”
Earth under the church building was carefully excavated. Concrete was poured, followed by construction, finishing work and plumbing, which brought together a dual-purpose facility to be used for Sunday School classes, kitchen/dining room for serving dinners and a general fellowship area.
The York Center Methodist church has served an annual Plum Pudding Dinner during the month of November, for many years. Through the influence of its early settlers, who were of Irish, Scotch and English heritage, the plum pudding dinners were started. Not having kitchen and dining facilities at the church, they had permission to sue the York Town Hall for serving their dinners. The stoves, cooking utensils and serving ware were provided by the congregation, and kept at the town hall until the church’s lower level addition was completed.
On Election Day, April 6, the ladies of the York Center Church will serve an evening dinner consisting of hot dishes, salads, rolls and beverage to be culminated by a slice of home-made pie. The Election Day dinner custom started 110 years ago and is probably one of only a few communities that still carry on the one-time popular event throughout central Wisconsin. Being near the town hall, it is convenient for the voters to attend the dinner when they are through voting. Proceeds from the dinner provide funds for needed projects within the church facility.
Some of the pioneering families’ descendants are still represented in the York Center Methodist Church’s membership role, and other families, former members are supportive of their home congregation. Pioneering family descendants within the present day congregation are Benedict, Davis, VandeBerg, Rowe, Lawrence and Hales, in naming a few.
There are some rural churches that have disappeared from Clark County communities. The York Center Methodist Church has endured the years, with many changes around it. Thanks to the efforts of its congregation’s members, the church recognizes 115 years in serving as a worship center for its faithful members.
The members’ dedication is mindful of a biblical verse from the first chapter of Romans: “That you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
(Thanks to Wayne Kronberger, Fern Rowe and Marcia Crothers for their assistance in compiling this article. D. Z.)
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