Histories > Eau Claire Co. Historical Accounts
"History of Northern Wisconsin, 1881"
(-as transcribed from pages 297 - 302)
Eau Claire is a rapidly growing and enterprising city, situated on both banks of the Chippewa River, about sixty miles from its mouth. The river is navigable to the Falls, eleven miles above. It enters the city from the north, having just described in its course a well defined, but reversed, letter S, which has been cut across to secure boomage. The Eau Claire, a stream perhaps one-third the size, arises in the adjoining counties on the east, and, receiving accessions north and south, enters the Chippewa at right angles, near the center of the town.
The Chippewa has a general southwestern course, and has a dam, a lock, sluice-ways, etc., just at the north of the town.
The city is composed of three villages. The east side is only a few blocks wide down the river from the Eau Claire, being skirted ont he east by a sandy bluff, once the bank of the river. The north side gradually ascends a hundred feet or so above the river bank. The west side is level and already well covered with dwellings and some business blocks. Most of the general business is on the east side, with some, however, on the north side.
It is well authenticated that Louis de Marie, a Canadian, of French extraction, and his wife, a woman born in Detroit, Mich., of French father and Chippewa mother, and family, consisting of five sons and three daughters, came up the Chippewa in August, 1832, and remained as an Indian trader, through the Winter. This adventurous man had previously gone to the Red River of the North, and from thence to Prairie du Chien, where he, with others, had settled. In the year above named, he moved his family to what is now West Eau Claire, and erected a log cabin not far fromt he bank of the river, nearly opposite the mouth of Eau Claire, to serve as house and store. Nedar the mouth of the river he was stopped by hostile Sioux, who demanded $300 worth of goods from him, for the privilege of ascending the stream and afterward trading with the Indians unmolested. He remained but one season at Eau Claire, going back to Prairie du Chien in the Spring of 1833. The two subsequent Winters were spent by him higher up the Chippewa. He was very successful as a fur trader. In the Winter of 1836-37, he located his trading post at the Falls. His wife was a most capable woman, and was greatly respected by those whom she met, both for her industry and her skill as a doctor. She attended the sick gratuitously, and was a welcome visitor to those who were afflicted. She is still living, at the advanced age of eighty-five, two miles north of Chippewa Falls, with her daughter, Mrs. George P. Warren. The daughters of De marie locate the year of their father's first trip by the fact of noticing, as they passed the scene, the unburied slain ont he battlefield of Bad Axe, which contest occurred August 2, 1832.
This region, visited by Carver so long ago as 1767, and brought more closely within the influence of civilization by m. De Marie in 1832, was allowed to rest undisturbed from the timme of the departure of the trader, until 1845, when another cabin was erected on the present site of Eau Claire. The spot chosen was in front of what is now the property of the successful Eau Claire Lumber Company.
Other settlements had been made at the Falls and on the Red River, but none at the junction of the Chippewa and Eau Claire. Hence it follows that Arthur McCann, Stephen S. McCann and Jeremiah Thomas were the first actual setttlers of this city. A shanty was erected, as above mentioned, and also one lower down, near the Chippewa, which was dignified by calling it a warehouse. Another was built by Arthur McCann, opposite the present site of the Galloway House in the second ward. The parties had no means to build a mill, but succeeded in putting up a couple of logging camps on the Eau Claire, for the Winter. Arthur McCann was host by an employe, named Sawyer, the following year, at his own door. A single frame house was built that year by Arthur McCann, near where Hart's Hotel now stands. There was also a cabin near the upper or water-power mill, on the Eau Claire.
Arthur McCann and J. C. Thomas had, in 1844, built a saw-mill on the river, at what is now called the Blue Mill, a few miles above the city.
Stephen McCann died in 1880, very much reduced in circurmstances but for a pension procured a short time before his death.
Philo Stone and his brother, Roswell, took up their residence here at about that time. They had come on to the river in 1838, and were engaged in hunting, and as this was the neutral or non-fighting ground between the Chippewas and Sioux, which was seldom visited by either tribe, the hunting was most excellent. Philo was said to have been a turbulent, quarrelsome man, a champion among the lightweights, when any fight was possible. He had a squaw who became a remarkably good housekeeper. Indeed, it is the general testimony that these Indian women were tractable, and readily acquired habits of industry, giving their homes an air of comfort not much behind their white sisters.
