The arrivals of 1856 included Richard Dewhurst and G. W.
King, who were the first lawyers to settle in Neillsville;
James Hewett, who began operations by working on the first
bridge erected across Black River, W.W. Lemon, who settled in
the town of Levis; Daniel Gates, first locating at the mouth of
Wedge's Creek, but moving to Neillsville in 1861; Robert
Douglas, who built a blacksmith shop; Miles Murry, who erected
a residence and a blacksmith shop. James R. Mc Calep came in
this year, and put up a little frame building, and Phillip
Reissman opened the first furniture store. In May, James and
Edmund Furlong, the former with a family; James Lynch and
family and Orson Gates were accessions to the place. Anson
Green purchased Roix's Hotel. Gustavus Sterns settled at
Molin's Rapids this year.
The panic of 1857 worked material injury to the process 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 anomalous
conditions were perceptibly visible, not alone in Neillsville
and Clark County, but also throughout this portion of the
lumber district. Impoverishment, if not ruin, stared many in
the face, and escape from there was only accomplished after
trials no pen can adequately describe. To the close of the war,
both increases in population and the number of improvements was
Neillsville, in the early fall of 1866, was a village of a
few dozen buildings scattered on the north side of O'Neill
Creek, near where the old electric light plant stands. The mill
was an old-fashioned one, with an up and down saw, run by water
power, but at the time mentioned it was out of commission. It
was a year after that it was either rebuilt or repaired by
Marville Mason, then of the town of Pine Valley, a good man and
a good millwright, who long since has gone to his reward.
On the north side of O'Neill Creek, in what is known as the
first ward of the city of Neillsville, there was a blacksmith
shop, and not to exceed three or four houses in all of that
territory- one of them being the home of James Furlong- that
then stood on the same land, and near the site of the fine
brick building, built by Gus D. Hosely a few years ago. The
north side was nearly all woods.
On the south side of the creek and on the same location as
the present Merchants Hotel, was a dilapidated frame hotel
called the Hubbard House, then kept by L. K. Hubbard.
Across the main street, or Hewett Street, as it is now
called, and a little south of Carl Rabenstein's brick block,
was a small two-story frame building, the upper story of which
was occupied by a man by the name of Tim Roberts, who made
logging sleds, at least he made the wooden parts.
Below, on the first floor, was the store of Hewett, Woods,
& Co. The room was small, and the store then had no clerks,
nor window trimmers. The one front window was of the two-stash,
8 by 10 glass variety, and incapable of being decorated very
elaborately. The books, such as they were, lay on the top of an
empty kerosene barrel that did duty as a desk, when such an
article of furniture was required. About November, 1866, the
store was vacated and the goods removed to a building that
stood on the corner where Neillsville bank now stands. This
building was a store and dwelling combined, occupied by
Chauncey Blakeslee and his family, and it was only a short time
until a very large stock of goods were on the shelves.
Back of and to the north of the original store of Hewett,
Wood & Co., and facing the north, and the creek, was the
old frame dwelling house of James O'Neill, then occupied by
James Hewett and his family, consisting of a wife and one son,
then about one year old, and names Sherman F. Hewett. The son
is the present county surveyor of the county, and more
familiarly known as Frank Hewett.
All of the land on the east side of Main Street, including
the first store building first mentioned, and the house
occupied by James Hewett were the property of Mr. O'Neill, and
there were no other buildings on the east side of the street
from O'Neill Creek to the present O'Neill house. On that corner
Mr. O'Neill had built a two-story frame building for a
residence, which he then occupied and, afterward for a time,
ran a hotel there.
On the west side of the street, across from the Hubbard
House, was a drug store, the proprietor being George O. Adams.
