History of Clark County included in the "History of Northern Wisconsin:" An Account of It's Settlement, Growth, Development and Resources; An Extensive Sketch of Its Counties, Cities, Towns and Villages. Publ. 1881

Cities, Towns and Villages, continued


   The village of Neillsille, and county seat of Clark county, situated near the junction of O'Neills Creek with Black River, is usually conceded to be one of the best buil villages in the State. It has mostly been built up within the past ten years, and the builders have indicated, in all that they have done, that they were intent alike in tasteeful and permanent work. Until very recently, the village has been cut off, so to speak, from the outside world, with which communication was had only by means of a stage which connected with distant railroad stations, and the passenger, when he first visisted Neillsville, was surprised at the appearance of a New England village in these northwoods. It stands near where Black River tears itself from confinement among the hills, to make a graceful curve from confinement among the hills, to make a graceful curve through rich valleys to the village site. the village itself, hemmed in on nearly evey side by hills, limiting the prospect to groves that climb gentle declivities, while to the rear O'Neills's Creek rushes complainingly and fretully onward until its waters are mingled with those of Black River.
   In the center of this secluded spot, at once lovely and romantic, stands the quiet, unpretentious, yet thriving village, and as the visitor walks lazily over its limits, listening to the murmurs of the rippling waters of the creek and the rush and sometimes roar of the river, or watches the mist, as it hangs in twilight curtains about the hills, it requires no poetic imagination to trace in his mind's eye a long cavacade of romance, chivalry and heroism proceeding from this spot in the days of barbaric domination, in its march over the world. And he, too, will muse upon the genius that once haunted the neighboring forests, may be, which has departed forever, and a gloom not unlike superstitious dread will only be dissipated when the past vanishes and the present rise before him in all its beauty and magnificence.
   As already related, the village was laid out and platted in 1855, by James O'Neill, and named in his honor. The year before as will be remembered, the county seat was located here, after a lively contest, and to this fact is largely due its present prosperity.
   At that time, O'Neill's residence and mill, with Samuel Ferguson's bachelor's hall and his blacksmith shop, which stood on the lot where a brickyard has of late years been carried on, were the only buildings to be seen on the four acres appropriated to village purposes. Immediately the news of Mr. ONeill's action had been promulgated, settlers began to come in, purchase lots and make improvements. The first of these was Robert Roix, who erected a tavern where the Rossman House now stands, and this was fooolowed by the construction of two frame buildings for store and residence pruposes. They were put up by James O'Neill, and stood, one opposite the Rossman House, the other further north, near the creek. The same Spring, N.M. Clapp settled in the village anc built a house on the site of O'Neill's brick building, wherein the Neillsville bank is now located, and Dr.L.M.Baxter put up a residence on the present site of Gate's meat-market. The same year Frank Cawley came in, also W.K. Dickey, who built a wagon shop and reidence where Dewhurst's office now is, and that Fall, Clinton & Quaile brought hither a stock of goods from Black River Falls, and became the first merchants in the village, being domiciled and doing business in the building built by O'Neill opposite the Rossman House. These were the arrivals and improvements of 1855.
   On the 26th of February, 1856, the first murder to take place in the village of Neillsville happened. It seems that some time in the year 1854, Moses Clark and William Paulley became involved in a quarrel at Black River Falls in which the latter was brutally teated. On the date above indicated, Clark met BF. French in the store of Clinton & Quaile, and a demand was made on him for a receipt for moneys advanced by French. Some argument followed, and during its progress Paulley interpolated an opinion of Clark, whaich was far from complimentary, adding that he owed him money, and when asked for it, Clark beat him like a dog.
   "Yes, and I'll do it again," replied Clark.
   "You will, will you?" shouted Paulley. Upon which Clark advanced towards him. He had nearly reached his victim when Paully drew a revolver and fired tow shots into Clark's body, from the effects of which he never recovered. He was taken to Plattville, in Grant County, where he lodged at the residence of Gideon Hawley, lingering till June 30 following, when he died.
   Paulley was indicted for manslaughter, tried, convicted and sentenced. After serving out his term at Waupun, he removed to Black River Falls, where he died.
