Date in History: 1845 – 1921
Ever watch a softball game at Ralph Park and wonder who Ralph was? Well, here’s the inside scoop.
Benjamin Ralph was born in Vermont and came here in 1853 with his parents, Eusebia and Isaac Ralph, and a brother and sister. Like many pioneers who headed west, they were joining a family member who’d gone before them – in this case Eusebia’s brother, Stephen Rice, who came here in 1838. On the trip west eight-year-old Benjamin helped manage the wagon that was piled high with items they hoped to sell, including 200 clocks! The new arrivals stayed at Rice’s home, where the Fort Atkinson Post Office now sits, and began plans to open a dry goods store on Main Street.
Over the next few decades, Benjamin and his father and brother would operate a number of general stores, frequently changing their location on Main Street. In 1875 Benjamin bought a 60-acre farm on the near northeast edge of town, running from the railroad tracks to where North High Street is now and from Ralph St. to beyond Cramer St. He kept some cows and sold milk in town, making deliveries with two horse drawn wagons.
Ralph also rented this land to the traveling circuses that came thru town, first by rail and later by truck. The circus boss would give the Ralph kids tickets to get in free – not an inexpensive proposition as Ralph fathered seventeen children, nine by his first wife Mary Divoll who died in 1887 at age 38, and eight more by second wife Elena Jacobson who in 1890 at age 25 bravely married a 45-year-old man with seven children. Though five of his children died as infants, when Ralph died in 1921 at the age of 76, he was survived by ten children. Benjamin Ralph, his parents Eusebia and Isaac Ralph, and his two wives are all buried at Evergreen Cemetery.
In 1944 the children of Benjamin Ralph sold part of the old Ralph homestead to the city to be used as a park for our growing community. Now, eighty years after Ralph’s death, almost a thousand softball players run around his old fields every week, and children, not much different from his own brood who used to search for coins after the circus left town, play on his pasture.