Have You Even Seen This Side of Eau Claire, Wisconsin?

May 2, 2013 Travis Dewitz

I grew up here and I have lived in the area my entire life. I’m numb to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I take the same roads and streets day in and day out. Everything looks the same, the landscape is just plain and stale to me. Cookie cutter homes pop up in every opening they can find. The most exciting change I see here is when a fast food chain or gas station gets a facelift. Nothing here to see, nothing here to photograph.

I go and shoot the unique and amazing places that I come across all over the United States when I can. I’m drawn to unique places, places with buildings that actually seem to have a soul, that have life to them. I have a fascination for ruins and abandoned places or even entire towns. Places like Detroit that have very unique architecture and ruins all in one place or just devastated cities  like Braddock and Gary. Both which had huge population collapses which were greatly affected by the steel industry.  Then there is the almost surreal mountain hollows of West Virginia filled with history, life, decay, and coal. All of these places seem so much more interesting and filled with stories and historic importance than Eau Claire. I love Eau Claire. I know that there is much more to Eau Claire then a few main roads lined with commercial stores, fast food joints, and gas stations between point A and point B. When you live somewhere for your entire life, that is what it becomes.  A blur of nothing special, day in and day out. Same roads, same routes, same places, same buildings. Back and forth I drive seeing what I saw the day before and the year before that. You need to escape the city limits just for a look at something different, something new to you, someplace that can open your eyes again.

I thought deeply about my drive to explore places across the country to get that rush of new to me feelings. Being able to capture and share what I found. I thought about how the people who live and grew up in towns and cities I visit must see feel the same way I feel about Eau Claire. I’m sure they must think exactly the same thoughts I have about my hometown, a blur of nothing special, day in and day out. I thought about how most of the comments and feedback on my photographs of these places are all from outsiders, people who have maybe just driven through once or twice, people who moved away long ago and have not been back since. It’s different to them. It isn’t different to those that live there and have always lived there. That is the difference.

Have you ever been driving down the road in the city where you live and saw something that caught your eye? You think to yourself, Is that new? I’ve never seen that before. When did that change? You look over and ask the person next to you, do you remember that? They then respond back, that has been there forever, as long as I can remember. That is an incredible feeling. So I set out to photograph that feeling. I went out with my camera to capture Eau Claire like it was my first day there. I found and photographed as many unique areas, homes, businesses, and building that I could. I drove off my normal A to B routes to find all the amazing parts of Eau Claire that I could. I want you, the residents of Eau Claire to see these images and experience that “How did I miss that feeling” about your city. I want you to be completely amazed that these places exist within the city limits and you somehow missed them. I want to make Eau Claire new to you again.

Locations and Addresses Omitted for Privacy

I also wanted to add a little bit of history about origins of the city of Eau Claire. Named after the river, Eau Claire translates from french meaning Clear Waters. It is thought that french explorers traveling down the rain muddied Chippewa River came upon the clear water of the what is now the Eau Claire River. Eau Claire was founded in 1845 at this confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers and is now the 9th largest city in the state.  Present day Eau Claire was originally three separate cities. The second was formed near the present day courthouse and was known as West Eau Claire. Further down the Chippewa River, Daniel Shaw & Co. lumber company founded Shawtown, which was annexed by the 1930s. At one point in history, Altoona was known as East Eau Claire but was changed so there was no confusion between the railroad stations that existed. Nicknamed Sawdust City, Eau Claire was in the center of the Wisconsin lumber industry.  More than 75 sawmills and factories were making everything from furniture to electric motors by 1890. There was even a log flume built from the Chippewa River dam below Dells Pond that ran along the cliff side of the Chippewa River and then cut across under the city and into Halfmoon Lake. Dells Pond and Halfmoon Lake were both used as log storage ponds for the timber that was felled from northern forests along the Chippewa. The lumber industry collapsed at the turn of the 20th century.  Education and tires  fueled the local economy in the 1900’s. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire opened in 1916 and the Gillette Tire Company opened in 1917. From 1917 to 1992, the tire plant, which was bought by U.S. Rubber in 1931 and renamed Uniroyal, was the city’s largest employer and one of the world’s leading producers of automobile tires.

 

Photos from this Eau Claire photography series may be purchased here.

 


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travis dewitz pines portrait suit thumb web PhotographTravis Dewitz is a remarkable photographer in the Chippewa Valley. He is well known for photographing local sceneries, landmarks, venues, buildings and people in various and ingenious ways. Though you not know him personally, his work provides a unique foundation of our local community and his photographs are unmistakable. Dewitz’s pictures are an impressive feat and preserve a moment; long after our travels are over, and our memories faded, photos are what remind us of the adventures we had and the connections to the people we met. Learn more about him here.


