Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

February 4, 2004, Page 12

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 



Compiled by Dee Zimmerman



Clark County News

 February 1884


Mr. Cortes J. Gates, who is putting in logs for Jas. Reddan, Town of Eaton this winter, reports having hauled a log to the Black River the was 18 feet long, four feet across inside the sap at the top end and scaled at 1860 feet.  We got the facts from Mr. Gates, himself, who was in town this week.


A “potato race” was the event on the city’s skating rink, last Saturday night.  Mr. George Huntzicker carried away the first prize as the most expert potato catcher for the evening.  A large crowd witnessed the scratching around the rink as the boys raced to be first in nabbing a potato.


Mr. George L. Lloyd, proprietor of the Canon mill, in the Town of Washburn, made a proposal to some of our local businessmen to form a joint stock company.  If timber owners of O’Neill Creek are willing to cooperate, the Canon mill would be moved to Neillsville then would take up working the product of the O’Neill Creek pineries. The plan, if followed out, could be an advantage to the city.


A sad outfit passed through Neillsville a few days ago.  It was nothing less than an emigrant wagon containing two families, who started from southern Kansas on Christmas Day. They have been on the road ever since. Their objective point is in township 29, in Clark County.


Last Friday, two teams pulled sleighs out of town at about dusk, headed for Hatfield.  Each sleigh hauled at least a ton of leap year partiers.  Buffalo robes, wraps and such probably made the united loads weigh three tons.  There was a lot of density about the party and not a cubic inch on either sleigh that was not occupied.  It was the first leap year party of the season and the ladies had sole charge of the expedition.  Hatfield was reached shortly after 8 o’clock.  The gentlemen were assisted out of the sleighs and into the hotel in a most gallant fashion, led by the ladies.  Robert French and the managers of the expedition had evidently arrived at a very good understanding before hand, as a supper of a most attractive kind was brought from the kitchen.  Everything that a merry crew could wish for in a meal was set before them.  The mischievous Misses had provided gifts for the men.  A few hours were spent pleasantly in conversation and social games.  A homeward drive began at 11 o’clock.  The vocal music went up and forth from that cavalcade and it is doubtless that it is yet staggering about the woods of Levis, echoing off the stumps.  Will Miller, despite the buffalo robe he was wearing, stretched out and fell asleep along the way, as did Ira Chase, in the back of a sleigh.  We suggest that the young ladies not have a party so far away from home next time as these tender young men need their sleep.


Postmaster Wm. Campbell made a visit to several logging camps along Wedges Creek during the last week.  He reports that after 15 miles of solitary driving through woods, over rough roads, he reached Mr. James Hewett’s camp, which is under the management of Foreman Louis Brillion.  The camp contains 46 men and is doing a fine business, in a very rough and uneven country.  The following day, he visited Mr. John Paul’s camp. No. 2, still further back in the woods, which is under the management of Mr. Solon Darling, who has about 80 men and 20 teams of horses.  This is a very large camp and he reports that it looks more like a young village than a camp.  Although camps such as these have men who like to have their fun, the men were all most civil and kind, everybody doing his best to entertain.  Mr. Campbell says he was indeed entertained. The bill of fare was excellent, consisting of three kinds of meat, potatoes, turnips, baked beans, bread, warm biscuits, mince pie, rice pudding, doughnuts, fruit cake, apple sauce, tea and coffee.  Mr. Campbell reports a splendid time and gratefully acknowledges the kindnesses received.


February 1954


The year of 1953 marked the end of Clark County’s first century in its history. That year also marked the end of Columbia, as a municipality in Clark County.


This dream of a great urban center found visual expression in pictures upon the walls of a real estate office in Chicago.  Those pictures were once seen by Charles Farnum, associate of W. J. Marsh, Neillsville merchant, who viewed the enthusiasms of Columbia with the eye of doubt.  Speeding Mr. Farnum upon his way to Chicago, Mr. Marsh asked him to visit the realty office in Chicago and see what was at the business end of the great Columbia promotion.  Farnum did as asked and made a report to Mr. Marsh upon his return.  He found, he said, an atmosphere of extravagant optimism and promotion, with wonderful pictures upon the wall.  Those pictures showed, for instance, an oil derrick piercing the sky and steamer lying alongside a wharf.  There were other things in the pictures, also, but these two stick in the mind of Mr. Marsh through the years until 1953, when The Press sought his help for this story.