The buildings alluded to were little better than mere shanties, to establish the right of the claimant to an uncertain amount of Government land. McCann's house, however, was quite a comfortable dwelling.
The object of these settlers was not to till the soil. Its sandy character seemed uninviting for that pursuit, although a thorough test of its quality for agricultural purposes reveals a value altogether unexpected and quite satisfactory. These men came here to build mills and manufacture lumber from the pine forests on the upper branches of the Eau Claire, which had a natural outlet here and which could be placed upon the highway of the Chippewa and floated to a market on the Mississippi. It is true that neither of these men had the adequate means to prosecute such an enterprise. They must have secured the location with a trust in the future, realizing that at no distant day capital would seek the place where its enlargement and aggregation must follow.
The next year McCann & Thomas associated themselves with some new comers, Simon and George Randall. They proceeded to erect a mill and build a dam on the site of the present mill of the Eau Claire Lumber Company. It was completed and ready to commence operations, when an unlooked for misfortune came upon the struggling firm. A tremendous freshet swept away the mill, together with the booms and the logs which had been accumulated by so much toil. All was gone; nothing was left for their season's labor or the money invested. Their means had been expended, and to rebuild it required more capital. McCann and Thomas retired front the firm, and the following year, 1847, the mill was rebuilt on the opposite side of the river, where the flouring mill now stands. The new firm that erected this mill was Gage, Dix & Reed.
The Winter of 1846-7 was most remarkable. Very little snow fell, and the cold was so intense that the water in the Chippewa, at the falls, froze solid to the bottom, and as the water overflowed there was a fresh layer of ice formed every night, and this process went on until rocks and trees were submerged and imbedded twenty feet deep in the frigid embrace. Nothing like this has since occurred. The want of snow on the rivers was seriously felt. But Messrs. Colton & Moser, on the Yellow River, for the Falls Company, and the Hoosier Logging Company on the Eau Claire, managed without snow, to get a good stock of logs for their respective companies.
The Spring was even more remarkable, for there was practically no rain through April or May, and not a log floated on the Yellow or Eau Claire up to June 5, which was foggy early in the day and then very hot and windy. In the evening, rain began to pour down in torrents, continuing until 8 o'clock the next morning, accompanied with lightning of the most vivid and bewildering kind, and long continued reverberations of thunder-exceeding any thing of the kind since experienced in this region. The river rose twelve feet and was covered with logs, lumber, driftwood, and the debris of piers and booms from the Falls, where there was a total wreck of all the costly improvement placed on the river the previous season to hold legs. Nothing was left there but the mill; all else was swept away in that fearful night. More than 10,000 logs, the result of a Winter's hardship and labor, were a total loss. E. T. Randall, the historian of the Chippewa valley, in trying to save part of his boom where were lodged the logs to supply the Blue Mill on the Chippewa, was carried down the river on the logs, but fortunately his improvised raft shot out of the mighty current into an eddy near the location of Sherman's mill before the flood of 1880, and grounded so that he escaped impending death. It was about an hour after this adventure, about noon on the 6th, that the mill was carried almost bodily down with the flood as already mentioned.
That these young men, who had sustained such a heavy calamity, were not entirely discouraged, speaks volumes for their energy, perseverance and faith in ultimate success. Here were the savings of years of toil and struggle, all invested in these undertakings, and now, as they had a right to suppose, when the legitimate reward for their industry and enterprise was wellnigh within their grasp, it was all hurled from their sight as with a besom of destruction. And perhaps more than all this, there were the heavy liabilities that had been incurred, with no possible adequate provision to meet them. Capital, with its proverbial timidity, could with difficulty be induced to locate on a river with such a reputation for inordinate swelling and remorseless bursting of its confines, with its destructive results.
Philo Stone and H. Cady went in with S. & G. Randall and rebuilt the mill on the Eau Claire in the Winter of 1847-8.
