History of Pierce County, it's Cities, Villages and Towns
Click here for a list of County Officers
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Read excerpts from the History of Northern Wisconsin published in 1881
Read excerpts from Fifty Years in the Northwest by Folsom published in 1888.
Read from the History of the St. Croix Valley by Easton published in 1909
from the History of Washington County and the St. Croix Valley, Including the Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota
Index to the History of Washington County and the St. Croix Valley, Including the Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota
Sketch of Pierce County by Oliver Gibbs, Jr. and C.E. Young (1857)
Pierce County Post Offices - 1886 and 1939
Map of St. Croix & Pierce Counties, donated by Pat Dawson.
history of Pierce County
Pierce County as part of the Northwest Territory organized by Congress in 1787 was successively included in the territories of Indiana, Illinois and Michigan until Wisconsin was organized as a separate entity in 1836. It lay in Crawford County, formed in 1818 which encompassed lands from Lake Itaska in Minnesota in the west to the Wisconsin River in the east. Crawford County was later split into St. Croix in 1840, Chippewa in 1841 and LaPointe in 1843. The remainder of Crawford, what was to become Pierce County was part of St. Croix until 1853.
By 1850 western expansion to the upper Mississippi Valley had begun and a boom time was started in Pierce County. Land was being snatched up all along its shorelines and interior. Some prominent men who once held land in Pierce County included Daniel Garfield, brother of President Garfield, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the poet and Philip Spooner, father of Senator John C. Spooner. But in 1858 banks began to fail and the boom ended. Settlement in Pierce County slowed to a trickle until after the Civil War when another wave of pioneers began to arrive.
On the 1853 Tax rolls the valuation of Pierce County is given as $24,452.00 in real estate and $3,616.00 personal property. In the beginning county offices did not exist and the board met wherever they could find space, in rooms over stores and other places they could rent.
The 1854 elections saw Moses S. Gibson elected the first assemblyman. At this point in time, Pierce County amounted to little more than the town of Prescott, although River Falls (then Greenwood) was beginning to grow. New officers elected that year were: J. Olive, sheriff, J. Bailey, treasurer, O. Strahl, surveyor, John Truax, clerk of court, A.C. Stowell, county attorney, S.T. Otis, register of deeds, N.N. Powell, clerk, C.B. Cox, coroner and Mason Stone, county judge.
The townships were organized as follows: Isabelle and Trimbelle in 1855, Clifton, Oak Grove and Perry (now Ellsworth) in 1857. Later the town of Pleasant Valley (now Maiden Rock) and Hartland were taken from Isabelle. In March 1858, the citizens of Greenwood met to choose another name for their town and Greenwood became River Falls.
In 1855 the population of Pierce County was 1,720, in 1860 it had increased to 4,672 and in 1865 6,324.
Growing rivalry between Prescott and River Falls, both vying for county seat brought about a poll of voters in the county who's growing sentiment was to have the county seat located closer to the center of the county than either Prescott or River Falls. A vote was taken in 1861and the location of the county seat was to be on either section 17, 18, 19 or 20 of township 26, range 17 west. This location was apparently determined by drawing intersecting lines north and south, east and west on the county map. The lines crossed in the western section of the township of Perry.
A meeting of the county board on April 16, 1861 with the following members present: E, Miner, Oak Grove; H.S. Proctor, River Falls; Wm. Hodge, Martell, J. Youngman, Perry; Thomas Hurley, El Paso; O.C. Whitney, Harland; M. B. Williams, Trimbelle; James Akers, Trenton, John Fertig, Isabelle; W.J. Copp, Clifton; E. Quimby, Diamond Bluff; L.R. Smith and D.S. Cheney, Prescott; E. Holt, Pleasant Valley and O. Strahl, county clerk.
The board after long discussion and attempts at delaying the vote finally voted to raise $2,000 for "erecting suitable buildings for holding courts, for offices for county officers and for a jail, and said buildings shall be the court house of Pierce County" A building of sorts was erected by Anthony Huddleston, the only settler in the area, but was not accepted by the building committee and another had to be built. Within 2 years a frame building was erected which was used until the permanent site and buildings which are used today were built.
