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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"


Chapter  21

Lumber Interests

(-as transcribed from pages 373 - 378)

The lumber interests have always been foremost in the growth and prosperity of the whole Chippewa valley and Eau Claire especially. The water facilities at this point for sawmills, especially on the Eau Claire river, is what first attracted lumbermen to this locality. From one little mill started in 1846 by McCann, Randall & Thomas, there grew up a number of what may be justly called mammoth institutions. The almost insurmountable difficulties some of them had to contend with by reason of floods, the natural courses of the rivers and financial depression are noted at length elsewhere. This mill was destroyed by the flood of 1847, and another one was erected in its place in the winter of 1847-48 by George W. and Simon Randall in association with Philo Stone and H. Cady. The last named disposed of his interest to Mr. Swim, and Simon Randall's share went to Mr. Pope. This was early in the "fifties." The firm thus became Stone, Swim & Co., and they parted with the property in the spring of 1855 to Carson, Eaton & Downs.

The second sawmill was built on the Eau Claire river by J. J. Gage, James Reed and Captain Dix in 1848. This property with large tracts of pine lands and one-half the village plat became vested in the two first named parties. After operating the mill for several years the whole property was placed on the market. Adin Randall came to Eau Claire in the summer of 1855 and undertook to find a purchaser. As a preliminary step he obtained a bond from the owners agreeing to dispose of the property at a fixed price. He negotiated with Nelson C. Chapman and J. G. Thorp, who purchased the property in May, 1856, for $42,000, although they did not come to Eau Claire and take possession until the following year. Shortly afterward they purchased the entire property of Carson, Eaton & Downs, and thus became the proprietors of both mills. Nelson C. Chapman was born in Durham, Green county, N. Y., in 1811, removing to Norwich, Chenango county, when sixteen years of age. He remained there, doing a successful business, until 1846, when he removed to Oxford in the same county and entered into partnership with J. G. Thorp. His birthplace was Butternuts, N. Y., and the date 1812. He entered the store of Ira Wilcox at Oxford in 1829. Seven years afterward he was taken into partnership and the firm was known as I. Wilcox & Co. In 1846 the senior member disposed of his interest to N. C. Chapman, and thus was formed the firm of Chapman and Thorp. The business was carried on in t he same place until 1857, when Mr. Thorp removed to Eau Claire and Mr. Chapman went to St. Louis where he continued the business of the firm until his death in 1873.

An amusing incident grew out of the contract with Gage & Reed, at least to those who were not affected by it. A certain sum was paid down and the balance was to be liquidated by installments. Gold was plentiful at this time and did not command a premium, so no stipulation was made as to the mode in which the accruing sums were to be discharged. Before the last payment became due, money in any shape, but especially gold, was not to be found in the West. Gage & Reed having signified their intention not to accept anything else, looked forward to a foreclosure, particularly as the sum amounted to $9,000. When the day for settlement came their astonishment can be more readily imagined than described when the money, principal and interest, was handed to them in American gold. Such was the manner in which this firm conducted their business. By adhering to this system they established a name and credit that carried them not only through the monetary crisis that existed from 1861 to 1865, while thousands became bankrupt, but to success. Not only did they surmount all difficulties, but in ten years they had made valuable accessions to their real estate.

In 1866 the Eau Claire Lumber Company was incorporated with a paid-up capital of $160,000, with Joseph G. Thorp as its president. Such was the magnitude of its rapidly increasing business that in 1880 its capital had increased to $3,000,000. In addition to the lumber mill plant it had at one time machine shops, flouring mills and an elevator in Eau Claire, besides mills at Meridian and Alma, giving a combined capacity of 100,000,000 feet a year. As much as 40,000,000 feet of lumber was cut in one year. The company erected a large brick store in 1874 to replace the one destroyed by fire that year for the retailing of general merchandise at a cost of $30,000. At one time the transactions of this branch of the business amounted to $350,000 a year.

The losses of the company at various times by fire and flood would aggregate a very large amount. The extensive flour mill was destroyed by fire in 1877 when a loss of $50,000 was sustained, with insurance of $27,000. On December 19, 1878, the machine shop was also burned down. A year afterward the boiler of the planing mill exploded, killing J. Wright Hoskins (the engineer), Anthony Gallagher and Michael Helping. Thomas Hall was also injured and the mill badly shattered. The shingle mill went up in flames in June, 1890, inflicting a loss of $15,000. The Mississippi River Logging Company purchased the whole of the property in 1887 and the business was carried on by them.

