The Dervin-Langer-Selle-Vacek Farm History
by Edward G. Langer
with Henry, Vern and David A. Langer
This history deals with a farm in Section 27 of Clyman Township, Dodge County, Wisconsin. Since the arrival of European settlers, the farm has been owned by four families -- the Dervins, the Langers, the Selles and the Vaceks. Since the Langers were the longest-tenured owners, this farm will be referred to herein as the “Langer farm.”
Dodge County is located in southeast Wisconsin.
It encompasses 907 square miles and its population was 46,631 in 1900 and 88,759 in 2010.
There are 24 townships in Dodge County.
Clyman Township is in the south central part of Dodge County. Clyman Township is approximately 35.4 square miles.
Dodge County is part of the Eastern Ridge and Lowlands section of Wisconsin.
The Eastern Ridges and Lowlands section of Wisconsin consists of gently rolling hills. This area is the richest agricultural region of Wisconsin where ice-age glaciers deposited earth over limestone ridges. The flatness of the region makes it especially suitable for agriculture. The climate is continental.
The Rock River passes through Dodge County on its way to join the Mississippi River in Illinois.
The Rock River divides Dodge County in two different types of landscapes. The landscape west of the Rock River is primarily of oak savannas. These oak savannas are lightly forested grassland consisting of oaks in the midst of tall-grass prairie plants. Periodic fires, whether started by lightning or Native Americans, ensured that these savannas did not turn into forests. Only fire-resistant trees such as the bur oak were able to survive these fires. Prevailing wind patterns spread these wildfires from the west to the east. When they reached the wetlands that encompass the Rock River basin, the fires died out. Thus the lands to the east of the Rock River tend to be hardwood forests.
Did the wetlands contain wild rice?
The notes of the surveying team indicate that Clyman Township show that the prominent feature of the landscape was the oak savannah: “This Township is of Second rate quality. Except the marshes and is thinly timbered with Bur, White and Black Oak (might be called openings). The soil is generally an ash color of loam and some sand mixed some with clay.”
(When Gertrud Langer sold the farm in 1989, the soil types were listed as Elburn, St. Charles, Pella, Dodge and Miami.)
The surveyor also notes that much of the land was gently rolling.
The surveyor’s sketch plat of 1836 shows the most of section 27 was dry land but that there were pockets of marsh which are the marked areas below.
There was an abundance of wildlife in the area, including deer, wolves and small game animals. (Items to research -- Need to confirm the types sighted – did it include buffalo and elk -- both were present in Southern Wisconsin. John Gurda, in The Making of Milwaukee, page 8, reports that buffalo roamed in Milwaukee County so they probably were in Dodge County as well. Per Gurda at 17-18, beaver were hunted to near extinction by the 1820s and the trade items were raccoon, deer and muskrat pelts.
Where were Indian trails?
Birds – wild turkey, grouse,
Beavers, muskrat mink??? The
furbearers—beaver, muskrat, mink, otter,
bobcat, coyote, red and gray foxes, raccoon
and fisher—provide a source of income for
trappers as well as a source of fur for people’s
From 1700 to 1800, the prairies and
savannas of southern Wisconsin teemed with
elk, bison, wolves, cougars and white-tailed
Sharp-tailed and ruffed grouse
lost out in the south due to overgrazing and
“clean” farming though they still maintain a
foothold in the north.
Native American History
The first bands of people are believed to have entered Dodge County more than 10,000 years ago as the glacier receded. These early Native Americans were hunters, fishers and gatherers. Over the years, a more sedentary lifestyle involved which still involved hunting, fishing and gathered plants but also included the planting of crops. Among the key crops were maize, beans and squash. They hunted deer, rabbit and waterfowl. There are numerous sites within Dodge County that provide evidence of the early inhabitants including stone tools, campsites and settlements, burial and effigy mounds, garden plots and paintings and carvings on rock outcrops and stones.
