The Community of Branch
It may not seem like it today, but over a century ago the community of Branch was one of the busiest villages in Manitowoc County. In 1910, the community and surrounding area had over 2,000 residents.
The written story of Branch begins with Edward Lenaville, an entrepreneur who walked from Green Bay and came to Branch in the early 1830s. To earn money, he worked at Jacob Conroe’s sawmill in the newly formed Manitowoc Rapids community. He returned to the Branch area and bought 100 acres of land and worked to build the community and attract residents. With the assistance of Conroe’s mill, a bridge was constructed over the Branch River for “1,500 feet of lumber at $7 per thousand”. The community soon became known as Lenaville.
In the Manitowoc Daily Herald on January 4, 1851 it was written:
“Took plank road to where it crosses the road to Green Bay. At this junction is an extensive clearing comprising of the farms of McAllister, Lenaville, and others, and which is one of the oldest settlements in the county. They comprise a beautiful portion of the county, and from being contiguous to the Plank Road, must in time be very valuable. … Here we found quite a settlement, with every appearance of a thriving lumber trade.”
At that time, the community was home to two saw mills, a soon to be in operation grist mill, a blacksmith shop, and a wagon shop.
Industry continue to develop in the community. A brewery was built around 1858 by Slye and Pierce and was operated by Gottfried Kunz. The brewery burned to the ground in the 1880s. A carding mill was added in 1866 and 2 blacksmith shops could be found in 1887. At the turn of the 20th century, there were three taverns – one owned by Frank Shaffer, one owned by Frank Meisnest, and the other by Gottfried Kunz.
Construction of the railroad began in 1856 with tracks through Reedsville. While the railroad would change the community drastically, it wouldn’t be until 1872 until the first train would come through. The 1857 financial crisis and the Civil War halted efforts to continue work on the railroad but soon the Milwaukee Lake Shore and Western rail line became a reality. When the railroad came through Lenaville, it was decided to change the name to Branch, and on some maps you will even see the name of Branch Mills or McAllister Mills. Rail service continued until the early 1950s by Chicago Northwestern.
Those traveling to Branch today can learn about many of the pioneering families from the area though the Branch Cemetery, which officially began in the early 1880s. Hiram McAllister, whose farmhouse stands as the Welcome Center at the Manitowoc County Historical Society, donated some of the land for the cemetery. Following Hiram McAllister’s death in New York in 1886, his body was returned to Branch for burial and is included in the McAllister family plot, which is enclosed by an iron fence.