Franklin has new road sign

A new road sign designates Franklin, Wisconsin.

In this day and age of satellite-driven mapping technology, any location on the globe can be pinpointed to the very spot on which a person stands.

But I still like maps and road signs when I’m traveling because technology isn’t foolproof. I haven’t driven much lately but have noticed two new road signs erected in my neck of the woods that make me feel proud. There are now along Jackson County Highway C two green road signs that say “Franklin, unincorporated.”

Officially my address is N3684 Claire Road, Taylor, Wisconsin. We’re 1 mile back from Jackson County Highway C. But we live 10 miles from the village of Taylor. We have an Ettrick phone number, a village that’s also about 10 miles away. We’re part of the Melrose-Mindoro School District, also 10 miles away.

I identify myself as a resident of the town of Franklin, once a thriving metropolis about a mile away as the crow flies. It once had a grocery store, several gas stations, a saw mill and a repair shop. Currently the town is home to about 450 folks.

As far as I know Franklin never had a post office. But Beaver Creek – located about 2 miles away – had one, as well as Disco a few miles to the east.

Franklin shows on a few maps – mainly older maps. There were road signs when I was a kid that designated Franklin as one drove through, but they were taken down.

Even before there were roads there was a way to describe a location. The Public Land Survey System, or the Rectangular Survey System, created a description of location. Using a system based on principal meridians, it parceled off land into townships of 36 square miles, with ranges – 6-mile units east or west – and sections – 1-square-mile blocks of land. There are 36 sections in one township.

The point of all beginnings in Wisconsin is the Fourth Meridian, which starts near Hazel Green in the southwest part of the state at the Illinois border. It was used for all surveys that began in 1832 and were completed in 1867. A historical marker commemorates the location.

Much of my land is located in section 16, the part of the township that was traditionally reserved to support education. It’s often known as the school section. True to form there is a one-room schoolhouse – now a private residence – that served many children in the town, including my father.

Shake Hollow school

Though not the school Chris Hardie's father attended, a small wooden school house with children in the yard is located in the town of Franklin, Wisconsin. It's identified as Shake Hollow school, date unknown. The image is part of a larger collection of more than 6,000 negatives created by Charles J. Van Schaick, who learned the art of photography after moving to Jackson County, Wisconsin. He opened a studio in 1885 in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. He was the town photographer for more than 50 years.

Jackson County was formed in 1853 from Crawford County, with Black River Falls as the county seat. The town of Franklin was in 1878 carved out of the town of Irving.

Coltons 1856 map

An 1856 Colton’s map shows new communities springing up in western Wisconsin.

An 1877 plat map that hangs on the wall of the Jackson County Courthouse shows part of our land was then owned by the Chicago, St. Paul and Minneapolis Railway. The nearest railroad is about 10 miles away. A 1901 plat map shows the land has been sold to John H. Johnson.

1877 map

An 1877 plat map shows that the location of what is now the Hardie farm was then owned by the Chicago, St. Paul and Minneapolis Railway.

1901 map

A 1901 plat map shows the now-Hardie land owned by John H. Johnson.

When my great-grandparents moved to the farm in October 1923, there were several gates across Claire Road that marked the various property lines. The road was a rutted path through sand burrs.

1930 map

Ray Hardie – Chris Hardie’s great grandfather – is shown as the owner of the farm in a 1930 plat map.

In the Wikipedia entry regarding the town of Franklin, there is a special listing under Notable People. It’s Keith Hardie, my grandfather, who was born May 16, 1910, in the town of Franklin. He was elected in 1952 to the Wisconsin Assembly, serving as the assistant Democratic floor leader in 1957 and the majority floor leader in 1959. He also operated a garage and service station in Franklin.

Franklin road map

A highway map shows the location of Franklin on Jackson County Road C in the western part of the county. To the west are the towns of Hegg and Beach Corners in Trempealeau County.

The grocery and general store closed years ago, but my wife, Sherry, and I brought back commerce to the town when in 2013 we opened the Brambleberry Winery. In order to do that we needed to have a referendum passed because the town was dry by statute. There are also some businesses operated by our Amish neighbors.

We’re closing in on being a century farm, in three years. The good Lord willing we’ll raise a toast in celebration. Meanwhile we’ll celebrate being back on the map – so travelers in mid-blink will know the name of the important community through which they pass. 

Chris Hardie and his wife, Sherry, raise animals and crops on his great-grandparents’ Jackson County farm. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2001, he’s a former member of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and past-president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Email chardie1963@gmail.com with comments.