Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

May 14, 2003, Page 19

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 



Compiled by Dee Zimmerman



Clark County News

 May 1883


Robert French’s well known hotel, at Hatfield, was burned to the ground a few days ago, a total loss.  The hotel was having good trade and French was contemplating enlarging the building this summer.  He has the universal sympathy here, where he is well known.


A fire broke out at Marshfield about 10:45 last night, Wednesday.  The fire originated in the second story of Disbrow’s saloon.  It quickly communicated to Pilon’s saloon, on the east side.  Also, it went to Culture’s store, LeMere’s and Mrs. Lambert’s two dwellings on the north.  Within three hours, the whole block was in ashes, excepting the boarding house of Chas. Bullman.  The boarding house was saved by the superhuman efforts of the citizens. The Central House was the key to the whole city and when it was assured that the whole block was doomed, attention was turned to saving it.  Several times the building was on fire, but the citizens, knowing the danger, stood their ground and fought desperately, many receiving severe burns.  The hose leading from the water works was run out, but amounted to nothing, as there wasn’t a water supply.  The hose from the mill was also run out, but power was lacking to use it effectively.  Nine dwellings and two barns were burned, as well as nine families made homeless.  The loss is estimated at about $15,000, partly insured, but an exact loss amount cannot now be ascertained.


Upham’s big saw mill and a large quantity of valuable lumber were destroyed by fire, last Tuesday.


A tremendous stream of immigrants, from Ireland, is pouring into Boston, Mass., later flowing westward.


The city council of Black River Falls has ordained that no painted windows, or screens, shall be put in front of saloons. This will give the deserted wives a chance to see where their husbands are, or aren’t.


A May 14th dispatch, from La Crosse says the decision of Judge Newman, in the widely published C. C. Washburn will of estate, was announced in the Circuit Court on that day.  The decision deals straight with the points at issue. The case was argued in that city before Judge Newman on May 3 with Judge W. P. Lynde and H. M. Finch, of Milwaukee, representing the executors, C. W. Bunn of Cameron, Losey & Bunn, of La Crosse, appeared for the guardian of Mrs. Washburn.  The arguments of counsel, on both sides, were able and exhaustive.  The decision of Judge Newman is rendered in the light of all the law, which the distinguished attorneys could shed upon the matters in controversy.  The estate of the late Gov. Washburn, after paying all debts, will net fully $2,000,000.  One-third of this amount, $600,000, if Judges Newman and Ueland’s decisions stand, will go to the widow, leaving $1,000,000 with which to pay bequests and provide for residuary for the legatees.  The bequests in La Crosse and Minneapolis aggregate $425,000.  The remaining legacies will not exceed $100,000.  This leaves to be divided among the residuary legatees $808.333.33, a splendid fortune to be distributed, as the well directs to the Washburn blood relations.  Inquiring friends of the late Governor Washburn, residing in La Crosse, Minneapolis and elsewhere, will be gratified to learn that the bequests of the deceased will be carried out as he directed.  The decisions of Wisconsin and Minnesota will not prevent the executors in complying with the provisions of the will, nor embarrass them in administering their trust.  (C. C. Washburn was an early lumber baron within Clark County and other areas of Wisconsin, later becoming Governor of Wisconsin.  The Town of Washburn was named after him.  He also founded flour mills in Minneapolis. D.Z.)


Mr. Willie Marsh and Miss Bertie Wells were married at St. Paul on May 14, 1883.  Both of these young people are well known and popular at Neillsville.  Miss Bertie has lived here all her life and Mr. Marsh has spent many of his years here also.  The wedding event was a genuine surprise party to most of our local people and a happy surprise.  It was an occurrence most fitting and desirable.  We wish them happiness.  A few intimate friends from here were at St. Paul to witness the ceremony, so that their presence could add to the felicitation of the occasion.


