I can only officially date the story of my Harris family back to June 15, 1798, when John Earl Harris (my 3rd great grandfather) was born in Greenfield, Saratoga Co., NY. I believe that the family originally came to America from England with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, but that connection has not been verified.
On November 1, 1820, John Earl married Nancy Ormsbee. Nancy came from another colonial family. She was born in Barrington, Rhode Island on April 6, 1796. Her father, Isaac, was a soldier in the American Revolution and walked to Greenfield from Barrington in 1796 to purchase land. He then walked back to Barrington to pick up his wife and children (including Nancy) and walked back.
John Earl engaged in farming and was an active member of his community. He was master of the St. John’s Lodge, No. 90 in 1833-34, which was located in a church at nearby Porter’s Corners. The Harris family had a long tradition of Free Mason membership. Soon after, John Earl and Nancy and their five children went to Pierpont, Ashtabula Co., Ohio. It was there that my 2nd great grandfather, Nelson Alonzo Harris, attended school. Around 1837, the family continued their move west to Town of Morgan, Porter Co., IN.
Nelson Harris was born on July 16, 1822 in Greenfield. He married Louisa Marie Cleveland on April 27, 1844 in OH. She was born in Pierpont on August 28, 1825. She descended for the colonial Cleveland family and was related to President Grover Cleveland and Moses Cleaveland, founder of the city of Cleveland. Her family came to Ohio in about 1811.
Nelson, Louisa, their 5 children and his parents moved to Manitowoc Co., WI in about 1850. Nelson worked as a carpenter in the shipyards there. Envisioning the lumber and saw-mill business as a profitable venture, he moved his family to Cato, WI in 1853. He built a saw mill there in 1856, which he continued operating until all the oak was used up. He then moved on to Forest Junction, WI, where in 1873, he built a boarding-house and mill. It was the town’s first industry. Once established in the lumber and saw-mill business, Nelson began laying away choice pieces of lumber and timbers for building a home in Cato. He meant it to be the finest in all of Manitowoc County.
A wonderful newpaper article was written in 1940 as the old Harris home was about to be torn down. It describes the history of the home and also talks about Nelson Harris and his family.
The first school in Cato was built on land sold to the district by the Harris family in 1870. Nelson was heavily involved in the local schools. He was town superintendent of schools for Franklin township, and was school superintendent of Manitowoc schools before coming to Cato. The Harris family also donated the lot for the Presbyterian Church and the adjoining cemetery, which was built in the early 1860’s. These were next to the school site.
Nelson and Louisa raised 6 children in their Cato home. They sold it in 1881 and moved to Waldo, Alachua Co., Florida.
Their son, Orville Duloss “Cap” Harris (my great grandfather), was born in Indiana on September 16, 1848. He married Katherine Seybold on January 8, 1876 in Maple Grove, WI. Katherine’s family were farmers in Brillion Twp., Calumet Co., WI.
When Orville was nine years old, he got a job bundling shingles at the mill in Cato. At various periods for the next dozen years, he attended school and worked in the mills and woods. He then worked for the railroad and, as an engineer, pulled the first passenger train that entered Appleton, WI from Manitowoc in 1872. Orville recalled that during construction of the railroad, farmers would pile stumps on the tracks to wreck the train due to the train company not paying for the right of way on their land. Also, they built fires under the ties that supported the rails. He later worked as a fireman on the railroad. His main job was to shovel coal into the firebox of the engine.
After working on the railroad, Orville, Katherine and their children went to California, Dakota, Nebraska and finally to Florida in 1881. In Nebraska, they settled on a homestead eight miles southeast of North Platte on the old California trail. Their home was near the Sioux look-out, a hill where the Indians watched the immigrants traveling down the valley. In 1896 he returned to Wisconsin.
On July 17, 1900, Orville and Katherine’s youngest child, Dorothy Louise (my grandmother) was born. Orville was employed as an engineer at various industrial plants until 1905, when he took over the job of building engineer at Appleton High School in Appleton, Outagamie Co., WI.
He worked at the school until two weeks before he died, at the age of 86, on May 9, 1935. The following quote is from a newspaper article reporting his death. Harris was “a beloved friend of thousands of high school students and scores of school teachers. “Ask Cap” was always the way to untangle the difficulty of the moment, and sooner or later during their three or four years, every student had occasion to call upon the willing engineer who was here, there and everywhere, for advice or assistance.”
Dorothy Harris attended school in Appleton. In 1920, she graduated in Primary Education from the Oshkosh Normal School. Her first teaching position brought her to Clintonville, WI, where she taught the first and second grades in the public school from 1920 to 1923. It was there that she met Russell Bernard Weller. From 1923 to 1929, Dorothy taught the second grade at the McKinley Grade School in Appleton. On July 15, 1929, she married Russell. He owned and operated Weller Hardware in Clintonville until the late 1960’s.
John Earl Harris died in Cato, WI on January 6, 1855. According to stories, “The death of Harris, an old gentleman, was supposedly the first death” in Cato. Nancy (Ormsbee) Harris died May 28, 1881 in Greenleaf, Brown Co., WI. Both are buried in the Cato Heights Cemetery in Cato.
Nelson Alonzo Harris died June 4, 1886 in Waldo, FL. Louisa (Cleveland) Harris died in Waldo on October 24, 1905. They are both buried in Waldo’s Laurel Grove Cemetery.
Orville Duloss Harris died on May 9, 1935 in Appleton, WI. Katherine (Seybold) Harris died on April 9, 1938 in Clintonville, WI. They are both buried in Appleton Highland Memorial Park.
My grandmother, Dorothy Louise (Harris) Weller died in Clintonville, WI on August 13, 1972. Russell Bernard Weller died in Clintonville on October 11, 1989. Both are buried in Clintonville’s St. Rose Cemetery.