Clark County Press, Neillsville, Wisconsin

January 26, 2011, Page 9

Contributed by "The Clark Co. Press"

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Compiled by Dee Zimmerman


Clark County News

January 1906


Superintendent Kienholz has arranged to have appropriate ceremonies in the nature of dedicating the new Neillsville High School building. The date was set for the evening of Jan. 27th and with a suitable program being prepared for the occasion.


Prof. C. E. Pearse, superintendent of the city schools Milwaukee, was invited to make an address.  Others have also been invited to come, among them, Dr. Van Hise of the State University and Dr. Harlan of Lake Forest.


Teachers and pupils are now occupying the new High School, having assembled therein Monday for the first time. The building is magnificent and our reputation for good school facilities is now secure for several years to come.


There has been considerable shifting about in the grades since the new building came into use. The 8th grades from the North and South Side Schools have been transferred to the new High School.  The 6th and 7th grades have been combined, as well as the 4th and 5th grades.                                                                   


J. C. Lange has bought the Neillsville Creamery of H. A. Martin, paying $4,175 therefore.  He took possession the first of the month.  Mr. Lange has also rented the Levis Creamery on Section 13, Town of Levis, and also owns and operates the creamery at Shortville and two at Christie.                                             


Neillsville Lodge, No. 198, I. O. O. F. installed the newly elected officers last Saturday night, at Odd Fellows’ Hall.  There was a good meeting and afterwards a good oyster supper was enjoyed.      


C. R. Taylor, the father of Roy G. Taylor of the Greenwood Gleaner force, and C. M. Taylor, the furniture dealer of Loyal, passed through our city Thursday and spent the night at the O’Neill house.  C. M. was on his way from Loyal to San Bar Dino, (San Bernadino) California to attend the birthday of his father, who will be 100 years old this month and a family reunion has been planned.                                                                                                          


The several grades of the city schools as well as the high school have been out sleigh riding enmasse these balmy days and pleasant evenings.  Everyone who can is out taking advantage of our fine weather and roads.


Reported in the Mohawk Gazette:


Neillsville is a city with many inhabitants.


It is a site on seven hills, like Rome, and roams in a zigzag speckled manner to its environs.


It also has the County seat, and circuit court bench, to sit on.  It has a standpipe and several dry goods stores, as well as a city council and other fraternal orders.


It is bounded on the east by Granton and M. C. Ring’s stock farm; on the south by a broad expanse of landscape and scenery; on the west by H. B. J. Andrus Creamery and Black River; and on the north by Staffordville, of which Neillsville used to be a suburb until Dick Kountz and Fred Whitcomb got the railroad into town.


Agriculture and other fine arts are practiced extensively.  Horticulture also flourishes and tree grafting is frequently resorted to. 


An automobile was seen in that town not long since and created quite a stir.  Most of the horses except George Rude’s top horses were afraid of it.  The papers say a few machines will be purchased there next spring. One wealthy resident will get one run by benzene with two seats.


Main roads run through the town.


When we were last in that city, it was a dense forest.  This was a long time ago, and we hear that the tops of the trees have since been cut off.                                                                                      


North Granton area news:


Miss Lavey has returned home from Elkart after spending several weeks with Mrs. St. Claire.


Herman Krause is busy helping Fred Riedel get out timbers for a new barn, which Mr. Riedel intends to put up as early as possible in the spring.                                                                            


Thorp area news:


The marriage of Miss Nettie Barr, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. A. Barr, of Thorp, to W. E. Barrett, was celebrated Wednesday evening, eight o’clock at the home of the bride’s parents.  They will make their future home in the village.


R. F. Kountz returned Saturday from his trip to Chicago where he transacted business and also several times visited the great Electrical Show at the Coliseum, the like of which the world has never known before.  The accounts of it in the papers and with what Mr. Kountz tells us, lead us to believe that there isn’t anything electricity can’t be made to do excepting perhaps miracles and even some things electrical and mechanical seem like miracles.


