Educator, amateur botanist and devoted family man were monikers that best characterized Horatio Gates Winslow. Born in Groton, Tompkins County, New York in 1820, his name was taken from a British general, Horatio Gates, whose defection to the American side during the Revolutionary War helped defeat the Redcoats at the Battle of Saratoga. With a degree earned from Union College, Winslow began his career as a teacher. When health issues forced him to seek outdoor work, he became a surveyor and civil engineer for railways in Ohio and iIllinois. In 1855, Horatio Gates Winslow chose to settle in Racine so that his wife, Emily, could be near her brother, the architect Lucas Bradley. As it turned out, there was a need for his professional skills in his adopted community as well as offering a chance to form bonds with the Bradley family.
From 1857-1858 and from 1872-1873 Winslow served as city engineer. Using Main Street as a baseline, he laid out streets going east and west; and with Seventh Street as a baseline, those going north and south. That system created sections that were not perfectly square. When Albert Knight put forth a theory to make blocks uniform, a Chicago engineer was called in to propose a compromise. Meanwhile, Winslow had established the leading book and stationary store in the area. Located at 146 Main Street, it was sold to a Miss W.E. White in 1880. While always a lover of books, Horatio Gates Winslow moved on to his true love, the education of children. He would serve as Racine’s superintendent of schools for 12 years, during which time Howell and Lincoln schools were erected, both considered models for their time.
Since there were no compulsory education laws, Winslow saw to it that all the basics were included in the elementary curriculum, better preparing those who withdrew after the fourth grade for future work. At the high school level, chemistry labs were built and secondary botany classes significantly strengthened. Winslow’s life-long passion for botany could still be recognized a century later when his granddaughter discovered a “herbarium” of dried plants that he had assembled while still in college. Included were detailed descriptions of each specimen. No doubt he had once encouraged her, as he did other children, to adopt the search for and identification of wild flowers as a hobby.
Gardening the four acres surrounding his west Sixth Street home filled Winslow’s retirement with joy. He had looked forward to spending more time with his beloved grandchildren too but the appointment of son John as the youngest member of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin prevented that. As expressed in letters to his only son, Winslow lamented that he would never see his five grandchildren again. The Winslow’s only daughter lived in South Dakota. Ironically, son John had expressed a desire to follow her there but instead stayed in Racine to be near his parents where he served as a judge until his appointment to the bench in Madison.
On Sept. 18, 1893, at the age of 73, Horatio Gates Winslow died of pneumonia, following a strenuous visit to the Chicago World’s Fair that year. Beyond his work as superintendent of schools, Winslow’s service to the community included 30 years as a trustee of Racine College as well as a regent for the University of Wisconsin.
In his honor, schools and businesses were closed on the day of his funeral, flags were flown at half-mast, and honorary pallbearers from various schools were selected to accompany his casket. Eulogized as “wise in his planning, systematic in his labors, and just in his judgment,” Winslow perhaps would have added the simple phrase, “essentially a schoolmaster.” Winslow was buried in the Bradley-Winslow plot at Mound Cemetery next to his beloved wife, Emily, who had died in 1877, and near his brother-in-law, Lucas Bradley. So close had the relationship between the two families grown over the years, that they chose to share a single monument.
Margo Drummond’s interest in local history began when she became involved with Preservation Racine. For 31 years, she taught high school courses on Racine History and Death and Dying, Issues of Living and Life. She wrote two books, “Blessings of Being Mortal: How a Mature Understanding of Death Can Free Us to Live Wisely and Well” and “Here’s to Your Health.”