For My Cousins Wood County, Wisconsin
Maps and Written History (as of 1878)

From: Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wisconsin
Compiled and published by Synder, Van Vechten & Co., Milwaukee (Wisconsin) 1878

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History of Wood County
(as written in 1878)
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View Maps of Individual Townships
Match the township map numbers below with their location on the county index map (above)

Dexter (9) -- includes Scranton and Dexterville
Grand Rapids (10) -- includes Centralia, Worden Station, Four Mile Creek and Bloody Run Creek
    Towns of Centralia & Grand Rapids - zoomed out
    Towns of Centralia & Grand Rapids - NW Portion
    Towns of Centralia & Grand Rapids - NE Portion
    Towns of Centralia & Grand Rapids - SW Portion
    Towns of Centralia & Grand Rapids - SE Portion
    Towns of Centralia & Grand Rapids - Central Portion
Lincoln (1)
Marshfield (2)
Port Edwards (12) -- includes Bearss Station, Port Edwards and Point Bass
Remington (11) -- includes Balch's Ranch Station, South Bluff and North Bluff
Rock (4) -- includes Nasonville and Rocky Run
Rudolph (6) -- includes Worden Sta.
Saratoga (13) -- includes Point Bass, Five Mile Creek, Seven Mile Creek and Ten Mile Creek
Seneca (8) -- includes Elm Lake Station, Elm Lake
Siegel (5)
Wood (7) -- includes Pittsville
Unknown (3) - unlabeled or northern part of Rudolph and/or Siegel -- includes Auburndale and Miladore

The following transcription was taken verbatim from the above-referenced 1878 atlas (starting at page 250). I have broken the lengthy paragraphs into shorter paragraphs to make it easier to read, but otherwise have tried to be true to the spelling, text and punctuation of the original document. Although I've done my best to be accurate, there may be transcription errors that I failed to catch.

WOOD COUNTY (as of 1878):

This county is situated nearly in the geographical center of the state. It embraces twenty-three townships, which lie immediately west of Portage county, between townships twenty-one and twenty-five inclusive, in ranges two to five, and twenty-one to twenty-three in range six. It, therefore, contains nearly 550,000 acres, of which only about 35,000 acres are under cultivation; two-thirds of the balance are capable of being improved. There is but little government land in the county. Most of that, on the odd-number sections, is withdrawn from market for the benefit of the Wisconsin Central railroad. The state owns about 100,000 acres.


The general slope and drainage of the county is toward the south and southwest -- the average incline being about seven feet to the mile. The soil in the central and northern portions is a rich loam, containing an admixture of clay, sand, and vegetable mold. That in the southern and eastern sections is lighter, and contains more sand. In the southwestern portion are extensive marshes and meadows, peculiarly adapted to cranberry culture and hay-growing. Originally, three-fourths of the county was timber land; the greater part being covered with heavy forests of white pine.

In addition to this, there is in the northern tier of townships considerable quantities of white and read oak; white and black ash; maple; hemlock, and butternut. It is estimated that about one-half of the pine has been removed. The land, as it is cleared of the timber, is converted to either farms or is allowed to return to the state. The marsh region in the southwest part is decreasing in size yearly. The useless "floating" areas of marsh are rapidly becoming hard meadow land, some being even capable of cultivation. This is the result of ditching, natural drainage, and the decrease in the annual rain-fall.

The region is abundantly supplied with water, and numerous streams afford good drainage for all but the southwest corner. The Wisconsin river, flowing in a southerly direction, crosses the southeast corner. Yellow river, a tributary of the Wisconsin, rises in the northern part and crosses the country from north to south, draining the entire central region. Besides these, there is the east fork of Black river, which rises in the western part of this county.

There are also numerous small creeks that ramify in all directions. The streams rising in the north have their origin in springs, while those in the south originate in marshes; all abound in the common varieties of fish, such as the buffalo, bass, pickerel and catfish.

The current is also swift and affords magnificent water-power. The fall in the Wisconsin in its course through Wood county is fully one hundred feet, the distance being about fifteen miles. It is also broken into different channels at several points, affording greater opportunity to utilize the water privileges, and also to multiply their number on these channels mills can be erected and operated at very little cost for dams and other improvements.

