Friday, October 20, 2017

A Kewaunee County Mystery: A Hamlet Called Peot

Peot: Town 24, Range 23, Section 25, Kewaunee County

Peot is a well known surname in Kewaunee and Door Counties. Few, however, know that for a time it was a Kewaunee County community. Peot never achieved the importance of other long-forgotten county places, and in some ways it is surrounded by mystery.

Very little of Peot’s history exists, and most of what is known comes from requests to open a U.S. post office. In January 1873 Cyrill VanRankenVanBarnker filed a request for a U.S. post office to be located in the NW ¼ of Section 25, Town 24, Range 23, Kewaunee County. VanRanken said the post office would be on Route 13097, the direct route from Mishicott* to Casco, with Ira H. and C.B. Drake serving as the mail contractors.

In filing his request, VanRanken said Casco was 4 miles southeast of the new post office and that Ellisville was two miles northwest, however Casco was the closest by direct road. Kewaunee River was the most prominent area river and the Scarboro was the closest creek. He further said the post office was on the west side of the river, and two miles from it, and one mile north of the creek. VanRanken expected to serve 250 customers.

Oscar** Thibaudeau filed a new document in May 1881. Filing with the Department of Post Offices was mandatory as Thibaudeau intended to relocate the office which, he said, would be on route 25365 between Mishicott and Casco. The new office would be off the direct route by a mere 80 rods on the east side of the direct route. The mail would be carried once per week by contractor Anton Bowman. Oscar Thibaudeau is listed as taking over the office on June 22, 1881. Another Thibaudeau also filed a document for Ryan, only a few miles away. Oswald Thibaudeau was the Ryan postmaster on March 26, 1892.

Thibaudeau noted that the contractor’s trip would be increased by 160 rods, about a walk across a 2017 city residential lot and back. Thibaudeau said the contractor would leave the direct route in the northwest corner of Section 25 and again intersect with the route in the northwest corner of Section 25. Thibaudeau differed with VanRanken in saying that Ellisville was the nearest office “on the other side” of the proposed office and that Ellisville was 6 miles southwest. Thibaudeau said the Kewaunee River was 1 ½ mile from his post office and that Scarboro Creek was a mile away. In the 8 years since VanRanken’s filing, Peot did not grow as Thibaudeau also said he would be serving 250 customers, the same number VanRanken expected to serve. Kewaunee postmaster A.D. Laughlin examined Thibaudeau’s document and attested to its accuracy.

VanRanken clearly signed his name on the site request and Laughlin verified it, however on another U.S. postmaster list for Kewaunee County, and their dates of service, Cyrill Vadboncouer is listed as the postmaster on February 14, 1873 with Napoleon  Vadboncouer  taking over on June 4, 1877.  An April 1878 Ahnapee Record announced the opening of Cyrille VadBunker’s new meat market at 3rd and Steele in the building owned by this blogger’s great-grandparents. Subsequent papers carried his ads while the December 19 paper carried notice of his death on the 16th. He had lived in Ahnapee about 18 months and died of dropsy, congestive heart failure in 2017. It appears that Cyrill VanRanken/Van Barnker, Cyrille Vadboncouer and Cyrille VadBunker are one and the same.

In the middle of Section 25, about a mile north of Scarboro and 3 miles east of Luxemburg* on County Highway A, one finds Sacred Heart Church Cemetery, also known as Bunker Hill Cemetery. The cemetery has nothing to do with Revolutionary War battles but has a lot to do with the Verboncouer family which was often called Bunker or Boncour.

In an area well populated by Thibaudeaus, Felix Verboncouer married Adele Thibaudeau. The pair offered a hillside on their property, about ½ mile east of Sacred Heart Church, as a church cemetery. It is felt that Felix and Adele made the gesture when her brother Simon Thibaudeau’s 2 year old son Alex died in 1863. Alex was the first to be buried in the new cemetery.

The church at the hamlet once called Peot served the Scarboro Valley though it was away from the village of Scarboro. Somewhat obscure deeds indicate the mission church was also erected on Thibaudeau property, but history does tell us Father Edward Daems blessed the new Sacred Heart church in 1875.

Father Daems had a significant impact on Northeast Wisconsin Catholics, most predominantly with the Belgian churches. It was Daems, a Crosier priest who had come from Belgium in 1851, who encouraged the 1856 Belgium immigrants to locate on the Peninsula near Robinsonville. Daems was hard-working and zealous, working in the 14 churches that made up his parish. At the time the area was part of the Milwaukee Diocese. Green Bay Diocese was formed in 1868.

Sacred Heart Church was more well known as Bunker Church or the French Church. Parishioners were said to be mostly French Canadian with a sprinkling of Germans, Bohemians and Irish. The Peot family lived across the road from the church and was highly involved in it. Mrs. Peot led the rosary each Saturday in May as a part of devotions and the Peot sons served as altar boys for years. Peots’ involvement led to the church also being called Peot Church, however there are no Peots recorded in the burials in Sacred Heart Cemetery.

In a church reported to be populated by a large number of French Canadians, one would expect a large number of burials of those with French sounding names, however Sacred Heart Cemetery appears to contain a large number of Bohemians. A compilation of Kewaunee County cemeteries tells us there are 13 Thibaudeaus, 4 Verboncouers - all of whom died before the age of 35 - 5 Bunkers and 4 Boncoers. When Napoleon died at age 35 in 1887, his marker was "Verboncouer. Two of his children predeceased him and one died a year later. The children do not have stones but are recorded as Boncoer. Felix and Adelle Verboncouer's family is also listed under various spellings.

A search of area newspapers yields little about Peot, however Algoma Record Herald carried an article covering the silver wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Vanouse in 1917. They started off the day with "mass at the church in Scarboro" before going to Novak’s Hall for a celebration. That church was Sacred Heart at Peot. It was torn down a few years later.

An exhaustive search of Algoma Record Herald failed to produce more than a mention of Peot. Older residents feel the church was torn down in 1923, however it doesn't appear to have made the news. The place is mysterious. The cemetery is understandable given the circumstances, but why the church? Why the U.S. post office? Scarboro was close and - until a flood destroyed so much of it - was a vibrant community with a sawmill, blacksmith, mercantile, hall and more. When the documents were filed requesting the post office, both VanRanken and Thibaudeau expected to serve 250 folks. That number included Scarboro. Why Peot? Was it the cemetery that prompted the church and post office?
The approximate site of Peot in 2009

Notes: Only the top portion of the site documents are shown.
To see VanRanken on the site document, the name could possibly be interpreted as VanBarnker, however a man requesting a post office had to be literate. Cyrille filled out the document and signed his own name.
* For some time Mishicot was written as Mishicott; Luxemburg was originally Luxembourg and then changed to Luxemburg because of the post office. Within those years, the spellings were interchangeable.
**The 1880 census lists Mr. Thibaudeau as Oskar, not Oscar, and lists him as a shoemaker. Oskar was born in Canada in 1859 and lived with his 18 year old wife Belinda.
Verboncouer was rarely spelled consistently.

Sources: Ahnapee/Algoma Record/Record Herald; Here Comes the Mail: Post Offices of Kewaunee County, c. 2010; postal documents and the current photo are from the blogger's collection,

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