- see Isabelle Township
- see Trimbelle Township
Set off from Pleasant Valley at a board meeting on March 3, 1857 it's first town board consisted of George W. McMurphy, chairman, Osborne Strahl and G.W. Teachout, supervisors and Charles W. Cox as the first post master of Clifton Mills in 1852.
George McMurphy is known as the man who introduced crop rotation into Pierce County.
short history was submitted by Lorilee Scharfenberg. Thanks
Diamond Bluff became an official town Nov. 26, 1856. It is situated on the Mississippi River 43 miles below St. Paul. First named Monte Diamond by a Frenchman in 1800 and referred to as "Old White Man's Prairie" by the Indians. The first white birth was Mary Day, daughter of John and Sarah (Vance) Day in 1850. First death noted was Daniel Crappers in 1854. Early settlers included Enoch Quimby, August R. Mero, John R. Niles, John T. Payne, George Harpster, A.B. Willson, C.F. Hoyt, Samuel Hunter, Daniel Comstock, George Rogers, C.B. Messer and Georege B. Hope. The first store was opened by Daniel Stone and the next year E.B. Coulter opened for business. The first hotel was started by C.H. Grant and D.R. Clark who's money ran out and they sold to McCue & Cleary. The first school house opened in 1858 and in 1860 Chas. Fisher opened the first blacksmith shop. C.H. Grant and Z. Cross were the first carpenters in the village.
The township of Diamond Bluff originally included what is now Trenton Township. The first election was held at D. Comstock's on April 7, 1857 and the following town officers were elected: James Akers, chairman; Wilson Thing and A.B. Willson, supervisors; Edmond Thing, clerk (he later resigned and C.F. Hoyt took his place); James Akers, George Harpster and R. Caniff, assessors; A.B. Willson, Wilson Thing, C.F. Hoyt and R. Caniff, justices; E. H. Bousted, superintendent of schools; A. Blaisdell, treasurer.
The town derived its name from many diamond-shaped stones found in the huge bluff which rose to great height immediately back of the town. The bluff was a guide for pilots on the river. A mile and a half out of Diamond Bluff there lay a cluster of Indian mounds (75-100), an archeologists dream. They covered 304 acres and were unexcavated for many years. The first church was a Methodist Episcopal Church established in 1855. The village does not have its own post office currently. The railroad runs between the main part of the town and the towering bluff. The current Diamond Bluff cemetery is well looked after and much information about the history and former residents can be obtained at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls archives by searching the microfilmed River Falls newspaper from the lat 1800s which carried a specific column on Diamond Bluff news. Ellsworth County Courthouse, only a few miles away, has many vital records. There are several Plat maps of Diamond Bluff which can be ordered through the St. Croix Historical Society at a minimum cost.
Ellsworth - Township and Village (originally Perry)
The story of how Ellsworth was founded is a story about compromise to settle a political squabble. The issue was where the county seat of Pierce County should be located, and the rivalry between two communities, one on the western edge, and the other on the northern edge of the county. Following a fierce debate, in 1860, the vote was to establish the seat at the center of the county, determined to be the small township of Perry. In 1861, when the fledgling community called Perry sought to establish a post office, postal authorities informed them the name Perry was already used for a community in Dane County. Henceforth, citizens decided to name the community after the first Civil War Union officer to lose his life in battle, Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth. The village was platted in 1862 and incorporated in 1887. The Omaha Railroad made a decision to run a line from River Falls to Ellsworth in 1885. Although the residents of Ellsworth expressed a desire to have the terminal in the village proper, the railroad chose the easier route bypassing the hill on which Ellsworth is situated and established a depot about one mile east of the village at the base of the slope. The depot nurtured new businesses and the community of east Ellsworth was formed. Ellsworth and East Ellsworth operated independently from one another for some time. Each had it's own post office. Though they now function as one village and the East Ellsworth Post Office is actually a subsidiary of the Ellsworth Post Office, the separate zip codes remain. While holding a rural countryside and small town allurement, Ellsworth is within one hour of the Twin Cities metropolitan area (St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN) with three major highways, State 65, US 10 and US 63 intersecting in the village. The existing courthouse, built in 1905, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. With a population of approximately 2,771, the healthy business activity, excellent schools, abundance of health care providers and close proximity to outdoor recreational opportunities all help make Ellsworth and attractive, great place to live or visit.