He was a full-fledged Yankee from Nashua, N. H. He generally
wore a long pair of rubber boots, and always wore a high silk
hat. He was a keen business man, but somewhat odd in his
manner. One of his common expressions in conversation was, "I
want to know." He died in Waukegan, Ill, years ago at a very
advanced age. South of the drugstore was a general store kept
by Charles E. Adams, a son of the druggist. It occupied the
site where the elder John G. Klopf for many years afterwards
resided and had a saloon. It is the building now occupied by
On the corner where Neillsville bank now stands was a
dwelling house of Chauncey Blakeslee, the lower part being used
as a store for Hewett, Woods, & Co. From the corner south,
clear to the end of the block, was an apple orchard and
Across the street on the east side was a printing office and
post office, both one-story frame buildings, and to the south
of these buildings was the wagon shop of W. K. Dickey. Dr. B.F.
French had a house on the corner of Fourth and Hewett Streets,
and south of that was the house of Lambert Miller. To the west
there was a house on the old Ross place, and Samuel Ferguson
and L. L. Ayers had their residence across the way. On extreme
east was the house of W. K. Dickey.
The first sidewalk in Neillsville was built on a Sunday
morning in the spring of 1867. It was constructed by B.F.
French, James Hewett and two or three others. It extended from
where the Neillsville bank is located to the corner at Marsh's
dry goods store. It was made of plank (laid lengthwise) and did
good service for many years.
It was in the seventies that the first brick store was
erected in Neillsville. This was the store building of Hewett,
Woods & Co., built in 1872, on the northwest corner of what
is now known as Fifth and Hewett streets, the same building
occupied at present by W. J. Marsh and the Masonic fraternity. A
few years later George L. Lloyd erected a brick store building
directly opposite on the northeast corner of the same streets.
It was built of cream colored brick brought from Depere, Wis.
This building is now occupied by the Cash Hardware Company.
The store of Hewett and Woods was always called the "Brick
Store". It carried a large stock of goods, and employed a
number of clerks and office men, among whom were David R.
Brown, Stanley F. Chubb, Frank S. Kirkland, John Duncan,
Charles Deutsch, Tobias Johnson, who kept his jewelry goods
there, Charles D. King and others.
All of these men were more or less influential in politics
or, at least, in getting votes, and when they started out for
anything they generally succeeded.
With this beginning the city has enjoyed a steady and
satisfactory growth, and its prospects for future years are of
For nearly thirty years after it was platted, Neillsville
was a part of the township of Pine Valley, and was governed by
the officials of that township. At the first town meeting of
Pine Valley, April 4, 1854, the following officers were
elected: Supervisors- James O'Neill, James French and Hugh
Wedge; town clerk- B.F. French; justice of the peace--Moses
Clark and James Conlin; assessor--James O'Neill; constable--B. F. French; Superintendent of schools- James O'Neill; overseer
of highways--James Conlin, Conrad Dell and Elijah Eaton. A tax
of $1,000 was levied, $200 for a bridge across Wedge's Creek
and $800 for bridging, widening and cross-waying the road
surveyed along the Black River, commencing at the south line of
Town 23, Range 2 West, and thence up Black River to the north
part of Town 26, Range 2 West. At a special meeting held Oct 5,
1854, Edward Tompkins was elected supervisor in place of Hugh
Wedge, and James O'Neill was elected superintendent of schools.
It was voted to raise $1,000 to open a road on the east side of
Black River and $200 for incidental purposes. School District
No. 1 was designated by James O'Neill. Its boundaries, as given
in the records, were indefinite, but it probably consisted of
the south two-thirds of what is now Pine Valley.
In the late seventies the agitation for a separate
government for Neillsville assumed encouraging proportions, and
the necessity for such separate organization became imperative
with the arrival of the railroad in 1881. Accordingly, the city
of Neillsville was duly incorporated by an act of legislature,
approved March 28, 1882, to take effect the second Tuesday in
April of that year.
