Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

February 21, 1996, Page 20 Section B

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Good Old Days


Clark County, 1875 and It’s Early Residents


By Dee Zimmerman


A View in Neillsville, Wisconsin

From Frontispiece of the American Sketch Book of 1875, loaned by the Wisconsin Historical Society


The editor of the American Sketch Book, Mrs. Bella French, came to Neillsville in 1875 searching information for the publication she was working on.  She had the opportunity to meet and converse with some of those who had built themselves into the early history of Clark County.  She met the senior James O’Neill, the founder, who was then 65 years of age.  Then, she met B. F. (Doc) French, who seems to have been a close second to the city and county’s founder, in prominence (and no relation to Bella).  There was Richard Dewhurst, for whom the Town of Dewhurst was named; James Hewett, who lives in the name of the main business street of Neillsville; Robert Ross, for which Ross Eddy was named; F. G. Cawley whose name was used for Cawley Creek.


Those whom Bella French wasn’t able to meet, but who were prominent historical figures were; Jonathan Cunningham, Mormon, for whom Cunningham Creek was named, because he had been drowned in the creek some 30 years before.  Also, she was unable to meet Moses Clark, for whom some people claimed that Clark County was named, because Clark had been killed by William Paulley 25 or more years before. 


Mrs. French’s contribution about the prominent old timers was as follows: “Clinton and Quail were the first merchants, locating in 1856, in Neillsville the same year, Reuben Roik started the first hotel.  The growth of the place since then has been steady, until it has reached the dimensions which we see today.  In the further progress of our narrative, we shall abandon the chronological and adopt a plan referring more to things and their necessary connection with each other than to time.  This, it is believed, will be more interesting to the reader and will certainly save much time and trouble to the writer.  We shall first proceed to notice some of the early settlers and in doing so we foresee that it will be impracticable to notice all, and it is very possible that when we have concluded over sketch, we shall be guilty of sins of omission, rather than commission.” 


“The founder, James O’Neill, who has done more than anyone else to make Neillsville what it is, has already received considerable notice.  It may be remarked that his daughter, Belle, the wife of W. S. Covill, Esq., was the first white child born in Neillsville and in Clark County.  She was born on March 6, 1849.  O’Neill has done much to increase the prosperity of the place by gifts of grounds for the court house, school house and the Methodist Church, and by building a large and commodious hotel which bears his name.”


“R. Dewhurst and G. W. King came to Neillsville together in 1856.  Dewhurst had read law in Ohio, at Illyria, with Philoem Bliss, afterward Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Missouri.  They started a law office soon after their arrival, their office being situated in a building which stood near the gate in front of the present residence of James O’Neill.  Dewhurst taught the first winter school ever taught at Weston during the winter of 1856-57.  King was elected Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, in the fall of 1858, and at the same election Dewhurst was elected Register of Deeds and member of assembly.  He had previously been chosen County Judge, in which capacity, the writer is informed, the most important act he ever performed, was to walk from Neillsville to Loyal, a distance of 20 miles, to unite two loving hearts in the bonds of matrimony.  Dewhurst was again elected to the Assembly in 1874, which position held as of 1875.  He has been extensively engaged in lumbering, and owns much valuable pine and agricultural lands in Clark County.  All who know him regard him as an honest and excellent gentleman, and although from the prominent position he has taken in politics, he has, naturally, incurred some enmity, yet his political enemies concede his many sterling qualities.  Mr. King removed, some years since, to Humbird, where he now lives.  He is extensively engaged in lumbering, owning what is known as King’s Mill, on the direst road from Neillsville to Humbird, and being also interested in a large mill on the Mississippi River.”


“Robert Ross came to Neillsville in Nov., 1848, from Canada.  He brought with him two sovereigns and a half (sovereign was a British gold coin – one pound sterling – 20 shillings), lent them to one Baker, and never got them back.  The first three years he made shingles, which was then a good business, as shingles were a legal tender.  Since then he has been extensively engaged in lumbering.  Some years since he removed to La Crosse, but in the autumn of 1874 returned to his farm, about a mile from Neillsville.  He is now considered one of the wealthy men of the place, owning much valuable pine land.” 


