Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

 March 9, 1994, Page 32

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Good Old Days" Articles 



Good Old Days   

By Dee Zimmerman


The first great attraction to bring the white-men into Clark County was timber.  Among the first were the Mormons, seeking material for their temple at Nauvoo, Ill.  Their attachment was to their own colony on the Mississippi.  After they supplied their own needs in the early 1840s, some of them worked for Nathan Myrick, a La Crosse lumberman who operated in this locale.  The name of one of these has been perpetuated in “Cunningham” creek, where a Mormon named Cunningham was drowned.  A saw mill was built on the creek bank, the site a short distance east of the present Highway 73/95 Bridge which spans the Cunningham creek.


In early years, many small operators brought in their little mills and began to cut timber around the mill.  As the timber surrounding the mill was cut and cleared, they moved the mill once again into another timber area.  Equipment was moved upstream of the Black River by keel boats provided with platforms, one on each side.  Men walked the platforms using long poles plunged to the bottom, walking prow to stern, pushing the boat as they walked.  The largest keel boat to run the Black River was 60 feet long and owned by Jacob Spaulding of Black River Falls.


The small mill operators had no easy time.  As written in the American Sketch Book of 1875:


“In 1846 Hamilton, McClum and Beebe built a saw mill on Cunningham Creek, two miles below Neillsville.  In 1847, Jonathan Nichols built a saw mill on what is now Cawley Creek, three miles north of Neillsville.  Merrick, Miller and Dibble built a mill on the main river, 11 miles below Neillsville that same year.  The following year, Leander Merrill, Ben Merrill and John Lane built another mill only one mile below the Merrick, Miller, & Dibble mill.  John Morrison built still another mill about the same time, the area.  During the same year, Van Dusen and Waterman built a mill eighteen miles above Neillsville, on the Black River.  All of those mills proved to be bad speculations, as the expense of getting lumber to the Mississippi was very great, and the prices very low with so much lumber on the market.


In a few years, James O’Neill had the only remaining saw mill in Clark County.  Leander and Ben Merrill survived in the business, also, becoming very successful as lumbermen.  They resided in Merrillan, which was named after them.  Samuel Ferguson, who came with the early mill developers, was a blacksmith by trade eventually settled in Neillsville where he remained.


A typical lumber camp scene in Wisconsin at the turn of the century: An empty bob sled is shown in the foreground.  The four-team hitches at the front of each log-loaded sled, teamsters and some lumberjacks rode into camp on top of the loads.  The log buildings were put up to be used as a bunkhouse, horse barns, storage sheds and a food kitchen. Whoever the photographer was, we don’t know, but we can see that he did a great job in capturing this time in history. (Contributed Photo)


The largest load of logs to be hauled in Clark County: A hitch of four horses pulled the sled loaded with logs, anchored with log chains, for the Standard Lumber Co.


 An 1896 view of Columbia, as from the east side: A boarding house, a saloon, and general store can be seen in the background.  Wm. Farning operated the saw mill at Columbia, at the confluence of Five Mile Creek and Wedges Creek.  The slashings from the mill can be seen along the creek bank, as well as a few cows grazing nearby.  (Photo contributed by Ruby Yndogliato)


A March 10, 1956, snowfall was great enough to make large snow banks along Hewett Street, in the 500 block (Photo contributed by Ed Campbell)


A lumber camp at Fifield, Wis., was recorded as having the largest load of logs for the state records, in 1913. (Photo contributed by Ed Campbell)




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