History: 1881 History of  Wood Co., Wisconsin

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----Source: The History of Northern Wisconsin, page 1215

----1881 History of Wood Co., Wisconsin




This County is situated nearly in the geographical center of the State. It embraces twenty-three townships, which lie immediately west of Portage County between Townships 21 and 25 inclusive, in Ranges 2 to 5, and 21 to 23 in Range 6. It contains nearly 550,000 acres, of which only about 45,000 acres are under cultivation; two-thirds of the balance is capable of improvements. There is but little government land in the county. The greater part of that in the odd number sections having been withdrawn from the market for the benefit of the Wisconsin Central Railroad. About 100,000 acres is owned by the State. The general slope and drainage of the county is toward the south and southwest—the average incline being about seven feet to the mile. The soil in the central and northern portions is a lich loam, containing an admixture of clay and sand and vegetable mold. In the southern and eastern sections it is lighter and contains more sand. The marshes in Wood County are very extensive, particularly in the southwestern portion, and are peculiarly adapted to cranberry culture and hay-growing. With regard to forest trees, it may be said that originally three-fourths of the county was timber land, the greater part being covered with heavy forests of white pine.

In addition to this there is in the northern tier of townships considerable quantities of white and red oak, white and black ash, maple, hemlock and butternut. It has been estimated that about one-half of the pine has been removed. The land as it is cleared of the timber is converted into farms or allowed to return to the State, and the marsh region in the southwest portion is decreasing in size yearly. The useless "floating" areas of marsh are fast becoming hard meadow land, some being even capable of cultivation, the result of ditching, natural drainage, and the decrease in the annual rainfall.

The county is abundantly supplied with water, and numerous streams afford good drainage for all but the southwest part or corner. The Wisconsin River, flowing in a southerly direction, crosses the southeast corner, and the Yellow River, a tributary of the Wisconsin, rises in the northern part and crosses the county from north to south, draining the entire central region. Besides these, there is the east fork of the Black River, which rises in the western part of this county, and numerous small creeks which flow in all directions. The streams rising in the north have their origin in springs, while those in the south originate in marshes.

All of these streams abound in the different varieties of fish, such as buffalo, bass, pickerel and catfish. They also supply magnificent water-Tower. The fall of the Wisconsin River through Wood County is fully one hundred feet, the distance being but fifteen miles.  It is broken into different channels at several points, affording greater opportunities to utilize the water privileges and also to multiply their number. At present there are situated on these water-powers nine sawmills, having a sawing capacity of about 75,000,000 feet per annum; two flouring mills, shingle mills, planing mills, foundries, machine shops, etc., all driven by water-power, without the digging of canals, cutting of channels or other expensive improvements. It has been estimated that an hundred mills could be run on this river within this county alone.

The leading industry of Wood County is lumbering. The admirable water-power and the heavy forests of pine combined, in an early day, to induce lumbermen to seek this region, and the same circumstances have continued to make this the dominant interest. In later years many farms have been opened and cultivated, the products of the soil finding a profitable and ready market among the lumbermen. Cranberry culture is a prominent industry in the county, large quantities growing wild, the marsh region being such that their cultivation is attended with very little expense.

In early days the region of forest meadows along the Wisconsin and its tributary streams, was a rich hunting ground of the aborigines. That portion near the river was at one time a succession of beaver dams; deer, bear, and other game was in abundance. Even at the present time Indians and trappers obtain a livelihood from the sale of furs secured in this region.

Wolves and bears are quite numerous in the forests of the western townships.

The geological exposure in Wood County, divides the area about equally into Potsdam sandstone and rocks of the Metamorphic or Azoic age, the latter being the great mineral strata of the world. Quarries have been opened, and a superior quality of building material has been obtained. The azoic rocks when polished are quite equal to the Scotch granite so much used for monuments and ornamental work. They consist of a bright cleavable feldspar, mingled with alkaline or smoky quartz, in such a manner that they are capable of receiving a very high polish. Iron ore is found in this region, belonging mainly under the head of bog ore. This exists under the marshes, and shows an excellent quality in abundance. Nothing has been done as yet to develop this resource. Copper ore is also found in considerable quantities. On both sides of the Yellow River, in the vicinity of Grand Rapids, and westward along the line of junction of the gneissic rocks, toward the north, and the Potsdam sandstone toward the south, is an extensive deposit of kaolin. This material in Wood County occurs entirely as " Kaolin zed " rock, and underlies a large area of the county, in a strata from four to twenty feet thick. All that is needed to make this a source of wealth to the county is capital.


