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.
RHS Long House Photo cropped
Communal Long House
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.
Although this area is a part of the present day City of Ripon it is still referred to as Ceresco. A historical marker in Ripon’s Ceresco Park, located on Union Street between Church and North Street, tells of the Phalanx existence. Just across Warren Street from the park is a replica of the Longhouse. Ceresco Park was their commons area. Both are all that remain of the utopian experiment known as the Wisconsin Phalanx. This area known as the Ceresco Site was added to the State and National Register of Historic Places in 1975.