These pictures were of a piece with the strong promotion of the Columbia district.  The report of them confirmed the long-time judgment of Mr. Marsh that the promotion of Columbia lacked a solid foundation.  He knew, as did all the old-timers of Clark County, that the waters which flowed through Columbia would have difficulty to float anything longer than a row boat and that the oil there available was pumped only from a barrel.


It appears that there was gold also in them “thar” plans, there being near at hand no hills in which gold might hide. The gold was the vision of C. S. Graves and possibly of others, but certainly of Mr. Graves, first of all.  The gold dream seems to have grown out of the oil dreams.


Frank Lockman believes that he knows where the oil boom originated.  He thinks that it came from oil in a can, which rested on the curb of the well on the Elliot O. Bliss farm, neighboring the Lockman place.  Mr. Lockman has a definite recollection of that occasion, for he cared for the stock on the Bliss farm while the Bliss’s went off for a trip.  When they returned, he remembers, Jr. Bliss came over to the Lockman place all excited, declaring that water from his well bore strong evidence of oil, both in appearance and in smell.  After telling Mr. Lockman of this, Mr. Bliss hurried on to C. S. Graves and thereafter a great furor developed about the oil boom at Columbia.


Mr. Graves was the head and foot of the Graves Land Co., one of the various companies, which worked hard upon the land project.  He also ran a store at Columbia.  With this oil discovery as a basis, he quickly organized an oil project and got a driller in to go after the oil.  The drilling was done, not on the Bliss farm, where the original “discovery” was made, but about a mile away, on land now the property of William Sollberger, at the east end of the old Columbia plat.  In later years, William Sollberger came upon the hole of this drilling and filled it sufficiently to prevent any harm coming of it.


The hole, found by Mr. Sollberger, was close to the bank of a creek, a site which may have been selected because of the need of the driller for water conveniently at hand. The driller encountered hard rock very soon in his operations, his drill bringing out a solid rock core.  John Sollberger recalls seeing some of these cores in a showcase in the Graves store.  They were there to demonstrate the presence of gold in Columbia, since they contained particles, which shone as gold shines. This was advanced as ample evidence of gold and at all like mica.  The gold was good for a boom and for the sale of stock in a gold mining adventure, whereas the mica would have been utterly worthless for promotion purposes.


Frank Lockman believes that during the absence of the Bliss’s, somebody came along needing water.  That person went to the Bliss pump, which needed priming.  Seeing a can on the curb with colorless floating on top, they quickly picked up the can and poured from it into the pump.  After realizing their mistake, they hurriedly left.


Much glamour was thrown about the sale of land in and around Columbia, as has been partially shown here.  Those who generated this glamour have been largely lost in the dimness of the years.


The great incentive for the promotion of Columbia was the wish to dispose of cutover lands. Active in this endeavor was James L. Gates, who was the man behind one of the various land companies operating in the Columbia area.  Once local surmise is that of Jim Gates, as he was usually called, was the first and perhaps the most glamorous, of those to push the Columbia area.  He was the grandson of Daniel Gates, a pioneer and he had the necessary imagination to carry on projects of limitless possibilities. Evidence of his active mind may still be found at the Neillsville city cemetery, where two of his wives are buried.


Mr. Graves did not stop with the usual trite words upon the tombstones of his wives, but rather gave plat to a poetic genius.


Local tradition is that Mr. Gates married a third time, but that experience did not inspire his muse. She was said to have been a good businesswoman and possibly would have had some relation to the financial vicissitudes of Mr. Gates, who really had his ups and downs.


