News: Greenwood, Wis. - Old Withee Farm/Old Hemlock Dam (1955)

Contact: Dolores Mohr Kenyon

Email: dolores@wiclarkcountyhistory.org 
 

Surnames: Speich, Suda, Windom, Withee, Nesbitt, Newell, Zimmerman, Limprecht, Haight, Mattes, Checky  
 

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI.) March 17, 1955 
 

Old Withee Farm - Old Hemlock Dam (1955) 
 

Old Withee Farm Included the Site of Old Hemlock Dam - Head of Log Navigation in Old Lumber Days –Withee Mills there -  
 

The old Withee farm in the town of Warner, site of ancient Hemlock, has been sold by George Speich of Greenwood to Anthony Suda.  Its sale coincides with the departure from it of the Windom family, and is the final step in erasing the last contact between Clark County and the old Withee family.  The Windoms worked the farm in the last years of Theodore Withee’s ownership, and bade him farewell as he left the scene of his earlier happy and generous living. 
 

To the Sudas the purchase means the acquisition of some 560 acres of land and an unusual set of farm buildings.  In addition they have acquired one of the most historic and interesting sites in all of Clark County.  Upon it stood for many years the dam which marked the upper limits of the log drives of the old lumber days.  Upon it once ended the first telephone line which ran into Clark County.  Upon it once stood a busy saw mill and a thriving flour mill, and a hamlet supported by them.  The hamlet consisted of a boarding house, a store and eight houses, including that of the Withee family.  This hamlet bore the name of Hemlock, a name which was adapted from a stand of hemlock trees in the area, and which is continued in the name of a cheese factory a mile or two to the east. 
 

Log Drives Started here— 
 

Hemlock came into being originally through the creation and activities of the Black River Improvement Company.  This concern holding a monopoly of log driving upon Black River, built two dams from Onalaska up the river, the lower one at Dell’s Dam, the uppermost at Hemlock.  This Hemlock Dam backed up a large pond, in which were accumulated great numbers of logs, preparatory to the drives.  When the logs were ready and water conditions were right the dam was opened and the waters rushed down, carrying the logs on their crest. 
 

Black River has always been a rocky stream, with great variations in its fall. It was the despair of the early lumbermen, who tried to float down it rafts of cut lumber. Their rafts were wrecked upon the rocks and the lumber was often lost.  The economic answer to lumbering in Clark County was the Black River Improvement Company, with its dams and its service to the treat saw mills of Onalaska and La Crosse.  
 

Lumber Barons Behind it— 
 

The Black River Improvement Company was really the creature of the lumber barons, organized by them to serve their mills at the river’s mouth.  It was managed for them for years by Joseph Nesbitt, whose daughter, Mrs. Edna Newell, now resides in the Zimmerman building, Neillsville.  Mr. Nesbitt in the early years journeyed up and down the river, and to assist his management the first telephone was run up from La Crosse to the terminus at Hemlock.  This line was used, in part, to time the release of the log drives. 
 

Active in the early use of the river was Niran H. Withee, who was born in Maine, in 1827, came to La Crosse in 1852 and soon embarked in the lumber business.  His lumber interests were extended into Clark County and he came into the county himself in 1870, identified himself with the affairs of Clark County and became the county treasurer in 1875, holding that position until 1882, when he was succeeded as treasurer by his brother Hiram. 
 

Withee was interested—

 

N. H.  Withee doubtless had at least friendly interest in the Black River Improvement Company, and perhaps more than that. Hence he found it logical to own the land around the company’s dam at Hemlock, and to establish there the saw mill and the grist mill which provided the real occasion for the old hamlet of Hemlock.  
 

The Black River Improvement Company began in the very early days of lumbering in Clark County, being organized in 1864.  In the ‘80s its activities were tapering off, and in the ‘90s were being pinched out by lack of logs.  And so it happened that the Withee operation came to be the big enterprise at Hemlock, with the improvement Company fading out into less and less of a memory. 
 

A Resourceful Pioneer— 
 

This elder Withee was a pioneer of resource, energy and vision.  He died in La Crosse in 1887, at the age of 60.  Since he was then not a resident of Clark County, the records here do not tell about his estate, but old-timers knew him as a man of wealth, and it was commonly accepted that he left each of his three boys $75,000 to $100,000, in addition to the real estate which went to each.  Thus the son Theodore became the owner of the property at Hemlock, the son William the owner of the large Withee farm near Longwood and the son (N. H.) Niran Haskell owner of the farm upon which the Clark County Hospital now stands.  To these three sons he bequeathed his property, and to the village of Withee his honorable name. 
 

Now the three Withee boys had come up in a love of relative ease and luxury.  They had lived through years of national prosperity, and the business going was good at the time of their father’s death.  But soon came the ‘90s, with their stress, strain and terrible losses.  The going was hard for young men of their background. 
 

Theodore Withee’s Home— 
 

Theodore had added to the house at Hemlock and had made it his home. There he had taken his wife, who had come of a family of wealth and who was accustomed to gracious living.  They had servants, including a colored man, to ease the labors of an 18-room house.  They knew how to use money for pleasant living, and were generous and friendly with it.  Theodore bought one of the first Fords of Clark County, and the folks knew from its noise when Theodore Withee was on the way.   
 