Prior to European settlement, Dodge County was sparsely populated. In the 1830s, there were Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Indian villages at Fox Lake and on the Rock River, but none close to Clyman. These villages had at most a few hundred inhabitants. The presence of Indians on the Langer farm is shown by the number of arrowheads the Langers found while working the fields. In the fall of 1832, the Ho-Chunks were forced to cede their property in southern Wisconsin and were moved to Iowa. By the time land sales started in the 1840s, almost all of the Native American population had been removed from southern Wisconsin.
Robert C. Nesbitt, Wisconsin, A History, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1973), 12 – said were 20,,000 native Americans in the whole state in 1600
See Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 28, No 4, June 1945
They all lived in wigwams and ate a similar diet. They hunted deer, rabbit, and waterfowl and they fished for sturgeon, pike, lake trout, and catfish. They ate nuts and gathered many plants, such as wild rice and berries. They planted crops of corn, beans, squash, tobacco, and sunflowers to compliment the food they gathered.
From a low of perhaps less than 500, the population of the people gradually recovered, aided by intermarriage with neighboring tribes and with some of the French traders and trappers. A count from 1736 gives a population of 700. In 1806, they numbered 2,900 or more. A census in 1846 reported 4,400, but in 1848 the number given is only 2,500.
The Tenure of Hugh Dervin
Clyman Township was originally settled primarily by Irish settlers. The original patent holder of the Langer farm was Hugh Dervin who acquired 200 acres in Section 27 of Dodge County from the United States as two parcels in 1844 and 1847 at a cost of $1.25 an acre.1 This was a large sum of money since a year's wages for an unskilled laborer was about $200.00. Dervin purchased not only the Langer farm but also the farm directly to the north. He resold the 40 acres to the north sometime prior to the marking of the 1859 plat map. Also in 1848 a Mary Jane Dervin bought 40 acres adjacent to the main Langer farm from the United States. The relationship between Mary Jane Dervin and Hugh Dervin has yet to be determined though some of Hugh Dervin’s relatives also settled in Clyman Township per their obituaries.
Hugh Dervin (1808 - 1880) was born in County Roscommon, Ireland probably in the village of Elfin. His wife, Ann (1820-1895), was also born in County Roscommon, Ireland and they married in New York City.
She worked for a wealthy family there as a governess or child’s nurse. At age sixteen, Hugh was a carriage boy for a wealthy family who owned a shoe factory. He was treated as a member of the family; they promised him that for every dollar he saved, they would match it. As a result, he could afford a wagon with a team of oxen to go west to Wisconsin.
They had at least six children: Mary Jane (Ca. 1845 - ?), Bridget (1846 - ?), Richard (1850 - 1830), Ellen (1848 to about 1850), Ann Adelaide (1852 - ?), and Hugh (ca 1856 - 1902). All the children were born in Wisconsin, and at least the three youngest were born on the Langer farm. 2
When the Dervins moved to this farm, it is unlikely they brought much with them -- some work animals, a plough, saws, yokes, harnesses, simple tools, clothes, household goods, etc. There first priority would be to build a simple log cabin for themselves and their livestock. The materials were on hand; all that was needed was to do the back-breaking work of cutting the trees and building the simple structures. Then they would turn to till the soil using their oxen and a plow.
It is not known why the Dervins left Ireland though it was probably due to poor economic conditions. Hugh Dervin did not forget his roots for in August, 1848 he contributed $1.00 to the Dodge County Irish Relief Society.
By the time of the 1850 census, Dervin had made great strides in clearing the land and beginning an operating farm. (For the details of the census see Appendix A). Dervin reported on that census that he had 40 acres of improved land, which presumably means cleared. The census data suggests that the operation was not much beyond a subsistence level. In 1850, the most substantial crop was 60 bushels of potatoes. Only 20 bushels of wheat were grown and this probably went for bread and to feed the livestock. 250 pounds of butter was likely beyond the needs of the family and so they probably sold some of this.
The buildings on the farm in 1850 were probably simple, a log cabin, a shed and a barn to shelter their 3 cows, 4 oxen, 6 swine and s head of other cattle. The oldest building from that period to survive into the second half of this century was the west shed (aka the bicycle shed).
