One could be forgiven for assuming a place named Stonefield would be located in Ireland. There are many stony fields particularly in the Burren region of County Clare where I grew up.

The Stonefield of this article is located at 12195 County Hwy VV, Cassville, Wisconsin, USA close to the Mighty Mississippi.

Nelson Dewey was the son of lawyer Ebenzer Dewey. When Nelson was a child the family moved from Connecticut to New York State. He was educated at Hamilton Academy and studied law at his father’s office.

The town of Cassville was being promoted by Daniels, Dennison & Company as the seat of government for the newly formed Wisconsin Territory. In 1936 Nelson Dewey became a clerk with the company. When Cassville was not selected as the capital the company failed and the town went into decline.

The failure of Daniels, Dennison & Company did not mean the end of Dewey’s career – he finished studying law, passed the territorial bar examination, and began a legal and business career in Lancaster. He made a fortune in land and lead mining investments. He had vast land holdings throughout southwest Wisconsin. He also owned property in Madison. He possessed the necessary legal skills to be a successful land speculator. He also invested in lead mining and railroad operations.

Within a year of arriving in Wisconsin territory Nelson Dewey was elected Register of Deeds of newly formed Grant County. Territorial governor Henry Dodge recognized his ability and appointed him Justice of the Peace.

Dewey held several other local and territorial offices and in the 1840 he was elected to the Territorial Assembly and later the Territorial Council.

In 1848, at the age of 35, Dewey was elected the first Governor of Wisconsin. He was a compromise candidate. Wisconsin territory was heavily Democratic and Dewey beat Whig candidate John Tweedy. He was reelected in 1850 and served a second term.

Dewey married Catherine, daughter of Territorial Chief Justice Charles Dunn in December 1849. The couple had three children: Charles, who died of cholera at age seven, Katie, and Nelson Jr. (Nettie).

After his time as governor Dewey continued in politics. He was elected to the state senate and remained active in the Democratic Party. He served as vice president of the State Historic Society of Wisconsin. He served as a regent of the University of Wisconsin and sat on the board of the state prison. He held numerous local and county positions.

After his second term, the Deweys moved back to Grant County. They lived for some time in both Platteville and Lancaster while he continued his business ventures. He was extremely interested in farming and went about developing 2,000 acres of land north of Cassville. He was particularly interested in the development of scientific principles to farming practices. He was a member of the State Agriculture Society formed in 1851. The University of Wisconsin, on whose Board of Regents he served, was a leading institution in agricultural research.

The estate was called Stonefield in reference to the stony nature of the land. The stones cleared from the land were utilized to construct boundary fences little of which remains today. He designed the buildings on the estate to compliment the landscape.

Dewey’s main agricultural activities at Stonefield were fruit orchards, a vineyard, and breeding horses. He also maintained a large herd of cattle, milk cows and swine. Hay was harvested for animal feed. In the early 1860s he planted over 1,000 apple trees, 700 grape vines, 200 pear trees, as well as plumb trees, cherry trees, and ornamental evergreens.

He built a three-storey Gothic Revival house of red brick set on a commanding knoll providing views of rolling fields and the Mississippi river. It was equipped with central heating, an acetylene gas lighting system and speaking tubes. There were elaborate stone outbuildings.

The house was destroyed by fire in January of 1873. The financial panic of 1873 soon followed. Dewey lost a fortune on the Monroe-Cassville railroad deal and lost more as anxious creditors foreclosed on his heavily mortgaged land holdings. (The Dewey railway – going nowhere and always on time.)

Stonefield lands were sold bit by bit to pay off Dewey’s debts. He lived alone in Cassville and continued to practice law.

In February of 1889, while arguing a law case in Lancaster, he suffered a stroke. He was taken to the Dennison Hotel in Cassville where he rented a room in the building he once owned. His daughter Katie, and brother William, came to Cassville to care for him until his death in July of that year. William arranged his burial beside his son Charlie in the Episcopal Cemetery in Lancaster.

The house was rebuilt and is open to the public. It is well worth a visit but it is not as elaborate as the original building.

In 1952 the Wisconsin legislator established the state farm and craft museum. It is administered by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Stonefield village with its 30 buildings opened in 1961. The Agricultural Exhibition gallery opened in 1971. The magnificent and extensive collection of machines includes 1896 McCormack Automower.


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Tags: Cassville, Dewey, Nelson, Wisconsin


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