Early settlers to Ellsworth were Anthony Huddleston who arrived on section 20, April 23, 1855. That same year Elihu, Caleb and Eli Bruce settled nearby. The first school house was built in 1857 and Miss Mary Filkins (who later married G.H. Sargeant) was it's first teacher. P.M. Simons was the first chairman and Caleb Bruce and Wilson Kinne it's first supervisors in 1870.
Elmwood - located in Spring Lake Township
The Village charter of Elmwood was written in March, 1905. One June 12, 1905 the first election was held. Elmwood consisted of 962 acres of land and a population of 385 people. In 1870 a store was built and run by James Stevenson at the foot of Norwegian Hill. Starting in 1903 there were 2 sawmills, one on the south side of the river and one across on the north. In 1900 the first creamery was built by Hans Tamberg, later bought by a group of farmers in 1906. By 1914 all the buildings on main street had been erected, including a dance hall that hosted, as well as dances, basketball games and silent movies.
Elmwood was first settled in connection with the logging along the Eau Galle River. Later stores would open and in 1900 a veneering mill was started there, along with several sawmills.
The first telephone office was built in 1905 and run by Walter Yates. There were wooden sidewalks, no black top or crushed stone on the roads and when it rained the mud was deep. Farmers brought their livestock to town to be sent by rail to South Saint Paul's stockyards.
Township and Village
The township of El Paso was organized November 18, 1858 being set off from part of the original Pleasant Valley township and contained 7 voters at the time. The early settlers were: Thomas Hurley; George Walker and Thomas T. Magee. Walker and Magee were mill men and the village of El Paso was built up around their mills on land laid out by Magee in 1862.
G.P. Walker built a home and workshop in September 1857, John Hurley and Darius McIntyre relocated here in 1858. The B. H. Gilman family (the town of Gilman is named for them) stayed with the McIntyre's for a year (Mrs. McIntyre and Mrs. Gilman were sisters). Other early settlers were Chas. McGinley, L.A. McGinley, the Jennings and Lagenbach families. in 1859 Frank Hines brought his family to settle on a large tract of land he had already purchased in the area.
Settling on Lost Creek were Thomas Murphy, Richard Devereaux, John Haster and Frank Karrigan. Also located here were Berret Tostenson and Nels A. Nelson, John Strong, Hilton Green, Jack Culbertson, Robert Richardson, Tim Harrington and Jerry, David and William Mountain.
Esdaille Village - see Hartland Township
Gilman Township was first organized as Deerfield in 1870. Oliver Purdy was chairman, Caleb Coon and Bardon Jenson supervisors. The first settler was B.F. Gilman, for whom the town was later named. Rufus Preston and Joseph and Caleb Coon settled soon after. The first school was taught by Mrs. M.L. Maxgood and U.F. Hals was the first postmaster of Gilman Center, as well as town clerk. The first wedding was that of Caleb Coon and Cenith Preston. Their son Rayd, was the first child born in the township.
Approximately six miles from the mouth of the Isabelle stream which flows through Pierce County nearly at it's center to Lake Pepin, James Buckingham built a dam and sawmill, the first in Hartland Township.
In the 1870s Chas. Betcher Co. of Red Wing, MN bought the mill at Esdaile, enlarging the dam and building a spoke and stave factory in conjunction with the sawmill. While the mills was in operation, Esdaile was a booming village, with the closure of the mill, most villagers left and it is only an echo of it's former self.