At present there are situated on these water-powers six saw-mills, having a sawing capacity of fifty million feet annually; one flouring mill; one foundry and machine shop; one planing mill and several shingle-mills, all driven by water-power, without the digging of canals, cutting of channels or other expensive improvements. It is estimated that a hundred mills could be run by water-power of this river within Wood county alone. There are also many smaller water-powers in the county situated on Mill creek, Hemlock creek and Yellow river.

Lumbering is the leading industry. The admirable water-power and the heavy forests of pine, combined, in an early day, to induce lumbermen to seek this region, and the same circumstances have continued to make this the dominant interest.

In later years, many farms have been opened, and the various roots and cereals cultivated. These attempts are generally remunerative. The products of the soil all find a ready and profitable home market among the lumbermen. Cranberry culture is a prominent industry in the county. Large quantities grow wild, and the marsh region is such that their cultivation is attended with little expenditure of money. Thirteen thousand barrels were shipped in 1876.

In early days this region of forest-meadow along the Wisconsin and its tributaries was a rich hunting ground of the Aborigines. The portion near the river was at one time a succession of beaver dams. Deer, bear and other game abounded. Indians and trappers still obtain a livelihood from the sale of furs secured in this region. Scores of deer are annually shipped from this county. Wolves are plenty in the forests in the western townships. Bear are also quite numerous.

Until the year 1872, the county was without railroad connections. In this year the people voted $150,000 in bonds to the Green Bay and Minnesota road, and, on the eighth of December, of the same year, they celebrated the arrival of the first train of cars at Grand Rapids. Fifty thousand dollars in bonds were also voted to the Wisconsin Valley railroad. The first train on this road came in June, 1873. By this means the county obtained two railroads, but also incurred a debt of $200,000, all of which is, as yet, unpaid.


The geological exposures in Wood county divide the area about equally into Potsdam sandstone and rocks of the metamorphic or azoic age; the latter being the great mineral strate of the world. Several quarries have been opened and a superior quality of building material secured. The azoic rocks when polished are quite equal to the Scotch granite, so much used for monuments and ornamental work. They consist of a bright red cleavable felspar [NOTE FROM TRANSCRIPTIONIST - felspar as spelled in atlas; feldspar?], mingled with hyaline or smoky quartz, in such a manner that they are capable of receiving a very high polish. Specimens of red granite from Yellow river, in Wood county, displayed with the Centennial collections, attracted in a very marked manner the attention of experts, as an extraordinary stone.

Iron ore is found in this region belonging mainly under the head of bog ore. This exists under the marshes, and shows an excellent quality in abundance. Nothing has been done as yet toward the development of this resource. Copper ore is also found in considerable quantities.

On both sides of Yellow river, in the vicinity of Grand Rapids, and westward along the line of junction of the archaen gneissic rocks toward the north, and the Potsdam sandstone toward the south, is an extensive deposit of kaolin. This material, in Wood county, occurs entirely as "kaolinized" rock, and underlies a large area of the county, in a strate from four to twenty feet thick. All that is needed to make this a great source of wealth to the county, is wealth.


The population of the county is 1876 was 6,050, comprising 3,943 Americans, 988 Canadians, the balance being Germans, Irish, Norwegians, with a few of other nationalities. There are thirty school houses in the county, the majority of which are buildings of a quite ordinary kind. However, there is a lively interest manifested in education; and, as the county advances in material prosperity, better school-buildings are erected, and a higher grade of teachers employed.


In the year 1831, Daniel Whitney, of Green Bay, obtained a permit from the war department to erect a saw-mill and cut timber on the Wisconsin river, it being territory belonging to the Menomonee Indians. In the winter of 1831-2, he began the erection of a saw-mill at the point since known as Whitney's rapids. He manufactured the first lumber in the county, in the spring of 1834. Grignon and Merrill obtained a similar permit, and built a mill at the point since known as Grignon's rapids, in 1836. These two establishments were the pioneers of the lumbering business on the Wisconsin river.

In 1836, by a treaty made with the Menomonee Indians at Cedar Point, on Fox river, the Indian title was extinguished to a strip of land on the Upper Wisconsin, six miles wide. This tract began at Point Bass, in the present county of Wood, and extended northward forty miles. About ten miles of this trip lay within the present limits of Wood county, and was a great incentive to early pioneers to seek this region. The most eligible mill-sites were quickly claimed and occupied.