   The arrivals of 1856 included R.Dewhurst and G.W.James King, who were the first lawyers to settle in Neillsville; James Hewitt, who began operations by working on the irst bridge erected across Black River; W.W. Lemon, who settled in the tow of Levis; Daniel Gates, first locating at the mouth of Wedge Creek, but moving to Neillsville in 1861; etc., etc.,; also Robert Douglass, who built a blacksmith shop where Meinhold & Curn's store now is; Miles Murray, who erected a residence on the site of Dudley's harness shop, and a blacksmith shop adjoining on the east. A Mr. McCaleb came in this year, and put up a litle frame, still standing, directly north of Dudley's, and Phillip Reissman opened the first furniture store, on the present site of Boardman's house. In May, James and Edmund Furlong, the former with a family, and James Lynch and family were now accessions to the place. The Furlongs built where now stands the Redden House, and Lynchs on the lot they have since occupied, adjoining their residence of to-day. Anson Green purchased Roix's Hotel; Gustavus Sterns settled at Molin's Rapids this year; Daniel Gates at Wedge's Creek but have since become residents of the village, as did Orson Gates the same year.
   The panic of 1857, it is believed, worked material injury to the progress of the village, as also to that of the county. Few came in from this year until after the close of the war. Financial stringency produced a practical suspension of the lumber interests, and consequent stagnation of business. There was comparatively no farming of consequence, and less trade. the value of farm products depreciated, and prices of commodities increased correspondingly. The effect of these anomolous conditions were perceptibly visible, not alone in Neillsville and Clark coutny, but also throughout this portion of the lumber district. Impoverishment, if not ruin, stared many in the face, and escape therefrom was only accomplished after trials no pen can adequately describe. To the close of the war, both increase in population and the number of improvements was nominal. As one who is familiar with the facts asserts, there was not to exceed forty heads of families, who came into the county during the period between 1857 and 1865, who remained permanently. Others visited the vicinity, but, having canvassed the probabilities of the furture, decided against remaining, and went elsewhere. In the three years preceding the war, among those who settled at Neillsville was Chauncey Blakeslee; B.F.Chase, who studied law with Dewhurst & King; S.N.Dickenson; John Dore; William Liverman; W.B.Berry; a man named McDonald, who opened a furniture store where the Neillsville Mills now are, and probably others whose names and adventures have not been preserved. George Lord, at first located about twenty miles north of Neillsville, and Leonard R. Stafford, but both of them subsequently became residents of the village. At the same time, the improvements comprehended the frame building now occupied by Gates & Co., which was put up by Chauncey Blakeslee; the O'Neill house was erected by James O'Neill as a private residence; a building south of the Rossman House, occupied at present by F. Klopf, was built by Anson Green for commercial purposes, and was for a brief period the office of the 'Union Fla'; W.B.Berry erected a residence west of the courthouse, where Mr. Youmans still resides; King & Dewhurst built reidences on the present site of the latter's home; Orson Bacon, a residence still standing, the courthouse, and some few other buildings.
   From this period, up to the close of the war, say old residents, there was no immigration or business to speak of. The same can be said of improvements in the village and adjoining. They were comparatively few in number, and made to serve unambitious uses. The vast lumber region was not then overrun, as now, with labor and enterprise. The farm and the school were not as universal as they are to-day. hard times stared all classes in the face with the dawn of day, and only retired when troubled sleep shook off the specter for a brief season. This condition of affairs continued for quite two years before any change began to be manifest, but, since that day, the clouds have been dispelled, and the light of fortuen restored throughout the country to places where its visitation only was needed to make them flourish and grow in strength and influence. During all this period, there was little to encourage, less to inspire residents, and Neillsville, like its neighbors, experienced embargoes. No public buildings were erected; schools were barely sustained, and religious organizations met for services, either at private residences or in the old court-house.
