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  Genealogy: Family Histories

James and Mary Rankin, early Lisbon pioneers

    by Fred H. Keller

Posted Living Sussex Sun, Oct 1, 2013

Last Revised 02/10/2015

The Rankin family was once a mighty Lisbon family, as they pioneered the central part of Lisbon, on what is Plainview Road, west of Hillside Road and east of Highway 164. They were a major factor in the community, even serving on school boards and as supervisors for Lisbon.

They spread out, helped found a local church, and now in the later years of the 20th century and into the 21st, are fast disappearing from the scene. There was a start with James Rankin and his wife Mary Keyes.

James Rankin was born in 1804 in Donegal, Ireland of Scotch-Irish parents. He left from Dublin, Ireland, bound for the United States on Oct. 26, 1826 on the Brig, Hibernia. Initially he stayed in New York, but later moved to Massachusetts.

Mary Keyes was born in 1811 in Ireland, and also came to the United States, where she met James Rankin. They married on July 3, 1833 when she was 22 and he was 29 at the Trinity Parish Church in New York City.

In 1843 they took heed of the reports of homestead lands being offered for $1.25 per acre in the Wisconsin Territory and proceeded west to make a claim.

They were on their way to having a large family of 10 children, with five born in the east and five in Wisconsin.

A thumbnail sketch of their children goes this way: 1. Margaret, born April 15, 1835 in Massachusetts, died July 3, 1897 in Friend, Neb.. 2. William born Oct. 28, 1836 in Homer, New York, died June 11, 1908 in Whitewater, Wis.. 3. Joseph, born Oct. 20, 1838 in Massachusetts, died June 9, 1930 in San Jose, Calif. 4. Humphrey, born June 28, 1840, in Chester, Mass., died April 11, 1901 in Lisbon, Wis. 5. Just before they left the east, Mary Jane was born on March 4, 1843 in Massachusetts and died Feb. 16, 1918 in Racine, Wis. 6. James Jr. was born April 24, 1844 and died at age 29 in Lisbon on Oct. 14, 1873. 7. John was born March 14, 1847 in Lisbon and died March 24, 1902 in Waukesha, Wis. 8. Stephenson, born Feb. 14, 1847 in Lisbon died March 6, 1925 in Lisbon. 9. David, born April 4, 1851 in Lisbon died Oct. 19, 1922 in Lisbon. 10. Martha, born Feb. 1, 1854 in Lisbon died Nov. 15, 1939 in Hampton, Iowa.

Now of these 10 children, the most important for Lisbon were future landowners David (Home farm) and Humphery, Stephenson and John who bought area farms. Over a period of time, the Rankins owned over 375 acres in the Town of Lisbon. Meanwhile, some of the girls married into Lisbon farm land.

In this time, the James and Mary Rankin stretched from Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin, North Dakota, California and Florida. However, there is a large contingent that is buried at the Lisbon Central Cemetery.

The Rankin family was part of the founding families of the Lisbon Presbyterian Church with a family tradition of joining on Feb. 20,. 1848. The Rankins have used this church for baptisms and funerals and all sorts of in-betweens for 165 years now.

Today, only one large Rankin spread is left , the remnant of the Stephenson, Stanley, Gordon and Mahala Rankin farm on Silver Spring Drive, just west of Color Ink.

Old James would die at age 70 on Feb. 20, 1874. His wife died at nearly 79 years on May 7, 1880. both were laid to rest at the Lisbon Central Cemetery.

The Rankin blood has spread far and near through marriage. Today, the most notable local personalities are former and the current Sussex fire chiefs, Bob and Tom Schlei and Corky Curtis.

The Sussex Olde Engine Show had a vast contingent in its formative years of Rankin participation and leadership in Wes Rankin and his son David Rankin. David now lives on a 4-acre residence of the former Wes Rankin farm on Highway 164.

There are very few Rankins left in Lisbon today, less than a handful from a once powerful, wealthy and influential group, as the main pioneering farmstead of 140 acres and the adjacent Wes Rankin farm are today parts of a vast multi-gravel pit enterprise with most of it just north of Plainview Drive.

