SETTLEMENT (continued)

   In 1850, there was, it is estimated, about fifty acres cleared where Neillsville now stands, begun in 1845, when James O'Neill began razing the trees and opened the first farm in the county, and continued until a village site was provided. The clearing extended up the hill and included the ground where the school-house now stands, but there was a lack of improvements then , nowhere visible to-day. At that time, the settlements wee embraced within a comparatively small area, extending to Eaton's mill on the north and that of Myrick & Miller on the south, with no prospect of breaking the solitude which inhabited the eastern and western portions of the present county. During this year, Hamilton, McCullom & Co. added a small farm to the resources of his mill, the second resident of the county to engage in agricultural pursuits, and meeting, it is supposed, with fair rewards for his enterprise.
    For the ensuing two years, Mr. O'Neill is confident no one came into the county as a permanent settler. Why, can scarcely be explained. As already stated, a large number of laborers arrived here during the early Fall, but after engaging all the Winter in the lumber camps, abandoned their temporary citizenship in the Spring and returned to the cities. Like the class of men who were known as "suckers" in the lead regions fifty years ago, because of their similitude to fish of that name in their disposition to tarry not long in one place, the loggers were peculiarly nomadic and would not be satisfied to remain after the "run of logs" had been started. For the period above mentioned, the prospects of the future county realizing unto the settlers a fruition of their hopes, were far from promising. The mills were run daily, and large 2uantities of lumber, as also booms of logs, were prepared and shipped to market. Sup[plies were obtained at LaCrosse, Burlington, St. Louis and elsewhere, landed at the mouth of Black River, and "poled" up that stream in boats of the most primitive construction and conveniences. Gradually, of course, time was found to clear up farms and raise grain, but for many years boats "poled" up the rapids were the only means of obtaining supplies.
    By an act of the Legislature, approved July 6, 1858, Clark County was created out of Jackson County, and made to embrace the same area it has since claimed, except the north tier of townships, where set off to Taylor in 1875. The county was organized into a single town, Pine Valley, and its first officers were: James O'Neill, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, with Hugh Wedge and James French Supervisors; B.F.French, Treasurer, and Samuel C. Boardman, Clerk.
    In 1853, Samuel Weston, accompanied by David Robinson and others, arrived in the county from Maine, and , locating on Black River, tow miles above Neillsville, established a village called Weston, and commenced running logs down the stream. When the county was set apart, a petition praying that the county seat be located at Neillsville was submitted to the Legislature. While in transit, or after the petition came into the possession of that body, Neillsville was stricken out and Weston substituted, in which condition the same was adopted. When this was brought to the knowledge of residents favoring Neillsville, it created consternation, indignation and determination. Measures were at once take to correct the wrong, and through the intervention of a Mr. Gibson, at that time in the Legislature, an act was passed authorizing the people to vote on a change of the count seat from Weston to the northwest quarter of Section 14, Town 24, Range 4 west, where Neillsville now stands. This took place in November, 1854, and as the relative prominence of the two places depended upon the result of the election, a great struggle took place between the rival factions. There were tow polling places in the town: O'Neill's and Parker's tavern, eleven miles below Neillsville, but at neither place, it is said, were the ballots of imported voters rejected. The vote at Neillsville resulted in a majority of four for Weston, and of that cast at Parker's was twenty-one in favor of Neillsville, thus deciding the issue. The whole number of votes cast was 104, making the net majority in favor of Neillsville seventeen, and while the latter place would have remained the center of operations for lumbermen, regardless of its being so selected, there can be no question but that its prosperity has been largely due to its being the county seat.
    At the election for county officers in the Fall of 1854 also, resulted in the selection of George Hall for Sheriff, B.F.French Treasurer, and S.C.Boardman County Clerk and Register of Deeds. Chauncey Blakeslee was County Judge, but was succeeded by R. Dewhurst, the most important act of whose official career is said to have been his walking from Neillsville to Loyal, twenty miles, in order to marry an impatient couple pleading at the altar. This year a Mr. Howard, Mr. Pope and family, Mr. Wage and family, C.W.Hutchinson, and probably I.S.Mason were among the arrivals. The former settled in the town of Grant and opened farms; the latter engaged in logging on Wedge Creek,.
    The county having been set apart and the county seat located, it was determined to lay out a village and perfect arrangements for projecting improvements. At that time, as will be remembered, the county contained but one township - Pine Valley. Since that date the domain has been apportioned as follows: Levis township in 1857; Weston in 1859; Lynn, 1862; Loyal, 1863; Mentor, 1867; Grant, 1868; Eaton, 1870, Beaver, 1871, York, Hixon and Sherman, 1878; Colby, Unity, Mayville and Washburn, 1874; Sherwood Forest, Hewlett and Warner, 1875; Thorp, 1876, and Wether in 1880.
    Accordingly, James O'Neill appropriated four acres to village purposes, and caused the same to be surveyed and platted by Allen Boardman, a practical surveyor. The village then presented the appearance of to-day, nor a promise that has since been realized. There was two or three little cabins, Robert Roix's hotel, Dr. Baxter (the first physician to settle in the county) occupied a hut, as also did Nathan Boardmen, Nathan Clapp, Mr. Dickey, B.F. French and the first settler, James O'Neill.
    This was really the first village formally laid off in the county.