In the Winter of 1827, Daniel Whitney, of Green Bay, obtained a permit from the Winnebagoes granting him the privilege to make shingles on the Wisconsin River. He employed twenty-two Stockbridge Indians, with his nephew, David R. Whitney, and another man, to superintend the party. Col. Childs was engaged to take the party iip the river, and supply them with provisions. He conveyed them to the month of the Yellow River, where he left them. On his return, subsequently, he was informed by Major Twiggs, commanding officer at Fort Winnebago, that Whitney's men must be sent out of the country, and, if he went up the river, he would get into trouble. Disregarding all the advice of Twiggs, Childs went up to where the men were working. They had, he says, made about two hundred thousand shingles. Major Twiggs, not long after this, sent up the Wisconsin, took away a part of Whitney's shingles and destroyed the rest. By this deed, Whitney lost about $1,800. Mr. Sampson says that in this way, the fort was built by shingles and lumber stolen from Mr. Whitney. Major Twiggs, for some unknown reason, was very much opposed to Whitney's securing his water-site. Following this, in 1831, Mr. Whitney obtained a permit from the War Department to erect a saw-mill, and cut timber on the Wisconsin River. In 1831-2, he, assisted by his nephew and A. B. Sampson, built the first mill at a place which they named Whitney's Rapids, below Point Bausse, and about ten miles below Grand Rapids. Messrs. Grignon & Merrill, obtaining a similar permit to that of Whitney's, built a mill at Grignon's Rapids, in 1836. These two establishments were the pioneers in the lumbering business on the Wisconsin River and in Wood County The treaty of 1836, by which the title of the Menomonee Indians was extinguished to a strip of land six miles wide, from Point Bausse forty miles up the stream, was obtained especially to open the country to the lumbermen. The high price and great demand quickened the business, and the river was explored from Point Bausse to Big Bull Falls that year. The occupation and clearing of the most eligible sites quickly followed. Two mills were soon established at Grand Rapids, one at Mill Creek and others on same stream. The Indian title to the land was extinguished in 1848. This opened the whole of Upper Wisconsin country to the settler.

Such is a brief sketch of the first mills on the Wisconsin River. It may be proper to say that the timber consists of while, yellow and Norway pine, rock and soft maple, nearly all the varieties of oak, balsam fir, white and red cedar, spruce, hemlock, ash, poplar, basswood and hickory. The home demand is but an insignificant part of what is cut, as the markets of all the Slates west of the Mississippi are largely dependent for their supply upon the State of Wisconsin. The first white woman in Wood County was Mrs. Whitney, wife of David. It is said of her that she was noted for securing the respect and fear of the Indians. Upon one occasion, she entrusted herself and two children with two of them in a bark canoe for the journey of 150 miles to reach her husband's side, who was lying very sick.

The first log house in the county was built by Whitney at Whitney's Rapids. The house was a double log tenement, built for the purpose of trafficking with the Indians, and as a house of entertainment for travelers. Whitney was a generous, open-hearted man, who took great pains to make everybody who stopped with him as comfortable as his situation would permit. The accommodations, as may be imagined, were necessarily very poor. Travelers, in lieu of beds, were compelled to sleep as best they could. They would wrap their blankets about them and lie upon the floor, to be howled to sleep by hungry wolves, which often .stuck their cold noses through the crevices and snorted in anticipation of what a supper they might have could they but get a little nearer.

In 1842, the Rev. J. S. Hurlbut, a Methodist missionary, began his labors in the county. He held a meeting and preached his first sermon here, the services being held in a building within the limits of the present city of Centralia. After this, he held meetings wherever the people would have them, very often journeying for miles through an almost trackless wilderness, to hold services for some family who had sent him an invitation; sometimes going on horseback, but oftener on foot. Occasionally, the entire population would turn out and meet at some place in the county to enjoy the services. During his lonely wanderings, this zealous minister was often pursued by wolves, which were as numerous then as dogs are now. They would surround dwellings and make night hideous with their howls, plundering whenever an opportunity offered.

