Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
February 26, 1997, Page 32
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
In the Good Old Days
By Dee Zimmerman
Two of Clark County’s First Villages
In 1853, Samuel F. Weston and David Robinson accompanied by some other men, came from Maine and located at what has since been known as Weston’s Rapids, along the Black River, two miles above Neillsville. They commenced running logs down the river and thus became the first local loggers in Clark County independent of the local mills. Previous loggers had their own saw mills or used the services of a neighboring mill. A mill yard and log-way reserve was set-up on the west river bank.
When the county was set apart, a petition requesting that the county seat be located at Neillsville was submitted to the State Legislature. While in transit, or after the petition came into possession of that body, Neillsville was stricken out and Weston substituted, in which condition the same was adopted. When this was brought to the knowledge of area residents, measures were taken to correct that wrong. Through the intervention of a Mr. Gibson, at that time in the Legislature, an act was passed authorizing the people to vote on the location of the county seat.
The vote took place in November, 1854, and a great struggle took place between the rival factions. There were two polling places in the town; O’Neill’s and Parker’s Tavern, eleven miles below Neillsville. But at neither place, it was said, were the ballots of imported voters rejected. The vote at Neillsville resulted in a majority of four for Weston, and of that cast at Parker’s, 21 were in favor of Neillsville, thus deciding the issue. The total number of votes cast was 104, making the majority in favor of Neillsville 17 over Weston Rapids.
With the Clark County seat having been determined in 1854, plans began in laying out a village and arrangements made for projected improvements. At that time, the county had but one township–Pine Valley. The domain apportioned as follows: Levis Township in 1857; Weston in 1859; Lynn, 1861; Eaton, 1870; Beaver, 1871; York, Hixon and Sherman 1873; Colby, Unity, Mayville and Washburn, 1874; Sherwood Forest, Hewett and Warner, 1876; Thorp, 1876 and Withee, 1880.
Allen Boardman surveyed and plotted the four acres, appropriated by James O’Neill, to be the Village of Neillsville. The Village consisted of two or three cabins, Robert Roix’s hotel, at the site of the present Merchants Hotel. Dr. Baxter (the first physician to settle in the county) occupied a hut, as also did Nathan Boardman, Nathan Clapp, Mr. Dickey, B. F. French and James O’Neill.
The years of 1856-1857, recorded, the settlers experienced hard times and much suffering – proving a discouragement to the struggling new settlers. Wages dropped to nothing, and when money was received, there was no certainty of its being worth fifty per cent of its face for the payment of necessities, or lands. It often became worthless in a day. One resident recorded having received his winter’s wages, with which he proceeded to La Crosse to pay for lands. Upon his arrival, he was obliged to borrow money there to make the deficiency between the price of the real estate and the diminished value of his money.
During the Civil War, the county subscribed men and money to meet the levies made upon its resources for material to be sent to the field. Between 1857 and 1865, the exits were more numerous than the arrivals. In the latter part of the war, lumber appreciated in value and attracted a number of newcomers.
The first publication to record an account of Clark County’s history was written by Bella French, entitled “A Sketch Book.”
The first settler of Neillsville and Clark County was James O’Neill who came to Black River Falls, and built a saw mill in 1839.
In 1844, Hewett moved northward, up the Black River, finally settling along a creek and started a village, both of which would bear his name. He died in 1882, the year his village would be chartered as a city.
The first white child born in the county was his daughter, Isabella, who married A. S. Covill.
The first white child born on Pleasant Ridge in the Town of Grant was Ida Counsell who became the wife of Jesse Lowe.
The first term of court ever held in the County of Clark began on the sixth day of September, 1858. The record begins as follows:
“At a term of the circuit court in and for the county of Clark in the state of Wisconsin begun and held at the court house at Neillsville in said County on the first Monday of September, 1858, to wit; September 6th, 1858. Present Hon. Geo. Gale, Circuit Judge. S. C. Boardman, Clerk.
The following proceedings were had, to-wit: the court was opened by proclamation of the Sheriff.
Hon. Wm. T. Price moved the court that George V. Freeman, Esq., be admitted as an attorney and counselor of the court, where upon it was ordered, that George V. Freeman, Esq. be admitted, etc.
It appears that nothing further was done on the first day.
The whole records of proceedings the second day was: “Sept. 7th, 1858. Court held pursuant to adjournment. Adjourned to 9 o’clock tomorrow morning”
On the third day it appeared that on motion of G. W. King, B. F. Chase was admitted to practice law, and on a motion of C. C. Pope, S. N. Dickinson was also admitted.
In the case of Daniel Farrand vs. Hugh Wedge, the appeal from justice court was dismissed.
The record further shows B. R. French was admitted to practice law, on the motion of C. C. Pope, and that George Frantz and John Hoffer were admitted as citizens. No cases were tried at this term.
Mr. & Mrs. G. W. Sterns, Town of Weston Pioneers
Charlotte Sterns traveled with her husband to a new frontier, arriving at Weston Rapids in 1855 and shared some of her memories of those days: “The Coburn’s owned the saw mill and grist mill there and carried on big lumbering operations up the river. Sam Weston known locally as “Old Sock” was the head man of the community. A man named Searls, who later moved to Augusta, ran a boarding house.
Only a few women lived there at that time and many rough looking men but Charlotte said they treated her with greatest respect.
Many of the La Crosse lumbermen who had become wealthy were familiar figures traveling up and down the river.
One night, a flood caused by heavy rains, carried away the bridge, leaving Stern’s cow on the other side of the river. N. H. Withee who was conducting a log drive told the Sterns to wait ‘til the logs got past and he would rescue their cow for them. He crossed the river in his canoe, caught the cow and paddling the canoe back, he led the cow with a rope, as the cow swam behind the canoe. Sterns were grateful for Withee’s neighborly act in retrieving the cow.
Political excitement ran high the first year Sterns lived there. The Fremont-Buchanan election and later the Civil War created a stir in the area.
A family moved out of their log house so a school was started in the vacated building. Maria Dore was the first teacher.
The Chandler Boarding House at Weston Rapids was built on the first land entered in Clark County and was put up by Conrad Dell in 1854. By 1860 this logging center was a spirited little village with a store, saw mill, grist mill, furniture establishment, a large public house, post office, law office and residences to accommodate 260 inhabitants.
It is believed that only one building remains from what was the Village of Weston Rapids. A three story logger’s boarding house was altered by Frank Kuzner who removed the second and third story portion, renovating the first floor section into a home. Roy and Sandy purchased the house some years ago and when remodeling, have discovered a few tell tale signs of the previous loggers’ occupancy such as floor boards with hob-nail boot tracks.
The Weston Rapids Bridge was located near the boarding house and one piling remains below the bank, the only clue of its existence. The logging teams of oxen and horses were kept in a barn on the west river bank area, near the bridge.
The Appleyard farm land, purchased in 1900 from Judge O’Neill, extends to the west bank of the Black River which includes the site of the former bridge abutment.
Harry Bieneck obtained the land that was formerly Weston Rapids, the east side, in 1907.
So, what had been a thriving village in 1860 – is no more. As the logging industry vanished from its midst – so did the village.
(Note: Stories of the county seat voting in 1854 are varied, and conflicting in some details as the story in this week’s article reveals)
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