Cheryl Opsahl Maas, fifth generation of Lisbon pioneers

Recently, Cheryl Genevieve (nee Opsahl) Maas donated to the Sussex Lisbon Area Historical Society a pile of the Lisbon Rankin family history. Cheryl's mother, Genevieve, was a Rankin. The Rankin family is a pioneer family of 1843, and homesteaded an 80-acre plot of land on the north side of Plainview road between Hillside Road and Highway 164. It remained in the family name until about 1980, when it was sold to a gravel pit business, Payne & Dolan. By 1980, this original plat of land had grown to 140 acres.

There were a series of Rankin generations on this original land claim and additional land. Meanwhile, the Rank offspring would also acquire land (farms) in Lisbon, at one time well over 375 acres, all basically in the central core of the Town of Lisbon.

The family became active in Lisbon and school district politics over the years.

The story of the Rankin Family is so large that it can only be told in pieces.

Cheryl Opsahl Maas is part of the fifth generation of Rankins. She attended Sussex Main Street School, graduating from eighth grade in June 1958, at the age of 13. Born the first child of father John Opsahl, on Oct. 19, 1944, during World War II, one of the photos she gave to the historical society was her second grade class at the Sussex Main Street School.

She is sort of a central figure, as she stands right next to a beloved Main Street teacher, Mrs. Claude Kaderbeck, wife of the former fire chief. When viewing the picture, Cheryl commented, "I was the teacher's pet, and that is why I am standing next to her."

Cheryl was only 17 when she graduated from high school and immediately started post-high school business classes in Milwaukee, getting a nice office job. However, she met the man of her life, Jerome, "Jerry" Maas, and she was married at age 18 at the Lisbon Presbyterian Church on July 27, 1963. They have now been married 50 years.

She picked up some medical-dental schooling so in 1973, doctors Dave Foley and Eugene Goetsch, Sussex Family Practice, had her start there, and she has been there for 40 years now.

Meanwhile Cheryl and Jerry had two children: Jeff and Trisha.

Soon after Cheryl was born (age 4) her father John Opsahl bought an 85-acre farm in Lisbon in 1946 on Hillside Road, right across the street from the Lisbon Presbyterian Church. Marrying into the Rankin family, and already his wife a lifetime member, Cheryl had a second home across the street. And her sisters, Fayette and Angeline followed her.

When John's daughter decided that she wanted to have a home with Jerry, John gave her an adjacent acre of land. Husband Jerry was handy with construction and a variety of other trades, and for outlay of $17,900 they had a full fledged home, garage and an outbuilding, immediately north of the parents home. Cheryl, husband Jerry and the two children lived there from 1969 to 1997 when they sold it and moved to Hartford. The sale price in 1997, before the big uptick in the following decade was $68,000.

Meanwhile, daughter Trish lives in the Colgate area. Jeff lives in Florida, thus necessitating Cheryl and Jerry having to travel to Florida to visit him.

Now the collection of Rankin (and Opsahl) family has been sifted by the historical society and the majority went into a three ring binder with the photos annotated and the genealogy in written form and newspaper clippings all arranged so that they are readily accessible for family history, land history and just how a family can have roots in Lisbon for 1980.

Corp. William Rankin's letter, 1863

William Rankin was one of 10 children of Lisbon pioneers James and Mary Keyes Rankin, who had a land claim in 1843 on the north side of Plainview Road in the Town of Lisbon. William, of Scotch-Irish decent, was born Oct. 28, 1836 in New York. William came with his parents to Lisbon as a 7-year-old boy.

On Aug. 21, 1863, at the age of 26, he volunteered and went into training with the Wis. 28th Vol. Infantry Regiment. He was placed in Company F of the regiment, one of 17 men from Lisbon in this company. The regiment of over 1,000 men was near 90-percent from Waukesha County, thus it was called the "Waukesha Regiment."

His regiment was sent down the Mississippi River to the Battle of Vicksburg. Then, it was duty in Arkansas and most importantly, Helena, where he penned a letter to an unknown Mrs. Howard who lived near present day Howards Lane.

William had his own way of spelling words and grammar and his letter below is how he wrote it. The following is the letter, "April 16, 1863, Helena, Arkansaw."