In 1842, the first school was established, with the Rev. J. S. Hurlbut as teacher. This school was held in a log house, in Centralia. Dr. G. W. Whitney, who was the first resident physician iu Wood County, found practice at an early da}- extremely laborious, as he often had to be not only physician, but nurse and watcher. The veteran blacksmith, J. B. Hasbrouck, located in the county in 1842, and built himself a shop in Grand Rapids. One of the first merchants, Lemuel Kromer, arrived in 1846, and settled at the county seat. Joseph Wood, from whom the county has taken its name, has been a continuous resident since 1848, during which time he has held many offices of honor and trust. In the year 1853, L. P. Powers, the first resident lawyer in the county, made his appearance, locating in the cit}' of Grand Rapids. For many years, Mr. Powers was the only lawj-er in the county, being joined in 1858 by the Hon. C. M. Webb, ex-State Senator, who has been one of the leading attorneys since his coming. The first important business of the pioneer settler upon his arrival in Wood County was to build a house. Until this was done, he had to camp on the ground, or live in a wagon. The style of a home entered very little into his thoughts. It was a shelter he wanted— protection from stress of weather and exposures. A mere cabin or hut was sufficient, and when completed and looked upon by the brave pioneer, seemed to him as satisfactory as the city home he probably had left, as many did, to begin anew the struggle with fortune. The furniture of a pioneer's cabin was generally of the most primitive description, unless it was where they had brought with them their old household supplies, which, owing to the distance some of them had to come, was very seldom the case. It was, however, very easy to improvise tables, chairs and bedsteads. The former could be made of split logs; the latter, constructed as follows: A forked stick driven into the ground, diagonally from the corner of the room and at proper distances, upon which poles reaching from each side could be laid, the wall ends of the poles either resting in the openings between the logs, or driven into auger-holes. Either bark or boards could be used as a substitute for cords or slats. Among other things calculated to annoy and distress the pioneer, was the prevalence of wild beasts of prey, the most numerous and troublesome of which was the wolf. While it was true in a. figurative sense that it required the utmost care and exertion to " keep the wolf from the door," it was almost as true in a literal sense.

There are two species of these animals that prey on the pioneer—the large black timber wolf and the smaller, gray wolf, which usually inhabits the prairie. At first, it was next to impossible for a settler to keep small stock of any kind. Sheep were not deemed safe property until late years, when their enemies were supposed to be nearly exterminated. Large numbers of wolves were destroyed during the early days of settlement, when they were hungry, which was not uncommon, particularly during the Winter. They were often too indiscreet for their own safety, and would approach within easy shot of the settlers' dwellings. Smaller animals, such as panthers, lynx, wildcats, catamounts, were also sufficiently numerous to prove troublesome. The trials of the pioneer were innumerable, and the cases of actual suffering might fill a volume of no ordinary size. Timid women became brave through combats with real dangers. Patient mothers grew sick at heart with the sight of beloved children failing in health from lack of the commonest necessaries of life. The struggle was a constant one for the sustaining means of life itself.

The title acquired by the Government by treaties with the Indians, and these lands being surveyed and and brought into market, and offered at mere nominal prices, increased the number of settlers. Where once stood one log shanty, villages and cities began to spring up. Settlers from Eastern and other States, flocked into Wisconsin, manufacturing and general industries grew rapidly, giving promise that the region would become, as it is fast doing, one of the first States in the Union.

The experiences of the early pioneer, in Wood County, were no worse, and in some respects they were better than those who lived farther in the interior of the State. The narratives of the early settlers that have been published from time to time, where details are frequently given and incidents related, all show the difficulties and hardships these brave men and women had to pass through, before they could live with any degree of comfort.