January 1946


The first permanent white settlement of Clark County occurred in 1845.  The founders were the O’Neill brothers, James, Henry and Alexander.  Of these, James alone made his permanent home upon the site and gave his name to Neillsville. The O’Neills came up the Black River in quest of lumber.


Black River was the pioneer highway into Clark County.  Up its waters the pioneers came to explore, exploit and settle. Down its waters they sent the rich harvest of logs and lumber. To them it was the center of Clark County geographically and economically.  When they thought of this section of Wisconsin, they thought of the river first.


To residents of Clark County in 1946 it is difficult to appreciate the ancient viewpoint.  To us the river is an incident, a background.  We fish in it, we swim in it just a little, we develop a little power from it, and we dump our sewage into it.  Instead of being our main highway, it is to us an obstruction, to be surmounted by bridges.  Our highways are on the ground. To the pioneers the ground and rocks, rising too near the surface, were an obstruction, over which they must carry canoe or boat and cargo.


Black River was not only a highway; it was a toll road.  Just as in later days private parties were given the legal right to make a road and charge the public for passage over it, so Black River was turned over to a private concern for improvement and exploitation. This was the old Black River Improvement Company, which in effect, owned and managed Black River for some 30 years. This organization was made up largely of early lumbermen, mostly located at La Crosse or Onalaska. Their primary purpose was to control the river in such manner as to get their logs down.


When James and Henry O’Neill came up to the site of Neillsville in 1844, they came up the river, presumably in a canoe.  The canoe was the ordinary means of transportation, when the pioneers were going light.  With more to carry they used a large boat, a bateau.  When they had a big load of great weight, such as machinery for a saw mill, they used a keelboat.


One of the early records describes the keelboat, which Woods and Jacob Spaulding used to bring the first sawmill machinery up the river to Black River Falls.  It was 60 feet long, and had platforms on each side for the entire length of it.  The platforms were used by the men who had the task of pushing the boat upstream.  Each of these men was armed with a long pole, which he plunged into the river to the bottom.  He started at the front end of the boat and walked backward, pushing as he went.  Then he lifted the pole, walked back to the front end of the boat and repeated the act.  It took quite a crew to push a boat up the stream in this manner. A good record was 20 miles of travel per day.


The river remained the main highway even up to the days of the telephone, for the first telephone followed the river shoreline.  That first line was installed by the Black River Improvement Company and was used primarily in its own operations.  The line ran from La Crosse to Hemlock, just above Greenwood.  It was used to control the height of water at the dams and to manage the log drives.  It maintained an instrument in the old Peterson store at Greenwood, where Peter E. Peterson, now manager of the telephone company at Greenwood, was its agent.  When the Improvement Company discontinued its activities in the 1890s the old telephone line fell into disuse and finally disintegrated.  Its obliteration is a symbol of the decline of the river in its importance to the public.


The control of the Black River was given to the Black River Improvement Company by an act of the legislature of 1864, as amended in 1866.  It was a special act, such as could not have been passed by the legislature after 1872, when a constitutional amendment forbade the creation of corporations by special enactment.


The control of the river was challenged by other organizations, particularly the La Crosse Booming and Transportation Co. and the Black River Flooding Dam Association. But the Wisconsin Supreme Court held with the Black River Improvement Company; maintained that its right was exclusive; barred others from any part in the river, even though they might wish to operate upon parts of the river not receiving direct control or treatment by the original company. The control of part, the court held, was the control of all.  And so the Black River Improvement Company held sway throughout the period of heavy logging in Clark County.


The Black River Improvement Company was chastised by the historians, such as R. J. McBride, Neillsville lawyer, in his historical writing of about 1900, says: “It was the policy of the company to discourage the manufacture of lumber on the river, except at its mouth.  It was a selfish one and took no thought of the years to come. If all the saw logs cut from Clark County soil had been manufactured within the County, by means of the magnificent water power that lay at their doors, this County would contain cities in fact, as well as in name, and would have become many times wealthier than it is today.”