The plans of the new block to be erected on the corner of Main and Second Street, by J. L. Gates, can be seen at Bradshaw’s architect shop.  The building will consist of three main sections, two for stores and one, on the corner, for Dewhurst’s bank.  The second story will be reached by a stairway running up from the north or Second Street side, the hall leading through from the stairway to the south side of the building.  The second story will be cut up into six large rooms, to be rented as office space.  The basement, the excavation for which is now going on, will be partly devoted to regular cellar uses and partly arranged for occupancy by the Gates butcher shop.  Judging from the draft of the front elevation, the building will present a very solid and attractive appearance.  The main door to the Second Street section, entering the bank, faces the corner.


May 1938


The history of the early logging and saw milling days on the Black River, recalled by A. D. Polleys, Melrose pioneer, son of a pioneer logger, in a recent issue of the La Crosse Tribune, Neillsville comes in for a large share of attention in the article which is as follows:


The La Crosse area began its history as a lumber manufacturing center in 1852 and it was the predominant industry until 1890, its complete extinction being in 1906.


On the upper Black River the initial attempt was in 1819, with final extinction during the period following 1880.  The first mill built in La Crosse was by Burns, Rublee, Simonton and Smith.  Most prominent among those who followed were:


Nichols and Tompkins, later Nichols and Pooler, Colman Lumber Company, John Paul Company, Island Mill Company, W. H. Polleys and sons, Sawyer and Austin, Hyram Goddard, McDonald Brothers, La Crosse Lumber Company, Shepherd and Valentine Sill and Fauver, P. S. and F. W. Davidson, also known as Packet Company, Bright and Withee, Crosby and Hanscome, N.B. Holway, McMillan Brothers, A. S. Trow and other mills.


Of the mills on the Black River, beginning at the lower end, there was an unidentified mill near Lytles, in 1820; with mills of: Robert and Thomas Douglas, North Bend, 1845 and one at Melrose in 1842; Richard and Johnson’s steam mill, in east Melrose, 1858; Nichols and Curtis, Roaring Creek, 1842; James Davis, Davis Ferry, 1858, David Robinson, Robinson Creek, 1847; O’Neill Brothers, Perry Creek, 1840; Andrew Shepard, Squaw Creek, 1860; James Perry, Perry Creek, 1860; John Shaw, Lower Falls, 1857; Patterson and Brockway, Lower Falls, 1848; Jacob Spaulding, Upper Falls, 1840-42, two mills; Peter and Thomas Hall, Hall’s Creek, 1850; John Morrison, Morrison Creek, 1848; Myrick and Miller, Wedge’s Creek, 1846.


James O’Neill and his brothers moved their sawmill operators farther up the river.  Samuel and William Ferguson, with a number of laborers, accompanied the O’Neills to the village of Neillsville.  They also become the first permanent settlers of Clark County.  Upon reaching the site of Neillsville, they built a mill equipped with one upright saw, turning out a mere 4,000 feet of lumber per day, of which was run down the rivers to Burlington, Iowa, where Alexander O’Neill established a yard for selling the lumber.


In 1846, a mill of about the same type was erected near the mouth of the Cunningham Creek, two miles below Neillsville.  The saw mill was operated by Andrew Grover, Hamilton McCollum and James Beebe.  This mill, rebuilt, later became the property of Moses Clark.  The same year, Jonathan Nichols and John Perry erected a mill on Cawley Creek, about three miles north of Neillsville.


The Neillsville, Cunningham Creek and Cawley Creek mills were swept away in the flood of 1847, but were soon rebuilt.  The former Myrick and Miller saw mill on Cunningham Creek, was rebuilt in later 1847, by its new owners.  The new owners were Nathan Myrick, H. J. B. Miller, Isaac S. Mason, Thomas LaFlesh, William Dibble and other members.  The saw mill was later sold to Wm. K. Levis.


The following year, Leander and Benjamin H. Merrill built a saw mill near the Myrick and Miller site.  Mills were built about the same time by John Lane and John Morrisson (Morrison), Van Dusen and Waterman, who settled here in 1848 building a mill about 18 miles further up the Black River, at an area that became known as Eaton town.  Albert Lambert also built a saw mill near that same site.  The Van Dusen and Waterman mill, a few years later was purchased by Elijah Eaton.  These mills were of the same caliber.


Perhaps the last mill to saw and raft lumber above Black River Falls was owned by James McLoughlin, on Morrison Creek, in the late 1870s.  Also, probably the last mill in business below the falls was on Perry Creek, owned by John Smith, ceasing operations about the same time. 


