May Family

Date in History: 1830s – 1860s

The cream brick home that sits at 407 East Milwaukee Avenue in Fort Atkinson is the May House, built in 1863 for Eli May. Young Eli came to this area in 1839 with his family. His dad, Chester May, was a contractor who had worked on the great Erie Canal in New York, and who had now come to Wisconsin to work on a proposed canal that was going to connect Lake Michigan to the Rock River.

Since the Rock River empties into the Mississippi, this meant a person could soon travel from New York all the way down to New Orleans by boat. Luckily for us, the plans called for the canal to hit the Rock River right here in Fort Atkinson. Unfortunately after a few years and some financial problems, the venture failed.

The Mays, however, would go on to do quite well for themselves. Chester headed north and built a mill in a part of Dodge County that was later named Mayville in his honor. Son Eli stayed in Fort and had his hand in a number of mercantile ventures. His striking Italianate home is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

This historic document aired on the radio as an Historic Minute on 07/25/2005.

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