A History of Port Edwards

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A History of Port Edwards

          Compiled by
      J. Marshall Buehler
               Published by
       The Village of Port Edwards

  Commemorating a
  Hundred Years as
an Incorporated Village

     1902 ­ 2002
On June 9, 1902, 415 people who lived on the             village. Hard feelings would be caused. Rather, I
west bank of the Wisconsin River in the township         have enhanced the project with more photos of
of Port Edwards expressed a desire to establish          the way Port Edwards used to be.
the village of Port Edwards. Now, 100 years later,
we have reason to look back to see what we have          The contents are not indexed or footnoted, and
accomplished and achieved.                               there is no bibliography. All the material may be
                                                         referenced in the village board minutes and the
Let’s keep one thing straight. Port Edwards’ history     archives of Alexander House, which also provided
covers a span of about 140 years since its founding,     the pictures, except those that are noted in the
as you will note when reading Chapter 1. The             captions.
100th anniversary commemorates the incorporation
as a village entity.                                     It is impossible to separate the village history
                                                         from the background of the paper mill. Without
This is a review of our past. It in no way portrays      the mill, there most likely would not be a village
Port Edwards as it exists today. A walk around           of Port Edwards, hence the frequent reference to
the village will acquaint one with the village as        it and its founders.
it exists today. This is strictly a historical review.
                                                         So senior citizens,read and reminisce.Newcomers,
Unlike many community history books, the writer          become acquainted with your community’s
has avoided including photos of individuals and          background. Students, reflect on what your
family groups. This is not a family album. To            forerunners endured to make Port Edwards the
include some pioneer family portraits would most         progressive village it is. After all, it will be you
likely cause me to miss other important people           students who will dictate the destiny of the next
that resided here and left their mark on the             100 years.
Chapter 1: Lumber
Daylight Enters the Forest
“Timber” as it was called by the lumbermen; trees           Merrill were partners in a sawmill venture at a
to you and me. Not just any trees, but pine trees—          place that became known as Frenchtown, later
virgin pine trees! So many of them that the north­          named Port Edwards.The same mill fell under the
ern half of the state would be referred to as the           partnership of Merrill and Whitney sometime in
Wisconsin Pinery.                                           1836. Next, Merrill acquired Whitney’s interest in
                                                            the operation and then, in turn, transferred the
Running through this pinery were water courses.             business to a partnership of John Edwards Sr. and
Rivers that flowed from the north to the south              Henry Clinton.This brings the sequence of events
and smaller freshets that flowed east and west.             up to 1840.
Water on which a log could be floated to a
sawmill. Water that could be used to move                   The mill that was changing hands as frequently as
lumber to a marketplace. But most important,                a football during a bowl game was a single saw
water that could be dammed and harnessed for                operation located about a thousand feet north of
power to operate a saw. Thus, timber could be               the present Port Edwards paper mill.The physical
converted to lumber and delivered to a market.              plant most likely consisted of an unheated wooden
                                                            building;a three­ or four­foot­high dam constructed
The preceding paragraphs serve as a very brief              of brush, timber and native stone; and a water
geography of northern Wisconsin in the early                turbine or perhaps even an old water wheel driving
1800s. It doesn’t sound like much, trees and                a single rotary saw. But all of these assets were
water, but it was all that was needed to start an           not as valuable to the lumberman as were the
economic boom in a portion of Wisconsin which,              water power rights and the government permit
up to that time, knew nothing of economics other            to cut timber on the land made available by the
than the bartering of some blankets or cloth for a          “Three Mile Strip” treaty.
few beaver pelts.
                                                            This 1836 treaty was made with the Menomonie
As the trees were cut, sunlight fell upon the               Native Americans and made available a strip of
ground that had not been exposed to the direct              land three miles wide on each side of the
sun’s rays for 100 years or more. This metamor­             Wisconsin River, beginning at Point Basse (now
phosis of the forest began in 1829 when the first           Nekoosa) and extending northward to the vicinity
sawmill on the Wisconsin River was built about              of Wausau.
30 miles south of here.
                                                            The lumbermen had access to a new and vast
The early records are somewhat sketchy as to just           supply of virgin pine timber as a result of this
who did what and when, but there is documentary             important Native American pact. Then, in 1848,
reference indicating that Messrs. Grignon and               Indian title to the balance of the land was

The John Edwards Lumber Company in the late 1870s.The railroad tracks lead only as far as the lumber storage piles.
extinguished, and the supply of timber was greatly          paddlewheel steam boat. From central Wisconsin
augmented. A large portion of this land eventually          to St. Louis was a slow, rather easy trip; the only
was to become the property of Nekoosa Papers                danger spot being the scenic narrows of the
Inc. and its predecessors.                                  Wisconsin Dells and the ever­shifting sandbars of
                                                            the lower Wisconsin River.
Lumber was cut and piled on the ice just below
the sawmill. The entire pile was then fastened              The proprietary assets of the Frenchtown lumber
together using wooden pins, tie boards and                  business were taken over by Edwards and Clinton
wedges. Thus, a lumber raft was built. In the               in 1840. In fact, there is some question as to
spring of the year when the ice went out, about             whether Grignon and Merrill really did build an
three or four men would board the raft and set up           operating sawmill. Some sources make note as
housekeeping.A small bunkhouse, not much larger             Daniel Whitney being the motivating force
than a good­sized dog kennel, was erected on top            behind the building of a sawmill at the east end of
of the raft, while meals were eaten on the “deck.”          Market Street in Port Edwards. However, due to an
At night, the raft was tied to the river bank. Once         undeveloped northwoods economy, the lack of
the raft reached the Mississippi River, it was              good transportation, and the limited capacity of
kept moving day and night, often propelled by a             the mill, very little lumber was sawed at
                                                            Frenchtown between 1836 and 1840. Whatever
                                                            lumber that was cut was probably used locally.At
                                                            any rate, the wheels of progress did not begin to
                                                            turn in the Port Edwards area until 1840, the year
                                                            in which John Edwards Sr. bought out Merrill’s
                                                            sawmill, timber holdings and water power rights.

                                                            The senior Edwards was engaged in several business
                                                            activities, including lead mining, lumbering, land
                                                            speculation, farming and retail merchandising. He
                                                            administered these activities from his headquarters
                                                            and home in Hazel Green, a southwestern village
                                                            in Wisconsin. Being a man of financial means, he
                                                            was able to invest in a lucrative venture when the
The mill pond at Port Edwards, covered with logs wait­      opportunity presented itself. Just such an oppor­
ing to be converted into lumber. Logs continued to be
                                                            tunity was the sawmill at Frenchtown. But he
floated on the river for several years after papermaking
replaced lumbering in the mill.                             needed a person to oversee the mill; a man

Two lumber rafts make their way through the dells of the Wisconsin River.
The coldest job in a lumber camp was to go out at night on the icing sleigh. Here, such a sleigh is being loaded with
water in preparation for icing the roads.

Office of the John Edwards Company built in 1872. A general store is housed in the wing on the right, while the post
office occupied the extreme left.
knowledgeable of the forests and familiar with         John Senior’s vast estate, including the Wisconsin
sawing operations. He found such a person in           River lumbering operations, fell into the hands of
Henry Clinton, whom he took in as a partner,           seven heirs.With the financial help of T.B. Scott in
placing him in the position of manager of the          1873, John Edwards Jr. was able to purchase the
Frenchtown mill and its supporting operations.         lumber interests from the other members of the
The partnership business was known as Edwards          family. Once more it became a partnership to be
and Clinton Company.                                   known as Edwards and Scott Lumber Company.

