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submitted by Douglas C. Huggett


Judge Lawrence Woodruff Halsey

Judge Lawrence Woodruff Halsey, an active representative of the legal profession in Wisconsin for nearly two-thirds of a century, may without invidious distinction be termed the leading member of the Milwaukee bar. He is a charter member of the Milwaukee, the Wisconsin and the American Bar Associations and dean of the Milwaukee Judges Association, having served on the bench as judge of the second judicial circuit through four consecutive terms of six years each. He has celebrated his ninetieth birthday, having been born January 8, 1841, in the old ancestral home at Southampton, Long Island, New York, which was there founded by Thomas Halsey in 1640.

His parents were Captain Abraham and Eliza Augusta (Woodruff) Halsey, and while spending his youth under the parental roof he mastered the elementary branches of learning through study in private schools. He early manifested a love of books and could read before he was five years of age. In October 1846, he accompanied an uncle, James T. Pierson and aunt Mary, his wife, to his home in Crystal Lake, Illinois, the journey being made by steamboat from New York to Albany by canal to Buffalo and then by steamboat to Chicago. In this then pioneer district of the West the future jurist attended common schools and continued his studies at Crystal Lake Academy, while later he prepared for college and in 1860 became a student at Batavia Institute at Batavia, Illinois. He was a teacher for a short time before completing his course at Batavia.

His youthful experiences were those of a farm-bred boy, but his labors in the fields were not allowed to interfere with the acquirement of his education and despite many interruptions he prepared for college. While of a studious nature he also enjoyed boyish activities and is said to be a general favorite in school and out. He possessed an excellent voice and was popular in the singing schools, so common in that day. Industry, too, found its place in his makeup and was manifest in the ability which he displayed with tools when assisting in local survey work. It was money that he earned in that way that enabled him to become a pupil in the high school at Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the fall of 1860, and thus continue his preparation for university work.

While thus pursuing his studies he attended some of the lectures at the university but it was not until October 1861 that he matriculated there, taking up the study of letters and of science. In 1863 he became a law student at Ann Arbor and at the same time continued some of his literary work in the university. He remained through the summer vacation, applying himself earnestly to his study, and later in the year 1863 he became a law clerk and student in the office and under the direction of ex-senator Alpheus Felch. He next entered the law office of John N. Gott and in May 1864, resumed his reading under the direction of Judge Olney Hawkins, with whom he remained until December 1864. While thus engaged he prepared a thesis on taxation and another on banking, both of which received honorable mention and gained him permission to leave the university until commencement time.

Accordingly he spent the winter in Chicago, occupying a clerical position in the law office of P.L. Sherman, until March, when he returned to the university for graduation, the Bachelor of Laws degree being conferred upon him at that time. While in Chicago he founded and organized the Moot court of Debate. During his student days in the University of Michigan he took an active part in many college events and interests. He became an officer in the University Battalion and was commander of the High School company in 1860-1861, most of this company enlisting for service in the Union Army during the Civil War, in which two of his brothers served with distinction, one being severely wounded, while the other laid down his life on the altar of his country.

Judge Halsey's father, however, insisted that his son should remain in school and complete his studies and though he acquiesced to parental authority he greatly regretted his inability to go to the front. He was made chairman of the School Literary Society and in January 1861, joined the Adelphi Society with which he was connected till his college days were ended. He also became organizer and first president of the Jeffersonian Society and his ability in public debates was widely recognized. He was honored by being chosen to preside at the general exercises and inauguration held in the new law building in 1864. Following his graduation from the law department of the University of Michigan in 1865, Judge Halsey was admitted to practice at the Michigan bar on the 30th of March, of that year, before Judge Lawrence of the circuit court of Washtenaw County.

After a visit at Crystal Lake, Illinois, in the home of his uncle, by whom he had been reared, Judge Halsey started out to seek a favorable location and took up his abode in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where on the 12th of June 1865, he entered into partnership with Colonel H.B. Jackson, under the firm style of Jackson and Halsey. Two months following is arrival Oshkosh, Judge Halsey made a speech before an audience of his townspeople stressing the need of an institution for higher learning in the town. Nothing of the kind had been established in the valley, and the children who desired educational advantages beyond grammar grades were obliged to go away from home. So logical were his arguments that money was raised and guaranteed with which to establish a normal school, and one of his classmates and friends, George Albee of Michigan, was placed at the head.

Judge Halsey became chairman of the board of education and established the first high school, placing the schools on the basis of the Michigan plan. Arthur Everet, an Ann Arbor classmate was made the first principal. the home of Judge Halsey was always the center of interest for all the teachers; instructive entertainments were held and refreshments were served on all such occasions. He assisted in the erection of the South Side high school and came to the rescue of the contractor who was building it after a severe wind had blown down the walls. He was influential in appropriating sufficient cash to enable the contractor to reconstruct the walls and not be a loser on the contract, which was taken at a close figure.