   In 1861, came the war, and Neillsville was not behind in her donations of money and offer of recruits. Meetings were held in the court-house, at which James O'Neill, B.F.French, Chauncey Blakeslee and others delivered speeches, urging the proffers of aid to enable the general government to accomplish the suppression of war. Among the soldiers who went out from Clark County, Neillsville contributed nearly one company, which was attached to the western army, and serving through the war, left the largest proportion of thsoe who went from the village lifeless in the trenches. From Pittsburgh Landing, it is said, when mortality among Clark County volunteers was particularly severe, until the surrender, this was the rule. As state, very few of those who went out among those first called, returned, and those who came back did so bearing the marks of strifes through which they passed. Twenty years have passed since this epoch in the history of American civilization came to pass. years have passed since many of the leading actors in this drama were borne to the silent halls of death. Voices that were attuned to mourning at their departure, or welcome at their return are silent, and hands that once scattered flowers upon the graves of heroes, have lost their cunning.
   Along in 1862-3, the demand for supplies for the army made times easier throughout the country. Financial stringency which had dwarfed enterprise since 1857, released it grip, and capitalist, farmer, mmechanic and laborer took a new hold and renewed their several struggles for supremacy. The price of lumber appreciated, and the demand for laborers was constant. These favorable combinations produced a train of events which culminated within the ensuing three years in turning the tide against which the country, the States, Wisconsin, Clark County and Neillsville had been beating. The wide expanse stretching from either bank of the Father of Waters soon gave abundant evidences of material prosperity. They received the swift running light of the morning and basked in its sunshine until the Rocky Mountains intercepted its brilliance and darkness gathered over the scene. Upon their undulating surfaces oceans poured through clouds and wind thir fertilizing moisture, and broad fields, teeming with the fatness of a fecund soil, satisfied the desire for bread of all the hungry children of men.
   During this period, B.F.French became a resident of the village, removing hither from his farm. Caleb hubbard adventured into Neillsville, and pruchased the hotel now known as the Rossman house, up to that ime owned and maintained by Anson Green. Andrew burlingham, with his father and sister, Mrs. Morrill, identified themselves with the place. Horace Stiles came in also. A Mr. Baron, who after running the gauntlet of a checkered experience, returned to Pennsylvania, whence he came. George Adams settled here about this time, and opened the first drug store in the village, while his brother, who accompanied him, established a dry goods store in the building now occupied by John Klopf.
   Very few returned from the war; nor were accessions to its population made in the years immediately succeeding that epoch in the nation's history. As with the population, so with improvements, they were limited in number as alo in valuep; but since that day Paul has planted, Apollos has watered the fertile expanse, and God has given the increase.
   From 1865 to 1870, affairs remained unchanged, to a great extent, though now and then a settler would arrive, and, having investigated the natural resources of Neillsville, as the base of supplies for a large section of the lumber region, would decide to remain. And here it might be remarked that no more law-abiding community was to be found in the Northwest than the residents of Clark County and Neillsville. Upon one occasion two detectives from Chicago accompanied the Sheriff of an adjoining county to Neillsville to secure the arrest of a fugitie from justice who had been indicted for murder. He was located in one of the lumbering camps, and when this was communicated to the Chicago thif-takers they were loth to continue the pursuit, apprehensive lest the 'lumber shovers,' as they termed those engaged in logging, shoul unite and prevent an arrest. A couple of citizens, to whom the facts were communicated, endeavored to convince them of their error of judgment, and failing, prepared to undertake the capture themselves. When it became apparent that they were about to lose the rewardfor which they labored, these exaggerated editions of Bob Acres screwed their courage up to the sticking point, and renewed their hazardous pursuit. all hands reached the lumber camp as day was dawning. The logers were aroused from their sleep, and, upon being informed of the object of this early visit, not only abstained from attempts at rescue, but aided the authorities in securing their man. The latter confessed his identity, and was delivered to the detectives, who departed with their prisoner with an opinion of the character of those residing "in the woods" radically differing from that with which they were so recently impressed. Indeed, no fear was felt of lawlessness, as no lawlessness existed in the village or country, and this condition of affairs has continued to exist almost without interruption.