A small settlement of inhabitants, mostly of           It is interesting to note that the company was not
French background, developed around the mill,          only a vendor of wood products such as pine
and this settlement was called Frenchtown, a           lumber, lath, pickets, and shingles, but also a
name that prevailed until 1869 when the name           supplier of dry goods, groceries, and provisions.
was changed to Port Edwards in honor of John
Edwards, Jr. Perhaps it should have been named         A good description of Frenchtown in 1861 has
Port Merrill, or Grignon’s Rapids, or Whitneyville.    been preserved through the years. Mrs. Edwards,
There already was a Clintonville, so they named        who came here in 1858 and died in 1921, wrote:
the village in honor of Edwards.

In 1855, again in 1858, and once more in 1859,
Clinton found himself financially obligated to the
business. Unable to reconcile his obligations, he
transferred portions of his equity in the partner­
ship to Edwards. In each case, Clinton signed over
to Edwards portions of his land holdings in Wood,
Marathon, and Adams counties in Wisconsin.
Finally in 1862, an agreement was reached
between these two, whereby Edwards took over
management of the mill while Clinton was banished
to operate the farm and lumber camp on Mill Creek
in northern Wood County.
                                                       John Edwards lived in this modest home when he
Clinton was murdered a few years later, reportedly     married Francis Morrell in 1861. The home has been
by an irate saloon keeper in Port Edwards’ only        moved to a different site but still stands.
saloon or tavern. After a settlement with widow
Clinton, John Edwards Sr. gained full control of the
Frenchtown operations as well as the outlying          “The settlement was small, consisting of a store,
support facilities. He renamed the business John       a blacksmith shop, a school, two boarding houses,
Edwards and Company. Active management had             and a number of white houses. John Edwards
been turned over to his son, John Jr., who             Jr., in an effort to keep a neat clean village, sold
remained in active management until 1891 when          white paint to the property owners at an attrac­
he was elected to the state assembly. He died while    tive price.This encouraged home owners to keep
serving in this capacity.                              their buildings well painted, even though they
                                                       were uniformly white, as were all the mill­
John Jr. was born in England and came to this          owned buildings. As a result, the village was
country with his parents, settling in and growing      nicknamed ‘The White City.’ Large refuse burners
up in Hazel Green, Wis. At the age of only 17,         burned day and night, disposing of the bark
he ventured to California before the advent of a       and sawdust.”
cross country railroad, where he became a gold
prospector. In 1859, he returned to Hazel Green,       Perhaps a little insight into lumber business
only to be sent to the northern forestlands, where     conditions in the era following the Civil War would
he would manage his father’s lumbering business        be of interest. In 1872, John Edwards & Co. cut
until the death of the senior Edwards in 1871.         10.5 million board feet of timber at the Mill Creek
camp. This was floated down Mill Creek to its         In 1885, with financial assistance from W.E.
juncture with the Wisconsin River, just above         Southwell of Milwaukee, Edwards was able to
Wisconsin Rapids. From here it joined other logs      purchase the Scott interests in the mill. Once
coming down the river, destined for the mills in      more it became John Edwards & Co.
Grand Rapids (Wisconsin Rapids). Those logs
marked with Edwards’ brand continued on to his        In 1890, John Edwards Jr. and L.M. Alexander
Frenchtown mill; a roundabout way, but certainly      reorganized the lumber business, renaming it the
the least expensive way.There was no railroad yet.    John Edwards Manufacturing Company, the
                                                      immediate predecessor of the Port Edwards
Another account journal of Edwards’ indicated         paper mill. Edwards and his family made a trip to
that he sold 697,057 board feet of lumber at a        California, this time by train, where Edwards visited
price of $13 a thousand, or a total of $9,061.78.     his old mining haunts. During this visit, he met
He noted his cost as $2,136.20, or a profit of        Lewis M. Alexander, a young banker there.
$6,925.58! Slabs, the curved side of the log, sold    Edwards had been elected to the Wisconsin State
for 50 cents a cord as fire wood; while sawdust       Assembly in 1891 and had taken up residence in
brought in $2.25 for two wagon loads, no doubt        Madison. Alexander was persuaded to come to
from a local icehouse. What appears to be quite       Wisconsin and assume management of the
expensive, at least to this writer, is the price of   Edwards businesses. Alexander subsequently
horses. Edwards bought four of them on one            married Lida Edwards, the only surviving child
occasion for $500, or $125 each.About this same       of four born to Mr. and Mrs. Edwards.
time, Edwards indicates in his personal diary that
he hired a Mr. Benedict at a rate of $20 a month.     John Edwards Jr. died in 1891 while in the state
                                                      assembly chambers. His remains were brought by
At some point in time between 1840 and 1878,          special train to Grand Rapids.
the site of the mill was moved from its location at
the end of Market Street to the site of the present   Thus, we come to the close of the lumber era.
paper mill. Up to 1878, Edwards conducted his         Fifty years of timber cutting left only smaller trees
business from the original mill. However, in 1878,    and those not suitable for lumber. Edwards had
an expansion program resulted in the dismantling      left town to take up residence in Madison to pursue
of the old mill and replacing it with a more mod­     his political career. Alexander was faced with a
ern facility.The old single rotary saw was replaced   sawmill but no decent trees to convert to lumber.
with new gang saws (several blades operating          But Alexander had a plan, a plan that would keep
simultaneously as a group).                           Port Edwards from becoming a ghost town.
Chapter 2: The River
Dynamite it Bigger
The Wisconsin River, longest of the streams within    Picture, if you would, a pile of lumber 4 feet high,
the state’s boundaries, has the temperament of an     16 feet wide, and 112 feet long. Imagine trying to
Irishman. It is wild, forceful, and powerful when     steer this raft by wielding a rudder that has been
aroused by spring thaws or heavy rains; yet it is     fabricated from a pine tree, 35 feet long and up to
peaceful, tranquil and passive at low flow. It        14 inches in diameter at one end, and tapering to
alternately displays these moods, often with no       5 inches at the “small” end. Picture the river in
other warning than the unpredictable conditions       one of its savage moods, conjured up by spring
of weather. Since man has never been able to          floods. Ahead of you is a dam barricading your
control the weather, pioneer lumbermen turned         progress down stream.There is a“slide”or“chute”
their efforts toward controlling the river. Their     just barely wide enough to permit your raft to pass
goal was to more evenly divide the periods of         through. It’s no wonder that daily entries like the
ferocity with the intervals of quiescence.This was    following found their way into Edwards’ journal:
done as early as 1850, when Henry Clinton
obtained a permit to build four dams on the           “Farrish’s raft ‘saddlebagged’ my dam today.”
Wisconsin River in the vicinity of Wisconsin
Rapids, so as to more effectively run logs down       What this means is that the pilot on the raft was
the river. The resulting dams were called wing        unable to guide his raft lengthwise through the
dams, and their purpose was to direct the river       chute. Rather, he was in trouble as his raft was
flow toward the center of the stream or toward a      approaching the dam sideways. Upon hitting the
certain channel. The building of dams for the         rock foundation of the dam, it buckled and broke
specific purpose of regulating the volume of flow     into pieces.
was begun in the later half of the 1800s. By law,
these dams had to provide for the passage of logs     Another entry from the same source reads:
and lumber being trafficked down the river.These
passageways were called chutes or sluices. What       “Farrish dynamited my dam today.”
one person might consider as being an ideal situ­
ation for his operation might not be to the best      Evidently feeling the dam’s chute was too narrow
advantage of another. Consider the problems           or not passing enough water, Farrish instructed
surrounding lumber rafting.                           his raft crew to use dynamite to enlarge the opening.
                                                      Acts such as this did not promote good harmony
                                                      between rival lumbermen!