In 1877, W. H. Polleys and Sons improved a water power mill on Sand Creek; at Ox Bow, one-half mile from the river. The logs were sorted in two places, one in the bend of the river at the present golf links, and the other at Ox Bow bend just below the mouth of Sand Creek.  The logs were taken from the river by an ox team with a long rope pulling them up a “step” to a platform where they were rolled onto heavy wagons and delivered to the mill by a four-ox team.


The mill also did custom work and feed grinding.  There was a store and post office called Ox Bow, a very useful enterprise for farmers and others needing such service.  It was the last stationary mill on the Black River above Onalaska, to saw up river logs, closing its operations, due to the dam’s going out and as a result wrecked the mill on Dec. 6, 1886.


Incidentally, the same day was the closing of the career of one of the oldest settlers, as well as one of the oldest and most prominent loggers on the river, a pioneer of 1845, W. T. Price of Black River Falls.


By 1870, the railroads had extended their lines into the western areas to such an extent that the rapid transit facilities began to be felt in passenger and freight transportation on the Mississippi River above St. Louis, Missouri.


The local boat lines, the Davidson line known as the Packet and White Collar line, as well as the McDonald line, began shifting their boat service from general business to the towing of logs and lumber to down-river points.  They also joined their boatyards with sawmills for the manufacture of lumber to bolster up the declining water transportation.  The towing business became the major business of the steamboats during the closing years of the lumber industry.


Among the last passenger boats to ply the waters between St. Louis and St. Paul were the side-wheelers, the Keokuk and the McGregor.  Among the numerous raft boats were the Abner Gile, Chauncey Lamb, Julia Hadley, Mountain Belle, Kate McDonald and Nellie Thomas.


Not to be forgotten is the old ferryboat, Warsaw, which made regular trips for many years between La Crosse and La Crescent, prior to the building of the municipal bridge.  The distance was said to have been five miles. The boat was of a different design than any of the others.  It had but one smoke stack, with a flaring top representing an eagle’s feathers, to give it an ornamental appearance.


The wheel was in the center of the boat, the driveway being around it.  When loaded to capacity, there were two lines of teams that surround the deck.


The A. S. Trow Company was the last one to operate on the Black River, by acquiring rights of the old Improvement Company and sawed “deadheads,” pier logs, boom-sticks and other wood products, until 1906.  When the end of the white pine became a mathematical certainty, operators began looking for large tracts of pine in other states.


W. H. Polleys and sons were the first to establish elsewhere while yet in business on the Black River, by securing timber holdings in Georgia, where they built a large mill at Bainbridge, on the Flint River, 150 miles from the gulf.  The saw mill was destroyed by fire, of an unknown origin, in 1884.  The Sawyer and Austin Company located in Arkansas, the John Paul Company in Alabama, B. B. Healy, H. H. Goddard and the Davidson Company in the Pacific states.


The closing of the industry was noted on March 3, 1898.


“The saw mill industry in La Crosse will soon die out for want of lumber.”  George Isham, one of the best-posted scalers in the northwest, stated; Saying, “That the total cut, on the Black River, this year would amount to but 7,000,000 feet; where as in the past the cut has reached a total of 275,000,000 feet.  Next year is expected to be the end of logging operations on the river.


Of all the numerous mills present at one time in the La Crosse area, not a trace of them remains today.  The one-time towering smokestacks that marked the places where skill and genius of man was on display, has since vanished.


That is where the raw material was mechanically taken from the water and in a few moments sheared of its rough exterior to become the finished product.  Perchance, where the skeleton of a building appeared before night fall; where there was a whir of rapidly revolving machinery, there is now silence, a silence that is everlasting.”


(Although this column has, in the past, included other articles about the early logging days, the above article had additional historical data of that era.)  D. Z.


An early scene of a railroad engine pulling flat cars loaded with logs on a train track trestle that spanned the Black River.  Logs along the shoreline were remnants of past log-drives that were commonly the means of transporting logs to the markets downstream.  (Photo courtesy of the Sontag Family Collection)



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