    From this date on arrivals were no more numerous than during the previous years. Some were coming in all the time, it is said, but they generally located at or near the village, otherwise proceeding to the lumber regions. Indians abounded for many years, and in their disputes with the rough characters who occasionally strayed among the loggers, were generally worsted. Along in 1856, tow men, named Pettengill and Page, know to be desperate characters, encountered a half breed Indian trading with a Frenchman named La Chapelle, themselves being also traders. They became involved in a dispute with the Indians, which ended in a shooting bee, three of the Indians being killed, one of them roasted on the fire in the cabin of Pettengill and Page. The latter fled, and some time afterward Pettengill met the half-breed at Hunsicker's tavern, twelve miles north of Neillsville, when he deliberately shot him dead. The chief visited Mr. O'Neill, who was County Treasurer at the time, and was by him directed hot to proceed; but nothing came of the matter, the accused having succeeded in eluding justice.
    In 1856-7, it is said, the settlers experienced hard times and much suffering - proving a source of discouragement to a majority of the population, at least those who had but recently arrived. Wages dropped to nothing, and when money was received, there was no certainty of its being worth fifty per cent of its face for the payment of necessaries, or lands. It often became worthless in a day. An instance is record of a resident having received his Winter's wages, with which he proceeded to la Crosse to pay for lands, and was obliged to borrow money there to make the deficiency between the price of the real estate and the diminished value of his money. But these days have long since passed away, and for years Clark County has been making steady progress.
    During the war, the county subscribed men and money to meet the levies made upon her resources for material to be sent to the field; but between 1857 and 1865, the exits were more numerous than the arrivals. In the latter part of the war, lumber appreciated in value and attracted a number of new comers. In 1867, the village of Greenwood was laid out, and tow years later Humbird was similarly apportioned. Between 1860 and 1870, Neillsville improved gradually; but until 1876, or therabouts, the increase in population, development of the county and building up of the villages was so gradual as to be scarcely perceptible. During the few years succeeding 1876, remarked one of the oldest settlers in the county, there have been more arrivals and more business than during the period of the county's growth prior to that date. This was due to the railroad and other improvements which were completed in those years, and attracted a generous immigration, principally from Maine and New Yo5k, who located in villages where they became merchants and professionals - in the lumber district and on farms.
    To-day, the population of the county is far from 12,000, and while there is a large number of towns without permanent residents, there is no portion of the county available for agricultural purposes, but what is utilized therefor. The facilities for getting to and from the outside world are excellent, by turnpike roads and railway lines. The latter include the Central Wisconsin, in the northeast portion of the county, the West Wisconsin, passing the southwest corner, the Green Bay & Minnesota, and more recently the Chicago, Saint Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha, which operate a branch of their main line, from Merrillon to Neillsville, furnish every advantage for the transportation of passenger and commodities.
    The religious element is largely represented, and in an educational point of view, the county is fully up to the times, there being school-houses in every nook and corner where there are pupils to avail themselves of such advantages.
    Clark County possesses and immense wealth in the large pineries to be found within its territory, as also an exhaustless soil for farming purposes after the timber has been appropriated. With the advantages of good roads and with railway lines at every accessible point, it must be admitted that it stands a fair chance of ranking with the most desirable counties in Wisconsin, at no distant day.
    The first court-house was of frame, two stories high, 40x50 in dimensions, and erected by J.&T.Furlong, on land donated for that purpose, in the center of village of Neillsville, by James O'Neill. Its cost was $1,800. The building served its purpose until 1875, when it was removed, and is now occupied as a hardware store, opposite the Reddan House. In the latter year, the present handsome structure was erected. It is of brick, two stories high, the roof being surmounted with a cupola on which stands a statue of Justice. It was completed in the Spring of 1876, under contract with C.B.Bradshaw, and was built at a cost of $35,000.
    The county jail was built in the Summer of 1881, by James Hewlett, C.Blakeslee, James O'Neill, Sr., and James Sturdevant, who, as security on the bonds of County treasurer, Allen, were compelled to make good a deficiency discovered in the funds that official held in trust. Part of this obligation was paid, and the balance liquidated by the erection of the jail and Sheriff's house. The former is of brick, compactly built of brick, perfectly secure, well ventilated and lighted, and possessing sufficient accommodations for the times. The residence of the Sheriff is of frame. The total cost of the premises is stated at $7,000.
    The county poor-house is located in the town of York, here it was erected in 1880, by Chauncey Blakeslee, in payment of a claim held by the county against Mr. Blakeslee, who was also security on the bonds of County Treasurer, Allen. The building is of frame, with accommodations for twenty-five paupers and cost $7,000. Attached to the poor-house proper is a farm of 160 acres, upon which is raised crops, by the sale of which revenue is derived for the support of the institution. The house is now under the care of R.C. Evans, and shelters four inmates.

Transcribed and Contributed to this site by Judy Groh

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.

This page was last updated on -- Friday, 01-Apr-2011 21:28:15 EDT

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