Whatever his experience in his third marriage, his memory deserves well of the ladies, for he originated the name “Lady-smith” and attached it to the city to the north, country seat of Rusk County.  Mr. Gates had a high estimate of good women and is said to have had great and proper regard for one of the many women bearing the name of Smith.  Hence is the name, Ladysmith.


The county, of which Ladysmith is the seat, was once knows as Gates County, named for this same James L. Gates.  His name was to be attached to the county for all time, the condition being that he was to build the court house at his own costs. But when the courthouse was to have been built, Jim Gates was in one of his cyclical depressions and lacked the money.  Hence the name was changed to “Rusk” and the memory of Jim Gates was left to such memorials as this story and to the eroding letters engraved upon a tombstone.


Now it might seem at first glance as though this is a long around to point to James L. Gates as probably the originator of the great promotion of Columbia, but the trip around the verbal side road demonstrates that at least he had the necessary ambition and imagination.  Also, if Jim Gates and his associates or competitors had what it took, their prospects also had what it took, plenty of nothing.  They were the victims of the great Depression of the 1890s, mostly persons of the Chicago area who had lost their jobs and were grasping at straws.  Some of them had a little capital.  Some put that little capital upon the line without even seeing the Columbia country.


Even the name of the great city-to-be had its power of promotion, a name of patriotic grandeur.  Where did it come from?  Local history does not say.  A look back at the times and the circumstances may tell.  The days of the great promotion were the days of the great Columbian celebration, 400 years from the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.  It was then that Chicago launched the Columbian exposition.  What more logical than that promoters should hitch their wagons to this popular star?  Certainly Columbia, Clark County, Wisconsin, had a come-hither sound, with its promise of soil and oil and gold and jobs in the factories of dreamland, another discovery in the land of Columbus.


Possibly the one man who has had the most to do with the old Dells Dam Bridge over Black River, now to be torn down, is Guy Schultz, chairman of the Town of Levis.


He helped to erect the bridge in 1918.  He looked out on it every day from his farmhouse, near by.  Also he presided at the Levis town board meeting when arrangement of the sale of the bridge was made to Phillips, of Eau Claire.


The bridge, for which the Town of Levis is getting $900, was erected in 1918 at a cost of exactly $6,666.66.  Where all those sixes came from is anybody’s guess; but it’s a cinch, in Mr. Schultz’s language that the Elkhart (Indiana) Bridge & Iron Co., its builder, lost their shirt on this job.


The reason, according to Mr. Schultz, was that the bids were received in 1916.  Before the bridge could be built, the United States entered into World War I against Germany.  That move tied up steel production in the nation, and there was no steel available for a bridge at Dells Dam.


In the meantime, the price of steel boomed and the cost of labor increased.  So when 1918 came and the erection of the Dells Dam Bridge was completed, the Elkhart Bridge & Iron Co. had substantial reason to regret its monotonous-sounding bid price.


By way of coincidence, World War II and subsequent channeling of steel production, also delayed the building of the new highway 95 Bridge, located upstream a few hundred feet from the old iron overhead.


The old Dells Dam Bridge was erected to replace a previous bridge, which “went out on top of an ice jam,” Mr. Schultz recalls.  For over two years those who wanted to cross the stream either had to ford it at a place where the Indians cleared boulders and rocks for a narrow strip across, or go to the Six-mile, or Lynch Bridge several miles upstream.


The erection of the Dells Dam Bridge required about three months, with 10 men working on the project, Mr. Schultz recalls.  Most of the work was done by hand tools.  The only motorized equipment was a gas engine-driven cement mixer.  The big heavy superstructure was raised over false work by use of a “traveler” hand winch and a triple block and line.




Dells Dam was built on the Black River during the logging days.  It was a means of controlling the river when it was being used to carry the lumbermen’s logs downstream to the La Crosse area saw mills and market.  The great flood-waters of 1911, with its great force, took out the dam as well as other bridges, buildings and businesses in its path farther down the river.  After many years, there are still some remnants of the dam visible along the banks of the river.




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