Clark County Press, Neillsville, Wisconsin

September 4, 2013, Page 9

Contributed by "The Clark Co. Press"

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles


Compiled by Dee Zimmerman


Clark County News

August 1873


A pleasant shower of a few minutes duration, yesterday, furnished us with this news item and seven barrels of wash water.                                                                                        


But few would know the old Eaton mill near Greenwood as it has been remodeled by its present proprietors. New additions, which now comprise about half the mill; one on the south and one on the west side have been attached.  The old machinery has entirely disappeared and in its place, with many additions, is now machinery of the best make.  When finished, in a month or so, the mill will contain one double rotary saw, an edger, a planer, a shingle mill, lath saws, etc.  The dam is to be rebuilt just below the old one, with an increased head of water. Mr. Schofield, who knows a thing or two about mills, has it in his head that whatever is needed about the mill to increase its capacity equal to the growing wants of that section shall be supplied in the best shape attainable.


In connection with the mill, on the opposite side of the main dam, Mr. Bailey, who has shown his superior workmanship in fitting up the mill, will soon put up an extensive sash, door and blind factory.


Lumber, lumber everywhere, yet not a board to be had here without paying a big price and hauling it from five to ten miles!  Such things should not be.                                                                 


Mr. L. L. Ayers has finished a very substantial stone cellar and foundation for a new house, beside his old one. Lew is getting to be like everyone else with a nice new house such as he proposed to build, though is not such a foolish thing, after all. We wish we had one.                                                                                  


Steps are being taken by a couple of our leading businessmen towards the establishment of a bank here, which they will undoubtedly be successful.  It is a much needed institution.            


The work of laying out and grading a race track on the fairgrounds will be commenced next week. The track will be half a mile in length and oval in its course.  It will be graded in the most perfect shape and when completed will be one of the best tracks in the state.                                                                                                


The busy threshing machine is singing its song from door to door through the county and its teeth never fed upon a better crop of wheat.                                                                                                           


Mrs. Teller and Mrs. Marsh, of this place, are no timorous pair.   They drove alone in a horse-drawn buggy, from Black River Falls to Neillsville, last Monday night, making the whole distance after dark, as they had most of the trip down that morning, and Mrs. Teller testifies that they had a good time.                 


The firm of Lynn & Tolford has been dissolved.  Mr. Lynn retains the Humbird Stage and Telegraph line.  Capt. Tolford takes the livery stable and the Greenwood Stage line.                                                


The first school district of the Town of Lynn is building an excellent schoolhouse.  Mr. August Riddle of that town has been awarded the contract.  The building will be of frame, 20’ x 32’ with 12 foot ceiling. It is to be put up in first class shape and will be a credit to the district.                                                 


The market here is now supplied with the finest venison we have ever seen.   The deer are fat and plentiful and hunters are improving their opportunity.                                                                    


Charles Kurth has purchased the well-known Rexer property in the Town of Weston, together with W. T. Hutchinson’s adjoining farm.  Mr. Kurth proposes to fix the Rexer hotel up in good shape and keep it open to the public.  He is also about to put up a store building, which he will open up a general stock of merchandise.


Mr. O. P. Wells has sold his interest in the large business carried here by O. P. Wells & Co., to his partner Mr. George Lloyd, who becomes sole proprietor.  Mr. Wells, who has become one of the best known businessmen of the county by his enterprise, thinks of going west to take a new start. 


Mr. Lloyd will now give the hardware, blacksmith, carriage and wagon making business his whole attention and though it is a good deal for one man, George has the tact and ability to run it successfully and the old patrons of Wells & Co. will be served as fully and as promptly as ever before.                                


We paid a short visit, Wednesday, to the fast growing municipal, Loyal.


We were much pleased with its evident prosperity, finding these leading institutions there: Graves Steam Mill owned and conducted by Graves & Son.  They have a complete steam saw mill, of large capacity, supplied with the most improved machinery, using the fine pine in that vicinity.


Gwinn & LeClaire are the proprietors of the leading mercantile establishment and their shelves show a fine stock of general merchandise.


Frank Butler also keeps a good stock of general merchandise, which will soon move into a large building on Main Street, now being built by Graves & Son.