   During this period, a daily mail was established between Neillsville and Hatfield, and some improvements of a substantial character. These included the brewery, the schoolhouse opposite Firemen's hall, hewett & Wood's planing mill, the handsome residence of Robert Ross, and others of a similar character. They were far inferior to the buildings which have since obtained as commodious and elaborate, but they served the purpose for which they were erected, and were regarded as signal examples of enterprise on the part of thsoe who contracted for their building. Among the arrivals were: A.K.Stafford, Emery Bonley, Joel head, James Delane, John LaShapalle, H.D.Early, Thomas Robinson, James Robinson, Samuel Calloway, P.S.Dudley, S.F.Foseph, Ira and J.B.Johnson, Fred Klopf, T.D.Lindsay, Jacob Rossman, F.E.Darling, A. halverson, Charles Neberman and a few others, nearly all of whom remained, and, engaging in business, made such improvements as were demanded.
   In 1870, the buildings and improvements exceeded those of any previous year, the sound of the plane, the hammer and the saw were constntly heard, and buildings were in various stages of completion on nearly every corner. James O'Neill, charles Neverman, Andrew Peterson, A.D.Ballow and others put up residences, the Methodist Church was commenced, the cour-house was regarded as unfit for occupation and the subject of building a new temple of justice first began to be agitated. The homestead act had its influence to attract settl   ers to Neillsville and the adjacent country. The following years were also replete with encouraging signs, and the day when the village should be more than a local habitation and name was confidently anticipated in the near future. The new comers for the ensuing five years included George Delane, Edwin Allen, E.Peterson, T.Johnson, E.Tyler, R.Bart, O.P.Wells, C.Crocker, U.Thayer, Mr. Schuster, William Campbell, R.Campbell, a.Brown, Peter Roberts, Mr.Crandall, Charles Detz, William Burgess, George Miller, Carlton & Dixon, George Pruger, J.Brule, James O'Neill, Jr., Thomas Kerns. J.Rineke, the Hoffman brothers, etc.,etc.
   In 1872, the first brick building erected in the village was that of Hewett & Woods, still standing, which was put up in 1872. This was followed by others, including the Lloyd building, and to-day some of the most prominent and architectually handsome of Neillsville structures are of brick, as, for example, the court-house and school-house, which were built in 1874-5 at a total cost of $50,000; the Presbyterian Church, Catholic Church, in addition to private residences. in 1874, the residence of james Hewett, said to be the finest on Black River, was nearly completed and ready for occuptation when it was destroyed by fire, entailing a loss of $12,000. The premises were immediately rebuilt, however, and can now be seen for miles around, and are a landmark to guide the traveler on his journey hither.
   The past few years has seemed to intensify the admiration of residents for Neillsville, as also to attract accessions to her citizens. The beauty of its location, the enterprise and liberality of her founders and builders not more than their educational and social prominence; the superiority of its schools and the high state of morals to be found in the village combine to render it a point at which merit will receive encouragement and assistance in identifying itself with the town. A railroad has recently connected the village with points at a distance, and will contribute in years to come, to its advancement, its wealth and its population. it is the largest village in the county, and the county seat. Around it are gathered abundant evidences of material prosperity. The glory of fields, th sbounty fo dairies, the fruit of trees and vines, and the sweets of blossoms pay tribute to the beautiful village, and on every side the altars of the fruitful Pau and bountiful Ceres are redolent with incense most pleasing to the husbandmen, who frequent her markets or make Neillsville a shipping point for their products.


   The first school to be opened in the vicinity of Neillsville was commenced about 1856, about eighty rods south of Gate's corners. here were the children of the village and surrounding country taught the rudiments of learning by John S. Dore, the present County Superintendent of Schools, and others, for several years. When a new school house was built on a lot immediately south of Firemen's Hall. this did good service until the increase in attendance required and increase of quarters, when the present structure was erected on a lot purchased of James O'Neill. It is of brick, two stories high, handsomely finished and cost $15,000. It is graded, containing six departments, employing a competent force of teachers, and its course of study embraces the branches and subjects taught in the best schools of like grade. The high school department was organized under the State Free High School law in 1878, though previously operated in its present capacity. The course provides for instruction in the branches adapted to the highest grade, and upon graduation the student is presented as a candidate for that consideration due one practically educated. The average daily attendance during the scolastic year of 1880-81 was 200, and the amount expended for school purposes in Neillsville during the year ending July 11, 1881, was $3,542. the present Board is made up of F.A.Lee, director; C.Dickenson, treasurer, and Herman Schuster, clerk.