                                                      Here are some more interesting documentation
                                                      taken from various sources:

                                                      “Your (Edwards’) logs wrecked my (Neeves’)
                                                      dam today. If you are man enough, you will
                                                      come up here to discuss putting it back the way
                                                      it was.”

                                                      “One man killed today and one injured. They
                                                      were dynamiting at the dam and one lit his
                                                      pipe.The dynamite went off prematurely, killing
                                                      one and badly injuring the other.”

                                                      “Two men drowned today at the dam.Their raft
                                                      went over the dam sideways, and they were
                                                      washed off the raft.”

Port Edwards received its name because it was a log   “Edwards’ dam unsafe for rafting.” – (newspaper
and lumber port. Here are some of the rock cribs to   article)
which booms were attached for holding logs and lum­
ber rafts in this river port.
“My dam is safe but pilots have to be experi­               dams up river, some of them owned by boom
enced. I will insure for twenty­five cents a raft,          companies, of holding back the water and even
all going over my dam if certain pilots are                 suggested that the dam at Minocqua, Wisconsin,
used.” – (newspaper advertisement)                          be removed. It is interesting to note that on
                                                            June 19, 1898, the Minocqua dam was blown up.
But the river not only had its cataclysmic traits, it       Tom Nash, president of the Nekoosa Paper
also had its dormant side, as shown by these                Company, instructed his representative there to
quotes.                                                     “find the culprit. It should be easy to find out who
                                                            bought dynamite around there recently.”
“All hands spiked (pried) all day getting raft off
sand.”                                                      All of the foregoing are interesting and even
                                                            humorous incidents; nevertheless, they all posed
“No time was lost. River dropping two inches                serious problems to the river users.And so it was
every 24 hours, and that means a lot on the                 that L.M. Alexander and other interested persons
lower river.”                                               made an attempt at controlling the river flow.
                                                            The dam owners and mill operators formed the
“Stuck on island—one day lost.”                             Wisconsin River Hydraulic Association on
                                                            February 28, 1895. The association made an
                                                            attempt at controlling the 250­foot fall of the
                                                            water that existed in the river’s course over a
                                                            distance of slightly over 100 miles.An interesting
                                                            capitalization structure made it possible for each
                                                            water user on the river to subscribe to a number
                                                            of shares of stock in direct proportion to the feet
                                                            of water controlled by his dam.

                                                            However, the hydraulic corporation fell short of
                                                            its intended goal, perhaps because it lacked the
                                                            support of the state legislature. At any rate, the
                                                            problems were not solved as indicated by the fol­
                                                            lowing reports of John Edwards Manufacturing
Cribs of rock are still quite plentiful under the surface   Company:
of the river. These two are just off of the end of Market
Street.                                                     “Mill down because of grinders and machinery
                                                            on line shaft not operating due to high water
And then there were the problems of floating                with no head available and flooding in the
logs from the upper river cutting areas down to             basement.”
the mills. Boom companies were formed, whose
purpose it was to disperse the logs down the
river, taking the best advantage of the river flow.
Imagine a pile of logs choking the river for a
distance of two miles. The boom company was
suppose to avoid this, but obviously did not live
up to their purpose.

It wasn’t only lumbering that depended upon the
river. Paper mills that followed in the footsteps of
sawmills required hydro power, also. In 1898,
L.M. Alexander, president of John Edwards
Manufacturing Company, cited the need for water             The west bank of the river still has a log diversion wall
regulations, stating that he did not have enough            opposite the Alexander House. This was to divert logs
water for operating the mills. He accused the               to the channel of the stream.
“Number five and six machines down. One and         “As rivers go, there are many far larger, carrying
a half inches of water in grinder room and          a vastly greater volume of water. There are
flooding in the basement.”                          many more publicized, but when it comes to
                                                    work, to the production of energy in relation to
And the opposite conditions:                        its size, to doing the greatest good for the greatest
                                                    number of people, the Wisconsin River heads
“Grinders shut down at midnight to conserve         them all.” (Wisconsin Valley Improvement Co.)
                                                    Beneath the surface of the river, in the vicinity of
Although improved, control of the river was still   Port Edwards, there is proof abundant of the river
not at its best. Regulation that would only come    activities of the past. Rock cribs, wing dams,
from a system of dams and reservoirs, which         boom piers, anchor weights, and anchor bolts in
could impound the spring high water and release     the rocks are all there under the water, visible
it during the dry season, was needed. Here in       only on those rare occasions when the river is
Wisconsin, a group of water power users took it     drawn down.
upon themselves to not only regulate but also
improve the Wisconsin River’s moods.

In 1906, Alexander and Nash, both presidents of
paper mills in this area, formed the Wisconsin
Valley Improvement Company.Twenty­five water
power users subscribed to their proportionate
allotments of stock. Nekoosa Edwards Paper
Company, headquartered in Port Edwards, was
the largest investor, since three of its parent
companies controlled 11 percent of the river’s
developed power. Nash and Alexander were both
directors of the new company which was chartered
by the state in 1907.

And what has it accomplished? Well, rafting and
log drives are things of the past. There is no
commercial traffic on the river other than a few
sightseeing boats at Wisconsin Dells. Yet the
Wisconsin River is the hardest­working river in
the country. Mills no longer shut down for the
annual spring flood or late summer drought. It is
said of the river,
                                                    A lumber mill employee with his pike pole works the
                                                    boom above the dam at Port Edwards.
Chapter 3: Papermaking
Maybe We Should Have Stayed in Lumbering
With the diminishing availability each year of              procedure since no change in product or physical
pine logs in the central Wisconsin pinery, L.M.             plant was undertaken.The sawmill remained the
Alexander, lumber entrepreneur at Frenchtown                same as when it was the John Edwards Lumber
(Port Edwards), saw the proverbial handwriting on           Co. Products were still white pine and hardwood
the wall. The tall timber was just about depleted.          lumber, shingles, lath and pickets. John Edwards
There were smaller trees and an abundance of                was still president and Alexander, secretary.
hardwood forests remaining, but these trees were            Alexander assumed the presidency upon the
not desirable for satisfying the ravenous appetites         death of Edwards in 1891.
of the saws. The French lumberjacks were being
replaced by German and Scandinavian settlers; and           In 1896, with Alexander now in the position of
as one Frenchman admitted, “The Germans are                 leadership, a decision was made to complement
hard workers and the French are great drinkers.”            the line of timber products by the addition of
                                                            newsprint paper.Thus, the John Edwards sawmill
John Edwards Jr. and Lewis Alexander, in October            was demolished in order that the valuable water
of 1890, reorganized the Port Edwards lumber                power on the Wisconsin River might be better
business as a corporation, naming it the John               utilized for a new paper mill. Construction began
Edwards Manufacturing Company.The organization              in 1895, and it was interesting to note that
of this company was hardly more than a legal                L.M. Alexander kept a journal of material and

The old sawmill has been removed to make way for construction of the new groundwood newsprint paper mill at
Port Edwards.

L.M.Alexander's dreams were fulfilled when this paper mill complex was built at Port Edwards in 1895.
In the early 1890s, L.M.Alexander started to plan for a paper mill to replace his lumbering operation.
Here is a sketch of the paper mill he planned for. The sketch is drawn on a lumber mill letterhead.
equipment used in the mill construction. Here are            Two paper machines were purchased from Beloit
a few of the purchases of construction items                 Iron Works in 1896. Total cost of the two
taken from said ledger:                                      machines was $57,000. But even this price, which
                                                             seems very small compared with today’s standards,
4,084.62 cords of Worden quarry stone                        was rather expensive for a newly organized paper
                                                             mill in 1896. Therefore, the machines were paid
(About 1,000 railroad cars)                                  for on the installment plan, some payments being
                                                             as small as $1,000. The economy had not yet
2,252,980 bricks                                             recovered from the 1893 financial panic.

