Many people do not realize that there were once two communities which merged to
become the City of Ripon. The first community began as the Wisconsin Phalanx when
19 men and a boy, along with leader Warren Chase, arrived on May 27, 1844. They had
come from Southport (now Kenosha) and settled in a valley along Crystal Creek on the
western side of present day Ripon. Founded on the utopian principles of Frenchman
Charles Fourier as espoused by Albert Brisbane of New York, the settlement attempted
to address society’s problems through communal living. Named Ceresco after Ceres,
goddess of agriculture, it was also referred to as the Domain.
The township was named Ceresco in 1845 and their influence on the location of Ripon
city streets leading to other communities can still be seen today. During its existence
the Phalanx’s land holdings grew to almost 1,800 acres and they had over two hundred
members. Shares of stock in the Phalanx were sold for $25 per share.
The Phalanx was a closed society, run by a central governing committee, and all land
and personal property was owned by the Phalanx. Members lived in a communal
dwelling called the Longhouse and ate at a communal table. No alcohol was allowed,
religion was tolerated but no contributions were to be given to any one denomination,
and divorced women could become members. Education was important, and a
schoolhouse was built in 1845.
Overall, life on the Domain was stable, so why did it fail? That question has been
debated up to the present. The outside world with its many temptations was catching
up to the members of the Phalanx. However, Warren Chase claimed it was internal
pressure that ended the Ceresco experiment.
By spring 1849 the leadership of the Phalanx admitted the experiment was no longer
working. It was decided to plat an unincorporated Village of Ceresco and exchange lots
for shares of the members stock. Otis Capron completed the surveyed plat in 1850.
Many of the former members assimilated into the new village of Ripon, which was
located just to the east of Ceresco. Others attempted to adjust the Phalanx ideals into
something that became known as the Ceresco Union.
The Ceresco Union was an attempt to meld together individual sovereignty, selfhood of
joint stock, and the Brotherhood of Community. Most of the members of the Ceresco
Union were former members of the Phalanx. The philosophy of this group was much
more liberal than its neighbors on the hill in Ripon and speculation of “free love” was
rampant. This spilled out to Warren Chase by association, and he then moved to
Michigan. The Ceresco Union seemed to have faded out around 1857.