Bloomer and Strong, also George Cline, secured possession at the present city of Grand Rapids. In 1838, the first two built the first saw-mill at this point. Nelson Strong used the first lumber sawed by the mill in building the first frame house in the county. Strong and his wife were the first white family that settled in the region. Mrs. Strong was the first white woman at Grand Rapids. Their daughter, Emily, was the first white child born in the county. This was in 1835. She had a Menomonee nurse, who lashed the babe to a board, and gave the pale-faced infant all the peculiar advantages of papoose culture.

The old chief Oshkosh, with about two hundred followers, remained here several years after the whites came. His camp was on the east bank of the Wisconsin, about ten miles below Grand Rapids, in the present town of Saratoga. Oshkosh was one of the chief men of the Menomonee Indians. He was of medium stature, possessing much bravery and good sense, but a great slave to strong drink. In 1852, the Menomonees were gathered to their reservation, which is now mostly within the limits of Shawano county. Oshkosh resisted, for many years, the attempts at civilizing his tribe, but finally, seeing the superiority of the civilized Indians over the uncivilized, he gave his influence to the undertaking.

The earliest pioneer now living in the county is A. B. Sampson, a resident of Grand Rapids. He came in 1834, and helped to raft to market the first lumber sawed by the first mill in the county. In his house, in 1839, occurred the first marriage in the county, whereby George Kline, Jr., and Mrs. Maria Whitney were tied with hymeneal cords, at the official work of Henry Merrill, justice of the peace.

In 1842, Rev. J. S. Hurlburt, a Methodist missionary, arrived, and exhorted the settlers to "turn from the error of their ways." He had charge of a large circuit, and was a zealous worker for the cause he represented. He opened the first school, in 1843. The building in which it was held was within the limits of the present village of Centralia.

By this time, a current of pine-seekers was pouring into the county, and a hotel was a necessity. One was built by Nelson Strong, in 1843. He conducted it for a short time, and sold to A. B. Sampson, who for many years kept the only public house in the county. His wife, who came in 1838, was noted for her energy and bravery in battling against pioneer hardships and Indian insolence. Mrs. Whitney, at Whitney rapids, in 1838, was also noted for securing the respect and fear of the Indians. Such was her control over them she did not hesitate to trust herself and two children with two of them in a bark canoe, for a hundred and fifty mile journey, to reach her sick husband. Dr. Bristol, of Stevens Point, was the first "Medicine Man" in the county, but Doctor G. W. Whitney, who came in 1855, was the first resident physician, and is still practicing at Grand Rapids.

The first Christian organization in the county was that of a Methodist church at the county seat in 1857. A Congregational society of Grand Rapids erected the first church edifice in the county, in 1864. The raising of the building is memorable for an accident, whereby the pastor and several citizens were seriously injured. The Centralia flour mill, erected in 1860, by George Waller, is still doing good service as the first and only grist mill in Wood county. The veteran blacksmith, J. B. Hasbrouck, located in 1842, and, where the "village smithy stands," his vigorous blows may still be heard. Mr. Kline and Mr. Purdy also came about this date.

Lemuel Kromer, one of the first merchants, settled in 1846, near his present site at Grand Rapids. Joseph Wood, after whom the county is named, has been a continuous resident sine 1848, and has held many offices of honor and trust. In 1853, L. P. Powers hung out his sign as "attorney and counselor-at-law," and for several years he was the only lawyer at the county seat. He has been an active citizen, and has frequently held official positions. C. M. Webb, ex-state senator, has been a leading attorney since his coming in 1858.


The territory now embraced in Wood county was detached from Portage county by an act of the legislature approved March 29, 1856. The first election of county officers was ordered to be held at the annual November election of the same year, the official term of those elected to begin on the first Monday of January, 1857. There were duly elected, to serve two years: Joseph Wood, county judge; L. P. Powers, county clerk; L. P. Powers, district attorney; L. Kromer, circuit clerk; L. Kromer, register of deeds; I. L Mosher, county treasurer; H. A. Temple, county surveyor; Ben. Buck, sheriff; G. W. Cate, circuit judge.

The new county was attached to the seventh judicial circuit. Grand Rapids was fixed as the county seat by the act of organization; and, by an amendment of September 19, 1856, it was located on lots two and three, in block 31, Wood's addition to Grand Rapids, provided these lots would be donated to the county. No action was ever taken on the above amendment, and it was therefore a dead letter. In April, 1866, an act was passed locating the county seat on "fractional lot two of section seventeen, of township twenty-two, range six east, in Grand Rapids," conditioned on the gift of the same to the county, and the approval of a majority of the voters. No record can be found of such a vote having ever been taken, and no deed to the county of the land has ever been registered; yet in 1866 the first court-house in the county, a small wooden building, was erected upon the site above described. It is still used as a court-house, yet the county offices, with one exception, are held elsewhere, nearer the business center of the city. The date of the first warranty deed recorded is October 1, 1856, and was given by Mark A. Wilkes to Mrs. Ann Black, and was entered for record on New Year's day, 1857.

