Chippewa Falls, Wis.
This Historic City Series features Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. I graduated from Chi-Hi and wanted really document its rich history. As with all of these series, I try to capture many of the historic and unique parts that I run across. It is an artistry of individual portraits of your city. This series is very long and includes over 450 images. To make the viewing a little easier, I split the images up by locations in this order; Historic Business District & Downtown Area, Lower Mill Pond Area, West Hill, West Side – 3rd Ward, East Hill, Northside, Frenchtown & Lower Southside, Upper Southside, and Northeast Industrial Park & Healthcare Development. Each category includes individual histories including the Northern Wisconsin Center.
“I hereby subscribe myself as a member of the Progressive League of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and promise that I will at all times be true and loyal to the interests of Chippewa Falls, which interests I will in every way possible endeavor to promote. I promise to cheerfully and promptly do any reasonable work assigned to me by the president and council of the League, and further promise to pay the sum set opposite my name in the book, monthly, for a period of two years for the support of the League and its work.” – The Progressive League- 1900’s
This was the pledge taken by an industrial group of men that were instrumental in keeping the main street of Chippewa Falls alive upon the decline of the lumber industry in the early 1900’s. Prior to this, logging and lumbering were an intricate part of the manufacturing side of the city up to 1911 when the circular and bandsaws were used to cut their last pine as the biggest sawmill in the world closed from their lumberjack grip.
Historic Business District & Downtown Area
In the mid 1700’s, Ojibwa from Northern Wisconsin met at “The Falls” with fur traders; explorer Jonathon Carvers mapped these early records of Native Americans in the Chippewa Falls area. The name “Chippewa” is derived from a pronunciation of their Native American tribe- “Ojibwa”. A confluence emerged between Duncan Creek and the Chippewa River during the era of fur trading as this community aligned itself with the art of lumbering. 1836 etches the year for one of the first known mills by Jean Brunet at Chippewa Falls.
As floods destroyed these early mills, the lumbermen worked feverishly to rebuild them. By the late 1800s, Chippewa Falls was known for creating the largest sawmill in the world housed together in one structure- The Chippewa Lumber and Boom Company Sawmill. This became the impetus for growth in the lumber industry and attracted name stays for years to come. Commercial development expanded while enhancing the population and those who dared to persevere through the disasters of floods, fires, and economic hardships.
The abundant and intricate forestry of the Chippewa Valley took up five-sixths of the land area as rivers, lakes, swamps and the Blue Hills were interspersed among the landscape. Attention grew to the lush forest and promise of timber in this region as the first lumberman came to live and work in the 1820s and 30s. The Chippewa River is the mainstay of existence for Chippewa Falls, beginning with the early mills. By the mid 1800’s rafts were bound by the loggers and guided down the Chippewa to markets on the Mississippi.
As the millworkers shed their blood, sweat and tears at the Mill, log drivers, sometimes called “river pigs” would drive masses of individual logs down the river since it was too treacherous for larger rafts to navigate. Dynamite was used on rocks that posed an obstacle on these drives. To allow for smoother navigation, they would cut trees that otherwise could snag the logs, piling up the banks in certain places and damming the river and its tributaries. Lumbering remained the dominant industry as lumberjacks cut down trees, bucked them up, skid them to a river and floated them to a sawmill to be sawed for various uses.
In the 1850’s you could smell the sawdust amidst the air as the mills were generating upwards of 100,000 board feet of lumber in a single day and leading the economy of the town. Mill workers had almost a hundred saws working at once and the mill yard was bursting with lumber, shingles and laths. Sawmills operating along the Chippewa River and its tributaries cut mainly White and Norway pine, and the logs were floated down the streams to the Chippewa River. A common sight to be seen were log jams as lumber massed in the rivers. It was known that the logs could give way at any time, but they often came downriver without loss; although bridges and dams were carried away by a log jam from time to time.
The lumber town of Chippewa Falls was also on its way to becoming a prominent railroad town. The first line between Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire was built in 1875 by the Chippewa Falls & Western Railroad Company. Heading west in 1880, the Wisconsin and Minnesota Railway collaborated with Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls Railway to lay track from Abbotsford west to Chippewa Falls. A year later Chippewa Falls and Northern Railroad, which built a line north from Chippewa Falls to Bloomer, capitalized on a vast lumber region extending 160 miles North to Lake Superior. One of the main rail lines in the state was the West Wisconsin Railway route from St. Paul, Minnesota to Milwaukee which passed through Eau Claire. In 1882, the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls Railway established a connection to the West Wisconsin Railway which built a line between their respective cities. The Chippewa Valley & Superior Railway Company followed suit with their own Eau Claire to Chippewa Falls route in 1883. New tracks and companies seemed to be multiplying in town as the Minnesota, St. Croix, & Wisconsin added another route to St. Paul in 1884. 1902 brought about the construction to Holcombe built by the Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls & Northwestern Railway Company.