(About 250 railroad cars)                                    For the next few years, newsprint paper was
                                                             the principal product of John Edwards
353 window frames with sash                                  Manufacturing Co., about 40 tons being produced
                                                             each day. Some lumber was still being produced
30 wooden doors                                              and sold by the timber products division.

The first pulp manufactured was groundwood                   Lewis Alexander was not a papermaker. He was
pulp produced by a series of six grinders that               trained as a banker and was a successful business­
were powered by the Wisconsin River. The                     man, organizer,leader and manager.He was engaged
grinder room was located over the river. To the              in several other activities, including Cream City
west of the grinder room was the wet machine                 Sash and Door Company, Port Edwards Land
room, then the wood room, saw room, and                      and Investment Company, Merchants’ and
machine shop. These departments have all been                Manufacturers’ Bank of Milwaukee, Citizen’s
relocated to make room for part of the Port                  National Bank of Grand Rapids, Iroquois Door
Edwards finishing department. The beater room                Company of Buffalo, N.Y., Two Rivers Company
was in the same location that it is today. However,          and Inland Empire Paper Company in Idaho.With
the boiler room and steam engine room were                   all these business activities, it is not surprising
located where the finishing room is today.                   that Alexander turned the management of the

A photo of the yard crew at Port Edwards.A steam locomotive and a "jammer" would indicate this picture to be of the
1915 era.
                                                          Alexander commented, in a letter to his mother­
                                                          in­law, the widow Edwards, the following:

                                                          “No dividend will be paid this year because our
                                                          money is all tied up in a two­year purchase of
                                                          pulpwood, which we did to preserve relations
                                                          with the cutters.”

                                                          “There is undercurrent of talk about labor

                                                          “Sometimes I wonder if we should have stayed
                                                          in lumber.”
A small mountain of logs and the stacker to pile them
was located on the east end of the mill.These logs were   Newsprint prices improved by 1905, but probably
for the groundwood pulp mill which was shut down in       only because of normal inflation, which had
the later 1930s.
                                                          gotten a start in this country. John Edwards
                                                          Manufacturing Company was producing newsprint
mill over to Frank Garrison in 1902. Garrison was         at a cost of $39.15 per ton and selling it for
operating the paper mill at Centralia. However,           $40.14. However, a year later the market price
he died shortly thereafter, and the resident              dropped to $39 per ton. Something had to be
manager position was then turned over to George           done! It looked pretty gloomy, but there was a
F. Steele. Meanwhile,Alexander took up residence          light at the end of the tunnel.The motto became,
in Milwaukee. He would return to Port Edwards             “Convert to higher grades of paper,” a slogan that
in later years.                                           would echo again some 20 years later.

With groundwood pulp mills and newsprint                  Groundwood pulp production was phased out in
paper mills springing up all around the state of          the 1940s when the grinders were removed and
Wisconsin at the turn of the century, the price           sold as scrap iron for the war effort.There was no
of groundwood pulp plummeted to 80 cents a                need for groundwood pulp in the papers that
hundredweight in 1898. A couple of years later,           would replace newsprint.
Chapter 4: Pulping
If It Smells Sweet, It’s Done
In 1872, Wisconsin’s paper production was a               of these three mills put aside their competitive
mere three tons a day, but by 1900, it had                practices and, in turn, joined hands to form a new
increased to 850 tons per day; a 28,233 percent           company, the Port Edwards Fiber Company,
increase in production in only 28 years.That’s an         whose purpose it would be to build a sulfite pulp
average increase in production of 1,000 percent           mill in Port Edwards. The actual signers of the
each year! At the turn of the century, paper              incorporation papers were Thomas Nash, Lewis
mills were proliferating all over Wisconsin, but          Alexander and J.B. Nash. Tom Nash was elected
especially along the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers.            president, L.M. Alexander, secretary­treasurer, and
Most of these were manufacturing groundwood               George Steele was appointed general manager.
pulp and newsprint paper. It appeared that the
market was becoming saturated – and it was just           In January, 1906, 2,500 shares of $100 par value
that. Furthermore, spruce pulpwood, the preferred         stock were issued and immediately subscribed to
wood for groundwood pulp production, had                  by Nash,Alexander, Steele and a handful of other
doubled in cost between 1899 and 1907, now                business associates. The property and assets of
commanding a price of between $11 and $12 a               the Nash Lumber Company, near Glidden, Wis.,
cord. Hardwood, on the other hand, was more               made up Nash’s contribution to the cause. With
reasonable at only $3.50 a cord. But hardwoods            these tangible assets, the new company immedi­
did not make good groundwood pulp.                        ately mortgaged the Nash Lumber Co. and other
                                                          land holdings to obtain a loan of $500,000. With
In 1906, there were three alternate choices to            the combined funds from the sale of stock and
groundwood pulping. One of these was the kraft            the loan, the new company began the building of
process, producing a very dark colored pulp,              a pulp mill right in the front yard of the John
which at that time was unsuitable for finer               Edwards Manufacturing Co., from whom they
papers. The remaining choices were between                leased the land and shared joint railroad tracks.
sulfite and soda pulp. The three mills in central         Even process water was purchased from the
Wisconsin, John Edwards Manufacturing Co.,                John Edwards mill pond. For these considera­
Nekoosa Paper Company and Centralia Water                 tions, Port Edwards Fiber Company paid the sum
Power and Paper Co., all needed a source of better        of $100 a year to John Edwards Manufacturing
quality pulp. Accordingly, in 1906, the presidents        Co. Quite a bargain!

Port Edwards Fiber Company's plant became part of Nekoosa Edwards in 1908.The entire area in the foreground of
the mill is now occupied by mill buildings.
Are any of your relatives in this photo of the crew of the Port Edwards pulp mill?

