Date in History: 1827 – 1919
Lucien Caswell was an early mover and shaker in Fort Atkinson. Born in 1827 in Vermont, Lucien lost his father Beal at age 3 when his dad was crushed by a falling tree during a community wood cutting bee held to gather wood for each neighbor. At age 10 Lucien immigrated to our area, settling on the south shore of Lake Koshkonong with his mother Betsy and stepfather Augustus Churchill. He was an ambitious youngster who went on to attend Milton Academy and Beloit College before being admitted to the bar in 1851. He then moved into the little settlement of Fort Atkinson, which he would serve for the next 67 years at the local, state and national levels.
In 1854 Caswell was appointed District Attorney of Jefferson County. He was also elected to the local school board – a position he would hold for the next 65 years until his death in 1919! His first assignment was to hire a new teacher, which he did by employing the young Elizabeth May. He then proceeded to end her career by marrying her.
In 1862 he was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly where he served three consecutive terms. Raised a Democrat, Caswell went over to the Republican cause largely over the issue of slavery. From 1874 to 1888 he served as our representative in Congress and had a distinguished career supporting, among other things, a woman’s right to vote. When Caswell died in 1919 at the age of 91 he had two cases in court, was President of the First National Bank, and was still serving on the school board.
Caswell began the very first bank in town in the 1850s called the Bank of Koshkonong. Unfortunately the whole venture was based on South Carolina bonds and he wisely sold it off just before the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1863, in an effort to raise money, Congress passed a National Bank Act and Caswell immediately got a charter for the First National Bank, now known as Premier Bank. His son Chester founded Citizen’s State Bank in 1884.
Another key Caswell contribution lay in bringing the railroad to Fort Atkinson. In 1856 there was a lot of excitement here. The Chicago-St. Paul-Fond du Lac Railroad had built a line from Chicago to Janesville and from Fond du Lac to Watertown. They needed only to link Watertown and Janesville. The town of Koshkonong issued bonds for stock and many families mortgaged land to invest. Then the Panic of 1857 struck bringing with it a national depression and bank failures. The Chicago-St Paul-Fond du Lac was forced to declare bankruptcy and the railroad appeared to be a lost cause.
Then in 1859 the treasurer of the defunct company called a meeting of stockholders on Wall Street in New York to see if a new company could be formed to build the remaining track and get some return on their worthless stock. Caswell was one of only five people who attended this meeting at which the Chicago-Northwestern Railroad Company was born. Thanks to Caswell’s perseverance the track was finally completed that year with the two pieces meeting just south of Jefferson.
Thanks to the presence of the railroad, a few years later Caswell was able to convince Joseph Powers to rebuild his furniture factory here instead of Hebron, an enterprise that became the Northwestern Furniture Company – the beginning of Fort Atkinson industry.