Geography and Physical Description

Ceresco was located in what is present-day Ripon, Wisconsin in western Fond du Lac County, roughly eighty miles northwest of Milwaukee. It was originally described as a beautiful valley filled with rolling hills and streams. The soil was rich and fertile, while local mineral deposits aided construction. The village sat on over 1100 acres of land when its borders received legislative approval in January 1845. It grew to over 1600 acres by 1846. The setting was ideal for the commune lifestyle Fourier envisioned. Despite the geographical benefits of this setting, it was still hard for the phalanx to become established.

Arriving in May of 1844, the settlers planted just enough crops to last them through a harsh winter, one so bad that it almost delayed the phalanx formation. They first constructed three twenty-by-thirty foot buildings that were one and half stories tall. The original buildings were not completed before winter, however, the situation improved come spring and summer.

The three original housing structures were refurbished and combined to create one larger building, large enough to hold most of the 180 members. Eventually a new building known officially as the Long House was built to house about twenty families, while Chase claimed it could hold thirty. It was over two-hundred feet in length and thirty-two feet wide.

Although Fourier felt children should have assisted in the industrial and agricultural sectors of the phalanx, the members felt children needed an adequate education so a school was built in June, 1845. That building was to be between eight and nine feet tall, twenty feet wide, thirty feet in length and built of stone. Education proved to be important because many children would not have been able to work in the chosen industrial activities at Ceresco.

The industrial and mechanical division of the phalanx did not prosper to the level many hoped. However, Ceresco still featured buildings devoted to industry and labor. The blacksmith shop was located near the northern most point and a saw mill lie almost directly to the east. Industry originally suffered because not enough craftsmen were available for labor, but eventually a lack of excess capital to pay them curbed production. This was especially true in the case of the grist mill.

A grist mill was used for producing wheat and flour. The one at the phalanx was thirty feet by forty feet and nearly three stories high. Architects started constructing it almost immediately after Ceresco was founded, but it was not in operation until 1847. Chase proclaimed it would be one of the best mills in the area, but it had a terrible location and inadequate water supply. Nonetheless, it turned a profit because the community had invested so much capital and land for agriculture, especially wheat.

Seven-hundred acres were set aside for cultivation, which was thirty-nine percent of the phalanx’s land. Here they planted wheat, hay, corn, potatoes and other common garden vegetables. In 1847, a nursery and orchard were promoted because there was too much dependency on growing wheat. Cerescans also increasingly traded with local communities. In addition to grain and vegetables the community raised 350 head of sheep and 400 hogs alongside their beef and dairy cattle.

Other structures included, but were not limited to a small workshop, hen house, ash house and wash house. A cooperative store that was built in 1849 but lasted only one year.

Today, at least one of the building of Cersesco still stand. A historical marker stands in the general vicinity to remind visitors and the city of Ripon of the historical experiment that took place there.

Primary Sources

The image will link you to various maps of Ceresco. The first map is a Town Platt of 1849, which indicates where buildings were located and how some land was divided for cultivation. Other maps show some of the natural resources available in Ceresco and the value of certain property there.

Ceresco, 1849
Wisconsin Phalanx
Records, 1844-1971
Oshkosh Mss CY
UW Oshkosh Archives and
Area Research Center
click image to see .pdf version

A very descriptive letter from the phalanx written in 1845. It is dated April 15, but was printed later. It covers many aspects and gives the reader a vision of what Ceresco might have looked like.

May 20, 1845
Wisconsin Argus
click image to see .pdf version



Table of Contents

1. Development
2. Geography and Physical Description
3. Rules and Regulations
4. Labor
5. Women of Ceresco
6. Religion at the Phalanx
7. Demise of the Wisconsin Phalanx

Other Resources

Recommendations for Ceresco Research Questions and Projects

Annotated Bibliography