It must be remembered that at that time there was no way of getting to or from the settlement but by the river. The nearest post-office was Prairie du Chien, and the mail came by private conveyance. In 1848, the State Legislature authorized and appropriated the funds to defrav the expense of building a road from Prairie du Chien via Sparta, Black River Falls and Eau Claire to Hudson. And while there were thousands pouring through this intricate throughfare to locate on the prairies of the St. Croix and in Minnesota, the forbidding features of the country surrounding the settlement deterred them from stopping here.
Judge Knowlton had the contract for building this road and it was pushed with commendable energy through the Winter of 1849-50, and became passable so that it was extensively used as above mentioned.
The whole valley for several vears had an immunity from serious damage by floods and began to recover from the previous disasters, were adding to their facilities for handling and manufacturing lumber. The whole region was, however, practically without laws. Prairie du Chien was the nearest place where the forms of justice were observed, but only the most serious cases were taken there.
Personal quarrels and assaults were not uncommon, and these were usually settled by the decisions of mutual friends. Offenses against property were much less common, and were disposed of without resort to the county seat, with its formalities and delays. Previous to 1851, land district was composed of the States of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.
In 1851, a new district was designated, with headquarters at Hudson. John O. Henning was appointed Register, and Dr. --.. Hoyt, Receiver. Some twenty townships along the river were soon surveyed and in the market, and the settlers were thus relieved of the difficulties attendant upon their previous occupation of the lands on account of the absence of Government lines, for no one could tell whether his improvements might not be thrown into various sections, or fortunately be surrounded by the Government lines.
The line of the fourth principal meridian was surveyed very carefully by Henry A. Wiltse, a competent engineer; it was for a standard meridian, from which the ranges of townships across the State, east and west, were numbered. The terminus was fifteen chains west of the mouth of the Montreal River, and, according to the U. S. Topographical Engineers, seven miles west of the starting point.
This same year a mail route was ordered by Congress over this road. This was a mile stone in the early progress of the town. George W. Randall received the appointment of Postmaster. The office was called Clear Water Postoffice, and was the first in the whole Chippewa Valley, affording mail facilities for all the settlements on the river. The whole country between here and Prairie du Chien was then included in Crawford County. The lands were unsurveyed, and, of course, not in the market. In 1850, however, most of these lands were placed in the market, and an era of land speculation commenced. The United States Government now has the best system for surveying land ever adopted, and had the system for the sale and settlement of the Government domain been equally judicious much of the suffering and many of the hardships of the early pioneers would have been materially lessened.
The homestead laws, practically as they now exist, were the instruments for building tip this region, and, indeed, the whole northwest, as they afford every possible encouragement for the industrious seeker after a home. From 1850 on, to the present time, with fluctuations more or less distinct, the settlement of the country has been going on.
The first man to open a farm in Eau Claire County was Rev. Thomas Barland, who was the first man to appreciate the climate and the value of the land in this new region. He came from Illinois, where he had been interested in settling that State, and in work for the American Tract Society, and in spreading the Anti-Slavery sentiment, which was of such interest at that time. He arrived in the Fail of 1852, and procured about 200 acres of land, on the Sparta road, almost two and one-half miles southeast from the city, where he and his son, John C., and a sister still reside.
His first neighbors, E. W. Robbins and David Wyman, came in 1854. During 1852-53 Mr. Barland had started preaching in Gage and Reed's boarding-house, near the spot where the Eau Claire House now stands. This was the first regular service in the place. Mr. Barland was born in Scotland, had a thorough education, is a man of ideas, and has made many suggestions by which others have profited. He married Margaret Wilson, and they had ten children, of whom three sons and three daughters are now living.
Having thus briefly gone over the history of Eau Claire during the first period of its existence, it may not be uninteresting to go back in review of some of the points already alluded to, and introduce incidents which were intimately connected with the welfare of the settlement.
As a matter of speculative interest as to " what might have been," an account of the earliest attempt to build a dam and improve the " Lower Dell," which improvement subsequently excited such a long and bitter contest, will be here presented.
In 1842, H. S. Allen and G. S. Branham were associated in business on Wilson's Creek, where the Menomonie village now stands, and having, by their lumbering operations, accumulated considerable capital, began, in 1845, to examine the various points on the Chippewa, with a view of enlarging their business. Why they did not retain their property on the creek, which has since become so valuable, is one of the mysteries so often met with in business ventures. After a careful examination of numerous locations, they fixed upon the Lower Dells as the place, above all others, where logs could.be controlled in all stages of the river. It is worthy of remark that their plan was substantially the same that so many years afterwards was successfully realized.
