How Thorp Grew Out of the Thick Woods


From:  "The Book of The Years", Clark County Centennial 1853-1953


Main Street Thorp in 1882


A forest primeval inhabited by roving bands of Chippewa Indians and infested by wildcats, wolves and other wild animals was the scene in 1870 when the axeman's stroke first broke the pristine silence and James Seneca Boardman moved with his family from Minnesota to the present town of Withee, then known as Hixon, on a forty-acre tract known as "Bugger" Goodwins. Mr. Board- man made the first clearing within the present boundaries of Thorp; his nearest neighbor at the site of the present Long- wood; the closest post office, Greenwood, which consisted of one or two buildings at that time. In order to live he made "shaved shingles" which he loaded onto a jumper and hauled to Black River Falls and exchanged them for food and supplies. The trip took nine days with a yoke of cattle.

In 1871, D. R. Goodwin and G e o r g e Richards moved into the present town of Withee, and Michael McCaffery began the building of the first farm house in the present town of Thorp. Working in logging camps in the winter and clearing their farms in summer they toiled on, How Thorp Grew Out of the 'Thick Woods By Rose Ellen Hirsch packing supplies in on their backs and getting their mail at Greenwood and Chippewa Falls.

In 1872 J. S. Boardman built a log shanty on the southeast quarter of Section 30 and in October, E. A. Boardman moved into it. J. S. Boardman lived with E. A. for three weeks, while he and Ephraim built a log house on the site of the present school. Here on their homesteads these two brothers began to clear their farms.

The summer of 1873 saw the arrival of several new settlers--George and Nelson Courter, William Byatt, S. S. Warner, Zyph Worden and Wm. Gerard. During that winter a blizzard blew in P. M. Fults, who hailed from Rochester. He started immediately to clear land prior to erecting a log cabin--rather he started t h r e e clearings. Boarding with E. A. Boardman, he began chopping half a mile away and after working all morning he went home to dinner. Returning, he searched in vain for signs of his labor but all signs had vanished into the wilderness. Things continued in this way for another day and finally on the third day he hit upon the idea of blazing a trail to his clearing. Mr. Fults did not object to work as such but the idea of getting lost in a half a mile was beginning to irritate him.


The First White Child


Mr. & Mrs. Ephraim Boardman

This picture of the Thorp pioneer and

his wife was taken from an old tintype


Mabel Boardman, the first white child to be born in Thorp, made her appearance in 1873, the daughter of the E. A. Boardmans. In 1874 a log school was built and school was taught by Mrs. Almeda Edmunds of Black River Falls.

The post office labeled Winnioka was established in 1874-1875 at the farm of B. J. Brown who, besides acting as postmaster, stocked his place with a s m a I I supply of staple goods, which he sold to the settlers. Prior to this they had been forced to trek 23 miles to Greenwood. At about the same time E. A. Boardman also put in groceries and provisions, which he hauled from Colby, 27 miles away.

On January 21, 1876, the county board organized the township of Thorp which action took effect April 3, 1876, and a town election was held April 4, 1876, at which there were 29 votes cast. Taxes were levied; one thousand dollars for roads, twenty-five dollars for the school, three hundred for poor relief and three hundred dollars for incidentals. The following May 13 the Board levied addition- al taxes for bridges and in June divided the town into school districts. Another school was built at the cost of $1,600.00.


The First Wedding


The first July 4th celebration in 1878 was punctuated by the first wedding which took Place at the home of E. A. Boardman with Louis Bruno and Miss Nora Warner as the principals.

During the year of 1879 the Wisconsin and Minnesota Railroad (formerly the Wisconsin Central) began surveying and in 1880, constructing, despite the fact that the bond issue, which was approved by the town for its construction, was declared null and void because many of the signatures were obtained on Sunday.


In the summer of this year George Leslie moved his family into the town of Thorp. In May diphtheria struck, leaving many aching hearts and empty chairs. J. S. Boardman and his wife lost four children, all of them lying dead in the house at the same time. The Ephraim Boardmans lost two. In all, eleven of the little band were dead and the epidemic left one student in school district No. 1. During that summer crews of surveyors were chaining out the right of way for the railroad, followed by labor crews busily at work clearing and laying track.

At this time, June 1, 1880, there were three homes in the village of Thorp - those of the two B o a r d m a n s and of George Leslie.