   Methodist Episcopal Church, etc.--The first religious services in Neillsville were held during 1847, by the Rev. R.R.Wood, stationed at Black River Falls. For several years thereafter there were no services save at such rare intervals as were furnished by some clerical pilgrim visiting the place. In 1858, Neillsville was made a regular appointment and preaching occurred once in three weeks by the Rev. James Cody, of the Alma Circuit. The first Methodist class was organized that year, and in 1860, the Neillsville Circuit was created. In 1868-9, by the aid of friends of the society, a plain but comfortable church edifice was built, which has since been occupied, though remodeled and improved. The present congregation is stated at 100, under the pastorate of the Rev. Mr. Webster.
   Presbyterian Church-- This denomination was represented at an early day by the Rev. Mr. Harris, but the church organization was not perfected until October 27, 1872, when the same was accomplished at a meeting held in the court-house, by a committee of the Presbytery of Chippewa, assisted by the Rev.B.B.Riley, synodical missionary. Services were conducted in the court-house until 1875, when the present bick church edifice was completed at a cost of $3,600, and occupied. the present congregation numbers seventy-one, under the pastorship of the Rev. W.T.Hendren.
   St.Luke's Episcopal Mission.--Was organized Nov. 12, 1877, under the auspices of the Rev. W.H.H.Ross, of Black River Falls, with F.A. Lee, warden; Samuel Colway, secretary, and Stanley F.Chubb, treasurer. Worship has since been held in the chapel of the school building, but in the Summer of 1881, the French lot was purchased for $400; and at a meeting held August 29 ultimo, F.A.Lee, S.F.Chubb, F.D.Linday, D.B.R.Dickinson and James O'Neill, Jr., were appointed a committee on building and instructed to commence work at once. Up to 1881, the mission was included in the Wisconsin diocese; since that date it has been a part of the diocese of Fond du Lac. Services are conducted every alternate Sunday, by the Rev.W.H.H.Ross.
   Catholic Mission--Was organized in 1876, at the residence of Richard Hawkes, with fifty members, under the direction of the Rev. Mr.Bergman, stationed at humbird. In 1877, a church of frame, veneered with brick, was erected at a cost of $3,500, and has since been occupied. The congregation numbers 100 families, and the pastor, the Rev. Father Voltz, officiates once in six weeks.
   A Dutch Reformed church was organized in 1879, with fifty-six members, by the Rev. H.Bruengger, who still serves, preaching once a month in the Methodist Church.
   There is als a Lutheran Society in the village, by which services are held monthly in the Methodist Church.
   Banking--The Neillsville Bank is a private institution, organized in August, 1879, by Daniel Gates and J.L.Gates who conduct business under the firm name of J.L.Gates & Co. The bank occupies a portion of O'Neills brick building, and, with sufficient capital for the transaction of business, enjoys a liberal patronage and universal confidence. The business of 1880-81 is quoted at $500,000.
   The Clark County Bank was organized under and according to the laws of Wisconsin, August 20, 1875, with a capital of $25,000, for the purpose of transacting a general banking and exchange business. The officers at that time were: Richard Dewhurst, president; J.F.Kirkland, vice-president; John Reed, Daniel Gates, James hewett, James O'Neill and S.F.Kirkland, directors. The present officers are: Levi Archer, president; James hewett, vice-president; D.B.Dickenson, cashier; C.Blakeslee, Robert Schofield, M.C.Ring and L.A.Arnold, directors. The amount of business in 1880 is stated at $250,000.