John Edwards Manufacturing Company’s transportation department poses outside the company barn in the pre auto
The pulp mill that was erected had three 10­ton         the Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company. However,
digesters with a combined capacity of 60 tons of        formal dissolution of the company did not occur
pulp each day. The cooking liquor used for              until 1921 when papers were filed to dissolve the
cooking the wood was a cold, lime­based acid            company.Why they retained their corporate iden­
system. It would be converted to a hot acid system      tity for 13 years is somewhat of a mystery.
in the late 1920s, thereby speeding up the
cooking time and increasing production. The             Today, the Port Edwards pulp mill and the adjoin­
pulp was bleached with bleaching powder in a            ing paper mill are one common manufacturing
single bleaching tank. The bleach powder was            facility. Expansions have filled the gap that used
purchased in steel drums and the empty drums            to be spanned by a ramp.Two hundred and thirty
were flattened and sold for their scrap value.          tons of bleached hardwood pulp are produced
                                                        each day for use at Port Edwards and Nekoosa.
The pulp mill was a separate entity, even to the        Sophisticated instruments have replaced the
extent of not being connected to the neighboring        senses of the “cook.”
paper mill, as is the case today. Instead, an outside
ramp of about 200 feet in length connected the          In 1974, the process was changed from a lime­
two buildings, and pulp was moved on hand­              based system to a magnesium­based system. At
pulled wagons from one building to the other.           the same time, a $9 million recovery system was
                                                        installed, thereby eliminating an older lagoon waste
In the 1920s,several improvements and expansions        treatment facility. The new recovery system not
took place at the Port Edwards Fiber Company.           only eliminated stream pollution but also recov­
A fourth digester was added in 1923.A three­stage       ered valuable chemicals that could be reused for
bleach plant replaced the drums of bleach               the preparation of fresh cooking acid.
powder. A unique cable­way log handling system
spanned the wood storage yard west of the mill.         There are a few retired employees in Port
                                                        Edwards who still refer to the east end of the
In retrospect, let’s reflect for a moment to those      property as the John Edwards mill, associating it
early days of cooking wood. Imagine a “cook”            with the original mill of the John Edwards
trying to prepare a 10­ton batch of pulp from 20        Manufacturing Company, while the west portion
tons of raw wood, inside a steel digester where it      of the mill was the Alexander mill.
was impossible to see what was happening.
Instrumentation, as we know it, was not as
refined as it is today. How did a“cook” know if the
digester was up to temperature? By expectorating
a precisely measured amount of saliva toward the
top of the digester and observing the time
required for evaporation of this “reagent,” the
“cook” would determine if more steam was need­
ed. Old timers claim that a good “cook” could tell
if a batch of wood was completely cooked by
smelling the cooking liquor. A pungent odor
indicated a raw cook, a sweet odor, a finished
product,and a burnt odor meant overcooked wood.
                                                        The west log yard of the paper mill used two of these
After a short life as an independent company, the       derricks with a cable between them for unloading of
Port Edwards Fiber Company offered its assets,          logs from railroad cars.
valued at $400,000, to the newly formed Nekoosa
Edwards Paper Company, if the new corporation
would assume payment of their $500,000 loan as
well as other outstanding debts. An agreement
was reached and in 1908, the Port Edwards Fiber
Company became the Port Edwards pulp mill of
Chapter 5: Fine Paper
The Future Rests in Better Grades of Paper
The fledgling pulp and paper mill in Port                  newsprint. Wrapping papers would be the
Edwards remained a two­machine mill, producing             improved grade that would save the industry.
about 40 tons of newsprint paper a day. Two
other pioneer mills, the Centralia Water Power             Two new paper machines were added to the
and Paper Company, located about two miles                 existing two. One was a machine referred to as a
north of Port Edwards, and the Nekoosa Paper               “Yankee” machine because of its style, while the
Company, located three miles down river from               other was named the “Columbian” because it had
Port Edwards, were closely allied to the John              performed at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Edwards mill. Not only was their proximity a               It had been purchased as surplus from the World’s
factor that favored merging, but their officers and        Fair for $19,000 and had been operating at the
their principal financial backers were overlapping.        Nekoosa mill until its move to Port Edwards.
It was good business foresight for the three mills          A new digester was added to the pulp mill to
to combine, and that they did in 1908.The name             provide additional pulp for the expanded paper­
of the newly merged company was Nekoosa                    making capacity.
Edwards Paper Company, with its main office
located in Port Edwards.                                   Wrapping paper was the elixir that kept the Port
                                                           Edwards mill profitable in the 1920s and early
The NEPCO mill in Port Edwards remained in the             1930s. The bulk of the newsprint business had
newsprint business until about the time of World           gone to Canadian mills during World War I.
War I, at which time a bold decision was made to           NEPCO capitalized on wrapping paper business
give up on newsprint and commit the facilities to          by making a wrapping paper for just about every
the manufacturing of wrapping papers. It was felt          commodity that one purchased. Most consumer
that the future of the Wisconsin paper industry            purchases were made from bulk inventories, and
rested in producing better grades of paper than            that required counter wrapping at the time of

These two paper machines in the Port Edwards mill produced the first fine paper that Nekoosa Edwards Paper
Company introduced.They are numbered machines 5 and 6.
As the fame of Nekoosa Edwards grew, so did their headquarters building grow. Note that in this picture of the office,
the John Edwards Company office building has been retained in the center of the structure.

purchase. Whether it was a loaf of bread, meat,
cheese,pastry,prescriptions,hardware,or clothing,
a special paper was made for each item. NEPCO
went so far as to produce a special wrapper for
beef and one for pork! Naturally, both were made
in the Port Edwards mill.

The greatest claim to fame for the Port Edwards
mill was their special meat wrapper named King
William, advertised as“blood proof and bone proof.”
Nekoosa Edwards would earn the reputation of
being the largest producer of meat wrapping
paper in the world.

But wrapping paper became a dwindling com­
modity after World War II, when prepackaging
was introduced to retail merchandising. Films,
plastics,and foils waved a red flag for the wrapping
paper mills.A new panacea was needed if this mill
was to survive.That salvation came with the intro­            A display of just a few of the wrapping papers manu­
duction of fine writing papers in the mid 1930s.              factured by Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company.
Chapter 6: Watermarked Papers
5,000 Tons ­ $5,000 Loss
By 1927, this northwoods paper company had             “We must get into the production of high­grade
attained the reputation of having the largest daily    specialties and those papers which will not be
production of meat wrapping paper of any mill in       directly competitive with the South.
the country. The decision to break ties with the
product that had built this reputation and, in turn,   “Our production of wrapping paper is still the
embark into an entirely new sales field was a dif­     critical issue. The problem is a serious one, and
ficult decision to make.                               the immediate outlook is none too bright for
                                                       this company.”
“Insane,” said competitors. “Ridiculous,” echoed
old­time papermakers.“Why?” inquired the stock­        In another letter it is stated:
holders. Nevertheless, that decision was made in
1925. Nekoosa Edwards general manager, John            “In order to establish ourselves on these new
Alexander, successor to his father, Lewis              grades, we must, in turn, take the business
Alexander, summed up the reasons for the change        away from someone else either through a better
with these remarks. “We were forced to do only         sheet or a sheet nearly as good but at a lower
one thing, namely to change our grades of              price. We have little support from the sales
paper and get into the making of higher grades         department because they perhaps know less
of paper, for which we knew there would be a           about the higher grades.”
higher return on our investment.”
                                                       The letter went on to say that the salesmen sent
A year later, general manager Alexander wrote to       the mill an inquiry and the mill would make the
his father:                                            paper. He advocated a reversing of this policy,
                                                       whereby the mill would come out with a line of
“The wrapping paper situation is not much              papers and then turn them over to the sales
better than the newsprint situation today.             department to sell. Thus, Nekoosa Edwards
There is keen competition and an oversupply            would become an initiator rather than an imitator.
of wrapping paper, so that it has become a foot­
ball and is being kicked from one place to             If Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company thought it
another with all ranges of cut­throat prices.”         had reached the acme of fame when it became
                                                       the world’s largest producer of butcher paper, the
So it came to be that as early as 1927, Nekoosa        distinction was small when compared with the
Edwards Paper Company introduced a line of             phenomenal growth that this company experi­
business papers, the most popular item being           enced after the introduction of its line of water­
NEPCO Sulfite Bond. Available in white and a           marked communication papers.
rainbow of colors, the unwatermarked sheet
could be had in four weights, ranging from a light­    John Alexander was convinced that NEPCO could
weight 13­pound to the heavier 24­pound sheet.         achieve the goals that he had set fourth. In 1936,
Amazingly, the grade proved to be a minor success.     he proposed to his father that an expenditure of
So much so that in subsequent years, companion         $250,000 be made to begin the conversion of the
grades of NEPCO mimeo, duplicator, envelope,           mills from all wrapping paper to watermarked
register, tablet and offset were offered to the        writing papers. The money would be used for
printer. However, the most expensive product in        equipment changes, as well as research and devel­
1932 was a grade called Artone Ledger. Perhaps         opment. In asking for the funding, Alexander
that’s why only 10 tons were made that year,           stated that in spending these funds,“this company
selling at a price of $46.49 per ton.                  will be taking out an insurance policy for the
                                                       future; and which policy if not adopted, I am
The acceptance of a few tons of business paper in      afraid will make the coming years lean ones.”
the marketplace did not translate into total
success. Accordingly, in 1930, Alexander again         The year 1936 was not as lean as the years during
made a plea to his father asking for a total switch    the depression. Although hardly growing money
to fine papers. His letter states:                     trees, father did listen to his son. He managed to
Inspection of the basic raw material and inspection of the end product helped Nekoosa Papers Inc. control the quality
of their product. Here, Bill Sheegone, a native American who appeared in many Wisconsin Dells Indian ceremonies,
inspects a log for rot, bark and knots. In the lower photo, a corps of ladies inspect the finished sheets before cutting
and packaging.
Air view of the Port Edwards mill, island log yard, and part of the village in the early 1940s.