Another successful mill enterprise was that inaugurated by the late Daniel Shaw at what was named after him, Shawtown. He located his plant at the outlet of Half Moon Lake in 1856. He was born in 1813 at Industry, Franklin county, Maine, and chose lumbering as a vocation and engaged in business in Allegany county, N. Y. He was successful in the selection he had made, but, desiring to enlarge his sphere of operations, he came to Wisconsin in 1855 and traveled through the Chippewa valley pine district. Satisfied with the outlook, he, in association with Mr. Clark, the father of Dewitt C. Clark, purchased a large quantity of pine lands and removed to Eau Claire with his family the following year. Another element that induced him to take this course was that he had been successful in associating himself with Ingram & Kennedy, Smith & Ball and Adin Randall, and obtaining a charter from the legislature authorizing them to excavate a race or canal from the river to Half Moon lake and establish a sheer boom at a suitable point, and so stock the mills at Shawtown. The whole work was pressed forward with commendable dispatch, but the terrible collapse in the commercial centers of the West and the almost total prostration of the lumber trade in the next succeeding years placed an effectual check on these operations and presented obstacles to running the mill with satisfactory results that few men could surmount; but he battled with them all and came out the victor by associating himself with Mr. C. A. Bullen. The firm finally succeeded in establishing the business on a solid basis when the mill was destroyed by fire in August, 1867. Nothing daunted, the firm rebuilt the mill in the same year on a more extensive scale and with improved machinery, augmenting their resources by taking into partnership with them Newell & Ferguson.

The institution was incorporated in 1874 as the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company, with a capital of $500,000. The first officers were: Daniel Shaw, president; C. A. Bullen, vice-president; C. S. Newell, treasurer, and G. B. Shaw, secretary. Additions were made to the plant which occupied many acres of land with twelve buildings.

The Empire Lumber Company also had its works at Shawtown. A mill was erected there by Ingram, Dole & Kennedy in 1856. Mr. Dole retired soon afterward and the firm became known as Ingram & Kennedy. They were previously operating in Canada. The hard times of 1857 taxed their resources to the utmost, and to add to the impediments in the way to establishing a successful business the mill was, about two years later on, consumed by fire. This loss was, however, overcome, and after struggling through the depression that existed during the war period, business gradually improved under the able management of the senior partner. At about the same time, and adjacent to the site of the Ingram & Kennedy mill, another mill was constructed by John P. Pinkum and operated by him, having a capacity of about 30,000 feet per day.

In 1869 they purchased of Arthur M. and John S. Sherman what is known as the "Eddy" mill, which was located northeast of Mount Simon on the Chippewa River. The members of the firm ultimately associated themselves with the Charles Horton Lumber Company, of Winona, Minn., and Dulany & McVeign, of Hannibal, Mo., and organized the Empire Lumber Company on March 26, 1881, with a capital of $800,000, Mr. Kennedy retiring.

The sawmill erected by Adin Randall in 1856 on what later on became Menomonie street, "Randall's Land" passed shortly after into the hands of Smith & Ball. George A. Buffington, who came to Eau Claire in 1856 from Cattaraugus county, New York, and ran a livery and kept a hotel purchased the interest of the junior member of the firm in the mill property in 1859. The institution was thenceforth and until March 5, 1872, operated by Smith & Buffington, when it was incorporated with a capital of $250,000. The first officers were George A. Buffington, president; C. M. Smith, vice-president, and C. M. Buffington, secretary. The old mill was removed in 1874 and one of the largest steam mills in the valley erected on its site, William Carson having purchased the interest of Smith, and with this addition the company became financially strong, and owning to the integrity and good business judgment of both Mr. Carson and Mr. Buffington, the entire transaction was a grand success. The capacity of the plant was 25,000,000 feet of lumber, 20,000,000 shingles and about 15,000,000 laths and pickets a year. The number of men employed was 200, including the mill hands and those engaged in the lumber camps.

