Downtown 1958

Downtown 1958

Monday, August 10, 2015

Joseph Keyes

Captain Joseph Keyes was born at Putney, Vermont, Nov. 20, 1795, and followed his father's trade, that of a mill-wright. He first came to Wisconsin on a prospecting tour, in June, 1836, he was impressed with the site now called Lake Mills. During the autumn of 1836, he spent some time at Menomonee, north of Green Bay; at this place he dressed the lumber for a house, which he took to Milwaukee on a vessel, in December, and erected a dwelling there which was standing in 1874. In the fall of 1837, he became the founder of Lake Mills, where he built and operated a saw-mill. He subsequently erected a gristmill at Lake Mills and other mills at Cambridge, Dane county. The first school-house in Lake Mills was erected in 1841 by Captain Keyes, who himself employed and paid Miss Rosa Catlin to teach in it. A son of the captain, Simon S. Keyes, was elected the first school clerk, Oct. 7, 1843, upon the organization of the Lake Mills school district. Abel Keyes, the father of Joseph, died in 1843, his being, it is reported, the first white death in the village. Abel was born at Putney, Vt., Sept. 11, 1773, and was largely instrumental in the early advancement of Northfield and neighboring villages. In 1850, Joseph Keyes removed to Menasha, and erected one of the first saw-mills there. Additionally, he was one of the three partners who sold their pail factory to Elisha B. Smith for $1200 in 1852; that, of course, was the genesis of the Menasha Wooden Ware.  He afterwards resided in Madison, until about 1859, when he returned to Menasha, where he was appointed register of the United States land office. The closing years of his life were spent in retirement. He died in Menasha, Sept. 17, 1874, aged 79 years, having been among the most honored and useful of the pioneers of Wisconsin.  His kindly heart and manly bearing in all the walks of life will long be remembered by the old settlers of both Jefferson and Winnebago counties. 

Keyes Street on Doty Island keeps his name alive to this day.

information courtesy Lake Mills Aztalan Historical Society Inc. (

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