This critical view suggests an examination of the operations of the Black River Improvement Company and an analysis of the logging business.  Doubtless the stockholders of that company would claim that, in levying toll upon the river’s traffic, they rendered a service of value.  Evidence of that service in Clark County, for instance, would have been two big dams, one located at Hemlock above Greenwood and one located at Dell’s Rapids and called Dell’s Dam.


These two dams were located at strategic spots in the upper river and were necessary to provide a crest of water upon, which the logs could be driven.  Below both of those dams there were shallow rapids, upon which the logs would jam, except where there was the extra water.  How that worked, was recalled for the Clark County Press by Peter E. Peterson of Greenwood, who, as a young man, helped with six drives.  He worked with the crew, which started above the Hemlock Dam.  There the logs had been caught by booms above the dam.  The waters had been held back by the dam, which had a sluiceway at the center.


When it was time for the drive, with the water high in the spring or in June, the order was given to begin.  The workers pried the planks out of the sluiceway and released the floodwaters held above. Then the boom was released and the logs began to come down through the sluiceway.  At times they would catch on obstructions or lodge along the shore and it was the job of the river men to break them loose and to keep them on their way.


The Hemlock crew took the logs as far as Dell’s Dam.  There another crew repeated the operation.  Below Dell’s Dam, Mr. Peterson thinks, the river was deeper down stream and no further dams were necessary to give depth.


But the terms of the act creating the Company suggest its further activities.  It was prescribed that the company was to deepen, widen and straighten the channel; to close up chutes and aide cuts leading from Black River into the Mississippi and into its bottom lands and into sloughs; to erect booms and piers, to construct levees or dikes. The Company performed only such of these operations as were necessary to get the logs down, but the act itself suggests certain activities which were unavoidable, if, in the lower reaches of the river, the logs were to be carried to the mills.  It is obvious therefore, that the Company did something for the tolls collected.  Nor is there any evidence that the lumbermen complained of the tolls.  The Company was a mutual enterprise, designed to help all the big lumbermen to get their logs down the stream and their lumber to the market.


If the local interest of Clark County suggested criticism of the Company for a policy which seemed to favor manufacturing at the river’s mouth, perhaps another way to put it is that the men who placed their sawmills up the stream worked under a handicap.  The Cooper history of 1918 describes the operation of the first O’Neill mill.  This had one upright saw, with a capacity of 4,000 feet per day. This lumber was as fast as sawed, arranged in small rafts, and run to the mouth of O’Neill Creek.  There, larger rafts of about 10,000 feet to the crib were formed, and these, after the falls were passed, were arranged into rafts of 40,000 to 50,000 feet. These large rafts were run to Burlington, Iowa, where Alexander O’Neill established a sale yard.


It is quite obvious that this involved considerable handling and it was not easy to hold the rafts together and to mark the product so that there would be no loss.  As compare to this method, the lumbermen at the mouth had it cheap and easy.  Each lumbering firm had a recognized mark, which was so designed as to be readily cut into the log with an ax. Each log was marked on the side and on the end.


With all logs plainly marked when they were cut and registered at La Crosse to establish ownership, it was very easy for the lumbermen to claim their own.


The extent of this traffic on the water highway is almost beyond the comprehension of the people of today. The aggregate is estimated by the early historians at eight billion feet, board-measure.  In the 1880s the lumber flood began to dwindle. In the 1890s the end came. The final act was the clean-up, made by Alvin S. Trow of Merrillan, who salvaged all that was left in the river.  Then the great highways of the pioneers shrank almost to oblivion.  Black River became an incident instead of the focus of activity.




This is how Neillsville appeared in 1860, with Neillsville Mills, the first grist mill, in the left foreground and located on the southern bank of O’Neill Creek. The creek bridge is on the right, with remnants of the O’Neill Sawmill (center), which was located on the north side of the creek.  The dirt road going up hill is now O’Neill Street.  The frame buildings visible to the left in the background were on the Furlong addition.







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