Forty-four horses, eighteen men, and seven street cars were employed by the Eau Claire railroad in 1884. The last few years the saw mill functioned, logs were hauled in by rail, and in that type of capacity large magnitudes of Hemlock logs were hauled in to the mill. Upon the closing of the mill the men that formed the Progressive League prioritized the new business direction of Chippewa Falls. One of the ways they did this was to secure rail service for the community by arranging trips to recruit business to Minneapolis and Chicago.
Chippewa Falls City Council endorsed the Chippewa Valley Electric Railway Company, a franchise, to build and run the electric line desired for street cars in 1898. Eau Claire, just the fourth city in the U.S to have this line, held the sought after extension line, which began as horse and mule team drawn street cars in 1879. During this time, Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls were fortunate to have the telephone connection and both towns were having new gas lights installed. A conversion of electrified street cars by A.G. Bradstreet cut travel time in half from Shawtown to the Omaha Depot. This jaunt could now be done in twenty minutes, compared to the at least forty minutes by horse drawn cars.
Miles of power for the electric motors were supplied from the power plant at the Cedar Falls Dam close to Menomonie. The interurban electric streetcar line ran from the town of Eau Claire to the canopied station at Electric Park along Lake Hallie and continued north into Chippewa Falls. At Irvine Park, the northern most point of service, there was a loop built to turn the streetcar around. As with everything, inventions played a factor and soon the automobiles became more popular, ultimately ending the era of the street rail car. A petition for disbandment was given by the Railway Commission of Wisconsin and the final electric streetcar ran its course in 1926.
Traditions brought by the settlers to support and pay tribute to the lumber industry impacted the way they built their business and shared the talents from their former lives. Churches, schools, banks, housing, hotels, breweries, shoe factories, bottled
“The clear river, the genial people and the delicious odor of pine sawdust everywhere completely captivated me. I immediately fell in love with the country and have never experienced a change of heart to this day.” –William Irvine
water plants, along with the hospital, jail, post office, woolen mill company, many other factories, and even a Catholic High School ensured Chippewa Falls would continue to thrive. These diverse industries upon the decline of the lumber industry, and the ultimate closure of the saw mill in 1911, were essential to the future success of the town.
Jacob Leinenkugel, founder of Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, began brewing beer in Chippewa Falls in 1861, and it is still a prominent American beer maker throughout the upper Midwest and is sold in limited quantities throughout the nation. He was attracted to the community by the quality of its hops and water.
Breathtaking Chippewa Falls Wisconsin was named as one of the Great American Main Street Cities in 1996, and also one of Americas Top 10 Small Towns in 1997 by TIME Magazine. A vital stepping stone into the future was laid long ago by the significant contributions made by Native Americans and their diligent work with natural resources; followed by explorers and immigrants who carved out their place amidst a multifaceted growing community.
Over a hundred years after the Progressive League pledged to evolve the city, today that same group is known as the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, there is a wealth of resources in its people, education system, business, and industry. Chippewa Falls believes in education, demonstrated by its strong public school district and a dedicated private school system. Historically preserved in so many ways, capturing the beauty through photography is a worthy portrayal of a uniquely captivating community that acknowledges its past as it is committed to their future.
The corner of Central and Bridge Street is the focal point of Northwestern State Bank. In 1883 that same corner was home to “Seymour Bank”, which was founded by Daniel E. Seymour. Amidst the panic of 1893 the bank was forced to close its doors, but would be reopened by Mr. P.T. Favell under the name “Northwestern State Bank” in 1904. An expanded bank was needed so they demolished the building to make way for a larger space. The new facility was completed in January 1925 and lasted for almost 4 decades. 1962 brought about another extensive expansion and remodeling of the same building to make a modern three-story home for Northwestern State Bank.
The unique essence of the Northern Hotel was a key component in the early 1900’s to the Bridge Street Historic District in the heart of Chippewa Falls. This “Main Street” staple is a five-story brick structure that still boasts beauty and intrigue. In 1981, the Hotel Northern was renovated and converted into 43 senior rental units, and preserving its stature was vital to the town.
Carl Hering first purchased this impeccable property, which is now known as the Sheeley House, in 1868 and moved his family here. Hering’s carriage and blacksmith shop was located behind the house. This property was then purchased in 1884 by John B. Paul, who operated a boarding house one block west; he removed the small carriage shop and surfaced the entire building with local red brick. The Paul House had a ground floor saloon, first floor living quarters, a large kitchen, the boarders’ dining room and second floor sleeping rooms. It was once again purchased in 1905 by an Irish immigrant, James Sheeley, who happened to stay there while working the railroad. Sheeley and his wife and children took over the responsibilities of the house as they moved in to their new home and workplace. 1913 was a year of strength for Kate as James passed away. She continued the meal and room rental, but the saloon proved to be too much and leased it out. The saloon closed in 1967 and was known for having the “coldest beer in town”. Their daughter Anna stayed at the Sheeley House until 1981 when it became evident it was time to move.