On the twenty-ninth day of March, 1856, an act of the Legislature of Wisconsin was approved by the Governor, to divide the county of Portage and organize the county of Wood. By said act, all that portion of country, then embraced within a boundary, beginning at the southwest coiner of Township 21 north, of Range 2 east; running thence east on the township line, between Townships 20 and 21, and north on said range line, between Townships 25, and 26, east, thence north on said range line, to the township line between Townships 23 and 24 north, thence west on said township line, to the range line between Ranges 5 and 6 east, thence north on said range line to the township line between Townships 25 and 26 north, thence west on said township line to the range line between Ranges 1 and 2 east, thence south on said range line to place of beginning, was set off into a separate county, and called Wood. By the organic act, it was proved that the county should be organized for all the Purposes, both of county and judicial government, and that it should enjoy all the rights, privileges, immunities, and powers of the other counties of the State. It was also provided that an election should be held in November of same year, the several towns, or precincts of the county, such as were then or might thereafter be established by law, for the election of all such town and county officers, as the county by virtue of its organization and the provisions of the organic act, should be entitled to, who were severally to hold their offices until the next general election and until their successors were duly elected and qualified.

It was provided by the act just mentioned, that the first election to be held in the county should be conducted in all respects in the manner then provided by law for holding general elections, and the votes cast were to be returned and canvassed as therein provided, and the Judges of Election were authorized to issue certificates of election to any person duly elected to office. It was further provided that the official terms of those elected begin on the first Monday in January of the ensuing year.

In 1870, it was thought advisable, for certain reasons, to annex a portion of Wood County to the county of Jackson; but as Wood County contained less than 900 square miles, it could not be divided without a popular vote. Therefore, six townships were added to this county from the contiguous territory of Jackson by an act of the Legislature of February 11, 1870, to take effect on the twenty-fifth day of April, of same year. The county was, by this addition, of sufficient size to render legislative division allowable, and by another act, passed on the same day, which took effect six days subsequently, or on the first day of May, 1870, these same six townships, together with the obnoxious corner of Wood County, were attached to Jackson County. Both of the above-mentioned acts received the Governor's signature on the 11th of February, 1870. Just before the building of the Green Bay & Minnesota Railroad, the tract was restored to Wood County, as noted in act, approved March 9, 1872. The boundaries of the county have thus become the same as before the legislation of 1870, and have remained since unchanged.

The new county was attached to the Seventh Judicial Circuit, and Grand Rapids fixed upon as the county seat, by the act of organization, and by an amendment of September 19, 1856, it was located on Lots 2 and 3, in Block 31, Wood's Addition to Grand Rapids, provided these lots would be donated to the county.

There was no action taken on the above amendment, however, and it was therefore a dead letter. Again, in April, 1866, an act was passed locating the county seat on " fractional Lot 2, of Section i7, of Township 21, Range 6 east, in Grand Rapids." Conditioned, as in case with the amendment of September 19, 1856, that a gift of the same be made to the county, and the approval of a majority of the voters. Although there is no record of this vote ever having been taken, and no deed to the county of the land has ever been registered, yet, in 1866, the first court-house in the county, a small wooden building, was erected upon the site above described. This building is still used as a courthouse, yet the county offices, with one exception, are held elsewhere, nearer the business portion of the city. The date of the first warranty deed recorded is October 1, 18.58, and was given by Mark A. Wilkes to Mrs. Ann Black. It was entered for record January 1, 1857.

The first county officers were chosen in 1857, as follows: County Judge, Joseph Wood; Sheriff, Benjamin Buck; District Attorney, L. P. Powers; Surveyor, H. A. Temple; Clerk of Circuit Court, L. Kromer; County Clerk, L. P. Powers; Treasurer, I. L. Mosher; Register of Deeds, L. Kromer.