The first meeting of the county board of supervisors was held at Grand Rapids, October 8, 1856; present, supervisors H. W. Jackson and Eusebe La Vige, with L. P. Powers, clerk by appointment. No business of general interest was transacted by the board until after the autumn election, whereby the list of county officers was made complete. In 1870, it was thought advisable, for certain reasons, to annex a portion of the southwest corner of Wood county to the county of Jackson, but as Wood county contained less than nine hundred square miles, it could not be divided without a popular vote.

Therefore, six townships were added to this county from the contiguous territory of Jackson, by an act of the legislature of February 11, 1870, to take effect on the 25th of April of the same year. The county was then of sufficient size to render legislative division allowable; and by another, act, passed on the same day, which took effect six days subsequently, or on the 1st of May, 1870, these same six townships, together with the obnoxious corner of Wood county, were attached to Jackson county. [NOTE FROM TRANSCRIPTIONIST -- yes, it really did say "obnoxious corner"] Both acts received the governor's signature on the 11th of February, 1870.

Just before the building of the Green Bay & Minnesota railroad, the exscinded territory was restored to Wood county, as noted in an act approved March 9, 1872; the county boundaries thus became the same as before the legislation of 1870, and have remained since unchanged.


Grand Rapids, the seat of justice and the chief city of Wood county, is the oldest town on the upper Wisconsin river, and has within the city limits a population of fully fifteen hundred. It is situated in township twenty-two, north of range six east, and lies wholly on the east bank of the Wisconsin, which is here interspersed with beautiful islands. The business of the city itself is done upon an island. The river, in passing the city, has a descent of thirty feet over an irregular and rocky bed, thus constituting the rapids which gave name to the city and township. The water-power is immense; five thousand horse-power is still not utilized. Several streams take their names according to their distances from Grand Rapids, as "Four-mile creek," "Five-mile creek", and others.

The city has an excellent stone school-house, completed and furnished in 1876, at a cost of thirty thousand dollars. The soil, immediately about the city, is very sandy. The water privileges and the pine lands have given the city its present proportions. Land improves as one leaves the sandy or rocky shores, and the city is now sustained by a large farming trade. It has three churches, two hotels, two newspapers, a bank, a large complement of stores and shops, in addition to the manufacturing establishments elsewhere mentioned.

The first bridge across the Wisconsin, in this county, was built in 1866, and connected Grand Rapids and her western sister city of Centralia. The old bridge has been replaced this season by a three-span Howe truss, five hundred and twenty-seven feet in length, with wooden piers and abutments, at a total cost of eight thousand six hundred dollars. It is the only bridge in the county across the Wisconsin. The only other city in the county is Centralia, on the west bank of the Wisconsin, directly opposite Grand Rapids, and with a population of eight hundred. It is a thriving city, and has an elegant brick school-house, just erected, at a cost of little exceeding ten thousand dollars. These two cities are united by common interests, and their industries and general characteristics are similar.

The town of Grand Rapids, outside the city limits, has a farming population of seven hundred; this, with the four hundred of the town of Sigel, is largely German. Saratoga, in the southeast, has a majority of Irish, which in Rudolph, in the northeast, the French are well represented.

There are a few small villages in the county, as Dexterville, Remington, Auburndale, Port Edward, and Hurleyville. At the latter place, just below Grand Rapids, is a large factory, manufacturing tubs and pails; and the market demands exceed its capacity.


The Wood County Reporter was founded by J. N. Brundage, in 1857, and was edited and published by him until 1864, when he went into the army. James E. Ingraham having purchased a half interest, continued the publication, with C. M. Webb as editor. In 1869, Ingraham became the sole proprietor, but soon after associated with H. B. Philleo as joint partner, who has since had full editorial control. The paper has always been republican in politics.

The Grand Rapids Tribune was also founded by J. N. Brundage, as proprietor and local editor, with L. P. Powers as "political editor," on the 8th of February, 1873. In politics it is democratically "independent." Both papers are published in Grand Rapids, and are the only ones in the county.

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