THE HISTORY OF CLARK COUNTY
Chapter XIII, 28 August 1909 -- Thorp Courier, Clark County, Wisconsin
Written by R. J. MacBride and transcribed by Crystal Wendt.
FROM 1868 TO 1870
THE POLITICAL CONUDRUM -- WHO IS SMITH?
MAIN BLACK RIVER ROAD.
"What song the Syrens sang, although a
puzzling questions, in not beyond ALL conjecture."
Sir Thomas Browne.
In November, 1868, at the general election held in that year, the political complexion of county politics was completely reversed from that of two years before. Party lines were more strictly drawn, and the election occurring in a presidential year, the Republican county ticket had a candidate.
General Grant received 411 votes for president against 137 votes fro Horatio Seymour the Democratic candidate.
The Republican county ticket was headed by S. C. Boardman for county treasurer, and the Independent or Peoples ticket was headed by James W. Sturdevant for the same office, although Mr. Sturdevant was himself a strong Republican in national and state politics.
J. B. G. Baxter of Black River Falls, was elected to the office of member of assembly for the Clark and Jackson district, and the following county officers were elected in Clark county:
County Treasurer, S. C. Boardman; clerk of the board, James Hewett; sheriff, W. S. Convill; register of deeds, W. T. Hutchinson; clerk of the court, G. Sterns; district attorney, Geo. W. King; county surveyor, Richard Dewhurst.
The result of this election gave to Ed. E. Merritt, and his paper the Clark County Republican, the publication of the tax lists, and was disastrous to John S. Dore, and his paper the Journal.
The candidacy of S. S. Smith, of the town of Loyal for county school superintendent, was regarded by Dore’s friends as a joke. He was little known in the southern part of the county, while on the other hand Dore was popular when that office was involved, had long experience as an educator, and was probably the best equipped man in the county for the place.
The Clark County Journal, would weekly made the derisive inquiry, who is this man Smith? The friends of Dore took it up and it became the local political slogan, who is Smith?
After the votes were counted the problem was solved, and the answer given was "He is our next superintendent of schools."
Previous to 1868 each town supported its own poor. Under the law existing at the time, the county board on December 26, 1867, provided by ordinance that thereafter, the distinction between the town poor and the county poor should be abolished, and that all poor should be abolished, and that all poor persons should be a county charge. The sum of $1000 was appropriated at that time toward purchasing land for a poor farm and also provided for the erection of buildings. At the same time the board elected three commissioners of the poor. Charles Sternitzky of Lynn to serve one year, William Welsh of Loyal for two years, and E. H. McIntosh of Pine Valley to server three years. These were the first county poor commissioners of the county and this was the beginning of the present system of county poor government.
The present county poor house was built by Chauncey Blakeslee from plans designed by Ernest H. Bacon, and was completed in 1880.
The consideration received for building it was the surrender to Blakeslee of all notes and securities the county then held against him, as one of the sureties on the bonds of one of the defaulting county treasurers, and the cancellation of all in datedness then existing against him as such bondsman.
During the year 1868 the Green Bay & Lake Pepin Railroad Company submitted a proposition to the county of Clark for aid in building a railroad from Green Bay, Wis., to a point on Lake Pepin, near Waubesha, Minn.
By the terms of the proposition the county was to give its corporate bonds for one hundred thousand dollars in exchange for a like amount of the stock of the railroad was to pass through Clark county not more than five miles from Neillsville.
Under the law, the question of accepting or rejecting this proposition, was required to be submitted to a vote of the electors of the county.
A special election was held on the 6th day of October, 1868, and the proposition was accepted by a vote of 224 for the proposition to 154 votes against it. The towns of Loyal and Mentor voting almost solidly against the proposition, while the town of Pine Valley and Levis, almost solidly for it. The town of Mentor’s opposition to it arose from the fact that it wanted the road through that town.
The road was built, but did not come within the required five mile limits and no bonds were ever earned.