“James Hewett came to Clark County in 1856, from Essex County, N.Y.  He worked by the day on Black River Bridge, opposite what is now known as Arch Day’s hotel, during the winter of 1856-57, and during the winter of 1857-58 he worked on Wedge’s Creek for Mayor Wedge, at 30 dollars per month.  The next summer he had to go to Black River Falls, saw lumber and run it to Galenac to get his pay.  Upon his return from the trip he was taken down with fever and ague, which continued for three months.  Upon recovering, he had not a dollar left, but he had something more valuable than money – indomitable pluck and perseverance.  On Jan. 8, 1859, he formed a partnership with Chauncey Blakeslee and O. S. Woods, under the firm of Hewett, Woods & Co.  This firm continued about ten years.  Woods went to La Crosse in 1867, and attended the business of the firm there, and in 1869 Blakeslee withdrew and went to Sparta to reside.  The firm bought a steam tug in 1870 and another in 1872, for the purpose of towing rafts on the Mississippi river.  The magnitude of the business of this firm will be seen when it is stated that from the year 1868 to 1873 they put into Black River from 18 to 25 millions of pine logs per annum, averaging in value, at the mouth of Black River, about 12 dollars per thousand feet.  During the summer of 1872, they erected at Neillsville at (a) handsome brick store, which cost about 10 thousand dollars (first brick building in Clark County, which stands today on northwest corner of Hewett and 5th Streets).  Hewett built an elegant residence in 1874 on West 5th Street (now site of St. John’s Lutheran Church), cost about same amount as the brick store.  The firm of Hewett and Woods is regarded as one of the most stable business houses in the Northwest.  Hewett was a man of very peculiar bearing.  When the writer was first introduced to him, she was impressed with the idea the Hewett was a man lacking in energy and business ability; yet this could not be, for here before my eyes were to be seen the fruits of persistent industry and prudent management. Few men blunder into prosperity and wealth.  Hewett’s quiet and unostentatious way does not favorably impress upon first acquaintance, but a better knowledge of the man will convince you that there are much careful thought and penetration into the nature and relation of things behind that quiet exterior.  Woods is a pleasant gentleman and his friends are many wherever he is known.”


“David H. Robinson, a native of Maine, emigrated to Wis. in 1844, locating in Washara County before moving to Neillsville in 1852.  Up to 1859, he was engaged in logging.  He also kept a hotel in Weston from 1863 to 1868.  Since then he has turned his attention to farming.  Having received a good education when young, he has been well fitted for the numerous and important positions of public trust to which he has been called.”


“William T. Hutchinson came to Neillsville, Oct. 15, 1857, from Waukesha County, but was formerly from Delaware.  At an early day, he was appointed postmaster at Pleasant Ridge, (four miles east of Neillsville, along what is now Highway 10), and was afterwards postmaster at Neillsville, from 1865 to 1871.  He was elected Register of Deeds in 1865, to which office he was re-elected three times.  For some years he has been in partnership with Judge Dewhurst, in the real estate business.”


“F. G. Cawley came to this area in 1853, when a boy.  For the last 15 years he has filled the position of constable, in which capacity he is said to be an expert, as well in evading as in obtaining service of process.  His experience in running off cows, picking blackberries Saturday afternoons, until the small hours of midnight, and the like, would fill a volume, and for further information we refer the reader to Follett on Tricks, with American notes from Doc. French.  His father, Samuel Cawley, settled here some years before his son.  From him Cawley Creek took its name, He still lives at Weston.”

These ornate gate supports stood as sentinels for many years holding the steel gates that guarded the entrance to the then M. C. Ring farm that had been originally homesteaded by Robert Ross.  The entrance was about one-half mile south of Neillsville along Hwy. 73 & 95.  The farm land was bordered by the Black River and an eddy in that locale was named “Ross Eddy” in memory of Robert Ross who originally cleared the land.  (Photo courtesy of Clark County Historical Society Museum)



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