Simon and George Randall, already alluded to, were associated with them, under the firm name of Allen, Branham & Randall. Without doubt, they expected to encounter great opposition from the lumber companies, located at the Falls, in addition to the natural obstacles which such a work would involve.
Their plan of operations included a dam half the distance across at the foot of the dells, and a wing dam up along the raft channel, and other spurs, so as to raise a sufficient head of water, but not to interrupt navigation. Their plan was feasible, and contracts were made with E. T. Randall, who then operated the Blue Mill, for plank. The timber was got out near Half Moon Lake for a large mill. Having gone so far, the parties who had personal interests to look after separated to look after them, and work was suspended, with the supposition that it would soon be resumed. But the first news received from the parties was that the whole project was abandoned; that the firm had dissolved, and that Mr. Allen, who was the head of the firm, had associated himself with Mr. Bass, at the Falls, constituting a team that would pull through the necessary force to overcome the serious obstacles and disadvantages there.
Had the original design been carried out then the subsequent history of Eau Claire would have been entirely unlike what it now is, and that of the whole valley changed.
The first funeral attended in the settlement was at the death of a dusky woman, the wife of Simon Randall, who died in the Winter of 1846-7. E. T. Randall officiated, preaching a sermon from 1st Cor., xv, 21-22.
The first religious service was held in September, 1846, by Mr. Randall, who had appointments on alternate Sundays at the Falls and Eau Claire. He was connected with the Methodists, and his wife was also an earnest worker in the same cause. George W. Randall was married about this time, to Miss Mary La Point, of Prairie du Chien. Mr. and Mrs. McCann provided a wedding on a scale commensurate with their ability. Mr. Bass, a Justice of the Peace, from the Falls, with his commission from the Territorial Governor, came down and solemnized the marriage, assisted by E. T. Randall, who invoked the divine blessing on their union.
At the time of the flood, on the 6th of June, 1847, a party of surveyors, charged with a geological and minerological examination of the northwest, were detained here by the rise of the rivers. Among them was Dr. Gwyn, who was afterwards known in political life, and particularly as a Senator from California.
In 1847, provisions were not high. A transaction where provisions were made the consideration put mess pork at $7 a barrel, and flour at $2.75 a barrel, delivered at Lake Pepin, after having been transported from Rock Island. From 1850 to i855, was an uneventful period in the history of Eau Claire. The county was slowly filling up with sturdy settlers. All supplies came up the river, principally on keel boats, from Galena - which was a thriving place at that time - and Prairie du Chien. The mills already erected were kept in operation, the lumber being rafted down the river.
Not a dry-goods store, blacksmith shop, or any business outside of the mills, existed in the whole valley.
In a population of roo, in 1855, it is said that there were only two houses owned in the settlement, and $25,000 would cover all the capital.
The first white man buried was William Reed, who died in June, 1855.
During this period, there were several encounters between the Chippewas and Sioux. There was a constant succession of stealthy assassinations and dastardly encounters, which cannot honestly be dignified even as guerrilla warfare. A party of Sioux was encountered on the Red Cedar, in 1840, and all cut to pieces - not a brave was left to tell the tale. The next year, a party of six Chippewas fared the same. They afterward met several times, the last in 1846, and smoked the pipe of peace, evidently distrusting each other all the while.
The last war party in the vicinity was what was called "Anamoose's band." They camped up the river, near the North Fork. They built a fortification, and were in evident fear of their terrible western neighbors. Two men had been scalped by the Sioux down the river the Fall before, and Anamoose's band was probably sent to punish them, and the doughty warriors fortified themselves when within fifty or sixty miles of the enemy! This was in 185 - 2.
The last battle between the Chippewas and Sioux in this vicinity was fought in 1854.
Of the 100 people who lived in Eau Claire in 1855, most of them were laboring men. The proprietors were coolheaded, energetic men, of tact and experience, who had selected this place on account of its natural advantages over any other unoccupied location in the valley, or, indeed, any where in the northwest.
