Clark County Press, Neillsville, Wisconsin
October 19, 2011, Page 10
Contributed by "The Clark Co. Press"
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
Compiled by Dee Zimmerman
Clark County News
The sear and yellow leaves adorn the forests in this locality for once without the aid of frost.
Fred Vine, of the Town of Grant, raised a patch of wheat on his farm during the past season that averaged fifty bushels to the acre.
What has become of the bridge that was to have been built on “Grand Avenue” to take place of the one that was swept away by the flood over a year ago?
What ought to be done with the man who will leave his “cussed” gate ajar for his neighbor to snub into the dark, can be learned to the best advantage by a personal interview with Dr. Crandall, the latest victim reported.
W. C. Crandall is preparing to enlarge his very attractive store by extending the front to the street. In addition to the improvement to be made by bringing it into line, he proposes to put in a plate-glass front, which will make his store one of the ornaments of the town. This is an explanation of the appearance of that unsightly stone pile in front of his store, which has been the subject of so many remarks during the past few days.
Mrs. O’Neill has retired from the O’Neill House, which has been under her management for several years past; during which time the many improvements made in that house is abundant evidence that it has been her wish to make it worthy of the liberal patronage it has received.
The railroad offices at the Merrillan depot have been removed, preparatory to the enlargement of the Blair House. This enlargement was made necessary by the constantly increasing patronage of that very popular hotel.
Canon Brothers mill, of the Town of Washburn, is now ready for business and one of the best in the county. As soon as stock can be procured, they will commence the manufacture of all kinds of lumber.
The high water of the past weeks has been destruction to the flood dams on Black River and its tributaries. Aside from the damage sustained at Hemlock and the Dells Dam, two of the dams on Rock Creek have been ruined. The Rock Creek Dam on Gile and Holway’s farm is the only one not destroyed or damaged. The damage to the lower Rock Creek Dam consists chiefly in the creek having cut a new channel through the north bank wider than the original channel of the stream, carrying away the log-driving shanties that were located on that bank.
Typhoid fever has been the prevailing malady in this section for the past few weeks. Several cases have already terminated fatally.
Nineteen carloads of accumulated freight, over and above all that has been boated over, have landed at the Neillsville railroad station for the merchants here, the first since the Black River Bridge went down stream, and the amount held at Merrillan isn’t much less.
Wood is in great demand in this village just now, the bad roads and rainy weather preventing its being brought in.
The work of repairing the Dells dam will be commenced as soon as the waters subside. Past experience has taught the lumbermen that damming the Black River at the Dells is an expensive job and they will wait for the olive branch before they tackle the dam business again in that quarter.
The coupling pin between the engine and passenger coach worked out on the up trip last Sunday morning, leaving the said coach standing on the track about one and one-half miles from the station. The railroad engineer discovered the loss of his train after he had gone about a half a mile, and, of course, went back and towed it in. The occurrence created no little merriment among the passengers.
The German Lutheran Church in the Town of Grant is so far completed that services will be held there in for the first time next Sunday morning.
Wanted: At Hewett’s store, a girl to work on sewing pantaloons and vests. None but first class operators need apply.
Hammel Bros. once again have a splendid lot of heavy draft and farm horses. From this date, they will keep their stables here stocked with horses suitable for all kinds of work, heavy or light. They will also keep a number of first-class driving horses on sale and guarantee satisfaction to purchasers in every instance.
The 50th anniversary of the most disastrous flood in Wisconsin, one in which 85 percent of the business district in Black River Falls and many residences—will be passed Friday, Oct. 6.
The disaster took place as both the Dells and Hatfield dams on the Black River gave way. Black River, Wisconsin’s most “flashy” river runs through the length of Clark County from headwaters in Taylor County. It empties into the Mississippi near La Crosse.
The only other flood of the Black, which has come close to the October 6, 1911 disaster, was that of September 1938, when the roadbed of the bridge at the Winnebago Children’s Home, measuring over 22 feet from the river bed, was under water.
An eyewitness to the flood of 1911 was Mrs. Ben Beeckler of the Town of Grant. As a girl named Esther True, she was the daughter of the superintendent of the old Dells and Hatfield dams for the La Crosse Power & Light Company.
The disaster was brought on by nearly 10 days of rainfall in the area above the two dams, reaching a climax after the flood waters broke through the dam at Medford. This is the recollection of Mrs. Beeckler.
She and her mother had a difficult time trying to make people in Black River Falls understand what was happening to the Dells and Hatfield dams and the danger to their city that was involved.
For 24 hours before the two dams gave way, Mrs. Beeckler and her mother carried on vigil, warning people of Black River as the flood waters rose in the swift Black River, and as it ate into the bank adjoining the Dells Dam.
Recalling the historic event for a reporter of the Clark County Press last week, Mrs. Beeckler gave this story:
“We called Jule Walters, the Black River Falls village marshal, every hour. At the danger stage we called every 30 minutes.”
Dells Dam residents worked for hours filling sandbags to bolster the walls adjoining the dam; but finally, the water pressure were too great and a mammoth hole was opened on the west side of the dam. The onrushing water hit the big Hatfield Dam in all fury. It held for a time, finally gave way on the east side, opening a new river channel through which it still flows, at 9 a.m. The Hatfield Dam held four hours, until 1 p.m., when the waters burst through the earthen wing on the west side in the location of the gates on the present Hatfield Dam.
Black River residents were alerted at 4:30 p.m. by the ringing of the fire bell. People hurried downtown and found not a fire, but a raging river, which was beginning to eat its way around the west side of the Black River Dam. Within three hours of that “Black Friday,” the buildings were crashing into the roaring current or being carried down the river.