The joists supporting the floor of the south end of this shed consist of small tree trunks. No attempt was made to cut them into planks. The size of the doors on this shed and the height of the basement indicate that it was used for small animals such as swine and young stock, not the oxen and cattle.
It is believed that the original log cabin was located at the site of the building the tractor shed which was next to the original shed. This is based upon a statement in the Dervin family history that in 1947 “the old log cabins were still standing and being used for corn cribs, etc.”
It appears that the original foundation of the log cabin was used when this unused building was changed to an agricultural function.
A barn was probably constructed by 1850 to house these animals. No trace of this survived into this century though it was believed to have been south of the house.
By 1860 it appears that Hugh Dervin had moved from subsistence agriculture in 1850 to a market-oriented farming operation by 1860 given the total acres cleared, grain production and animals in use. Since the Chicago and Northwestern Railway put down the tracks from Watertown to Clyman to Fond du Lac in 1859, he was able to ship his products to market in Watertown.
1) By 1860, Dervin had cleared 100 of the 160 acres of the farm. Due to the difficulty in draining the substantial amount of wetlands on the farm, only a little over 100 acres were able to be cleared. The remaining woods, which consisted of 6 to 8 acres, were needed to supply lumber and fuel. The land cleared was well beyond what the Dervins needed to supply them with fruits and vegetables, as indicated by the fact that in 1880 the Dervins raised all the potatoes they needed on just one-half acre of land.
2) From 1850 to 1860, grain production had increased from 20 bushels to 700 bushels, again far beyond the personal needs of the Dervin family. By 1870, grain production was at 1450 bushels, where it appeared to stabilize. It is likely that the wheat crop was being sold at a market by 1860.
1 US bushel = 2 150.42011 cubic inches
2150 X 1450 bushels is 3,117,500 cubic inches
3,117, 500 cubic inches divided by 1728 = 1804 cubic feet
In Francis’ depreciation book is there any total for grains production??
3) As noted above, oxen were used to clear land and to break sod. After the land had been broken to the plow, it was possible to use horses for agricultural purposes. Thus, the move from oxen to horses is a rough measure of economic development. Here, the number of oxen had dropped from four in 1850 to two in 1860, while during the same period, the number of cleared acres went from 40 to 100 acres. By 1870, no oxen remained on the farm.
The data also suggests that by 1860 a number of additional buildings were required to house this farming operation. The north end of the west shed was probably added by 1860, since the size of the Dervins' farming operation in terms of animals and grain production appears to have peaked by 1870. Between 1850 and 1860, the Dervins started raising sheep (17) and had also started producing sizeable amounts of grain (600 bushels of wheat). It is likely that these activities would have necessitated the construction of the granary by 1860 to store grain as well as shelter smaller livestock. In contrast to the primitive joists in the south end of the west shed, the joists in the north end of this shed and the granary are rough-cut, though they do not appear to be milled. (It should be noted that the original granary was smaller than the existing building, since the Langers added the western part of that building.)
Of uncertain date are the smoke house and the tractor shed, although both are rather primitive in construction, suggesting that they would have been built during the tenure of Hugh Dervin. I suspect that the tractor shed was built on the foundation of the Dervin log cabin since the Dervin family history states that in 1947 “the old log cabins were still standing and being used for corn cribs, etc.” During much of the twentieth century, there was an orchard south of the house where the pole barn is now sited. It is not known when these trees were planted. The Dervins reported having an orchard in 1860 and so they may have planted it.
On March 9, 1861, Dervin deeded three of the acres of his farm to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee. A church was built that year and the parish of the Holy Assumption organized. A parsonage was built in 1873. In 1896, Edward Collins donated an additional half acre of land which is on the north end of the premises. Services were held there until 1908, when the church was destroyed by fire. The cemetery remains. The parsonage was sold to Emil Richter who moved it to Clyman to use as his residence. This is why the current farm is only 157 acres.
It is likely that the house was build in the last half of the 1860s since it appears that Dervin refinanced the farm in 1864. 3 Also, the value of the farm increased from $3000 in 1860 to $8000 in 1870, even though there was no sizeable increase in herd size or grain production warranting the construction of large farm buildings. None of the agricultural buildings if actually built during the 1860s appear to be expensive enough to cause such a marked increase in the value of the farm. This suggests that the farmhouse was built in the late 1860s.