raise enough money to embark upon a general                     round­the­clock quality supervisor. Finally, a rigid
mill cleanup which was necessary to manufacture                 testing program was introduced, resulting in the
a number one grade of paper. Concrete storage                   slogan “pre­tested papers.” To let the business
tanks were lined with tile.Walls and ceilings were              world know that Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company
scraped and painted. Iron and wood pipes were                   was in the fine paper business, a booklet entitled,
replaced with bronze ones, thereby eliminating                  “THE WORLD BEHIND THE WATERMARK” was
rust and slivers. Brass agitators replaced wooden               distributed to printers.
paddles. Bleach plants were cleaned up, assuring a
cleaner pulp for the premium papers. Stock pipes                A sales manager for Nekoosa Edwards summed
were even rerouted to eliminate sharp angles and                up the results with this statement:
replace with gentle, sweeping curves, thereby
eliminating corners where stock might lodge and                 “That first year we made 5,000 tons of Nekoosa
start to mold.                                                  Bond and we lost $5,000 doing it.”

The efforts all came together in 1936 when a run                But success was just around the corner. By the
of Nekoosa Bond, a number­one quality sheet of                  end of 1938, fine bond papers accounted for
paper, was made. Unfortunately, it was not up to                22 percent of NEPCO’s production.This phenom­
Alexander’s expectations. Additional steps had                  enal success story would be the incentive for
to be taken to bring the sheet up to his standards.             further expansion. A new paper machine and a
Some of these steps included special training                   wastewater treatment plant were added to the
classes for the workers involved and hiring of a                Port Edwards mill. New production sites were
                                                        neighboring Wisconsin Rapids, where tempers
                                                        flared up in saloons. In fact, the Wisconsin
                                                        Rapids police placed an advertisement in the
                                                        local newspaper requesting that strikers leave
                                                        their weapons at home when coming to
                                                        Wisconsin Rapids. Two other strikes occurred;
                                                        one in 1967 lasted about ten days and another
                                                        one in 1983 lasted about a month.

                                                        In summary, it is evident that the lifeblood of the
                                                        community is the paper mill. Other businesses
The mill office building and research laboratory were   and industries contribute to the success of this
housed in this building, which is now part of the
administration building.                                village, but their existence in Port Edwards would
                                                        not have come about if it weren’t for the fact that
                                                        we had a viable paper manufacturing facility in
added in Arkansas; Plover, Wisconsin; Potsdam,          the village.
New York; and Leaf River, Mississippi.

Then, in 1970, Nekoosa Papers entered into a
friendly merger with Great Northern Paper
Company. Mergers had been considered over the
years, including one with our neighbor in
Wisconsin Rapids, Consolidated Papers Inc., but
this was the first time that a consummation of the
plan took place. In 1990, Great Northern Nekoosa
was purchased by Georgia­Pacific Corporation,
and finally, in 2001, the Port Edwards and
Nekoosa mills were sold to a Canadian paper
company, Domtar Inc. Under this management,             When the Port Edwards hotel was no longer available
the Port Edwards mill operates today, producing         for hosting visiting customers, Nekoosa Papers Inc.
500­plus tons of fine paper each day.                   built this guest house on the north shore of Nepco
                                                        Lake. It was named Nekoosa Lodge and accommodated
                                                        12 people for overnight visits.
A few last comments before leaving the history of
the paper mill. For roughly two years, the Port
Edwards mill operated a converting plant where
paper was converted into ruled forms, notebooks
loose­leaf sheets, adding machine rolls and school
supplies.The venture was not a success and was
consequently abandoned.

Lastly, a word about a nasty subject, strikes. The
Port Edwards mill has weathered three of them.
The longest one was in 1919 when the mill was
down for a month, although the strike persisted
for almost a year. After that, operations were          Interior view of Nekoosa Lodge lounge room.
gradually brought back on line with imported
workers and loyal personnel who returned to
their jobs. The winter of 1919­1920 was a bitter
winter in Port Edwards. The strike went on
through the winter with pickets standing around
their bonfires outside the mill fence. Many
physical conflicts took place in Port Edwards and
Employee picnics have always been popular for mill employees. Some were in Nekoosa River Park, but most were at
Nepco Lake. Here is a view of some happy picnicking employees and their families.

The Good Ship Lollypop provided a pleasant ride on Nepco Lake during the employee picnics.
Chapter 7: Supporting Industries
It’s Not All Papermaking

Lest the reader come to the conclusion that Port        Vulcan Chemicals’ Port Edwards plant traces its
Edwards is nothing other than a paper mill, it          local roots to 1967 when Wyandotte Chemical
should be pointed out that there are some other         Company built a plant in Port Edwards. Originally
local industries. Closely associated with the tim­      built as a 150­ton­per­day chlorine­caustic soda
ber heritage of the community is Bruener Timber         plant, the facility primarily served the Wisconsin
Products Co.                                            pulp and paper industry. Over the years, Vulcan
                                                        has expanded and diversified its product lines
In 1930, James Bruener Sr. started sawing lumber        and customer base while still serving the
using a gasoline engine saw rig. The first trees        Wisconsin pulp and paper industry.
to be cut into lumber came off his own property
located at the end of Bruener Avenue. In 1935,          In 1970, Wyandotte Chemical Company was
Bruener purchased a steam engine to power the           acquired by BASF and operated under the name
saw operations.                                         BASF Wyandotte Corporation. In 1973, an envi­
                                                        ronmental control plant was built and, in 1976,
In 1940, a local need for pallets and skids prompt­     four additional electrolytic cells were added,
ed Bruener to build a plant for the manufacturing       making a total of 24 cells and a plant capacity of
of those two items. Then in 1950, with his sons         200 tons per day of chlorine.
Bill and Jim Jr. joining him in the business, expan­
sion into the retail lumber business took place.        In February 1980,Vulcan Materials and its Vulcan
                                                        Chemicals division purchased the plant from
Although a devastating fire occurred in 1950, it        BASF Wyandotte. Vulcan added a hydrochloric
did not result in a demise of the business. Rather,     acid plant and entered the food grade muratic
the business was incorporated in 1957. Following        acid business. In 1983, Vulcan brought on line a
this, a new and larger shop was built in 1961, and      $1.5 million computerized anode adjusting system
an expansion to the retail lumber business facility     in the cell room. This improved efficiency and
was added in 1970.                                      reduced energy consumption considerably.

In 2001, Bill Bruener purchased the business from       Over the years, the plant has been recognized as
other family members. Current officers are Bill         a nationwide leader in the fields of safety and
Bruener, president; Dave Bruener, vice president;       environmental performance. A safety record of
and Dorothy Bruener, secretary/treasurer.               over 33 years without a lost­time accident has
                                                        earned Vulcan the honor of being the safest chlor­
The latest lines of business that Bruener has           alkali plant in the country. The 75 employees
entered into are landscape mulch, a by­product          have accumulated nearly 5 million safe work
of the pallet and skid business; and architectural      hours during the last 33 years.The Port Edwards
antiques for the building trade.                        plant has also earned the reputation as the leader
                                                        in environmental responsibility for a plant of its
                                                        type.Vulcan is deeply involved in its trade associ­
                                                        ation, the Chlorine Institute, and is committed to
                                                        share environmental “Best Practices” with the rest
                                                        of the industry.