“I recall that my father rode on a horse to Neillsville and boarded the noon train there for Black River Falls to give people there what help he could when the flood waters hit them,” Mrs. Beeckler told The Clark County Press, “but the flood beat him there.”
She told, too, how her father and others rowed in a boat to the telephone exchange in downtown Black River Falls to rescue the operators. But they were real heroes, refused to leave their switchboards, saying: “If people out there can stay with it, we can too!” And they did.
Some merchants were seen wading from their stores carrying a few papers or account books. Others were unable to get to their business places at all. A few recovered some cash and a few papers by traveling in boats; but they were able to travel in that manner for only a very short time. Most merchants lost everything. Every grocery store in town was swept away. The Freeman and Spaulding hotels and the First National Bank buildings were carried away. Only the west wall of the Jackson County Bank remained.
All cash and valuable papers from the First National Bank had been moved to the home of Harvey Richards, cashier, who lived on Price hill. The John H. Mills’ home, also on Price hill, was the storage place for the cash and valuable papers from the Jackson County Bank. Both houses were guarded as a precaution. Eighty buildings were destroyed or carried away, 20 others were ruined by mud and water; property losses, on the basis of 1911 assessments, amounted to about 2 ½ million dollars.
The call went out from J. J. McGillavray for cash, food and clothing for homeless and penniless people of Black River Falls. Help soon came from Alma Center, Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls and Neillsville.
Trains were crowded that weekend by people from all parts of Wisconsin, who came to view the wreckage.
Two units of state militia were sent in to guard against looting. An immediate meeting of some businessmen was held. They determined to rebuild on Price Hill, away from the river, but after a week, it was decided to try to rebuild on the old location.
With courage and determination, the pioneers of Black River Falls rebuilt their city, largely on borrowed capital. Werner Brothers had lost $100,000; E. E. Homstad and Taylor and Jones and others as much as $75,000 each.
One reason the Dells and Hatfield dams failed,” said Ex-Mayor Anton Hauger of Black River Falls, “was that there were no gates to open, no way to handle the wall of water.”
With the bridges carried away and a call for mercy and doctor’s aid in the area east of Black River Falls, the late Dr. Eugene Krohn, drove his auto across the ties of the Northwestern railroad bridge. There were only three autos in Black River Falls at that time, R. P. Rainey and Eugene Greenlee owning the other two.
A mother with a new-born baby was forced to flee her bed at Hatfield. Mrs. J. W. Ebertowsky, in her bedroom over a store, gave birth to a new baby shortly before the dam gave way. She was forced to carry her baby two miles down the railroad track to safety.
Rocking chairs, beds, picture frames, shoes, clothing and many other items were strewn for miles below Black River Falls. Some were found on the riverbank as far away as La Crosse.
There is a divided feeling today about the disastrous flood. Younger generations, now located in the sites of their fathers and grandfathers, believe it was a blessing in disguise. But to those older residents who saw all of their possessions washed away, the loss was too heavy to be considered a blessing.
Neillsville and all Clark County escaped without damage, but the residents felt a keen sense of neighborliness for people on the Black River, where the damage was done. They had experienced the eight days of continuous rain and had seen the river gradually rising to an all-time high, and had hoped and prayed that no losses would be sustained. They shared their cash and food when the call came from the area below.
|The west side view of the new Hatfield Dam while under construction after the 1911 Black River Flood destroyed the original dam structure. The new dam was built with gates, allowing control of high water after excessive rainfalls.|
Two couples married in a double ceremony observed their golden wedding anniversary recently. Mr. and Mrs. Gust Voigt of Rt. 1 Loyal and Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Oestreich of Spencer were married at Trinity Lutheran Church at Loyal on September 28, 1911. Mrs. Voigt and Mrs. Oestreich are sisters.
Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Opelt will open their new Skogmo store in Neillsville Thursday.
The store is located in the Thayer building, formerly occupied by McCain’s dress shop. It has been completely remodeled inside, providing an enlarged sales floor, modern fixtures and well-stocked shelves.
Opelt’s Skogmo store will feature a complete line of women’s, men’s and infants’ wear as well as household furnishings.
Mr. and Mrs. Opelt have returned to Neillsville with their family after spending several years in Hibbing, Minn., where Mr. Opelt was assistant manager of the J. C. Penney Company store. He started in retailing in Neillsville, working for a short time at the Farmers’ Store, here, before joining the Penney’s organization.
Mrs. Opelt is the former Fay Quicker, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Roland Quicker of Granton.
Assisting with the opening this weekend will be Mrs. Janet Hauge, Mrs. Eleanor Rosenberg, Mrs. Ruth Berlick and Mrs. Edna Tompkins.
A fall-out shelter, 18 by 50 feet is being built in the Town of Hendren by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Barr. Mr. and Mrs. Barr and their four children reside a mile away in the Town of Eaton.
The shelter is being constructed at a gravel pit belonging to Mr. Barr. A wooden structure has been completely covered with gravel and dirt, a cesspool for drainage and toilet facilities has been constructed and a sand-point well is to be sunk in the shelter. There are springs around it, so Barr thanks it will not be difficult to get water. He also plans to light the shelter. “The shelter,” said Mrs. Barr, “will be available for any emergency, such as tornado, wind storms and for nuclear explosions; but we hope we never have to use it for that.”
(At that time there was the nation-wide fear of nuclear attacks, so people were encouraged to build bomb shelters that would be stocked with emergency survival items such as food, water and other essentials. D. Z.)
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