Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

October 25, 1995, Page 14

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 



Good Old Days


People in Neillsville History


By Dee Zimmerman


Looking through records of local history, there are always names of people associated with that history.  The early settlers who developed the farmlands, built the villages, cities, established through the work and efforts of a group of individuals working to a common goal.


This article will focus on the lives of two of those individuals.  Though each walked a different path in life, there was a similarity in their character – that of courtesy, and respect for others.  Leaning about these men’s pasts brings to mind a phrase often repeated to me as a youngster – “Respect isn’t something handed to you on a silver platter, it is something you must earn – earned in honest, how you live and by being considerate of others.”  I’m sure many of you remember having heard the same advice.


Honorable James O’Neill

Judge of the Wisconsin 17th District from 1898 thru 1921


Hon. James O’Neill


The Honorable James O’Neill served as circuit judge of 17th district from 1898 to December 31, 1921.  He resided in Neillsville during that time.


O’Neill was born in Lisbon, St. Lawrence County, New York, September 3, 1847, son of Andrew and Mary (Holiston) O’Neill.  His grandparents on his father’s side were the first settlers in Lisbon Township.  On that farm, Judge O’Neill grew up as a boy attending school district 15. 


At age 15, he began to teach school, later entering Lawrence University at Canton, N. Y., where he attended for three years.  He then taught school again.  In 1868, before he was 21, he won a scholarship in a competitive examination, to enter the newly organized Cornell University, entering that institution as a sophomore.  While a student there, he earned recognition as a scholar and debater.


He left college in the fall of 1870 to become a principal of Ogdensburg High School, meanwhile continuing his studies himself so he could graduate with his original class at Cornell during the summer of 1871.  He had the privilege of instruction under men of he faculty, who were among the famous; Andrew D. White, James Russell Lowell, Bayard Taylor and others.  Four classmates became members of the Supreme Court in New York.


After graduating from Cornell he entered the office of James McNaughton, a famous lawyer at Ogdensburg and studied for sometime.  He then entered Albany Law School receiving his degree in Law in 1873.  His uncle, James O’Neill, Sr. who was the founder of Neillsville, was then a prominent man of affairs here and he invited his nephew and namesake to come west and visit him. 


The young lawyer arrived in Neillsville, September 13, 1873.  The uncle persuaded him to stay and enter the practice of law here taking him into his home and introducing him to business interests here.  From that time on he became identified with the progress and development of Clark County.  He at once took a leading place in law practice; for a time he practiced along, then entered into partnership with H. W. Sheldon, who later died.


Joseph Morley was a partner for a time until he entered the banking business.  For a time, H. E. Andrews of Portage practiced with him.  Later he entered into partnership with S. M. Marsh, (became District Judge in San Diego, Calif.).


O’Neill was elected Circuit Judge in this circuit in 1897.  In 1887, he served in the State Legislature.  He was appointed District Attorney in 1887 and elected again in 1888, that same year he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention.  After going on the bench January 1, 1898, he avoided taking public part in partisan politics.  He took great interest in the schools, served on the school board, was active in securing the Carnegie Library, was for years a strong supporter of the county fairs, plus lending a helping hand in other public projects.  Being a generous man, for number of years he had a barrel of New York St ate apples shipped to Neillsville for school children.  It was an annual event, a treat for the children.  He served as Circuit Judge until January 1, 1922, making a splendid record of fairness and judicial insight in his decisions.


James O’Neill was married, June 6, 1876, to Miss Marian Robinson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David Robinson, pioneers of Weston Rapids, an early village to the northwest of Neillsville.  They had one son, Ernest and a daughter, Marian (Mrs. F. D. Calway).  O’Neill built a large home on the south east corner of East 4th and State Streets.  His daughter and son-in-law built the brick house east of the O’Neill home, 318 4th Street.


The residence of the Hon. James O’Neill was built on the corner of East 4th and State streets, circa 1880, in Neillsville for the cost of $6,000.  O’Neill was a practicing attorney in Neillsville for 25 years prior to becoming circuit judge of the 17th district.  Growing up on a farm, he never lost his interest in agriculture; evident by his continued support of Clark County’s farming interests and the county fair program. 



Tom Bruley


There are still some of our elder Neillsvillites who remember “Uncle Tom”, Tom Bruley.


Though handicapped in his later years, having to use crutches to get around, Bruley remained active.  After retiring, he missed being out amongst the community.  Receiving a permit from the city, he designed a little “Confectionery on Wheels” named “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” which he would park on a corner downtown.


Tom Bruley was a familiar figure with his confectionery stand named “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” set up on Neillsville’s street corners during the 20’s.  After retiring he started the stand business so he could continue to be out amongst people, he enjoyed visiting with those of all ages.  (Photo courtesy of Gert DeMert and the information provided by Ruth Ebert)


A news item in the March 25, 1926, newspaper stated – Uncle Tom back at the old stand.  “When Tom Bruley scents the tang of spring in the air and dreams about robins, he immediately gets busy to forestall any early birds and brings out his “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and gets ready for summer trade.  Last week he decided it was time to quit hibernating and get the newly painted and decorated cabin planted in its usual spot at the Balch Hardware corner and is now dispensing candy, cigars, pop and ice cream cones just eh same as though it was summer.  If any robin thinks they are going to beat Tom out in the spring, they have another guess coming, for even though Tom can’t fly, he has the advantage of being on the spot.”


Later, Bruley set up his stand on the corner of Hewett and 6th Streets.  In winter months, he moved across the street to the basement of the Kapellan building.


Rather than sit home, he chose to be out amongst the people.  Operating the confectionery stand was a good way of meeting everyone, being able to converse and share some camaraderie.  There was no generation gap with Bruley; he could chit-chat with anyone and everyone.  He greatly enjoyed visiting with the little children as they came to purchase 5¢ items from an assortment of goodies available at the stand.


As well as providing a service in the community, he was brightening the days in the lives of many with his friendly, caring personality – a characteristic that doesn’t need to go out of style for whatever generation.



God loves an idle rainbow no less than laboring seas. – Ralph Hodgson


The reader who is illuminated is, in a real sense, the poem. – Henry Major Tomlinson


Modesty is becoming to the great.  What is difficult is to be modest when one is nobody. – Jules Renard


What is not good for the hive is not good for the bee. – Marcus Aurelius



© Every submission is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.


Show your appreciation of this freely provided information by not copying it to any other site without our permission.


Become a Clark County History Buff


Report Broken Links

A site created and maintained by the Clark County History Buffs
and supported by your generous donations.


Webmasters: Leon Konieczny, Tanya Paschke,

Janet & Stan Schwarze, James W. Sternitzky,

Crystal Wendt & Al Wessel