To the tear of the Depression was added the wear of the years.  The old mills began to go to pieces.  Fred Limprecht, who still resides at Hemlock, remembers the worries of his mother about his father, as the father worked in the saw mill.  The old mill used to shake when the heavy logs rolled through the saw, and those who labored there wondered if it might not, at some critical juncture, shake itself apart and collapse. 
 

But the end of the mills came at the hand of nature; the great flood of 1914, which tore the dam out and left hardly a trace of either saw mill or grist mill.  Fred Limprecht was then a boy, and he remembers how his father was absent at the time and of his father’s deep regret when he returned.  For the father felt that, had he been present, he could have dynamited out the dike on the west bank and could thus have saved the dam itself. 
 

Two Calamities— 
 

The loss of the mills meant the end of industry at Hemlock.  Theodore Withee was then involved.  He had not the resources with which to tackle the restoration of the mills.  Perhaps, indeed, the time had passed for their usefulness. 
 

The wind also struck, tearing down the cow barn and the Warner Town Hall across the lane from the east side of the Withee lawn.  To replace the cow barn Theodore Withee took two old buildings from below and adjusted them to the old foundation, one at one end and one at the other.  The space between he filled in with new construction.  It was a makeshift.  Later George Speich, when he became owner, tore it down and erected a new barn. 
 

The site of the Warner Town Hall had by that time become awkward.  It had been located in the old lush days, when Hemlock promised to become a real village.  It had been a lively place, with preaching, dancing and Sunday school, in addition to the infrequent town meetings.  But the dream of a Greater Hemlock had by then faded away, and the old site was alongside the Limprecht barn.  The town cheerfully accepted from Theodore Withee the present site in place of the old, that site being on the west side of the river at the southwest corner of the old Withee farm. 
 

Loses his Home—

 

The years had thus witnessed the attrition of such resources as had remained to Theodore Withee, and he had not managed to create new ones.  Money had been secured by a mortgage and in 1924 the farm was taken over on the mortgage.  The end had come of the easy days on the old place.  His wife had died there. Theodore Withee had to move on.  The Windoms were about to move into the big house.  They recall, with a touch of pathos, the scene of his departure.  Into his old car, he loaded his dog and gun and was about to enter the driver’s seat.  As he stood at the door, he called to the Windom boys, "Don’t take any wooden nickels."  Then Theodore Withee, kindly and generous scion of an honored family, turned his back upon the old place and the old affluence, never to see either again. 
 

The last years of the life of Theodore Withee were spent first briefly in Alaska and then in northeastern Montana.  At the little hamlet of Carson he ran a pool hall and soft drink place.  He married again. A heart attack ended his life not many years ago.  
 

Daughters have ponies— 
 

The Theodore Withee’s had two daughters, both of whom reside now in Montana.  Their old neighbors remember them pleasantly as out-of-door girls, devoted to ponies.  Their father kept ponies for them, and they are remembered as hitching ponies to a little hand sled and thus journeying for the mail.  They returned with snow all over them, up to their eyebrows, but healthy and happy. 
 

This love for ponies has lingered all through their lives.  Out in Montana they now breed Shetland and other ponies.  A letter from Eleanor to one of the Windom girls tells of the prospect of 60 colts due this spring.  A few years ago the daughter Eleanor, the wife of Jim Haight, came to a Mattes sale and rodeo near Thorp. She and her husband have a ranch at a little crossroads named Van Norman, and keep a rural post office there.  The daughter Theodora named for her father and called Teddy by the neighbors now spends practically all her days in a hospital at Jordan, afflicted, so it is understood here, by Multiple Sclerosis, a creeping paralysis. 
 

Move after 34 years— 
 

The Windom family came into relation with the Hemlock property in 1920.  They then lived in a tenant house, while the Theodore Withees lived in the big house.  But in 1924, when the farm was taken over on a mortgage they rented from the mortgage concern and moved into the big house.  They lived on the big place for 34 yeas.  The Windoms consist of seven brothers and two sisters, all of them still living as one family.  They departed from the old Withee farm with more practical relief than sentimental regret, for they found it hard going.  They had cultivated about 250 acres and had broken up several pieces of virgin land.  They cared for a herd of more than 60 milk cows, in addition to other stock. The two sisters cared for the big house, cooked for the men and gave some help outside.  They have a pleasant recollection of the old house, which was their home for 30 years, but they are conscious that the furnace was never large enough for the house after Theodore Withee put on the addition.  Also the old house, for the most part solidly constructed after the style of the old days, had yet sagged a little here and there. 
 

Speich held it 24 years— 
 

Two or three weeks ago the Windoms moved about a mile to the Steve Checky place on Highway 73.  It is an eighty with a square frame house large enough to care for the Windom family of nine.  There their labors will be reduced to a level consistent with the gathering years. 
 

Buying the old Withee place in 1931 after its foreclosure, George Speich is understood to have paid for it something like $10,000 or $12,000.  He built the cow barn during his ownership of about 24 years and added to the arable acres.  The revenue stamps indicated a sale price of about $21,000.  The sale was made by the Vinger Agency of Greenwood. 

 

 


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