As already stated, the history of Eau Claire from 1850 to 1855 was not very eventful. Minnesota was rapidly filling up, and California claimed a ptrominent place in the emigrant's attention. The country was slowly increasing in population, and tlhe mills at Eau Claire were turning out their prodtucts and solidifying their owners. Some changes in mill ownership occurred. Mr. Cady sold his interest to Mr. Swim, and Simon Randall sold out his interest to Mr. Pope, and bought out Capt. Dix in the mill on the lower dam. The two firms then here were Gage, Reed & Randall, and Stone, Swim & Co.
At this time the raftsmen had to walk back up the river, after taking rafts down, over the steep hill-sides and along sandy plains. It was a tedious and foot-sore journey. Several determined efforts were made to procure some kind of transportation. A steamboat was finally built by a Mr. Harlow, from Pittsburgh, but it was a sad failure; it drew too much water. The Steamer "Dr. Franklin," from Galena, Capt. Matt Harris, came up a few times; but she was also too deep. Finally, a stage line was started by Col. Ben Allen and a Mr. Colburn, of Dunnville. The stage went down one day and back the next, from Chippewa Falls to North Pepin. The fare was $3.
In 1852, the Methodist Episcopal Conference of Wisconsin sent a preacher to this valley. His mission was a failure; one of his meetings was assailed by a boat's crew and he withdrew for more promising fields. The freshet of 1855 did not affect the Eau Claire.
An act of the Iegislature was passed, in 1853, creating the county of Chippewa. It embraced all the settlements in the valley along the Red Cedar. The Eighth Judicial District was created at the same time, and the new county formed a part of it. S. N. Fuller was elected Circuit Judge. He opened Court in the Fall of 1854, at the Falls. Samuel Allison was appointed Clerk, but a sudden sickness carried him off before the close of the term. Blois Hurd, a millwright, was Sheriff.
It took nearly every man in the county to fill the panels for the grand and petit juries. Several criminal cases were on the docket, but few civil cases. The early history of the judiciary of the eighth district, if men who are now living can be relied upon, was a travesty upon justice; personal considerations often decided the case, regardless of law and evidence. A prominent lawyer in Eau Claire says, that he was brought to the verge of ruin by want of success in that Court, and in self defence, organized an opposition that elected L. P. Weatherbee Judge of the Eighth District, as Fuller's successor.
The Summer of 1855 was an exceptional one. The Spring opened earlier than usual, but in June there were three severe frosts, which killed the grass, the leaves on the trees, and the whole country looked like Autumn, while the fires on meadow and prairie swept away the withered vegetation. This havoc extended over the whole northern part of the State, and the gloomy view might have had some effect in suppressing the spirit of speculation, with which the thousands who were then pouring into this region were afflicted; but, if so, it was unobservable. A mania to become suddenly rich became epidemic. The Crimean War had carried up the price of wheat; there was a wild system of free banking; returns for the capital and labor invested in California had begun, and it was supposed that the gold would furnish an everlasting basis for the paper currency. Add to this the fact that Congress had just authorized the issue of land warrants to all those who had served in any war for the United States, and that these land warrants immediately fell into the hands of speculators, and at once absorbed large tracts of land, to be held by non-residents until adjoining improvements should render them valuable - and you have the factors that went to make up that era, and the cause of the widespread and depressing panic of 1857, which followed.
During the Winter following the crash of 1857, the settlers here had to mutually assist each other, dividing their rations until the last loaf was well nigh consumed.
The agents of the State, for locating the lands above mentioned in this vicinity, were W. H. Gleason and R. F. Wilson, who arrived in 1855. All the points on the river were critically examined with a view of locating a town site where the natural advantages indicated future growth. This place was selected, and a negotiation with J. J. Gage and James Reed for a purchase of one-half of the plat to be then surveyed was successful.
The village was recorded at Chippewa Falls, the county seat at that time, as Eau Claire.
Early that Summer Carson, Eaton & Downs, of Eau Galle, purchased the mill then run by Stone, Swim, George Randall & Hope, where the water-mill of the Eau Claire Lumber Company's water-mill now is, and refitted it with turbine wheels, new machinery, etc., and they also purchased heavily of the pine lands up the river and its branches.