In 1868 a small rotary sawmill was built on an island above the Dells, three miles and a half from Eau Claire, but within the city limits, by Prescott, Burditt & Co., with a daily capacity of nearly 40,000 feet. A few years afterward, 1873-74, this mill was torn down and replaced with a gang and rotary mill having a daily capacity of 100,000 feet. It was operated until and including the year 1889, cutting from 10,000,000 to 16,000,000 feet of lumber each season. The business was organized in 1879 as a corporation under the name of the Dells Lumber Company, with a capital of $100,000.

A gang and rotary mill was built by R. F. Wilson, of the west side of the Chippewa River, a short distance north of the Madison street bridge, in about 1878, but was burned down two years later. It was rebuilt by the Pioneer Lumber Company, which operated for a time, then it remained idle for about four years and was then sold to the Dells Lumber Company.

Arthur M. and John S. Sherman settled in Eau Claire in the winter of 1856-57, and in 1860 commenced the erection of a mill at Big Eddy, later known as the Eddy Mill. It was sold by them to Ingram & Kennedy in 1869. The brothers then engaged in the logging business and bought an interest in what was known as the Boyd mill, which went out with the flood of 1880 and was landed in a completely demoralized condition seven miles down the river. In the fall of 1880 they began the erection of the Sherman mill on the east side of Half Moon lake, which was completed in July, 1881. After operating about one year it was burned down. It was then rebuilt by the owners, who sold a controlling interest in it to the Chippewa Logging Company. The logging company then purchased the interest of the Sherman brothers. After running the mill for several years under the name of the Sherman Lumber Company, it was shut down. It was next sold to John S. Owen and R. E. Rust, who associated themselves together and organized the West Eau Claire Mill Company in 1887, with a capital of $42,000. The Sherman mill thus became merged in this company.

The Westville Lumber Company was incorporated in 1882, with a capital of $100,000, for the manufacture and marketing of lumber, and operated a mill at Shawtown on or near the site of the Alexander Boyd mill hereafter referred to.

The Rust-Owen Lumber Company was incorporated in April 1882, with a capital of $300,000, with the mills at Drummond, Bayfield county, Wis. The principal office was at Eau Claire.

The Davis & Starr Lumber Company was organized in June 1886, with a capital of $100,000, which was increased to $250,000. The corporation owned and operated a small mill at Little Black, Taylor county, on the Ashland division of the Wisconsin Central, now the Soo Railroad. This mill was burned down in t he spring of 1889, and a new plant with the latest improvements was erected the same year. The main office was at Eau Claire.

The Montreal Lumber Company was incorporated, with its principal office at Eau Claire, in August 1887, with a capital of $500,000. The works were at Gile, a suburb of Hurley, on the Montreal river, Ashland county, Wis.

The Sterling Lumber Company was incorporated in March, 1888, with a capital of $100,000, with main offices in Eau Claire. The mill was located at Sterling, Clark county, Wis., on the Wisconsin Central Railway.

At an early date, the exact date not being remembered, a mill was constructed near the entrance of the canal into Half Moon lake by Stephen Marston. This mill was abandoned a few years later. Mr. Marston came from Maine and was among the early settlers of Eau Claire. He engaged in the mercantile business which he carried on successfully. He died many years ago.

Mead and Angel operated a mill on Half Moon lake in 1867 and 1868 and prior thereto. Wilcox and Parker also operated a shingle mill on t he lake during the same time. Wilson and Foster in 1867 and prior thereto operated a mill near the entrance of the canal and adjacent to the Pinkum mill. It was not a success financially and was finally abandoned.

Porter and Moon operated a mill at or near the outlet to Wheaton Springs for some years.

This firm also had an extensive mill located at Portersville, in the town of Brunswick, particular mention being made where that town is considered. It purchased from the Mississippi River Logging Company the interest they purchased from the Eau Claire Lumber Company and operated the mills until within a few years. Also their extensive mill and interest at Stanley, the principal office being at Eau Claire, the name of all the concerns here being changed to that of the Northwestern Lumber Company. The Northwestern Lumber Company is found in the industries of Eau Claire.

Alexander Boyd owned and operated a mill at Shawtown as early as 1866. Also W. B. Estabrook. McGuire and McRae owned and operated a mill in the town of Union, located on the west side of the Chippewa River a few miles south of Eau Claire. There was also another mill called the Gordon mill located a short distance from the mill last named.

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