Pursuant to a general call, a meeting of citizens was held at the Council Rooms, in the city of Grand Rapids, June 9, 1877, to arouse public interest in the re-organization of the Wood County Agricultural and Mechanical Association. The meeting convened at 2.30 P. M., electing Dr. G. F. Witter president, and S. D. Lord secretary. In view of the fact that an unsuccessful effort was made several years ago to organize a Fair Association, there were inquiries made to find records of same, and it was discovered that all books and records had been destroyed by fire, March, 1873. The funds, however, having been entrusted to H. B. Philleo, were accounted for, there being -$25 on hand, after paying the expenses incurred by the Association. There was then a motion brought before the meeting by Seth Reeves, and seconded by S. D. Lord, wherein it was proposed that those members of the old organization, who could either produce their card of membership or in any manner prove membership, should be admitted to membership in the new organization. After a general discussion the motion was lost, the feeling appearing to exist strongly that an entirely new organization was to be preferred, and not a re-organization of the defunct Association. It was furthermore agreed that if all who held old membership tickets would file them with Mr. Philleo, that the pro rata share of each would be determined, and money would be refunded. The attendance at this meeting was large, there being a good representation from the cities of Centralia and Grand Rapids, and delegations from the towns of Seneca, Rudolph, Grand Rapids and Saratoga. The secretary was instructed to correspond with leading influential men in different parts of the county, send them subscription lists and invite their attendance at the next meeting. At the next meeting, held at the Council Rooms, June 20, 1877, the subscription list was returned with a total of 104 names in following order: Grand Rapids, 83 names signed; Centralia, 12 names; town of Remington, 5 names; Auburndale, 4 names. At this meeting the following subscriptions for shares were paid, the price having been fixed at one dollar per share: Grand Rapids, 20; Remington, 5; Auburndale, 5; Seigel, 1; Rudolph, 1; Centralia, 1; Seneca 1. Total amount of money received for shares being thirty- four dollars. In accordance with the provisions of Chapter 83, of the General Laws of 1858, the meeting then proceeded to organize and form itself into a body corporate by adopting a constitution and electing officers. The officers of the association were to consist of a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer and one director from each town and city, having five or more members in the Association; these officers altogether to constitute the executive committee, five of whom, including the president (or vice-president) and secretary to constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. At this meeting- the following officers were elected: President. D. G. Witter, Grand Rapids; Vice- President, A. G. Cady, Seneca; Secretary, S. D. Lord, Grand Rapids; Treasurer, Seth Reeves, Grand Rapids. The Board of Directors were: Joseph Hasbrouck, Grand Rapids; Thomas J. Cooper, Centralia; John Edwards, Port Edwards; E. A. Bentley, Seneca; James Ranhan, Seigel; Jasper Crotteau, Rudolph; John Connor, Auburndale; J. B. Grieves, Marshfield S. L. Nason, Lincoln; F. W. Pitts, Wood; George Hiles, Dexter; James Joy, Remington; John McCartney, Saratoga; John Timm, Town of Grand Rapids. The next matter to be attended to was the finding of suitable grounds to be used for the annual exhibition. A committee on grounds was appointed, and at the following meeting it was reported that after looking at a number of places, the committee were unanimous in agreeing that the Worden Race Course forty was the most suitable, and that they had made an offer for it. On the 18th of July, the offer was closed, and the association became the lessees of the ground for one year, with the privilege of either buying or leasing it for a term of years.

The first fair was held on the eighth, ninth and tenth days of October, 1877, and was in all respects a great success. In 1878, final arrangements were made, by which the association was to have the use of its present grounds for fair purposes, and its meetings have since been held there. The grounds have been well fitted up for all purposes of an agricultural and mechanical exhibit. A good half-mile track affords an opportunity for the display or training of fast horses. A hall for agricultural purposes, cattle pens and booths for domestic manufactures, are among the attractions. By legislative action, it has been placed on the same footing as county societies.


Twenty-four 3'ears ago, J. N. Brundage settled in Grand Rapids, and there established the Wood County Reporter. The paper was Republican in politics, and thoroughly en rapport with the spirit of improvement then existing. The editor, in his salutatory, said: " I this day publish the first number of the Wood County Reporter. I trust that the citizens will rally around the first paper in Wood County. This, the initial sheet, will in the course of time be a curiosity, as the first paper published in Wood County and the future city of Grand Rapids." The initial number was a well-printed, creditable sheet, full of vigor and vigilance, for those days. Its contents were well selected, and calculated to insure interest. Brundage continued to edit the Reporter until the year 1864, when lie went into the army. At this time, the paper was purchased by J. E. Ingraham, who continued its publication, with C. M. Webb as editor. In 1869, Ingraham associated with H. B. Pliilleo, who has since had full editorial control. Messrs. Ingraham & Philleo edited the Reporter until April, 1880, when it was purchased by the present owners and editors, Fontaine Bros. The paper is a seven-column folio, and claims a circulation of 400.