The First Train


In May, 1880, L. 0. Garrison came from Centralia, Wisconsin, and built a general store. Now there were two stores and a saloon without a license in the village called at this time, North Fork. In November, 1880, the first train ran through to Thorpe; (the name given to the village by the Railroad Company) with a consignment of freight for the Garrison store. On the first passenger train in November came James Conners with a crew of men who cut down twelve big trees in the woods where the depot now stands. A box car was side tracked and J. R. Craig the first station agent occupied it as a telegraph office and depot until a regular depot was built in January 1881. This same winter the post office changed the name from North Fork to Thorp. In the early spring E. A. Boardman built the Boardman house. Later he with his brother plotted the village of East Thorpe, the R a i I r o a d already having cleared eighty acres of land where the station was built and plotted West Thorpe. At the same time Charles H. Sheldon and Melvin Nye built a sawmill. A saloon was erected and in August, 1881, J. H. Sergeant came to town and built the Forest Queen hotel. Thus six-months-old Thorp contained two general stores, one saloon with license, two hotels, a blacksmith shop, a school house, depot and five homes. January, 1882, saw the advent of the first hardware store, owned by T. O. Mosher.


The First Church


The formation of the First Baptist church took place in 1882 with a membership of five. The church itself, complete with bell and organ, was finished and dedicated in 1886. The church was  also used until 1884 by the Methodist group, which organized in May, 1881. In 1884 they started building their own church on a lot for which they paid one hundred dollars. They completed it in 1887. The Union Sabbath school was also organized at this same time. In 1885 St. Bernard's Catholic church, a small frame building, was elected. The present building was built in 1914-1915 at a cost of $27,000.100 and St. Hedwig's Catholic church was built in 1903-1905 on ten acres of land donated by two Polish land agents from Milwaukee. The year 1949 saw the completion of the parochial school and chapel in the city of Thorp. The Lutherans were also active. In 1890 Sunday school was taught in private homes and by 1900 Rev. Bubeek of Cadott journeyed once a month to hold services. The Trinity congregation of Stanley merged with the St. Paul congregation in 1906 and in 1948 moved the church from Reseberg to Thorp.

The year 1882 saw the purchase of Sheldon and Nye by Nye, Lusk and Hud- son who made many improvements on the See What Happened to the Soo Line Bridge in 1912 This mess is all due to a slab of lumber which fell from a freight car. The slab derailed the train, and the crash collapsed the bridge. This happened at the Black river crossing, west of Withee. II mill property. J. H. Sergeant built a fine dance hall and School District No. I began the erection of a high school which cost $5,000.00 complete with fixtures.


The First Newspaper


Thursday, May 10, 1883, number one of volume one of "The Pioneer" was published in Thorp by A. McIntyre and it ran for twelve weeks. It was purchased in November by Shafer Brothers and Wm. Wagner of Colby who added more and better type, changed the name to The "Courier" and ran in the first issue a brief sketch of the town, its business men and the notice of the marriage of Martin Grolier and Julia Frazier, complete with a long list of wedding presents and A list of guests at the supper and dance. The "Courier" is still in the Wagner family today. During Cleveland's administration in 1886, William Wagner was appointed postmaster by Postmaster General Vilas and made many improvements including call boxes and lock boxes. Today a William Wagner is again postmaster. In 1887 Thorp contained 800 people - the Peoples State Bank, t h r e c general stores, four hotels, two meat markets, two hardware stores, one drugstore, one blacksmith shop, one cigar factory, a flat hoop factory, a stone and heading factory, one shoe shop, four-department graded school, two churches, one barber shop, coal kilns of the York Iron Works, a livery stable, ice house, seven saloons, a beer depot and warehouse and two sawmills. In 1890 the population was 723. In 1900 it was 828 and by 1910 had dropped to 741.


Village and City


Thorp was incorporated as a village in 1893 and as a city in February 1948. The waterworks system was installed in 1894 and the next year the Thorp Hose company was organized. The white frame building which now serves as part of the main high school was built in- 1883 and consisted originally of four rooms - two more rooms were a d d e d later and it served for many years as the grade school. The present high school was built in 1912 at the cost of $30,000.00.

The Thorp library is an outgrowth of a 'nucleus of 120 books kept in the printing office of William Wagner. Interest grew and in 1925 the Woman's Union club built the present building after much arduous and varied fund raising. The parks and other civic improvements were the projects of the Ladies Whist club. Both of t h e s e clubs are still strongly in existence today, over 50 years later. The Creamery was established in 1892 and the Thorp Dairy organized in 1907--the building completed the same year. In 1939 it was purchased by the June Dairy of New Jersey--it was enlarged considerably and many improvements were made which resulted in its becoming the major industry of Thorp.

The Thorp Finance Corporation was organized in 1925 by Francis Conway and has grown from a single tiny office to a large organization with 32 b r a n c h e s spread over the state. The capital funds which were originally $5,000.00 have grown to nearly $5,000,000.00 and there are 210 employees.





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