NSP Hydro Dam
The NSP hydro dam was constructed in 1928 on the same location that the worlds largest sawmill sat. The natural falls are just a little upriver from the dam, which are now under water.
Lower Mill Pond Area
This elegant house of 1873 that is strong in both stature and character was once built by Wisconsin Lt. Governor James Bingham, and then was renovated by lumber baron Edward Rutledge when he purchased it in 1887. This mansion was known as one of the most captivating and beautiful homes throughout Northern Wisconsin. Judge Dayton Cook bought the home upon the death of Rutledge and his daughter Mable sold it to the Chippewa Valley Historical Society.A trust was formed under the name Cook-Rutledge Mansion Trust, which in 2006 gave way to the non-profit organization, Cook-Rutledge Mansion Inc.
St. Joseph’s Apartments
The Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis came to Chippewa Falls in June 1885, at the invitation of Father Charles Goldsmith, the first and only pastor in Chippewa Falls at the time.
By November, Edward Rutledge sold land to become the site of HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital. The sale of hospital tickets to loggers (a $5 ticket insured the holder for one year in case of sickness including medicine) funded building additions.
In 1888 a three-story hospital was started at 912 Pearl Street which included patient-care rooms, a chapel, laundry, and kitchen. The hospital provided medical care at that location until 1975 when the new hospital was completed.
Upon the passing of Mr. Edward Rutledge, he bestowed the necessary funds in his will as a memorial to his loving wife Hannah, to provide accommodations and care for the elderly. The construction of the Hannah M. Rutledge home took place from 1910-1913 and opened its Bridgewater Avenue doors on May 1, 1913. Your time at the Rutledge Home was endless as long as upon your passing all of your assets were turned over to Rutledge Charities.
West Side – 3rd Ward
Glen Loch Dam
J.H Duncan had a small saw mill at this location before the dam was built, I believe. The dam was built in 1875 on Duncan Creek creating Glen Loch. A large flour mill erected in 1879 by Hector McRae to the right of the dam that could produce 100 barrels of flour in 24 hours. The mill was dismantled in 1924 and the Pure Ice Company harvested ice from the pond starting in 1935.
Frenchtown & Lower Southside
Millions of years ago the Midwest area of North America was covered by a great inland sea that laid down virgin white Cambrian sandstone. As the sea filled in, most of this sandstone became buried thousands of feet below the surface. The rim however, remained exposed for thousands of years. Little by little, the rim was scraped away by glaciers until a single outcropping remained. This outcropping is the source of the Chippewa Spring … a hillside pouring forth crystal clear, naturally pure spring water.
In 1700 a French explorer Pierre LeSueur, discovered the Spring and recorded in his journal how he heard the legend of Hiawatha. American poet Ezra Pound later used this as the basis of a poem celebrating Chippewa Spring water as the love potion with which Hiawatha wooed the beautiful Minnehaha.
In 1887, Wisconsin Governor Thaddeus Pound became convinced it was Chippewa Spring water that had restored his health. He bought the surrounding land and turned it into a farm complete with vineyards, gardens, walking paths and a health club. Chippewa Spring Water was shipped coast to coast on railroad dining cars and became the official water in Chicago hospitals. The Pillsbury’s of Minneapolis owned the Chippewa Springs in addition to their famous flour mills from 1936 to 1957.
“Save the 100 year old Spring House” became a restoration project in 1993 and was undertaken jointly by the company and the community to preserve this historic landmark. Complete with glass floor, underground lighting and trillium pathway, this famous spring house was rededicated by Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson during the Chippewa Falls’ Pure Water Days celebration, 100 years to the day of its original dedication. The restored historic white spring house is located directly across the street. – Chippewa County Historical Society, Historic Roadside Sign
Northeast Industrial Park & Healthcare Development
Northern Wisconsin Center
In 1867, Governor Lucius Fairchild addresses the legislature to bring attention to: “another class of unfortunates for whom substantial provision should be made by the state. I allude to imbecile and idiotic children for whom, under our present system, there seems to be no place.”
The state endorses legislation to form a “Home for the Feeble-Minded” in Wisconsin and designates $100,000 to build. The Board of Control is empowered to acquire through either purchase or donation, sufficient land and build suitable buildings.
Note: The three “objects” which prompted the foundation of the Home:
- “To relieve families overburdened with an “idiot” child”
- “To curtail the reproduction of the feeble minded and the epileptic by institutionalizing feebleminded women of childbearing age”.
- “To educate the “imbecile” to the highest sphere of usefulness”.
Upon inspecting sites throughout the state in 1865, the Board of Control accepts the proposal of Chippewa Falls of 671 acres of land, plus $24,500, and localizes the Home for the Feeble-Minded on the Chippewa River at Silver Spring Park, 1.5 miles upstream of the city. The board uses part of the cash presented by Chippewa Falls to purchase more land and ultimately takes possession of 1021 acres. In 1962 Population peaked at 2,203.
WISCONSIN: Historic City Series
Travis 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 may 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 | Buy His Book Here
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