Early settlers in Hartland Township were Lewis Buckmaster, 1853; James Buckingham and Augustus Hodgeman, 1854. The township was organized in 1859 with A. Harris as chairman and Joseph Sleeper and R.M. Sproul, supervisors. The first post office was established in 1869 and Hiram Patch it's first postmaster. Mary Ann Stunio was the first school teacher in 1858.
Permanent settlement of Isabelle township began in 1853 when Adam Brown took government land and the Philip Brothers, in partnership with Charles R. Tyler (a distant relative of President John Tyler) put a steam sawmill at Bay City (then called Saratoga). After Saratoga (Bay City) was abandoned most of the buildings were hauled across the ice on winter and relocated at Warrentown. Mr. Tyler bought the town site by paying $1700.00 in back taxes and renamed it Bay City, he was it's second postmaster with Noble Martin being it's first.
Isabelle also has the dubious distinction of being the scene of the first known murder in Pierce County over the settlement of Bay City. A man by the name of Dexter, who was a squatter in the area was angry at the purchase of the land in the area by a Mr. Morton the he shot and killed the surveyor sent to lay out the town.
Laid out in 1857 by J.D. Trumbull who did the surveying himself and was the main businessman of the fledgling town. He also had the first sail boat on Lake Pepin and in 1857 the first steamboat was built by Josiah Bachelor and owned by Trumbull. He built the first school house in 1857 as well and hired the first teacher, a Miss Charlotte Isabelle of Batavia, Illinois. He was also the first appointed post master in 1856 and built the first sawmill in 1855, which was operated by Amos Harris.
The Lake View House, Maiden Rock's first hotel, was built in 1857 and A.P. Merrill began the first general store in 1860.
Martell Township was organized in 1854, Amos Bonesteel was elected chairman with R.J. Thompson and M. Statten supervisors. The earliest known settlers were four French-Canadians: Joseph Martell (for whom the town is named), Lewis Lepeau, John Doe and Xerxes Jock, a colorful woodsman in Pierce County's early history. The four aforementioned pioneers were here by 1847. The first school opened in 1857 with Miss. M. Jewell the teacher. O. Rasmusson was the first postmaster and the post office was named "Rising Sun", but that name was soon dropped. Also settling here early on were John P. Aaserud, Gilbert Forseth, Berosne Iverson, Martin Olson, Peter Berge, Stener Thorson and Swend T. Winger.
Oak Grove Township
This township was originally part of Clifton and was set off in 1856. At the same time Clifton, Oak Grove, along with the newly created city of Prescott were to divide the debts of the previous Prescott Township in thirds, each assuming their share.
Early settlers included: Aaron Cornelison and family, the Thing brothers, Harnsberger brothers, Miner brothers, John M. Rice and others who arrived around 1848. Also settling in the area were John Murphy, Michael Rock and Fred Endorf.
The township of Pleasant Valley, which no longer exists today, was organized on April 7, 1854. It comprised the current Maiden Rock Village and Township as well as the townships of Salem and Union. Early settlers were Harvey Seeley, 1850; A. Chapman, 1854; J. Fuller, J.A. Gitteau, J.D. Trumbull, Amos Harris, G.H. Steele and M.J. Paine who all arrived in 1855.
John Hein, a native of Switzerland was the first to locate in Plum City in 1857. He was followed by others, mostly from Switzerland including the Frank and Alois Moser. Frank Moser soon surveyed the valley and laid out streets and lots. He and his brother Alois soon built a simple water-power sawmill. A larger mill was built later by Joseph Oberdin and Jacob Appliger, and later again by Theodore Suter.
In 1861 John Spiss began the first combination grocery/saloon and the first real general store was opened by Casper Moser. L.H. Leach began his own general store in the Baltz Moser building. In 1869 or 1870, S.W. Hunn began business with his son-in-law F.M. Purdy. They later sold to John Plath and Jacob J. Schultheiss. Mr. Plath gave his building to his daughter Anna at this time, she occupied it as a millinery store. Mr. Schultheiss had a drug store prior to this in partnership with a Dr. M.H. Curtis.