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Travis Dewitz

I. Love. Photography. I love it. It lightens my heart, fills my soul, and allows me to capture life the way that I see it. I constantly yearn to show life in a way that hasn’t been seen before, to bring images to people in a fresh and innovative way. My favorite focus in photography, my specialty I guess you would say, is Railroad Photography & Art. Something about the rumbling of these great, big, beautiful machines. The way they shake the earth beneath you as they rumble by, how they invade your chest and you can feel the rumble inside you. The plumes of heat on a hot day represented in a heat wave. Snaking through a western valley, void of trees or any other distracting element. Just the train, by itself, in it’s own inexplicable beauty and power. From the time I was a child, they have captured my imagination. I’ve recently gotten into portraiture a bit, and I want to bring some of my experiences with trains to that arena. To capture the power of a person, the sadness, loneliness, omniscience, pride, love, & carefree spirit in a way that hasn’t been done before. I want people to look at themselves in a photograph I have taken, and see a side of themselves that they think no one else has ever seen. Dewitz Photography is all about capturing a moment in a way that has never been seen before, capturing a beauty that some never knew was even there.

Comments (39)

  1. I know you sell the images indivdually, but are you possibly thinking about putting these together in a book? I would be interested in buying one if you did 🙂

  2. I would love to make a book with these images. The demand is low so the only option is print on demand. I love my photography books on the larger size and high quality. All of this adds to the cost but I should be able to produce these at around $149.95. If you or anyone else is interested let me know. You can PM me or email me at [email protected]. If I can get a order of at least 10 books I should be able to drop roughly $20 off. 🙂

  3. gail schellinger

    This is lovely. Thank you for sharing these familiar, and not so familiar locations.

  4. Sharon Albrecht Haas

    It’s like a wonderful walk through town! Thank you!

  5. Jody Hagedorn

    An extremely delightful tour around Eau Claire! Amazing photography, so clear and crisp…Thank you for a trip down memory lane ( street, ave and road! )

  6. Judy Jobe Feirn

    Enjoyed the tour very much. Thank you for sharing.

  7. James Dierauer

    Like the pictures, I think you took a picture of everything on Birch St except for Computer Wizards.

  8. Jean Whiteside

    Moved away from Eau Claire a year ago. Was moving to see the town where we lived all our lives. Awesome photography!

  9. Hilary

    You should definitely make a book. There are local businesses that would sell and promote it. I know every single location you have photographed here, as well as the history of 90% of them. I am an EC nerd and would love such a book on my coffee table.

  10. Connie L. Korger

    I lived in E.C. for 25 years and still have family that I visit there. I recognized many places but I think I have to cruise a few streets to locate some more. Thank you for the tour.

  11. Amber Lien via Facebook

    That was pretty interesting! Sort of makes me want to take a Sunday drive around the parts of Eau Claire rarely travelled! Just think, your photos will be looked at someday, with even more remembrance, to even more people

  12. John-Margaret Poast

    What memories this brought back! You included a photo of the house I grew up in.

  13. Nancy Geissler

    Travis, I was born and raised in Eau Claire and still have family and friends there today I visit on a regular basis. My family and I have lived all over the United States…Utah, Washington state, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and now Green Bay but, Eau Claire will always be “home.” Thanks for the ‘walk down memory lane.’ Your last picture of the vacuum shop and white house on the side was my Dad’s property he rented out for many years. He just sold it a few years back. How cool!

  14. Hildegard Andrea Wagner

    The house with 544 on it is on Germania Street. It used to be Baker Commercial Art studio.

  15. Caitlin Trebelhorn

    This is wonderful! My husband and I lived in Eau Claire for five years while studying at UWEC and have both missed it ever since moving away. I especially love this as you photographed the first home my husband and I shared while we were in undergrad which will forever hold a special place in my heart (Green house with yellow trim). The Northside often is overlooked in Eau Claire, so thank you for highlighting so many of the wonderful aspects of this industrial side of town! Eau Claire is a wonderful place to live, and it took me moving away to realize just how special it is. I will forever be proud to be a Blugold!

  16. Penny France

    What a wonderful historical reference. Maybe your book provides addresses

  17. Olya Ko

    I came to Eau Claire as an exchange student 11 years ago for a relatively short period of time, but for some reason it took my heart forever. Dreams of the city and the campus still haunt me and are my favourite of all. I revisit this amazing album every time I get too homesick, because that’s exactly how I saw the city – dusky, beautiful in tom-waitsy, stephen-kingy kind of way… Thank you so much for your work, it’s simply brilliant..

  18. Kay Antone Taylor

    Hey Travis! Fabulous pictures! The picture of the murel at Longfellow Elementary was a walk down memory lane, as my oldest two children participated in it making by adding their art! Was really neat to go through the pictures and remember driving past certain houses!

  19. Robert Doherty

    My parents use to own the Sunray liquor store in Altoona, Wis. as far as I know, it was the last liquor store in town. My family made it a friendly store, and after they sold it I guess no one else was friendly and that’s why it became a daycare center. I also remember the first McDonalds in Eau Claire. It was in the big A-frame building on Hastings highway. I always loved Eau Claire and Altoona. But has it all changed and I do not think for the better. London Square mall is gone, Chicken Hut, Snyders drugs, Bananza, Jolly Troll, Hardees which was a couple blocks from Sunray. All gone, so sad. One thing I do not miss is the COLD winters. We moved in Conroe, Texas. 40 miles north of Houston. I hardly ever see snow.

  20. Larry Patterson

    I’ve traveled many places all over our country in my life….these old homes and businesses …could be anywhere…i just look and wonder …if only walls could talk and tell us of all the people that had walked thru their doors….It would be great!

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