The Green Bay and Lake Pepin road was the predecessor of the Green Bay and Minnesota Railway which has a few miles of road in the southern part of the county between Hatfield and Merrillan.
At the session of the legislature in 1868 an act was passed that proved of very great service in making the initial start in building good roads and highways in this county. In 1868 there were no good roads in the county anywhere. Attempts had been made from time to time by the few towns to make turnpike roads, here and there, mostly by the residents working out their highway taxes.
The result was that after a good, rainfall the so called turnpike, or improved roads, was worse than the original virgin soil.
James O’Neill, who was member of assembly from the Clark and Jackson district in 1868, although at first opposed it, introduced a ill in the legislature of that year entitled "a bill to authorize the supervisors of the county of Clark to levy a tax, for the purposes, therein named." it became a law and is chapter 483 of the Private and Local laws of that year.
By the fist section of the act, the county board of supervisors of Clark county were empowered to levy a tax upon the taxable property of the county to the amount of thirty thousand dollars, to be expended only, on the main Black River road running north and south through the county, commencing at the south line of the county, and extending to the south line of township No 29, range 2 west.
It was provided by the second section that in case the county board should levy such tax, that the board should appoint three commissioners whose duty it should be to section off the main Black River road into sections of two miles each, commencing at the south line of the county, and to make a full statement of the nature and kind of work that it required to be done on each section, and the probably cost of each section to make it a good and sufficient wagon road. They were required by the law, when such statement was completed, to file it with the clerk of the board of supervisors, and it then became the duty of the clerk to give then days notice of a public road letting t o the lowest bidder.
It was also provided that no bid should be accepted , at a price higher then the commissioner estimates, and that if all the sections were not let at the public bedding, then the commissioners were authorized to let the work privately to such person or persons as would do the work at the estimated cost made by such commissioners.
There were other features such as providing for plans and specifications of the work, and the acceptance from the contractors, not perhaps necessary to enumerate.
Under the law the county board were prohibited from levying more than ten thousand dollars, for the main river road in any one year.
On the 25th of May, 1868, the county board authorized a levy of seven thousand dollars for that year, and appointed Benjamin F. French, James Hewett and Jones Tompkins, commissioners in accordance with the provisions of the act.
The commissioners at once began the performance of their duties and contracts were let from time to time to do the work. In the year 1868 and the two succeeding years, the entire amount authorized, was expended. Leonard R. Stafford had a number of sections of the road to make, as did Hewett & Woods, and others.
A few years later an act of the same character, but for the expenditure of a much smaller amount, was passed to aid in the construction of the road from Neillsville to Humbird.
The law referred to was passed in 1871. It was at the session of the legislature when Hon. Geo. W. King was a member of the legislature from Clark county. Mr. King then lived at Humbird, and was interested in having a good road between his home and Neillsville. At that time he had a saw mill on the highway from Humbird to Neillsville, a little over five miles east of Humbird, known the county road as "King’s Mills."
This law of 1871 only authorized the expenditure of $5000, the other provisions of the act were of similar character, as to appointing commissioners, public letting, & c., as was contained in the law regarding the main Black River road.
A large amount of money appropriated in building "corduroy" road, the character of the land between Hewettville and Humbird necessitating that character of a highway.
The wisdom of the enactment of the act of the legislature of 1868, authorizing the county to improve the main Black River road at the expense of the county, has been demonstrated by the existence today of the splendid highway along Black River, from the bridge at Richard Lynch’s, in the town of Levis, north clear through the county to the town of Hixon and beyond.
There are few counties in the state of Wisconsin today, that can excel, and still fewer that can compare, with Clark county for its excellent country roads and highways.
Not only are its main highways well made and kept in good condition and repair, but in all of the towns of the county, the best of roads exist not only on the section lines, but likewise as a general rule, on the quarter lines as well. It is a rare occurrence in Clark county to hear of a suit for damages, brought against the town to recover damages for an injury occasioned by a defect in the highway. In many of the counties of the state the court calendars are filled with such cases.
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