J.J. Schultheiss was the primary mover and shaker in Plum City's early days. He organized many things including the first telephone line in eastern Pierce County and he was a county surveyor.
The first school house was built in 1872 with Miss Fannie Hunn of Maiden Rock as it's first teacher. It's first postmaster was David Parkhurst, after him Baltz Moser and after him was S.W. Hunn and John J. Moser. The first white child born in Plum City was Minnie Moser, who later married Nick Oberding.
Prescott - Located in Oak Grove Township
Located on the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers, Prescott was so named in 1851 after Philander Prescott, a fur trader who first built a log cabin there in 1840. He held claim on 1,200 acres for soldiers from Fort Snelling, MN and is the site where they planned a major community for immigrants migrating up the Mississippi River. But land speculation drove prices upward and the immigrants moved further north to what is now St. Paul.
The river played an important part in the beginnings of Prescott. River traffic had to go by way of either the Mississippi or St. Croix. Prescott became a center for river shipping, steamboat transportation and milling. But railroads lead to the demise of steamboat traffic and lumbering resources were exhausted. The settlers came in smaller numbers. Today Prescott, with a population of 3,483 is a unique city which William Cullen Bryant once praised for its beauty by declaring: "This area ought to be visited by every poet and painter in the land".
River Falls Township and City (originally Greenwood Township)
When Joel Foster, a Connecticut native and the first white settler in the area, wrote to his brother in 1848 regarding River Falls he said: "I think I have found the New England of the Northwest, the same pure water, the same speckled trout, the same sumac, elder, etc." and many who followed reacted the same way. He was soon followed by two brothers, N.N. and O.S. Powell and families who settled their farm lots in 1854. The original town was called Kinnikinic. Within two years there was a large flour mill operating, two saw-mills and a planing mill, and approximately 200 strong in population.
In River Falls early years the Kinnickinnic River was the focus of travel and commerce. Settlers used the river's power to build mills for both lumber and flour, brick kilns, a barrel factory and even a pickle and sauerkraut factory. The early settlers built churches, public and private, schools, stores and other businesses. The first newspaper, the River Falls Journal, began publishing in 1857.
River Falls was incorporated by an act of the State Legislature in 1885 and today, with a population of some 10, 700, is the home of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, myriad business and recreation opportunities and the Kansas City Chiefs summer football camp.
In 1866 Otis Churchill, Willard Rider and Oscar Fowler were hired by a group of potential settlers in Milwaukee to explore the Rock Elm area of Pierce county for possible settlement. Upon their return, Willard Rider went to Dodge County to Charles A. Hawn and David L. White, who ran a sawmill there and persuaded them to move their mill to Pierce County with the promise of 25 families from Milwaukee settling there. A horse tramway to Maiden Rock, a shipyard to build boats and barges to ship lumber down river from there were all promised.
The plan was approved of my Hawn and White and they relocated along with S. J. Fox to Rock elm. Mr. Fox opened a store, Hawn and White shipped their mill to LaCross by railway, then by boat to Maiden Rock and lastly by ox team to Rock Elm and in six weeks they were sawing lumber.
The only one of the promised 25 settlers to arrive was the family of Otis Churchill. Other early settlers included William Craig and family in 1865, the James C. Miles family in 1863 and William H. Miles in 1865. The James Collett and Alexander family arrived in 1863 as well.
Hawn and his sons, Ed, Jay and Cassius continued to run the mill for many years and also dabbled in land speculation, buying property in Rock Elm and adjoining townships. In partnership with George H. Nichols, they were successful in finding some gold and diamonds in the area, but not enough to mine. Mr. Hawn was prominent in local politics and later was elected assemblyman from Pierce County.