Electric lighting was inaugurated in 1882, when the private
electric light plant was put in, furnishing four or five arc
lights. But the Neillsville Electric and Water Supply Co. was
soon organized, a building was constructed north of the creek,
and the city was supplied with good service for street,
business and residential purposes. In the fall of 1906 the
plant was acquired by the city. In 1915 a contract was made
with the Wisconsin- Minnesota Light and Power Co., and the
local plant abandoned.
The waterworks system was originally installed in 1885, when
a dam was built across O'Neill Creek, and a plumbing station
erected north of the creek. This building and the adjoining
electric light plant are still standing, but are not now in use
by the city. In 1890, the standpipe was erected on the hill, a
few rods southeast of the court house. The system has been
extended from time to time until it now covers the principal
streets. August 23, 1895, the council decided to move the
plumbing plants to Lot 5, Schuster's Addition, and a few days
later let the contract for the erection of a stone and brick
pumping station. The plant was completed the following year.
The old plant was sold to the Neillsville Electric & Water
Supply Co. At a special election held Oct 30, 1906, it was
voted to erect a dam on Black River. The work was completed the
following year. April 27, 1917, a contract was let for a new
filtration system, and the work was completed in the spring of
For some years after the organization of the city, there
were no public sewers, sanitation being achieved by private
sewers and cesspools. From time to time short strips of sewers
were laid, the first extensive inauguration of that system
being in 1902, when sewers were laid on Seventh. Hewett, Court,
West and Fourth Streets. The system has since been continued so
that the principal residence and business streets are now well
provided with sanitation facilities.
The city has an excellent system of bridges, well cared for.
The bridges have been built at various dates as necessity has
required. July 13, 1901, the city bought a rock crusher and
Aug. 10, 1901, a stone roller. May 14, 1904, an appropriation
of $3,000 was made for macadamizing certain streets in the
summer and fall. This work has since been continued until the
principal streets are all macadamized and in the best of
The Neillsville Library Association was organized Sep. 23,
1879, by the election of H. W. Deming. President; Ira B. Jones,
treasurer, and L. B. Ring, librarian and secretary, with H. N.
Withee, C. Blakeslee and Mrs. A. White, trustees. The library
was established in the office of the True Republican. March 13,
1897, the citizens of the city voted to establish a public
library and reading room. The library was maintained at the
High School until 1914, when the present Carnegie Library was
erected. The preliminary steps toward the building of the
library were taken in 1913. Nov. 13, 1913, the city council
received a communication through Mrs. J. W. Hommell, stating
that the Carnegie Corporation would contribute $10,000 toward a
library building at Neillsville, providing that the city
council would provide $1000 a year for its maintenance. The
conditions were duly complied with, and after a consideration
of various localities, the present site was selected, being
paid for by a tag day contribution of $417.13, and a
subscription from various prominent citizens. The building is a
sightly one, and the institution is well conducted.
Neillsville Post office was first established as Clark
Post office, May 31, 1855, with Samuel C. Boardman as
postmaster. The name Clark was changed to Neillsville Oct 6,
1856, and Mr. Boardman appointed a second year. Then followed
George W. King in 1857; Chauncy Blakeslee in 1858; Wm. C.
Tompkins, 1860; C.W. Carpenter, 1863; A. J. Manley, 1865; Wm. C.
Hutchinson, 1867; J. W. Ferguson, 1871; Wm. Campbell, 1882;
Isaac Carr 1886; Fred Reitz, 1890; William Huntley, 1894; L. B.
Ring, 1899; A. E. Dudley, 1906. He was followed by William
Huntley, the present postmaster. When this office was first
established, 1855, mail was brought here from Black River Falls
by Edward Markey.
Religious life has been a dominating factor in Neillsville
life since the earliest days. All leading denominations are
represented here, and there are many sightly church edifies.
There are Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist, Episcopal,
Christian Science, Catholic, Norwegian Lutheran, German
Lutheran, and Zion Reformed churches here, and a Unitarian
Church formerly flourished for some years.
Robert McBride's 1909 History of Clark County, Wisc.