John Affolter is well established in the furniture business, busy with preparations for extending it.


F. C. Hartford keeps a very comfortable looking hotel.  It bears a good hotel reputation and looks inviting enough to justify it.


Several other places, wagon shops, blacksmith shop and such, we had not time to visit


August 1943


Among the colorful pioneers who contributed to the early history of Clark County was N. C. Foster, whose name was given to the Town of Foster.


The Press is indebted to Mrs. George W. Purnell of Merrillan for information about Mr. Foster, who was her grandfather.  The information came in manuscript form, and was so competently written that it is published below essentially as it reached the Press.


Nathaniel Cadwell Foster was born in Owego, Tioga County, New York, on January 6, 1834.  In 1854 he moved to Fort Howard, now Green Bay, where he worked for a shot time in a saw mill; then purchased an interest in the mill and engaged in the lumber business on his own account, remaining there about 25 years.  In 1876, he moved to Fairchild and purchased large tracts of timber land in Eau Claire and Clark counties, the timber from this land furnishing the supply for his large mill at Fairchild, which were erected in 1877 at an outlay of $100,000.  The plant had a capacity of 125,000 feet of timber daily, besides 14,000,000 shingles and 6,000,000 laths per season and employed a force of 260 men.


Concerning Foster’s Clark County lands, the Marshfield times of January 15, 1897, carried the following reprint from the Neillsville Republican: “Charley Cornelius, the new register of deeds, has just received two warranty deeds to record, one of $90,000 and another deed of $125,000, making the sum total of $215,000 for timber lands in this county.  The deeds are from the Mississippi River Logging Company to N. C. Foster Lumber Company of Fairchild. The land is all situated in Clark County.”


In July 1891, his various interests were incorporated under the name of the N. C. Foster Lumber Co., with N. C. Foster president and his two sons, E. J. Foster and G. A. Foster, vice president and secretary-treasurer. They continued this business until 1906. The company also carried on a general merchandise business, which was later sold to the Farmer’s Mutual Trading Company, incorporated in 1903 with N. C. Foster as president.  He was also president of the Farmers’ Cooperative Supply Company at Greenwood, which began operations in 1898, and he built the large Farmer’s Store there.  Thousands of acres of land were later sold to hundreds of farmers in western Clark County.


Perhaps of most importance to the settlers back in those days, when large areas of the county were wild and undeveloped and roads could hardly be dignified by that name, was the building of the Chicago, Fairchild & Eau Claire River Railroad, later the Fairchild & Northeastern Railway Co.  The CF&ECR RR was chartered as a private logging concern but eventually became a common carrier.  Mr. Foster was one of the few, if not the only man in the United States, who ever built a railroad out of his own personal funds, involving over a million dollars, without mortgaging it for a single dollar.  Perhaps that is why, after the name was changed in 1898 to the F&NE Railway Co., someone got the bright idea of nicknaming it the “Foster & Nobody Else!” In 1881, he built 45 miles of railroad from Fairchild to Mondovi, which he used for hauling logs and, being the first road devoted to that purpose built in Wisconsin.  It was chartered in 1886 and afterwards sold and now known as the Mondovi branch of the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad.  His original log railroad, consisting of 38 miles from Fairchild to Owen, where it connected with the Soo line, which was put in operation in 1905, was built by Mr. Foster for the N. C. Foster Lumber Co.  In 1913, he built the Fairchild & Northwestern from Fairchild to Cleghorn, a distance of 28 miles.


His youngest son, Willard Foster, was made supervisor of the railroad in 1897. Many who read this will affectionately recall “Big Bill” Foster, who could always be depended upon to hitch up the old engine to a freight car and haul a crowd of rooters to the Sunday baseball games at Greenwood and Owen. 


Some of the highlights in the building of the railroad were recalled by Willard Foster in an article written by him for The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society and printed in their Bulletin No. 52, from which we quote:


“While the CF&ECR RR was advancing northeasterly through the timber region, an interesting thing happened in the building of this line. We were extending our line into Greenwood and had a 110-ft. span steel bridge erected over the Black River at Greenwood.  Our track was built over it and on up the right-of-way nearly into Greenwood.  The grading was all done and we were to lay the track up to the depot, which had been built at the time, on a Monday morning. We would connect with the old Wisconsin Central, late Soo, in building this short piece of track.


