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

Chapter  26 


by Miss A. E. Kidder

(-as transcribed from pages 436 - 437)

A destructive flood occurred in 1856 on the Chippewa river.  Ice, logs and drift wood came down in such force that booms, piers and all other obstructions were carried away and many thousand logs were deposited on the Island of the Mississippi.  Another similar visitation came on the morning of August 22, 1870, when it began raining simultaneously along the whole length of the Chippewa and continued many hours.  The stream rose until it reached fifteen feet above its ordinary level.  Over twenty million logs were lost, the greatest sufferers being the mill and boom owners in and near the city, and lower down the river.  Still another disaster was the rising of the waters in 1880.  Heavy rains had swollen all the tributaries of the two rivers, and on June 12 the Chippewa rose 22 feet, sweeping through the lower part of the city with destructive force.  Many streets were navigated by boats to give aid to the occupants of houses and stores.  Logs came down in enormous quantities and were carried over the banks in all directions, thousands being left when the river receded in great distances from the regular channel.  Buildings were washed from their foundations and their contents were swept away by the torrent.  The Grand avenue bridge and one other were wrecked and the total loss exceeded $100,000.  Still heavier was the catastrophe of September, 1884.  The river began to rise on the ninth of that month and on the following morning had risen from two to eleven feet, and continued until it reached the extraordinary height of 27 feet above low water mark at 11 o'clock on Thursday morning, exceeding the rise of 1880 by five feet.  Between 3 and 4 o'clock of that day the floating logs, lumber and masses of timber crashed against the bridges until, at 3:30 a raft of lumber from the Dells mills struck and carried away the east section of the Madison street bridge.  This disjointed section was impelled with overwhelming force against the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Valley Division Railway bridge, destroying it instantly.  Grand avenue bridge was next swept away, followed by Water street bridge, the lower Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul bridge and the Shawtown wagon bridge.  All bridges across the Chippewa at this point were destroyed except that of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad, and the C., M. & St. P. bridge above the Dells.  The latter was carried away on the following day, mingled with masses of debris, timber, houses, furniture, carcasses of animals and a heavy run of logs from the booms above.  The damage to property within the city limits was estimated at $500,000, and in the valley at $1,500,000.  All the city bridges were immediately rebuilt.  The cause of the flood was the giving way of the Little Falls dam, some forty miles up the river, and perhaps accelerated by the giving way of a dam on Duncan creek at Bloomer, in Chippewa county.

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