Searching for a new base of operation in lumbering, James O’Neill and brother, in 1845, traveled north to what would become Neillsville and Clark County. These first settlers came overland from Jackson County in a wagon, drawn buy an ox team, cutting their way through brush and other obstructions; they were, two days on the trip. This was the first road ever made in the county.
Immediately upon their arrival, trees were felled, hewn and shaped and within a brief period, a rough cabin, 18 x 24, was erected on the bank of O’Neill’s Creek, near where the mill was built afterwards. That rough hewn was the first house raised in Clark County. The rustic abode, cheerless but for the times was comfortable even though it lacked in luxuries. Upon its completion, the mill was started and before the year’s end was ready for operation. It too was made of logs and located west of the cabin in the present creek bed. Supplied with one upright saw, it had a capacity of producing 4,000 feet of lumber every twelve hours, and worked continuously, as pine logs could be easily obtained along O’Neill’s Creek, which were floated down to the mill. When the lumber was cut, the lumber was rafted down to the mill, run to the mouth of the creek, where ten platforms were arranged in a compact and solid manner, and combined in rafts which usually contained about ten thousand feet. After reaching the falls, these rafts were combined into large ones containing from forty to fifty thousand feet of lumber and run to the Mississippi River, thence Burlington, Iowa, consigned to Alexander O’Neill, and sold for an average of ten dollars per thousand feet of lumber.
The following year, there were few visitors of Clark County who settled permanently that year. James O’Neill erected a more commodious house to live in, on the back of the lot now site of O’Neill Terrace Apartments. Shortly after the log house was vacated, high waters in the creek undermined the bank upon which it stood, relinquishing the structure to the creek waters and floating onward to the Mississippi.
That year, O’Neill became tired of being sole housekeeper and remedied that situation by hiring the services of Mrs. Kennedy, who had come to Wisconsin, from Rock Island, Ill. accompanied by her husband. She arrived in Neillsville in the summer, and, taking charge of the O’Neill household duties is remembered as the first housekeeper and first white woman settler in Neillsville, Pine Valley and Clark County.
Finally, O’Neill was settling down after years of traveling here and there, staying at each stop for a year or two, having saw mill business the established, prospering and now was enjoying the comforts of his new house. It was in December of 1846 that he planned a social event at his residence. Settlers from miles around were invited to the dancing party. To be the guests of a party in such a sparsely inhabited frontier created inestimable enjoyment for settlers. Among those attending were: W. T. Price, Jacob Spaulding, Jonathon Nichols, Thomas Sturges, B. F. Johnson, Levi Avery, John Perry and wife, Mr. Yeatman, Mr. and Mrs. Van Austin and daughter, Joseph Stickney, Alonzo Stickney, Miss Susan Stickney, Benjamin Wright, Samuel Wright, the Misses Wright, Thomas Douglass, Robert Douglass, Mark Douglass, Miss Lucinda Nichols, and some others. Hudson Nichols and James Bennett were the fiddlers, and the dance kept up until daylight on Christmas morning.
That day the guests returned to their homes and Mr. O’Neill, hitching up his team, accompanied the Douglass’s to their farm, near Melrose.
The Black River was frozen over, so they made their way over the ice. The scene can be imagined their sleighs glided along beneath the frosted, overhanging tree branches with only the sounds of jingling horse harnesses and voices of conversation breaking the outdoor silence. On that lovely Christmas morning, the happy young ladies and their genial escorts were caught up in the tranquility. That was the day O’Neill began his courtship with Miss Jane Douglass, the day his bachelorhood would start slipping away. On March 7, 1847, Miss Douglass and James O’Neill, age 36, were married at Melrose, in Jackson County, with John Valentine, Justice of Peace, officiating. The newly wed couple returned to live in Neillsville, where both were actively involved in the development of the city and county. They lived out their lives here.
The O’Neill’s had three children; Isabella and Maria, both of whom lived a number of years in Neillsville and Thomas who died in 1862.
Mrs. O’Neill died in 1873 and O’Neill passed away in 1882, age 71, the year Neillsville was chartered as a city.
The O’Neill House built by James O’Neill was on the corner block of East 6th and Hewett Street now site of the Neillsville post office. The three story building was the most elegant of hotels in Central Wisconsin during the 1870’s. It was one of the first to have electric lights. Guests traveled from Black River Falls, Eau Claire, and other area towns for weekends of dining and dancing. First operated by James O’Neill, it was later sold to James Paulus, who operated it for a number of years.
The James O’Neill residence was built in 1846, south of O’Neill Creek and set back from Hewett Street, lot now occupied by O’Neill Terrace apartments. The house consisted of three parts, the north wing, central portion and south wing. The two story house was used as a combination tavern, lodging place or inn, and a family residence. Loggers and travelers in the very early days could find a room and board there; the central portion was the inn the north was the tavern and south wing the O’Neill living quarters. It is believed the south wing was an addition put on later as the roof isn’t at the same level as the north wing. The house was razed after about 140 years.
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