Increase Lapham, one of America's best known naturalists and engineers, was born in Palmyra, New York, in 1811, and died in Milwaukee in 1875. He was assistant surveyor of the Erie canal and was on the engineering force that constructed the Welland and Miami canals. He came to Milwaukee in 1836. From 1873 to 1875 he was chief geologist for the state of Wisconsin. His contributions to the scientific knowledge of the geology, topography, and botany of his adopted state are second to none. Probably few of our citizens realize how many results of his labors are to be found in the Milwaukee public library, and the State Historical Library, in the form of maps, statistics, and tabulations of various sorts.
Among his most important works are "A Geographical and Topographical Description of Wisconsin," 1844; "Antiquities of Wisconsin," "Geological Map of Wisconsin," 1855.
The selection here given shows his careful, scholarly habits of thought; his painstaking sense of accuracy, even down to the minutest detail; and at the same time his enlivening and human imagination. Increase Lapham should be held in the memory of Wisconsin people as one of the choicest and most useful spirits who have been nurtured by or have ministered to her life and institutions.
Milwaukee, which is now incorporated as a city, is situated on the river of the same name, near its mouth, or entrance into the Milwaukee bay of Lake Michigan, ninety miles north from Chicago, Illinois, one hundred and fourteen miles from Green Bay, and about eighty miles due east from Madison. It was laid out as a village in 1835, and the settlement was not commenced until that year; but such was the rapidity with which the population increased that in June of the succeeding year the number of inhabitants was one thousand two hundred and six; and in September, 1843, six thousand and sixty-eight. No town or city in the United States has grown up with anything like the rapidity of Milwaukee. Within ten years from the time when the first family arrived here, with a view to permanent residence, we see a city with a population of at least ten thousand.
The city of Rochester, in western New York, has often been referred to as having increased more rapidly in wealth and population than any other in the world--and perhaps she has been entitled to that distinction. Mr. O'Reilley, who has written a very valuable book entitled "Sketches of Rochester and Western New York," asks exultingly, "Where, in what place, through all the broad and fertile West, can there be shown any town which has surpassed Rochester, in the permanent increase of population, business, and wealth?" We may answer the question by making a little comparison.
Rochester was laid out in 1812, and in 1816, or four years, the population was three thousand and thirty-one.
In 1820, or eight years, the population had increased fifteen hundred.
Milwaukee was laid out in 1835, and in 1839, or four years, the population was fifteen hundred--or as much increase in four years as Rochester had in eight. But in 1843, or eight years, the population of Milwaukee was over six thousand, or four times as much as Rochester during the same period.
The city commenced about a mile above the mouth of the river, at a place called Walker's Point,1 and extends about a mile and a half along the river. Below Walker's Point the river is bordered by impassable marshes.2 The ground occupied by the town is uneven, rising from the river to the height of from fifty to one hundred feet, thus affording very beautiful situations for residence, commanding a full view of the town and bay, with its shipping. But few of these sites have yet been occupied and improved, as their peculiar importance and interesting views would lead us to expect. Along the base and front of these hills are a great number of springs of pure water, sufficient, if collected into a reservoir, to supply the wants of a considerable population. The river is sufficiently wide and deep to accommodate a large amount of shipping and continues so for some distance above the city. At the head of this navigable portion of the river a dam has been built by the Milwaukee and Rock River Canal Company, which raises the water twelve feet above high water, and causes a slack water navigation extending two miles farther up the stream. A canal of one mile and a quarter brings this water into the town on the west side of the river, and creates there a water power which is estimated to be equal to about one hundred runs of mill-stones; and the canal has a width and depth sufficient to pass almost the whole body of water into the river. The manufactories erected on this canal have the advantage of being located on the immediate bank of the river, and may be approached by the largest steamboats navigating the Great Lakes--thus affording advantages not usually found associated in the western country.
1 A tract of land on what is now the "south side," owned by Col. G. H. Walker, with a trading post at a point near the present corner of South Water and Ferry streets.
2 Now the "Menomonee Valley" the location of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway yards, the coal docks of the Milwaukee Western Fuel Company, the plants of the Plankinton Packing Company, the International Harvester Company, the Cutler-Hammer Company, and many other of Milwaukee's leading industrial enterprises.