Few accessions were made to the new village that year. Adin Randall came from Madison and began the erection of the Eau Claire House. Chapin M. Seeley commenced the erection of the first plastered house in the place.
Henry Huntington and E. E. Shaw opened a small store.
The following Winter, 1856, the county of Eau Claire was formed with this village as the county seat, and from that time there has been little interruption in its growth, as a reference to the census will show.
Many speculators in wild lands came to grief through the agency of unpaid taxes and the inevitable tax title, which often fell into the hands of the mill owner. To secure pine land many employes pre-empted choice tracts, which were for a greater or less consideration deeded to their employers. Thus the evils of non-resident ownership were mitigated.
The first election held was in 1855, and embraced the notorious Barstow and Bashford gubernatorial contest. The bogus returns which figured so conspicuously in that case purported to have been from Bridge Creek in this county.
In 1856 the county was quite rapidly filling up. Merchants and mechanics began to arrive. The Eau Claire House was finished. The Bank of Eau Claire went into operation, W. H. Gleason, president; C. H. Gleason, cashier; C. M. Seeley was the chief manager. Chapman & Thorp arrived and bought the entire interest of Gage & Reed and one-half the village plat. The Presbyterian Church was commenced, the first in the whole valley. Daniel Shaw & Co. located in the Fourth Ward. Ingram & Kennedy bought the site for their first mill, and began the race between the river and Half-Moon Lake. These were the most prominent events in that year.
The year 1857 witnessed some changes. Two churches went up this year, the Congregationalist on the west side, and the Catholic on the north side, which latter place was laid out as a town by Dr. W. T. Galloway and Augustus Huysen. Another Bank was instituted by Hall & Brothers who were non-residents, but the bank was ably managed by D. R. Moore. Both these were banks of issue.
Congress had created a new land district; Dr. W. T. Galloway was appointed Register and N. B. Boyden, Receiver. Chapman & Thorp bought the entire interest of Carson & Eaton in the Eau Claire Mill Water Power and pine lands for $ 25,oo000, and began the erection of the steammill just above Dewey street on the Eau Claire. A few hundred bushels of wheat were shipped that year. Other farm productions found a ready home market.
Congress had, in 1856, passed an act giving to the State of Wisconsin certain alternate sections of land for railroad purposes. One of the projected lines was to run from Portage via Tomah to St. Croix County. It was supposed this road would be built at once, a company was organized and millions of stock issued. The supposed possession of information as to where it would cross the Chippewa, started the most wild and visionary schemes ever indulged in. Various routes were examined, raising local hopes, which ended in bitter disappointment, on account of the withdrawal of deposits by some of the heaviest men in town to invest in a new city site at Neill's Creek. The Eau Claire Bank became sickly, went into liquidation.
Among the settlers that year were Joseph E. Thorp and family, Alex. Meggett, W. P. Bartlett, George A. Buffington, Ingram and Kennedy, Jackson Brothers, Peter Wykoff and Rev. A. Kidder and family.
A party of Sioux warriors about this time killed an old domesticated Indian near Frenchtown. A party of Chippewas were ambuscaded and shot near Dunnville, and in the same year the Chippewas secured two victims and carried their heads triumphantly to Rock Run and placed the ghastly spectacle on poles by the roadside.
The first school-house erected in the village was on the north side.
In 1857 there was a mission-school established on the west side called the Methodist Institute. For several years it was a useful school.
In 1859 a stage route was established between the village and Wabasha. H. Godfrey & Co. were proprietors.
The period from this time to the opening of the war of 1861, was marked by a steady filling up of the surrounding country and a healthy growth of the village.
The dates of the inception of various industrial enterprises will be found in the biographical sketches. Indeed much of the history of the city will be found in these accounts of the early settlers.
In 1859 the lands of the Fox River Improvement Company, being in the market in a modified way, extensive dealings in these lands were carried on at the land office here. By the terms of the grant they could not be preempted by actual settlers, but could be covered by land warrants which were extensively uged. N. B. Borden was at that time Receiver. One night when the returns were about due in Washington, there was a safe explosion, and a robbery in the land office. It is believed the government was never able to recover the funds.
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