Born in Jefferson County New York Alvan Bovay gained his education and training to be
a teacher and lawyer in Vermont and New York City (NYC). While in NYC he began his
political activities by writing articles for local and progressive newspapers and was
drawn into the then Anti-Rent movement of the 1840s. During that time, he met Horace
Greeley editor of the New York Tribune.
In 1846 he married Miss Caroline Smith, daughter of Ransom Smith, who would be a
source of investment income in future years. In the same year, letters to Greeley’s New
York Tribune from Warren Chase described the “perfect western paradise’ in Wisconsin.
Intrigued, Bovay arrived in Ripon in October 1850. The Wisconsin Phalanx was
breaking up which offered the perfect opportunity for Bovay to invest in real estate.
“Bovay’s Addition”, on the former Phalanx land, was registered at the county seat in
Bovay was on development committees to start the school district in Ripon and donated
land for the first school house on a triangle-shaped piece of land bordered by Thorne,
Blackburn and East Fond du Lac Streets. The school opened in time for the winter term
in 1854 and is now known as the Little White Schoolhouse.
Bovay was involved with the legal structure of organizing the Lyceum of Ripon
beginning in November 1850, known today as Ripon College. He and David Mapes are
said to be the two individuals that staked out the first building in a snowstorm January
At this same time, Bovay kept in touch with Greeley about the current US political
climate. By 1854 the looming passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was too much to
take and a meeting was called February 28 to “remonstrate against the Nebraska
swindle”, followed by the famous March 20, 1854 school house meeting.
Bovay served in the Wisconsin State Assembly in the late 1850s. Following service in
the Civil War, Bovay wrote political articles for the newspaper but otherwise became
politically quiet. He became interested in the Christian Colony Association area of North
Dakota and was a strong temperance advocate. His wife Caroline was a semi-invalid
and they would take long trips seeking relief for her ailment.
Due to his temperance stance Bovay had enemies, and by the late 1880s he and his
wife moved back to New York to live with his daughter. He declined to write his
autobiography and died in California in 1905.