Clark County Press, Neillsville,

July 28, 2004, Page 14

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 



Compiled by Dee Zimmerman



Clark County News

July 1869


Messrs. Neverman & Sontag have opened their new brewery here. Hundreds who have so long hankered for the favorite beverage have already indulged in copious draughts of homemade lager.


While we have no word of encouragement for the practice of beer drinking, we recognize in the completion of the new brewery as another evidence of the steady growth and sue prosperity of our embryo city.  It is as well an unmistakable indication of the paying character of cash investments in Neillsville.  The building of Neverman & Sontag is of large proportions, being three stories in height besides the basement and when entirely finished, will be a fine specimen of architectural beauty.  With a splendid brewery in full blast, who says that Neillsville cannot afford to put on Metropolitan airs?


That old worn-out, rickety, shaky, risky and dilapidated concern strung across the pond in our village, commonly called a bridge, has become so dangerous that it is really unsafe for anybody to cross it.  It is a disgrace to the town and unless some repairing is done upon it soon, it will be a very expensive thing to the town. We have called attention to this fact several times.  On Monday evening, a cow coming over the bridge met a team of horses and as she stepped to one side, a plank broke precipitating her into the pond.  Fortunately, the cow was gotten out of the pond safely and the horses were prevented from following her into the “drink.”  Yesterday, Mr. Blakeslee had the bridge fixed in its weakest place, but the entire span needs new plank.


The firm of Hewett, Woods & Co. recently dissolved their co-partnership.  Ten years ago, Messrs. James Hewett, O. S. Woods and C. Blakeslee associated themselves together in business.  Their capital was small and their operations were first conducted upon a very limited scale.  But with preserving industry and indomitable energy in the management of their affairs, they became one to the largest and wealthiest firms who have lived outside Clark County; they have resided here and rendered invaluable assistance in our development.  We understand Mr. Blakeslee’s share of the company’s possessions, includes all the property in this village and the large farm a few miles east of here.  Messrs. Hewett and Woods continue together in their business matters.


(The following news item refers to the early history of this area, with the village of Neillsville and before the designation of Clark County. D. Z.)


The recent demolition of Mr. James O’Neill’s old residence in our village, suggests so much regarding the early history of this county, that it deserves more than a mere passing notice.


The house was erected in 1846, 23 years ago, in the midst of a dense forest, where now stands a thriving little village, surrounded by a prosperous and rapidly increasing farming population.


Mr. O’Neill had erected a saw mill now standing upon the creek, which flows through our village.  He then built this frame house to accommodate the men in his employ.


At that time, the nearest neighbor was 27 miles distant, Black River Falls.  Deer, bear, wolves and other wild animals were plenteous and it was not uncommon for deer to come into the small clearing that had been made, or to hear at night the noisy howling of the wolves and their stealthy step in the door yard.  They frequently entered the house and there is one instance of a wolf being caught by a trap in the cellar.  To reach the nearest post office, it required several days hard and tedious traveling over rough roads, 135 miles, to Prairie du Chien.  Crawford County then comprised of what are now the counties of Vernon, Monroe, La Crosse, Jackson, Clark, Trempealeau, Buffalo, Chippewa, Eau Claire, Dunn, Pepin and Pierce.  Clark County was the Town of Pine Valley and Jackson County the Town of Albion.


Mr. O’Neill was at one time Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, whose meetings were held at Prairie du Chien, the county seat.  Every house’s residents upon the road were only too willing to entertain travelers, for the sake of their company and the news they would bring from “below” or of operations “above.”  No other compensation was asked for in their board and lodging.


As the county settled, in and around the village, Mr. O’Neill procured supplies and sold them to the settlers.  O’Neills was the center of all operations with elections and all public doings being held at the old house.


