News: Neillsville - Mormon Historic Marker (Arrives - 2016)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Listeman, Jurgaitis, Zimmerman, Lacey, Clough, Cunningham, Smith, O’Neill, Barth

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 7/27/2016

Mormon Historic Marker (Arrives - 2016)

Mormon Historic Marker Arrives in Neillsville

By Todd Schmidt

The placing of an official historic marker designating Neillsville as an important place in Mormon heritage is one step closer to reality.

The marker itself arrived in Neillsville last week. Cement work must be completed before the unit is placed near the entrance to the Listeman Arboretum. One of three new city information kiosks will also be located in the area.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will erect signs on USH 10 directing motorists to the site of the historic marker (a half-mile on both sides and one right near the entrance to the Listeman Arboretum).

“Many people make their vacation route with seeing Wisconsin historic markers as their goal,” said Mary Jurgaitis of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of Neillsville., who was the driving force behind the historic marker project. “Since this will be a new one, it will draw people to our city of Neillsville to see the newest marker.”

The Mormon Historic Sites Foundation funded the cost of the marker.

As of July 11, the Wisconsin Historical Markers website has posted links to 5,386 Wisconsin historical markers and sites. Examples include museums, lighthouses, veterans’ memorials, vintage hamburger joints and Smokey the Bear signs. More than 50,000 photographs are included.

“It is the most comprehensive survey of its kind anywhere online,” Jurgaitis said.

To get the information correct on the new Neillsville historic marker, Jurgaitis had to verify 15 pieces of information, including names, dates, events and places. She sent the wording to the Wisconsin historical editor to review and verify the data.

Jurgaitis enlisted the help of Dee Zimmerman, Pat Lacey and Dan Clough, all of Neillsville, to gather community information.

“The facts I learned from them helped me to have an even stronger feel for the beginnings of Neillsville,” Jurgaitis said. “Neillsville has much heritage to be proud of, all because of the majestic white pine. I feel truly blesses that I was given this opportunity to create this wonderful marker for and on behalf of the city of Neillsville.”

Jurgaitis derived information about the Mormon loggers from Land and Records in Nauvoo, IL, along with letters and journals that have been preserved by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the church history department, plus a Brigham Young University studies paper written by Dennis Rowley.

Clough said the historic marker was initially suggested as a project for the Neillsville Improvement Corporation (NIC).

“Mary Jurgaitis took the lead and did 95 percent of the work on this, so she should get the lion’s share of the credit,” Clough said. “She arranged all of the funding for the marker, so no city funds were used. NIC and the city worked together with her on placement of the marker. We certainly thank her for making this happen.”

The information on the historic marker reads as follows:

“Neillsville has strong ties to the majestic white pine forests of the Wisconsin Territory. These forests along the Black River and its tributaries drew members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1841.

“Remembered today as the Mormon loggers, they came for lumber to build their temple and other structures in the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, 400 miles away. For four years they logged and created clearings for settlements along nearby streams, including one 2 miles south of here, named for Elijah Hanks Cunningham, a Mormon logger who drowned in that stream in the spring of 1843.

“Following the June 1844 assassination of their leader, Joseph Smith, the Mormon loggers began to leave. Most had left by the spring of 1845.

“In 1845, these same water highways, great trees and clearings attracted James O’Neill to what is now O’Neill Creek. By 1855, O’Neill had cleared 50 acres and platted four acres for a village.

“Logging pushed Neillsville’s population from 250 in 1860 to 2,104 by 1900. The nation’s expanding need for lumber brought the railroad up to the Black River on the west in 1881 then into Neillsville in 1887, which also brought new industries.

“Factories and businesses sprang up. Downtown businesses and grand residences reflected the successes of the area. Many of these buildings and homes can still be seen in Neillsville today, all because of the majestic white pine.

“To learn more about Neillsville, please visit”

A photo on the marker shows a person standing in the midst of a number of huge white pine trees. The photo was granted courtesy of the Marathon County Historical Society.

Jurgaitis said a dedication and celebration event for the historical marker would be scheduled on a Saturday in the near future.

The new Neillsville historic marker featuring the heritage of Mormon loggers is unveiled the day of delivery to Russell’s of Neillsville by (left to right) Mark Jurgaitis, Mary Jurgaitis, Regan Barth (city of Neillsville Cemetery sexton/parks director) and Dan Clough. The marker will be placed near the entrance to the Listeman Arboretum. A dedication and celebration for the historical marker will be scheduled on a Saturday in the near future. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)




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