OR IS THIS RELFECTIVE IN CHANGE OF FARM VALUES
The house design is a fairly common type of house known as a "gabled-ell". The house has a two-story upright section with its gabled end facing the road. A smaller attached wing with a front porch is attached to the left of the upright and also faces the road. Generally, the two-story upright had a parlor in the front and pantry and/or bedroom along with the stairs behind it. The wing contained the combined kitchen-family room. Normally there was an attached summer kitchen.4
BRICK CONSTRuCTION – brickyard in Watertown - train went to Clyman as of 1859
A drawing of the original house is attached hereto. It should be noted that the wing of the original house did not contain a second story. The function of the rooms in the house appears to correspond with the pattern for the area. The original kitchen was probably separate from the actual living room and was located on the south end of the house in what was later used as a bedroom. I base this statement in part on the fact that when the second floor apartment was added at the turn of the century, a room of the same size and in the same location was intended to serve as a kitchen. There is also a chimney base on that end of the house. The large room in the two-story upright section probably served as a parlor. The northwestern room was probably a bedroom. The southwestern room of the two-story upright section probably served as a pantry. It is likely that the children slept in the loft area on the second floor.
Another major industry that emerged during Wisconsin's Gilded Age was the production of cheese. The agricultural shift to dairying led to an increased production of cheese. The first cheese factory in Wisconsin opened in 1872. Shortly after, a group of dairymen organized the Wisconsin Dairymen's Association. This group came together to improve cheese production technology, science, and advertising. In order to compete with the cheese industry of New York, they shipped their cheese in refrigerated railroad cars. By 1890, more than 1,000 cheese factories produced 53,708,595 pounds of cheese worth over $4 million.(21)
In April 1879, the Dervins joined with a group of neighbors to file articles of incorporation for the Union Cheese Association which built a cheese factory at the corner of Clymet Road and Highway M (Juneau Road). Although Hugh Dervin was listed as an incorporator, his son Richard signed the articles of incorporation.
Hugh Dervin died on June 10, 1880 and was buried in Saint Bernard’s Cemetery in Watertown, Wisconsin. He was survived by his widow, Ann and five children: Richard, Mary Jane, Bridget, Ann and Hugh. A will had been prepared shortly before his death and on June 9, he signed it with an "X". A petition to probate the estate of Hugh Dervin was filed on July 6, 1880. The petition represented that the goods, chattels and personal property of the estate of the deceased amounted to about $700.00 and the real estate to about $8000.00. The inventory of October 29, 1880 valued the farm at $3200.00 and the other personal estate at $561.00, as follows:
Household Furniture $ 30.00
One span of horses, about 17 years old 100.00
One span of horses, one about 4 and
another 17 years old 125.00
One yearling colt 30.00
Five cows, each worth $15 75.00
Two heifers, each at $12 24.00
Four head of cattle at $8 32.00
Five calves at $4 20.00
Fourteen sheep 21.00
Nine hogs at $3 27.00
Two wagons at $10 20.00
One reaper 20.00
One seeder 20.00
One sleigh 5.00
One drag and two ploughs 10.00
Forks and rakes 2.00
A review of this inventory show how labor-intensive Dervin's farm operation was. It is likely that the only real improvement in the mechanization of agriculture on the farm from 1850 to 1880 was the addition of the reaper and seeder. The wagons, sleigh, drag and plow were likely used early in the operation of the farm.
The farm stayed in the Dervin family for two and a half years after Hugh's death. It is not known why none of the children took over the farm operation. After it was sold, the widow and children moved to Omaha, Nebraska where Richard bought a farm.
The Purchase by the Langers
The farm was purchased on January 8, 1883 by Johann Langer for $3500.00 from Francis Duffy and Ann Dervin. Johann Langer had emigrated to the Watertown area in 1867 from the small village of Ober Johnsdorf, County of Landskron, Kingdom of Bohemia, Empire of Austria.