By HOWARD WIEDENHOEFT
In 1872, when the state of Wisconsin passed Chapter 103 which allowed the formation of town insurance companies, the Town of Watertown in Jefferson County took full advantage of this opportunity. It’s interesting to note that Wisconsin historically uses the word “town” rather than “township” to denote the governing divisions within its counties. Knowing this verifies that the families coming together to form mutual insurance companies would have been Jefferson County’s most innovative and neighborly-minded farmers.
On Wednesday, November 13, 1872, 35 Town of Watertown property owners met in a school room at Ebenezer Church, south of the city of Watertown. Here they formed the Town of Watertown Mutual Fire Insurance Company. Under the guidance of Chapter 103, the new mutual company allowed property owners in the Towns of Watertown, Ixonia, Milford and Farmington to become members and insure their property. However, it was limited to insuring property in only four adjoining towns and it could not insure in any cities, such as the city of Watertown.
The bylaws they approved at this meeting stated in part that they would only insure for two-thirds of a property’s value. Policies would only be issued for five years. The bylaws also stated that any member who insured their property with more than one company would lose their coverage with Watertown Mutual. Remember, the only insurance offered was for damage caused by fire or lightning!
The mutual members also elected their first board of directors and officers at this meeting. They elected Christian Trachte as president and Friedrich Buckholz as secretary/treasurer. Franz Lehmann, Friedrich Rabbach, and Carl Fischer were also elected as board members. Can you identify them on the photo above?
The mutual commenced business on November 29, 1872, with 35 policies and $49,070 of insurance in force. At the annual meeting on January 6, 1874, the secretary/treasurer reported the mutual had 48 policies with $57,096 of insurance in force. At the annual meeting on January 4, 1875, the mutual had 77 policies with $86,346 of insurance in force.
We appreciate the founding work these early members did for our mutual and we’re proud to carry on the caring commitment they showed so long ago.