"He always has been able to see both sides of the question and if he felt injustice was being done, took the part of the person who seemed to be getting the worst of the deal," said one who knew him well. He was one of eighteen men who guaranteed the necessary funds for the establishment of the Hospital for the Insane of northern Wisconsin. He started the library by requesting all citizens to donate such books as they felt they could spare from their private collections, and these were put in charge of a woman who attended to their distribution. Mr. Harris, a prominent lumberman, donated the present library site and Judge Halsey served as chairman of the library board. He became a member of the first baseball club as did his friend, Moses Hooper, and he also joined the Oshkosh Yacht Club.

As indicated above, he is very fond of music and during his residence in Oshkosh he sang in the choir of Trinity Church. Judge Halsey is a democrat in his political convictions, and on such occasions when the editor of the Oshkosh Democrat was out of town he took charge of the editorial work at the latter's request. His is a constructive nature and his time and means have ever been freely given in behalf of any movement or measure looking toward community development. The law firm of Jackson and Halsey gained a large clientele of an important character and, in fact, conducted many cases of statewide importance.the junior member took part in much of the early litigation among the people during the twelve years of his residence in Oshkosh. He assisted in the organization of the American Bar Association in 1878 and in the same year became a charter member of the Wisconsin Bar Association.

The first disastrous fire in Oshkosh, about 1868, destroyed the law library of Jackson and Halsey. Judge Halsey managed to make his way to the safe and get out most of the valuable documents belonging to the firm's clients together with fifteen thousand dollars in tax certificates. These he put in a large waste paper basket and carried to the sidewalk, where finding himself hemmed in by the blaze, he handed the basket to a person outside the building whose escaped him but whose face remained clearly impressed upon his mind. The latter proved an honest man, returning the basket and contents two weeks later.

Judge Halsey attended the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1867 and then decided to move to Milwaukee. He and his partner divided their assets, with an allowance made for "good will" and Judge Halsey settled in the city in which he was destined to rise to eminence at the bench and bar. On the 12th of January 1877, he became a partner in the firm of Johnson, Reitbrock and Halsey, which thus existed until 1888, when Hon D.H. Johnson was elevated to the circuit bench and then the firm became Rietbrock and Halsey, a partnership that existed until Mr. Halsey became Judge Johnson's successor on the bench.

Not only did the law firm win prominence in the trial of cases before the court and as counselors in important business matters but also entered actively into business affairs of the state by acquiring large tracts of land in Marathon, Wood and Price counties, where they conducted an important colonization project, leading to the settlement of the district by a substantial class of ambitious and energetic farmers.

They built and operated lumber and flour mills and also constructed a rail road, followed by the establishment of the village of Athens in Halsey township, the efforts of Judge Halsey were in marked measures responsible for the success of the undertaking. He likewise became in 1895, one of the founders of the Wisconsin Savings Loan and Building Association of which he was elected the first president and has since occupied the vice presidency up to the present time.

On the 26th of December 1866, Judge Halsey was united in marriage to Miss Mary Louisa Loveridge, a daughter of Dr., Edwin Dexter and Susannah Bodine (Pierson) Loveridge. The only survivor of the four children of this marriage is Louisa K., who on the 6th of November 1889, became the wife of Philo C. Darrow of Western Springs, Illinois. Pierson L., who was educated at Cornell University and was graduated from the law department of the University of Wisconsin in June 1896, became a member of the firm of Reitbrock and Halsey.

However, he located on a stock farm at Athens, Wisconsin, in 1910, and on July 18, 1914, met a tragic death at the hands of a maniac, who at once committed suicide by shooting himself. Mrs. Halsey met a tragic end in a railroad wreck on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway near Maysville, Kentucky, May 22, 1907, on which occasion Judge Halsey also sustained severe injuries, so that he was obliged to hold court in his study at home for over six months.

Mrs Halsey was a lady of liberal education and culture, prominent in the social circles of Milwaukee and active in the support of may civic, patriotic and educational interests, as well as a recognized leader in church and benevolent work. She likewise possessed musical talent of a high order and with her husband was a member of a number of the leading choral clubs and societies of Oshkosh and Milwaukee. The natural musical talent of Judge Halsey was developed until he was recognized as the possessor of a fine voice and not only became a leader in the singing schools of his boyhood but also in later years a prominent member of various musical organizations. In 1877 he and his wife joined the Arion and Cecilian clubs and the Judge remains an honorary member of the former as well as of the Liedertafel and Milwaukee Musical Societies. He acted as chairman of the executive committeee of these societies and was largely instrumental in bringing about the erection of the Auditorium, a great hall for conventions and concerts.