Dear Friend Mrs. Howard,

I sit down this afternoon for the first Time to write A few lines to you you must Excuse me for knot writing to you long before i am well two day and I hope that those Few lines will find you enjoying the same pleasure A man has know business down in this sesesh Country withouth he is well I suppose I have been as sick as I could bee when I first came down here But I am happy to say i have got bravely Over it know And A hope I allways will remain foar long as I am in the army Our regiment has returned from their expedition down On the tallahatshee river and it was certainly Was a bogus one for they acomplished nothing Who to lay the blame on I dont hardly know Fort pemberton was knot very strong And could of of been taken just as well As knot but know they must let it alone for A while yet for fear it might end the war to soon

Sinse our regiment has returned our company Been detached as provost guard in the City of helena i think it is about time the That the boys had an easy time the Twenty eighth regiment has had A rather A hard time of it sinse they left the State and I am sorry to say that our Ranks are getting thiner every day I Think that our boy have been luck So far we have knot lost A man from Our part of lisbon yet and I do hope We never shall there has been good news Came to our ears this morning from Vixburg their was nine of our gun boats Run the blockade A few days ago that plase

If it is right manage will bee taken be Fore long for it is entirely surrounded But there will be many A brave souldier Fall there Fort hudson a few miles Be low vixburg is A nother strong fort But it certainly must fall oh I long For the day when we can pease that day will certainly Come sooner or later

This is the second time have sit down Today to finish this letter I ha ve been On duty to day our orders ware very Strict to day ordered every store And sallons business of all kinds To bee stoped and they was certainly Well obeyed those sesesh sittisens have knot much to say two us souldiers Here if they do they will bee walked into the lock up right of Well I dont know as I have much more News two tell you at present but when Those few lines come two home please Write and let me know how you are getting along I shall all ways bee Happy to hear from friend give my Best respects to Mr Howard and two All the rest and exsept the same two your self from your friend and well Wisher William Rankin Comp F 28 Regt Wis in the field Although I am far from those friends That I left behind me they are knot Forgotten by me W Rankin I would like to all in and see you today but I guess I cannot so you must excuse me

Yours Right soon.

Little did William Rankin think that he would be in the great battle of Helena, Arkansas on July 4, 1863, that was a momentous victory for the North and sealed the Mississippi River as that day also was the surrender of Vicksburg.

Following this battle it was up and down Arkansas, then downstream to New Orleans, and on to the Battle of Spanish Fort in the taking of Mobile, Alabama, and the war ended.

William now did garrason duty on the Rio Grande River in Texas, being discharged as a Corporal on Aug. 23, 1865 after three years and two days of service.

Coming home, he eventually married Catherine Gourlie and became a farmer, eventually with a spread in Whitewater, where he died June 12, 1908. The couple had two children, a son, George, and a daughter, who died at birth.

Brotherly love: Humphrey Rankin, 1840-1901

Humphrey Rankin married his dead brotherís wife, Charlotte Greengo Rankin on May 15, 1875, 19 months after her first husband died of typhoid fever. She became Charlotte Greengo Rankin Rankin. Humphrey died in 1901 while Charlotte was involved in a disastrous runaway horse and buggy accident on Hillside Road below Harris Hill on Aug 16, 1912

There is brotherly love and tragedy in the life of Lisbon pioneer Humphrey Rankin (1840-1901).

He was the fourth-born of 10 children of James and Mary Keyes Rankin, Scotch-Irish immigrants to the United States, who came to Lisbon in 1843, when Humphrey was only 3 years old. At that time, his parents had five children, four born in New York and Massachusetts and a fifth who was born in Racine as the family was traveling west to Wisconsin. Now there would be a sixth born, James Rankin Jr., on March 24, 1844, born in Lisbon, and this younger brother would have a profound tie to his immediate older brother, Humphrey, 28 years later.

The Rankin family initially claimed an 80-acre claim on what is Plainview Road, east of Hillside Road and east of Highway 164, and would later add 60 more ares. Today, this land belongs to the Payne and Dolan gravel pit business. This is where Humphrey would raise up to a grown man.

Humphrey was a self-educated man, attending the original one-room school houses of Lisbon. He pursued a higher education at the Spencerian Business College in Milwaukee and became a successful teacher starting at age 23. His school teaching career in Waukesha County lasted 14 years.

Now the event of brotherly love also occurred just as he was into his teaching career. His younger brother, James Rankin Jr, born in 1844, grew to manhood and married the 21-year-old Charlotte Greengo on Oct. 15, 1870. James was 26 years old. He would die Oct. 15, 1873 of Typhoid Fever, leaving a young widow. Just prior to his death, James had acquired 40 acres of farmland on what would today be the north side of Good Hope Road, and its extension to Highway 164 and beyond, into which he had built a home and was a struggling farmer.

