Term: Pleasant Ridge, Grant Co.
African-American community in rural Grant Co., about 5 miles west of Lancaster. All that remains there today is a historic marker at the junction of Highway 35 and Slabtown Rd.
In 1848, the family of William Horner, a Virginia planter, moved to Wisconsin, bringing with them their freed slaves: Charles and Caroline Shepard, their three children, Harriet, John, and Mary, along with Charles' brother Isaac and his future wife, Sarah Brown. Before the Civil War, the brothers Charles and Isaac bought 200 acres and established homesteads. To this same area other freed slaves soon came, among them the Grimes, Greens, and Richmonds from Missouri and Arkansas, and Samuel Gadlin from Tennessee.
During the Civil war both Charles Shepard and his son, John, served with the Union Army. Charles was with the 50th U.S. Infantry Regiment and died at Vicksburg; John, a private in Company K, 42nd Regiment, died of disease March 28, 1865, on his way home.
During and after the Civil War, more families - many of them freed or escaped slaves displaced by chaos in the South - made their way to the Pleasant Ridge settlement, which ultimately peaked at about 100 residents. Here they established farms and integrated themselves into a region that also included German, English, and Irish immigrant farmers. In 1873, with these white neighbors, they built a school which was one of the first integrated schools in the nation. They also shared church facilities with the whites in the area, with whom they built the United Brethren Church in 1884 and a community hall in 1898.
As decades passed, the younger members gradually left in search of greater social and economic opportunities in larger cities. In February, 1959, the last Black inhabitant, Ollie Green Lewis (Mrs. Dick Lewis), a descendant of the Green and Shepard families, died at Pleasant Ridge.
In 1998 Old World Wisconsin re-created a portion of the original Pleasant Ridge community, including the church, a cemetery chapel and an authentic replica of the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery. Letters and other records of the Shepard family are online at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.
[Source: Cooper, Zachary. Black Settlers in Rural Wisconsin (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1977; reprinted, 1994)]