Judge Halsey has the distinction of being the oldest living member of the Masonic order in Wisconsin. It was during his student days in the University of Michigan that he joined the Masonic fraternity, February 28, 1862, and for a long time he was secretary of Oshkosh Lodge, while later he became a member of Wisconsin Lodge, No. 18, F. and A.M., of Milwaukee, and of the Wisconsin Commandery, No 1, K.T. In 1874 he joined the Knights of Pythias as a charter member of Oshkosh Lodge and has been honored with the highest offices in that order, being grand chancellor from 1875 to 1878, and in 1876 was supreme representative, and since 1880 has been a leading factor in the Uniformed Rank, established in the state that year, bringing this body to great efficiency and numerical strength as brigadier general of the Wisconsin K. of P. Brigade.

For some years he was judge advocate general of the national body of the military department of the Knights of Pythias and since 1882 has been chairman of the board of trustees of the Wisconsin Grand Lodge, of which he is the oldest living member. He belongs to the University of Michigan Alumni Asssociation of Wisconsin and was chairman of its scholarship endowment committee. His name is likewise on the membership rolls of the Old Settler's Club, which he joined in the early days and of which he served as vice president in 1915 and as president in 1916. He is also a valued member of the Sunset Club.

A contemporary biographer wrote of Judge Halsey: "Politically he has always been a stalwart democrat, who without aspiration for office, has been a recognized leader in party ranks. While not an office seeker, he has ever been keenly interested in civic matters and has supported all those interests which are a matter of civic virtue and of civic pride." In many ways he contributed to the educational development of the state. The only political offices that he has filled have been in the direct path of his profession. In April 1888, he was appointed counsel for the city of Milwaukee and as first assistant city attorney continued to serve until July 28, 1900, when Governor Scofield named him judge of the second judicial circuit, comprising the city and county of Milwaukee, to succeed his former law partner, Judge Johnson.

The Milwaukee County bar unanimously endorsed him for the position at the spring election in 1901 and by an overwhelming majority he was called to fill out the unexpired term and again became the single choice of the bar for the position to which he was elected for the full term of six years in 1905. In April, 1911, he was once more reelected, this time receiving a majority of fifteen thousand; and aging reelected in 1917, for the term ending January 1, 1923, when he declined to again to become a candidate. His record as judge was in entire harmony with his record as a man and as a lawyer, distinguished by unfaltering fidelity to duty and by a masterful grasp of every problem presented for solution. the fairness and impartiality of his rulings were based upon the equity of the case and a comprehensive knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence with ability accurately to apply these principles.

With military interests Judge Halsey has also been connected. For thirty years he was an influential factor in the Wisconsin National Guard and was associated with others in the organization of the Light Horse Squadron, of which he was an officer for several years. His instrumentality in the work of erecting the fine stone armory on Broadway in Milwaukee in 1885 was widely acknowledged and later he negotiated the purchase of a site of thirty acres, now in the heart of Shorewood, for an armory, and also the sale to the city of the Broadway Armory. He did much toward the erecting of the new armory and barracks of the Light Horse Squadron, was president of the Light Horse Armory Association from incorporation and continues in such office. At this armory several companies were trained for service in the European war.

In 1929 the thirty acres in Shorewood were sold for three hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. A new and modern armory has been erected for the five cavalry troops on the site of ten acres in Milwaukee and Judge Halsey is president of the board. He was an important factor in the creation of new infantry companies, in one of which he was made an honorary life member. He belongs to the Wisconsin Historical Society and many other organizations, including his professional connections with Milwaukee, Wisconsin State and American Bar Associations, being honorary president of the former. He has long been identified with the Protestant Episcopal denomination, serving as one of the vestrymen of Trinity church in Oshkosh and later as vestryman in St. Mark's in Milwaukee.

He was appointed chancellor of the diocese of Milwaukee, filling the position for many years, and for an extended period was president of the board of St. John's Home for Old People. No good work done in the name of charity or religion has sought his aid in vain. no plan or project for the city's upbuilding and improvement has been refused his cooperation and support. His life has at all times been purposeful and resultant and the influence of his labors for good is immeasurable.Milwuakee and the state acknowledge their indebtedness to him for his active and efficient cooperation in much that has meant material, intellectual, social, and moral progress in the commonwealth. Amid pleasant and congenial surroundings he is now spending the evening of his life, his entire record having been a credit and honor to the state that has honored him.

John G. Gregory Volume IV pg.11
W 977.59 G 86s
S.J. Clarke Publishing Company 1932

Waukesha Public Library - D. Huggett


This page was last updated January 14, 2004.