   Neillsville & Merrillon Railroad--The construction of a railroad from Neillsville to Merrillon Junction, long contemplated, never took shape until within the past three years. Meetings had been held, however, and estimates submitted for the substitution of means of communication between these points, other than the stage, that ancient and comfortless medium. Early in 1878, the subject was again agitated, and on the 26th of February, of that year, a meeting of the citizens of Clark County was held at Neillsville, at which the Black River Railroad Company was organized with H.N.Withee, James Hewett, Daniel Gates, F.D.Lindsay, R.J.McBride, J.L.Gates, G.L.Lloyd and F.S.Kirkland, incorporators. At an election immediately following, H.N.Withee was chosen president; James Hewett, vice-president; F.S.Kirkland as secretary. The capital stock was limited to $150,000, and the survey of the route was completed at once by O.H.Hoffman. Soon after ground was broke, work commenced, and in a short time a major portion of the road bed was graded. At this time the company asked the credit of the town of Pine Valley to the extent of $10,000, to aid in its construction, but the petition was refused by a vote of 197 to 70, and work was temporarily suspended.
   In 1880 Pine Valley reversed its decision, and consented to the issue of $10,000 bonds, to aid in grading, tieing and ironing the route, while Grant, Weston and Hewett townships aided to the extent of $1,000 each, conditioned upon the road being completed by January 1, 1881. In the same year the directory of the Black River road contracted with the Chicago, St.Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha road to find the right of way, grade and tie it, also to procure depot grounds in Neillsville, provided that corporation ironed the road bed, furnished the running stock, erected the depot buildings and operated the road. In the meantime, the condition stipulated in the bonds issued by Pine Valley and other townships to aid in building the road having failed of execution, Weston and Grant townships repudiated their bonds, but Pine Valley and Hewett extended the time and renewed their bonds. The Chicago & St. Paul road accepted the contract proffered by the Neillsville company, began work on the unfinished route, and completed the laying of the track, so that the first train of cars made its advent into the county seat of Clark County, July 4, 1881, where it was received with appropriate observances. Trains now run between the present terminal points twice each day, and the convenience afforded, as also the improvements the completion of the road will work, are of priceless value.
   The Post-office was first opened in Neillsville during 1856, when it was established at the residence of Nathaniel Clapp, which then occupied the lot now covered by O'Neill's brick building. S.C.Boardman was first Postmaster, and Edward h.Markey the first mail carrier, going tri-weekly to Black River Falls--horseback in Summer, and by "jumper" during the Winter months. Mr. Boardman was succeeded by W.C.Tompkins, and he, in turn, by Charles Carpenter and W.T.Hutchinson, the latter taking charge in 1865, and removing the office to a building now occupied by Spence's restaurant, where he served until 1871, when J.W.Ferguson was appointed and qualified as his successor. He is still the incumbent, and in 1872 removed the office to its present location.
   Fire Department--On the 6th of May, 1874, a disatrous storm swept over Neillsville, entailing serious damage in the village and throughout the adjoining country. During its progress the lightning struck the buildings of Chauncey Blakeslee and W.C.Allen, in the business portion of Neillsville, which were therby set on fire and narrowly escaped destruction. this warning of what might have been aroused citizens to the fact that the village was without proper facilities to extinguish a conflagration should such a calamity overtake them, and resulted in the convening of a meeting at the Court-house, at which plans were perfected for the organization of the present dpartment. the same Summer a hook and ladder truck was purchased for $550, men enlisted for the service, and R.F.Kountz appointd chief engineer. In March 1875, a chemical engine was procured at an expense of $750, and, later in the year, the department was duly incorporated by an act of Legislature. The succeeding Spring the engine-house was built, costing $1,100, and since the happening of these events the department has been one of the most efficient and reliable branches of the village government. The present officers are: R.F.Kountz, chief; J.W.Holmand, foreman; E.L.Hoffman and H.Furgson, assistants; J.F.Caum, treasurer, and J.H.Thayer, secretary. The value of the department property is quoted at $2,5000.

Neillsville Continued on Page 4

Transcribed and Contributed to this site by Judy Groh

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Floral Bouquet © Copyright: All files on this site are copyrighted by their creator and/or contributor. They may be linked to but may not be reproduced on another site without specific permission from Clark County Coordinator Judy Groh, the State Coordinator, Tina Vickery and/or their contributor. My very special thanks to Holly Timm for the creation of the WIGenWeb Clark County graphic. The use of the Penny Postcard in the title graphic is used with permission of the Penny Post Cards a USGenWeb Archives Web Site.

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