Grand Rapids Tribune was also founded by the Nestor of the press in Wood County, in April, 1873. At this time, he associated himself with L. P. Powers, who acted as political editor. Early in July, the offices took fire, and all was destroyed. In 1879, it was again burned, it was supposed by an incendiary mob. Notwithstanding these severe reverses, the plucky editor again started his office, and in April, 1880, gave it in charge of his son, A. A. Brundage. It was operated for a year by A. A. Brundage, when the present managers took charge, Messrs. J. N. and E. B. Brundage. The paper claims a circulation of about 450. In form, it is a seven-column qiuirto.

The Ceutralia Enterprise was established on the twenty-second day of May, 1879, by C. H. Clark, now editor and proprietor of the Marshfield Times. On the twenty-seventh day of September, 1879, Clark disposed of his entire interest in the paper to Judge Henry Hayden, who was killed on the ninth day of October following, and the Enterprise was conducted by his widow, Mrs. Harriet S. Hayden, until January 1, 1880, when it was sold to E. B. Rossier and C. O. Baker. January 1, 1881, Baker disposed of his interest to E. B. Rossier, but is still connected with the paperas associate editor. This is the only Greenback paper in the county, and claims a circulation of nOO. On the twenty-second day of October, C. H. Clark established the Marshfield Times, a fine breezy little newspaper, very creditable in appearance, and very ably edited.


But few persons have any idea of the commercial importance of the cranberry to the State of Wisconsin, though the berry is acknowledged and appreciated by all as the last fruit of the season. In the year of 1876 there was more than 7,600 acres of land used for the cultivation of this berry, and at present more than twice that area is under cultivation, and fully twice as much used as wild marsh, where the berry grows to as high a state of perfection as in a cultivated marsh, although the yield cannot be as great on account of the inaccessibility. The cultivation of the berry consists simply in ditching, damming, draining, and flooding the marshes at the proper season of the year, the plants or vines being under water from November till May. To the cultivator the berry is a paying investment, as it costs but little to raise, and yields in return about thirty per cent, net, annually, on the investment in lands, selling in market for from $2.50 to $4.50 per bushel. Wisconsin is said to be entirely free from the blight common in the New Jersey marshes, and from the worm to be found in the marshes of Connecticut, and the attention of Eastern capitalists, who are becoming interested in the culture of the berry, is being drawn to the marshes of This State. To encourage the culture, the Agricultural Society of the State intend offering a premium at their State fair, for the best specimen of the fruit.

Wood County has some of the best marshes in the State, their yield being enormous, and more attention is being given this year to the berry than of any preceding it. The largest marsh in the State is owned and operated by the Grand Marsh Cranberry Company, located in Jackson County, near Beaver Station, on the line of the Wisconsin Valley Railroad, a branch of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul. In this marsh alone there are 4,500 acres, and has at the present time 600 acres under cultivation. Two hundred acres, started five 3'ears ago, will yield, it is estimated, this season, 200 bushels to the acre, and the remaining 400, about fifty bushels to the acre. This is an excellent crop, but will probably be doubled in another year. This company was incorporated under the laws of Illinois some months since, with a capital of $200,000, by B. P. Moulton, Frank I. Wilson, Joseph White and E. A. Hunter. The company have made extensive improvements, having a warehouse at the marsh, and one at Beaver Station, and has thirty miles of ditch and ten miles of dam completed. Charles J. Adriance, the superintendent at the marsh, says tire crop is a large one this year, but if properly cared for this Winter, the vines will bear double next season. One of the best cultivated marshes in Wood County is known as Bearss' Marsh, located on the line of the Wisconsin Valley Railroad, in Town 21, Range 4, and in Sections 16 and 21. This marsh contains 120 acres, all under cultivation. In 1880, the yield was fully 3,600 bushels. The proprietors. Messrs. Bearss & Alexander, have made very extensive improvements, building, as well as warehouses, permanent shanties for the use of their pickers during the season. John Arpin's marsh, located on same railroad, and situated in Town 22, Range 4, Section 33, contains about forty acres, from which, in 1876, there were 1,200 bushels picked. In 1877, the marsh fire destroyed a great deal of the marsh, and for some time the crop was very light. In 1880, the crop yielded 400 bushels. The Bearss marsh has about eight miles of ditch and three miles of dam. Arpin's marsh has about four miles of ditching and excellent damming facilities.


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