Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

Nov. 30, 1994, Page 28

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 



Good Old Days


The largest celebration, to be held in Neillsville, took place on July 4, 1881.  After the anticipation of having railway service to the community, the town and area residents were elated when they learned it was to become a reality.  A promise was made, that the railroad track would be completed and ready for use by July 4th.  With the railroad completed in time to set the celebration for the Fourth of July, the greatest celebration ever took place in Neillsville.


Plans were made, inviting guests from throughout the state to attend the event.  The first train arrived on that day, the Fourth, bringing a part of the celebration with it, 324 invited guests, including the La Crosse Light Guards, with their band.  The out-of-town guests were met by the citizens of Neillsville, headed by the Sherman Guards, the local military company to see the trains and meet the guests, the local people had to cross the river to the west side, as the first station was west of the river and near the area of the old trestle, to the left off River Road.


July 4, 1881, was a memorable day for the 1880s Neillsville residents.  It was a day of celebration, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and the day of the first railroad train to arrive at Neillsville.  People from around the state were invited and a gala event was hosted by the city's citizens.

The speeches began there, with the welcome given in behalf of Neillsville by Capt. George A. Austin.  Response for the visitors was made by Judge J. M. Morrow of Sparta.  Then the procession formed, with Capt. J. W. Ferguson heading the Sherman Guards.  The two military companies led, followed by the distinguished visitors in carriages, with a lot of Neillsville people coming along on foot.


The Northwestern railway station was eventually built in Neillsville years after the road was extended across the river and to Marshfield.  It was located between 7th and 8th Streets, west of Grand Avenue. (Thanks to the Clark Co. Historical Society Jail Museum for the photos and data used in this article).


The entourage made their way to the east side of the river, up the hill to the vicinity of the Hewett residence.  The Hewett residence was located on the north side of Fifth Street, now property of St. John’s Lutheran Church and school.  A grove of trees, east of the Hewett residence, provided shade and site for the big dinner that was served.  The principal speaker was Prof. John M. Olin of Madison.  Prof. Olin was a friend of President Garfield.  The celebration at Neillsville was two days after Garfield had been shot by Charles Guiteau.  Garfield was still alive and Prof. Olin expressed hope that Garfield would recover.


The big dinner was served for 1,000 guests.  Twenty tables were set “under the boughs” as early history stated, meaning the dinner was served in the shade, under the trees.  There was more speech making with responses by Judge Robert M. Boshford, later justice of the Supreme Court in Wisconsin; by John M. Olin and George B. Buroughs of Madison; Ira B. Bradford speaker of the Assembly; E. L. Brockway of Black River Falls; Judge L. A. Doolittle of Eau Claire; Isaac L. Usher and Judge Cyries K. Lord of La Crosse; F. N. Hendricks of Eau Claire; and by various citizens of Neillsville.

As the invited guest departed from the first train arriving at Neillsville July 4, 1881, the Light Guards Band of La Crosse among them and the Sherman Guards band, local military company, led the parade.  Out-of-town guest were met by the local citizenry, some rode in carriages while others walked, following the bands across the river, east, up the hill to the Hewett residence.  The day's festivities and dinner were held in the "grove" on the Hewett property.


An honored guest, who had been invited (but) was unable to attend, George W. Peck. Peck was author of Peck’s Bad Boy.”  He had been governor of Wisconsin twice, but his fame rested on his “Bad Boy.”  He sent his regrets to be read at the celebration, and those regrets were based on typical “Bad Boy” style, as Peck couldn’t help being a humorist.


Each of the 20 dining tables was presided over by a leading matron of Neillsville.  There were: Mrs. Chauncey Blakeslee, Mrs. George J. Hart, Mrs. David Mason, Mrs. R. J. MacBride, Mrs. O. P. Wells, Mrs. S. C. Boardman, Mrs. Dewhurst, Mrs. F. A. Leu, Mrs. D. R. Brown, Mrs. W. S. Colburn, Mrs. J. W. Tolford, Mrs. James Hewett, Mrs. W. C. Crandall, Mrs. R. M. Crandall, Mrs. R. M. Campbell, Mrs. L. Weeks, Mrs. J. W. Ferguson, Mrs. O. G. Tripp, Mrs. Wm Campbell and Mrs. A. B. Ring.


R. J. MacBride, the early historian, declared the dinner was “Magnificent.” 


The celebration of July 4, 1881, culminated the successful efforts to get a railroad for Neillsville.  At that time railroads were started as local attempts, and the prominent men of Neillsville consistently put forth efforts to get a road through their city.  At least four precious attempts were made before the successive results.


Success came about in this order—In 1878, local men organized the Black River Railroad Company to build a road from Merrillan to Neillsville.  The went as far as having the road surveyed and stacked (staked) out by Charles Reed, a Clark County man.  The incorporators were Daniel Gates, James Hewett, N. H. Withee, J. L. Gates, f. D. Lindsay and others whose names were not given in the early records.  These men contributed their time as well as some of their own money in getting initial work done.  The Town of Pine Valley issued its corporate bonds for $10,000 to help along; the Town of Hewett gave $1,000 in bonds.  The Towns of Grant and Weston voted bonds, but those bonds were never earned and were not issued.


With the road laid out and ready for building, the local incorporators had the opportunity to make a deal with the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad Company, known as Omaha Road.  The conditions were that the local men were to give the right-of-way, grade it and furnished the ties.  The Omaha Company was to furnish and set the rails, run the railroad for its duration and keep the proceeds.  In other words the local people made a contribution of what they put into the road, not to receive a monetary return.  They gave the money so that Neillsville might have a railroad.  In reviewing the  city’s history, there were other early business men who generously gave money toward the promotion of new factories, businesses and facilities.


For six years the people of Neillsville crossed the river to board the train.  Then in 1887 the Omaha Road built a bridge and extended the road into the city.  The line was extended to Marshfield in 1890-91.


The railroad trestle bridge was located west of Neillsville, north of the old Highway 10, not far upstream from the highway bridge.  There was also trestle above old Highway 10, as many of remember, having been removed in recent years.


Now, in 1994, all that remains is the history of the railroad, the memories of those who knew the later days of the road and old road bed which is still recognized at places through the countryside.



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