“The WC RR sent a crew, engine, and roadmaster with his track men and was building a track over our right-of-way to get in ahead of us. But a good friend from Greenwood telephoned to father and Dad called me to get out the “Willie,” one of our engines, pick up all the men I could get in town, stop at the logging camps and get all of the men there, and get to Greenwood as fast as I could to find out what was being done, and if necessary to prevent anything being done that would jeopardize our property in any way.


“When I got there, they had built about 100 ft. of track across our grade and we proceeded to tear it up; that is, to remove three 30-ft. rails and throw them back on their right -of-way with their engine on the wrong side.  It being Sunday and everyone in Greenwood on our side, there was no warrant made against us.  In the meantime Father came out in the ‘Gracie’ engine.


“The WC RR roadmaster wanted to know how they were going to get water for their engine so Father told them that he would lay the track back to them if they would promise to keep right on going.  They promised and Father let them out and that was the last we saw of the WC crew. The WC roadmaster said he was ordered to go in and do what he had done but that he was willing to quit.  And it was dark and suppertime, the men were all glad to get away. 


The government placed a valuation of $800,000 on the F&NE RR, as of 1916 prices.  By 1917 the Fosters had built about 30 miles of their proposed Fairchild-Caryville line, when war with Germany was declared, so the stretch between Cleghorn and Caryville was never built. The F&NE was the shortest railroad in the United States to be taken over by the railroad administration during World War I.  On account of my father’s failing health at this time I was put in full charge of the whole operation of the road, being made general superintendent, although the CStPM&O actually operated the road during the reign of the U.S.R.A.


The government gave the road back to us on March 1, 1919, and as I had decided it would be impossible for us to continue operating it because of the deplorable condition, it was then taken over by some businessmen in Chicago, and they gave it back in the fall of that same year.  I absolutely refused to operate the F&NE after the government returned the railroads to their owners, because of the dilapidated condition of equipment and finances.  I knew we couldn’t operate and pay standard wages. When we decided not to operate after the war was over, some businessmen along the Fairchild-Cleghorn line wished to have this last piece of line to operate for their own convenience in hauling lumber, lime, coal, and to haul hay, grain, cattle and such farm products. So I made arrangements to lease them a locomotive and cars, but I explained to them that I could not lease the coach, for by hauling passengers they might do something, which would make the railroad a common carrier and that I did not want; so they would bill everything hauled over the railroad to themselves at Fairchild and then re-bill it to its final destination. Everything went along fine for three months and then they were ready to acknowledge that they knew very little about operating a railroad.


“But N. C. Foster said that he wouldn’t scrap or abandon the line, preferring to operate it at a loss, as roads were poor and he thought the farmers needed the railroad.


“In January 1925, N. C. had died in 1923, we offered and accepted, $80,000 by some Chicago men who thought they could make a go of it.  They operated the road for about three years and in 1928 scrapped everything except the two newer locomotives, which went to some logging road in the south.  The abandonment by the Chicago party was the final doom of the Fairchild & Northwestern Railroad.


N. C. Foster named the village of Willard after his son and Tioga for the county of his birth in New York. After his death in 1923, the Town of Foster, created from a portion of the Town of Mentor, was named for him.


Two of N. C. Foster’s first railroad engines were No. 3 “Willie” and No. 4, “Gracie Mae”; both were 16-ton Dicksons.  In the beginning, the small engines hauled cars of cut logs from the wooded areas to the Fairchild mill.  Later, the two engines were often used for quick, short runs, such as taking spectators to watch a Sunday baseball game, or a group of berry-pickers out to the lowland areas between Fairchild and Neillsville. The above photo shows the “Gracie Mae”, on a sidetrack awaiting its destiny, probably to be junked, in 1905.




N. C. Foster named the village of Willard after his son and Tioga for the county of his birth in New York. After his death in 1923, the Town of Foster, created from a portion of the Town of Mentor, was named for him.



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