Now on his sudden death, the burial was from the Lisbon United Presbyterian Church into the Lisbon Central Cemetery. The Rankin family has a piece of family lore that the bereaved Charlotte stood at the grave hold as her husband was being buried and uttered, "And now who will take care of me?" The unmarried Humphrey quickly answered, "I will."

Nineteen months later, she married Humphrey on May 15, 1875. Now the proper name for the remarried Charlotte was "Charlotte Greengo Rankin Rankin." Her parents were also Lisbon pioneers, Jesse and Mary Ann (Potter) Greengo, who were natives of England. They had a claim over by Town Line road, south of North Lisbon Road. The Greengo family was equally as famous in the Town of Lisbon ( and later Sussex) as the Rankin Family.

On the marriage, Humphrey was into this teaching years in Waukesha, but he would also farm the former James Rankin Jr. farm. After 14 years of teaching, Humphrey became only a farmer, and a very successful one. The couple was highly respected in the community. They were in enviable positions in the social circles. Hew as 35-years-old when he married Charlotte, and she was only 26. They would have one child, Mary K, who married in 1909 Arthur Beauieu, who eventually took over the James-Humprey-Charlotte farm of 40 acres. As there was no son, the Rankin family name did not continue in this branch of the family.

Humphrey first voted for Abraham Lincoln, and was a Republican, as were most of the Rankin family, but he did change to a Democrat in later years. He served as a Lisbon supervisor and as clerk of the Board of School Directors. He was a frequent delegate to county conventions, fearless in expressing his convictions and in no uncertain way he indicates on which side of the question he may be found.

Unsaid about Humphrey was he always walked with a limp. Family history says that his limp was caused by a childhood (baby) period when he was dropped and injured.

Humphrey died at his farm home on Hillside Road, just north of Good Hope Road, on April 11, 1901, after nearly 26 years of marriage to Charlotte. The cause of his death was acute diabetes.

Charlotte would live on, see her daughter married and she would die in a tragic runaway horse accident on Hillside Road. The horse and buggy was cresting the "Harris Hill," the highpoint of Hillside Road, when the horse was spooked by a malfunction of the harness and took off running to the nearby Wildish farm. Charlotte was thrown from the buggy, striking her head and neck on a tree, instantly killing her. She died Aug. 26, 1912, at the age of 63.

Lisbon native Rankin flew 35 missions in World War II

Feb. 9, 2015, posted Living Sussex Sun


The Rev. Stephen William Rankin died Dec. 16, 2014, at the age of 92 at the Evergreen Retirement Community in Oshkosh. He was born and raised in the town of Lisbon on the Rankin family farm, the son of the late Stanley and Adena (Meissner) Rankin. In World War II, he was one of 97 Lisbon residents who had his name inscribed on the town's WWII Soldier Board. He could very well be the last one to die.

Rankin attend the one-room Sixteen School at the corner of Good Hope and Hillside roads, graduating in 1936. He then spent two years at Sussex High School, graduating in 1938, before heading on to Waukesha and Pewaukee high schools, where he graduated in 1940.

On Aug. 14, 1983, he was among the 380 people who attended the all-class Sussex Two-Year High School reunion at Marchese's Dance Land.

After high school, he helped work the family farm on West Silver Spring Avenue in Lisbon until 1942, when he went to college at Monmouth College in Illinois for one year. He volunteered for the military and was placed in the "Flying Circus" 531st Squadron. He became a co-pilot of a B-17 bomber, flying solo into southeast Asia and Japan on 35 missions. He had the distinction of being on the very last mission of the 380 bomb group to Japan just as Japan was surrendering.

Back in Lisbon, he returned to working the family farm, but shortly after, with the GI Bill, was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

On July 10, 1947, he married Ruth E. Mauer of Fennimore and survives him after 67 years of marriage.

In 1950, he started his quest to become a Methodist leader and, upon graduation, he served in a number of Wisconsin Methodist churches.

In retirement, he became a supervisor in Winnebago County while also serving as a member of various community organizations.

He also found time to occasionally come back to his youth in Lisbon to visit relatives still living there.

His father Stanley and brother Gordon, both now deceased, at one time served on the Lisbon Town Board.

He leaves children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to mourn his passing.

Funeral services were held Jan. 10, 2015, in Oshkosh.



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