Samuel F. Weston, who died a few years ago, built a shanty at Weston Rapids.  Upon the organization of the county in 1854, an exciting election contest followed for the county seat.  Liquor flowed freely at both places, but there was an attachment for O’Neill’s, which settled the question in his favor.  Now whether it was on account of the quality of whisky kept, or for O’Neill’s always social and good-natured qualities, that is left to be presumed.  But certain it is, many lay low that night and spent a day not easily forgotten.  O’Neill wielded a powerful influence.  However, he was always ready to play or stand a joke, many of which remain fresh in the memory of the earlier settlers who remain living here today.  The settlers, as a general thing, were ready and willing to assist one another in any little undertaking.  But there are exceptions to the general rule and men sometimes had to “stone their own bucks.”


July 1939


Various fables flit in the 1916 city ordinance book.  Nearly every person living in, passing through, or maintaining a business in the city of Neillsville could be arrested practically every day of the year.


They could be, but aren’t. 


For instance, the city ordinances, published in book form in 1916, and still in effect for the most part, provide that it is unlawful to drive over the O’Neill Creek Bridge, or either of the Black River bridges, faster than a walk.


Penalty: fine from $10 to $100.


Most of us violate this one ordinance daily.  And it’s only one of the screwy city laws officials are trying to straighten out.


Did you know that concrete sidewalks, in Neillsville, are illegal?  They are.  It’s in black and white in the ordinances that the city’s sidewalks shall be constructed of “good sound pine lumber” with “sound oak stringers.”  Yet one would have considerable difficulty in finding a single piece of wooden sidewalk in the entire city!


Funny?  Of course it is. But listen to this: did you know that the city has an ordinance regulating the speed, which horses may travel in the city?  Yes, sir!  Four miles an hour?  And section 242 of ordinance 235 continues any person driving a horse or horses, mule or mules across any crosswalk in the city faster than a walk is liable to a fine of not less than $2, nor more than $5 for each offense.


The better part of common sense tells us that the cemetery is a place to bury a human corpse.  But, just to ensure proper care of loved ones gone to their reward, the city has an ordinance, which makes it illegal to bury a corpse in a garden.  Penalty for violation: Fine of not less than $5, nor more than $100.


So you are going to a costume party?  You’d better wait until you get there to don your costume.  City ordinance says it shall be illegal for any person to disguise himself in any manner and appear on any street, lane or alley in the city, in night-time, for any purpose whatsoever.  The fine will be from $5 to $25.


Did you know that crossing gates should be erected and maintained at the Omaha railway crossing on South Hewett, West Street and Grand Avenue?  And in the next breath, it says that the above shall be inactive until such time as a train or locomotive passes over one of these crossings at a speed greater than six miles an hour. It’s being done every day.


Here’s one which might conceivably be hard to collect on:  Any person who “attempts” to cross the track of any railway company at Hewett, West, or Grand Avenue in front of a moving train, is outside the law.


Of course, if he merely “attempted” it, the poor fellow undoubtedly would be knocked galley-west.


Well, the city ordinances are packed full of such crazy provisions and the process of weeding them out and re-codifying the ordinances of the city has been under way for many months.  But the green light is on and City Attorney Claude R. Sturdevant and the city council are closing in on the matter.  They vow they will bring the ordinances up to date in short order.


This is a story of an eleven-year-old boy, M. E. Wilding, who was “bound out,” as they said in those days.


Four dollars per year, for spending money was allotment given M. E. Wilding, of Neillsville, when he began work at the age of 11.  This amount was increased by one dollar per year up to his attainment of the age of 21.


When he was 21, Mr. Wilding received $300 all at one time. That was his payment for the ten years he spent under contract with Thomas Reed.  At the age of 11, the contract began.  The lad was “bound out,” as they said in those days.  He was turned over to the farmer, who had a sort of guardianship of him and who was entitled to such services as he could render.  The terms of the arrangement were all definitely set up, but there was one bit, which could not be fully expressed in writing.  After the contract had been executed and the arrangement concluded, Mr. Reed volunteered, “And I will learn you to work.”


Now that expression may not have been fully grammatical from the standpoint of school people today, but it was language which both parties then understood.  Mr. Reed was as good as his word.  He did “learn” the lad how to work.  Mr. Wilding considers that it was the best kind of education he could have received and he has always been grateful to Mr. Reed for the job of teaching, which he did.