Organized January 13, 1862 with C.C. Carpenter as chairman, Eben White and J.H. Schultz supervisors. Early settlers included Jeremiah Fuller and W. Wells in 1846; Harvey Seeley, Tom Boyle, james White, John F. Davis, John H. Brasington, Eben White, Jas. Walsingham, H.M. Hicks, John Foley, John Strong, John McClure, Jas Schultz, H.C. Brown and C.C. and Ira Carpenter. The first marriage is purported to be that of Harvey Seeley and Kate McKenstry. The first postmaster was Joseph Seeley in 1860, the post office then being Pleasant Valley.
Spring Lake Township
This township located in the NE corner of Pierce County was incorporated on April 14, 1869. The first town officers were Wm. D. Akers, chairman, James Webb (possibly the brother-in-law of Sylvenus Freeman Britton?) and Louis A. Hess, supervisors. Thomas P. Kelley was clerk and Samuel Sanders treasurer. David R. Stratton was assessor.
About 1860 a man named Cady (Cady Creek is named for him) built the frame for a sawmill and a log house in section 14. About the same time a man named Gilmore built a small cabin in section 6 werhe the village of Spring Valey now stands. O.P. Gardner settled in section 22 in 1861 and in 1862 A.M. Wilcox and his son George arrived in setion 6, trading a rifle for Gilmore's 80 acres. From 1863 to 1864 John Francisco, Abraham Gossett, Aaron Ailport and Wm. Graham arrived.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War the township began to fill with settlers. One group, 60 strong, came from Indiana in 1866, settling in sections 2 and 12, Michael Tio arrived in the fall of that same year. In the spring of 1867 Samuel Stratton, his son David, Sam Shields, Perry Swartz, Ira Porter, R. Toothman and James A. Nelson arrived. Nathaniel Britton and his family arrived in the summer of 1867. In 1868 John Estenson, Esten Johnson, Lars Larson and John Oleson took up the south half of section 4 and later that year Wash Claybald claimed the remaining 80 acres. By 1870 nearly all the government land had been taken as homesteads.
Spring Valley was incorporated in 1895. At that time it had a number of businesses, the largest being the Iron Ore Company which employed about 200 people. In 1942 the area suffered severe flooding which almost destroyed the community. But, due to the courage and perseverance of the local residents, it was rebuilt and is now home to just over 1000 people. It is situated in the scenic Eau Galle River Valley just off Highway 29. It is home of the Crystal Caves (my mother worked there as a teenager in the 1950's) and its unique underground beauty, as well as the Eau Galle Recreation Area which consists of 540 acres for picnicking, fishing, swimming and camping. This is the town to which my ancestors came in 1867.
In 1890 W. W. Newell, a miner and prospector discovered several deposits of iron ore, large enough to support an industry. Investors were found and an iron furnace was brought in from another part of the state. The necessary buildings were constructed and the railroad was extended to the furnace and Spring Valley was born in earnest.
My great-grandfather worked for the mining company hauling ore to the railroads by horse and wagon and my great-great-grandfather began farming on property just outside of town that is still held by a family member today.
Trenton Township was organized on November 14, 1857. It's earliest history is very closely connected with Diamond Bluff Township. Wilson Thing is supposed to be the towns first settler in 1848. James Akers was the towns first chairman. It contains one village, Hager City, where the post office was located.
Trimbelle Township was created March 2, 1855. Martin B. Williams was elected its first chairman and Aaron Cornelison and Franklin Otis were supervisors. Early settlers included John Smith, H.F. McAlister, David and O.H. Belden, Edwin Green, Noah Tripp and John Lynch from the Beldenville area and John McLaughlin , John Beardsley, O.T. Maxson, John McEwen, Lewis Sperry and "Garner" Colerud near where Trimbelle village is now located.
Downriver from Trimbelle Village was an area named Utah because of the local mill owner's Mormon beliefs.
The first post office was established in 1855 and Aaron Cornelison was it's postmaster, the second was established at Beldenville in 1858 with J.H. Collins as its postmaster. In 1867 Jonathan Park built a furniture factory at Utah. He later became partners with John Reeves and eventually sold out to Reeves in 1872.
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