The boy did work.  He began to do something toward the care of cows and sheep right away.  At the age of 16, he milked eight cows, took entire care of 50 sheep, fed the hogs, cared for a team of horses and kept the kitchen in wood and water.


As a boy “bound out,” Myron was treated much like a member of the family.  He ate, of course, at the family table and the Reeds ate well.  He was furnished proper clothing, always sufficient to keep him warm.  He was not stinted on the regular schooling at the Reed School, as he did his studying at the school house; home work had not yet been invented for farm boys with chores to do.


So Myron Wilding “learned” to work and when the years had rolled around, he received from Mrs. L. B. Reed $300 in one lump sum, as the cash settlement agreed upon.  Meanwhile, Mr. Reed had finished his work and his teaching and had passed to his reward, honored by the lad whom he taught.  The two had been in attendance at the great university of hard work, which was much depended upon in those days to make boys into men.


The receipt, signed when Mr. Wilding reached the age of 21, was preserved in the papers of Mrs. Reed.  After her death, the receipt came into the possession of Mr. Wilding.  To this day, that receipt reposes in a safe in the Wilding office, more highly valued than other things reposing there; It reads as follows:


Grant, July 18, 1891


“I, Myron Wilding, have received three hundred dollars from Mr. (Mrs.) L. B. Reed, which pays me in full all she owes me.


Myron W. (E.) Wilding”


To the young Wilding boy, of 11, the Reed home, though simple enough from the modern standpoint, seemed opulence itself.  In that home, the children could range about while the family wash was being done and this pleasure was shared by the “bound” boy.  To him, it was something different for he had been used to the possession of but one shirt and it was the custom in his family for the stepmother to wash the shirt at night after the boy had turned in early.  Presumably, the shirt was dry and ready for him to wear the next morning.


Plainly and frankly, that was the measure of the poverty, which surrounded the boyhood of the Wilding boys, who have been holding a reunion here the past few weeks. They have been reluctant to discuss such intimate matters but we were urgent in our inquiry.  To the people of today, it will be of interest that lads could be so poor 60 years ago as to own but one shirt apiece and yet never to dream of seeking help.  In those days, to seek help was to “go on to town.”  A self-respecting boy or man might in those days own only one shirt, but he could not retain his self-respect if he went on the town for help.


The Wilding boys are much alike, except that George, the younger brother, remained in the family home until he was 13 years of age.  After his stepmother had died, he went to work for farmers.  He could earn $16 per month during the season.  Then he began to spend his winters in the woods, earning $21 per month and keep.  After 15 years in the woods and saving his money, at the age of 28, he married and bought a farm at the Kurth Railroad Siding.  It was hard to get started in those days, but the Wilding boys had learned the value of money.  In a few years the mortgage was paid off.  Then the western fever set in.  By 1920, the George Wildings moved to Hawthorne, Calif.


(Kurth’s Siding was located on Pray Rd., 2 miles north of Hwy. 10. D. Z.)


After Myron received his $300, at the age of 21, he went to Loyal and began to work for A. A. Graves in the saw mill.  He received $1.10 per day and a house to live in, a good wage.  With that salary, he could afford to get married.  Things went really well for him, for soon he made $1.25 per day, then $1.75.  On those munificent wages, he saved money, with the help of his good wife.  Anybody could save money on such wages, if they had been brought up as the Wildings had been.


Now, M. E. Wilding has lived in Neillsville for 30 years or more.  He has always during that time, managed to have more than one shirt.




The early 1900s Hewett Street Bridge, which crossed O’Neill Creek, collapsed under the weight of two vehicles as they met while crossing the span.  The earlier, crudely built bridges often needed repairing.  Korman-Ghent’s Wagon & Buggy Shop is visible in the background.  The active business, at the turn of the 19th century, was located on the north bank of the creek, east of Hewett Street.  (Photo courtesy of Bill Roberts’ Family Collection)



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