                                                        In 1986, in an effort to diversify its product
                                                        line and take advantage of a growing market,
                                                        Vulcan began to convert some of its caustic soda
                                                        capacity to potassium hydroxide. This enabled
                                                        Vulcan to enter or expand into several new mar­
Jim Bruener Sr. poses along side of his steam powered   kets, including alkaline batteries, fertilizers,
sawmill. Although not sawing their own lumber,
Bruener still manufactures pallets and skids, as well
                                                        runway de­icers, and semiconductors. In 1994, a
as operates a retail lumber yard.                       potassium carbonate plant was built to supply the
This original Wyandotte Co. plant produced caustic soda and chlorine gas.After being acquired by Vulcan Industries,
it has greatly expanded its plant and product line.

high­quality television and computer screen glass            vice president. Before forming the corporation,
industry. Now, potassium­based products make                 Rick and Mike had worked together for another
up over two thirds of the plant’s capacity. In               local company since 1985.
2002, Vulcan is pursuing several projects to
expand capacity, increase flexibility, and improve           In 1989, when the corporation was formed,
safety and environmental performance. In addi­               Complete Control’s main focus was on tempera­
tion, several projects to improve energy efficiency          ture control contracting. By the following year,
have been completed and the plant is evaluating              substantial growth had taken place, and the
a state­of­the­art computer control system for the           company branched out with the addition of the
main production area.                                        Electrical Contracting Division and Electric Motor
                                                             Sales Division. More than a dozen employees
Vulcan and its employees are active participants             were added to the payroll.
in a variety of civic and charitable activities includ­
ing United Way, YMCA, volunteer fire depart­                 By 1995, with the acquisition of a new building
ments, and numerous local educational pro­                   and the addition of another 20 employees,
grams.                                                       Complete Control continues to grow and serve
                                                             central and north­central Wisconsin area busi­
COMPLETE CONTROL                                             nesses as an established temperature control
                                                             and electrical contractor.
Complete Control Incorporated was formed in
1989 by Mike Cramer, president, and Rick Rustad,             In 2002, Complete Control employs 50 employees.
However, during peak business seasons, this com­             pany at that time. Don’s son, Dan, joined the
plement of workers can expand to as many as 80.              company and used his training to digitally design
A fleet of 45 vehicles is required to serve their clients.   the placemats. This eliminated the need to hire
                                                             outside designers and enabled the creation of true
PRECISION GRADING AND EXCAVATING                             full­color work, with the possibility of millions
                                                             of colors. With the company taking a giant step
Included as a manufacturing business is Precision            forward technology­wise, and the potential for
Grading and Excavating, started by and owned                 growth now so great, Don felt that the company
by Mark Schroeder.The business was founded in                should be renamed.The name Neumark Company
May 1994. Since a humble beginning, Precision                was agreed upon by both Don and Dan.
now has a fleet of some 30 pieces of equipment,
ranging from pickup trucks to heavy lifting                  As Neumark’s placemat programs spread
cranes, front­end loaders and bulldozers.                    throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and
Employment is provided for 25 people on a                    around Atlanta, Georgia, so did the company’s
permanent basis, but has grown to as many as 40              reputation for high­quality full­color advertising.
during peak construction seasons.                            Thus, Neumark began designing full­color business
                                                             cards, postcards, menus, brochures and flyers.
The company specializes in site development for
sewage plants, water works, swimming pools, and              Volume grew to the point that a digital printing
parking lots. Sewer and water line installation and          press and an electronic paper cutter were pur­
roadway preparation work is performed all                    chased. But even these purchases could not keep
around the state. At the present time of this                pace with Neumark’s growing business. After a
writing, Precision has been engaged in a                     remodeling of their building in 1999, a state­of­
contract at Green Bay, where for over the past               the­art Ryobi printing press with computerized
year they have been doing site excavation work               color control was added. This opened the door to
at Lambeau Field.                                            an even broader product line. To reflect its expan­
                                                             sion into the complete printing industry, Neumark
NEUMARK DESIGN AND PRINTING                                  was renamed Neumark Design and Printing.

The newest manufacturing plant in the community              RENAISSANCE LEARNING
is Neumark, located in the Port Edwards
Shopping Center.                                             Although no longer located in Port Edwards, one
                                                             very successful industry that originated in a basement
The premise for Neumark Design and Printing                  on Wisconsin River Drive is Renaissance Learning,
began in 1982 when Don Derezinski, Neumark’s                 originally identified as Read Up. Founded by Judy
owner, started an advertising business named                 Paul in 1986, she was later joined in the operation
H.I.S. Having gained extensive knowledge of the              of the very successful business by her husband,
food service business through his ownership of a             Terry. After two moves to larger facilities, the
successful restaurant and bakery, combined with              company built its own elaborate building in
his many years of sales experience, Don consid­              Wisconsin Rapids and changed the name to
ered a business selling advertising on restaurant            Renaissance Learning, Inc. Renaissance Learning
placemats as a perfect merging of his skills. The            is a publicly traded stock corporation, its stock
first few placemats were produced in black and               being traded on the NASDAQ exchange.
white. Then, drawing on his color advertising
experience, and knowing that color attracts more             DAIRIES
attention and therefore achieves better results,
and at that time color advertising on placemants             Two dairies have provided daily delivery service
was a rarity, Don quickly made the switch to color.          to village residents. Unfortunately, the days of
                                                             daily milk delivery to your home have faded into
The year 1989 marked major changes to Don’s                  oblivion.
business. A computer, laser printer, and scanner
were purchased; a major investment for the com­              Karberg’s Dairy, the larger of the two, and Helke’s
Dairy, both provided “cow­to­home milk.” Both              “Alger Manufacturing Company? You don’t want
had their own herds of cows, bottling facilities           to hear about it. Well, there was this fellow
and delivery routes.Thus, complete control of the          named Rogers who worked in the machine shop
product was maintained.                                    of the Port Edwards mill. He was an early car
                                                           buff and I always shared the same interest.
Karberg offered a selection of milk, cream, and            Anyway, Rogers came up with an idea for easy
even chocolate milk, whereas Helke provided                starting of a Model T Ford in cold weather. He
only generic milk in a plain glass bottle. However,        designed a small burner that mounted over the
Helke supplemented his dairy business by raising           manifold of the engine. On a cold morning, the
strawberries for shipment to as far away as                owner squirted some gasoline into the heater, lit
Milwaukee and Chicago. Port Edwards youth                  it, and the fire was supposed to heat the engine.
earned a few pennies a day picking berries for a           I financed the invention, and we formed the
penny a quart.                                             Alger Manufacturing Company. We built about
                                                           a half dozen of the contraptions and burned up
ALGER MANUFACTURING CO.                                    about as many cars doing it. That was the end
                                                           of the partnership.”
There is one industry that does not rate the same
success status as these other businesses. Alger            We salute our community industries and the
Manufacturing Company was established by John              important role that they played in the growth and
Alexander and a partner by the name of Rogers in           development of our community.
the 1920s. John Alexander told the story this
way when asked about it on one occasion:

                Brochure used to sell the Alger auto engine heater.The gadget was not a success.
Chapter 8: Supporting Businesses
No More Steps
There was a period in the village’s background              standards. But let’s not forget that wages were as
when one had to climb four or five steps in order           low as $20 a month! Here are some of the bargains:
to enter a retail establishment.That’s because the
stores, mostly located on Market Street, had a base­        Snuff, 5 cents a box; eggs, 10 cents a dozen;
ment for the heating plant and storage purposes.            shoes, $1 a pair; ham, 8 cents a pound; molasses,
                                                            50 cents a gallon, and a bottle of sarsaparilla, $1.
All that changed in the early 1930s when
Reiland’s Drug Store built a brick building on              Then, in 1872, when Edwards built a new office
ground level.What an improvement!                           building on the site where his statue is located
                                                            today, he included a general store annex and a
However, retail merchandising goes back a long              post office annex on either side of this office
time before the 1930s. John Edwards opened the              structure. Of course, Edwards was the postmaster
first general store in the late 1840s. Just where           for the village.
the store was located is not revealed, but it most
likely was in the vicinity of his lumbering enter­          The blacksmith shop became a livery stable, an
prise at the south edge of the village.                     auto garage, and, finally, an apartment building.
                                                            The stores would be replaced by units in the new
A 1849 store ledger of Edwards indicates that               shopping center, which was dedicated in 1949.
prices were quite a bargain compared to today’s

Port Edwards drug store on Market Street was later          Charles Dixon, in his white apron, and his dog proudly
destined to become the village post office until moved      pose outside the new Dixon grocery store.This building
to make room for the present bank.                          was later used as a post office until torn down in 1950.

The White City store, Port barber shop, confectionery and livery stable on Market Street.The store and barber shop
were merged, the confectionery was converted into a residence, and the livery stable became a four­apartment hous­
ing unit.
Ice cream store located on Market Street about where          Ole Boger’s ice cream parlor before a pool hall was
the Port Edwards Credit Union is today. Selling ice cream,    added to the left side of the building. Located on
soft drinks and candy was apparently a lucrative busi­        corner of Second and Market Streets.
ness, as Port Edwards had three such businesses.

A rare old photograph showing the Port Edwards Hotel on the right. The building in the center is the annex, later
moved adjacent to the hotel. On the extreme left is John Edwards’ sawmill.

Port Edwards Hotel, annex and the White City cafeteria.The cafeteria was originally the mill barracks built during the
1919 strike. It was later converted into the Paper Inn. Photo is reproduced from a cracked glass plate negative.
The shopping center was a vision of John                      Over the years, Port Edwards business ventures
Alexander, who took a devoted interest in the                 have included a barber shop, hardware store,
community’s beauty and prosperity. After                      three grocery stores that operated simultaneously,
taking a group of local business people to                    two gas stations, a drug store, a doctor’s office,
Milwaukee to view a shopping center, they                     two meat markets, an ice delivery service, three
returned to Port Edwards where Alexander                      confectionery shops, a pool and billiard hall, an
announced that Nekoosa Edwards was prepared                   insurance agency, a root beer stand, a hotel, a
to make the shopping center a reality.                        coal dealer, and yes, even a speakeasy during the
                                                              prohibition years.
Prior to the building of the shopping center,
shoppers relied on phone­in orders and store                  Still prospering, as of this writing, are two bank­
delivery. There was no use for shopping carts.                ing establishments, a gas station/convenience
Buehler’s Store offered four deliveries each day.             store, an auto repair facility, a beauty shop, a
Gasoline, clothing, feed, and groceries were all              restaurant, a kennel club, and an instrument
available. Practically all purchases were charged             repair service.
to an open account. Settlement was made on the
mill’s payday when workers cashed their checks                It appears that we have regressed somewhat, but
at the general store, paid their account, and                 on the positive side, the businesses are all located
received a small bag of candy in appreciation.                on the ground floor. There are no longer any
                                                              steps to climb.

                                                              Built by Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company across the
                                                              street from the administration building, the station was
                                                              originally operated by “Babe” Millenbah standing in
It’s meal time in the Port Edwards Hotel as is evidenced      the photo. It is not often that one sees a cut stone
by the pre­set tables.                                        masonry gas station.

Port Edwards Shopping Center in 1949. Only three units are still being used for what they were originally planned for.
They are the municipal building, the dentist’s office and the beauty shop.
Chapter 9: Transportation
A Blot on our History
How did John Edwards and Henry Clinton arrive          So, how did Edwards, Clinton, Ver Bunker,
here in 1840? I wish I knew, but I can speculate.      LaVigne, Carrivou, Brenner, and other settlers
There were no railroads and no roads into the          arrive here? Well, most certainly by one of the
area. A military road had been built in 1833           aformentioned means. But sometime in the
from Prairie du Chien to Portage, Fond du Lac and      1850s, stage coaches began serving the tri­city
Green Bay. Chances are that this thoroughfare,         area. In fact, as early as 1857, three stage lines
about 60 miles south of Frenchtown, was con­           were competing for business, offering daily serv­
nected to our settlement via a Native American         ice to Portage and New Lisbon, as well as three
trail along the east bank of the Wisconsin River.      times a week to Kilbourn (Wisconsin Dells).
These Native American trails formed a network of
well­trampled pathways that were reported as
actually being ruts in the path due to their
frequent usage. The two­ or three­foot­wide trail
provided good passage for a pedestrian, a horse
and even an ox pulling a small wagon.

And, of course, the river provided an alternate
source of travel by canoes for passengers and flat
boats for the movement of heavier merchandise.
These flat boats were poled up and down the
river as far as Pointe Basse, now Nekoosa. Rapids
at that location made boat travel impossible from
thereon. A steam boat, the “Enterprise,” operated
for one season, connected the area with the
Mississippi River, but it could not cope with these
same rapids nor the ever­shifting sandbars of the      A wagon load of merchandise is claimed at the Port
lower Wisconsin River.                                 Edwards depot, most likely destined for Surprison
                                                       Brothers’ store.
The Native American trails grew wider as traffic
increased on them, and soon they were reclassi­        But in 1873, all this would become history.
fied as roads rather than trails. Now, stage coaches   The crude means of moving passengers and
and wagon trains could begin service to the            freight would be modernized by the building of
pioneer settlements. The river continued to            railroads to the community. Wisconsin Rapids
provide the only means of moving lumber out of         had a rail connection to Green Bay in 1872, and
this very productive pinery.                           Port Edwards benefited by this convenience a
                                                       year later, when Wisconsin Valley Railroad arrived
                                                       from New Lisbon. No longer would passengers
                                                       have to endure a journey of a whole day over
                                                       dusty, rough roads to get to a train connection.
                                                       Finally, lumber could be shipped to market year
                                                       round rather than just in the spring of the year,
                                                       when the river flow was at its peak.

                                                       During the next 75 years, Port Edwards experi­
                                                       enced a growth of rail service reaching its epito­
                                                       me in the middle 1940s. At that time, there were
                                                       two southbound and two northbound passenger
                                                       trains each day. One had the choice of traveling
John Edwards and L.M. Alexander used this elaborate
                                                       on the through sleeping cars to Milwaukee or
horse­drawn carriage prior to the time when autos      Chicago, or taking the streamlined Hiawatha day
were introduced. The carriage is being preserved by    train, which featured a parlor lounge car and full
the South Wood County Historical Corporation.          dining service in the diner.
The streamlined afternoon Hiawatha passenger train departing Port Edwards.

Not all trains passed through Port Edwards safely. This freight train had this little disaster just north of the Letendre
Avenue crossing.

Three railroads and an electric interurban line                 more profitable to consolidate service onto one
served the village. The “Northwestern,” the “Soo                track. This has resulted in one very busy line
Line” and the “Milwaukee Road” were the three                   through Port Edwards, now operated by Canadian
railroads, and although the “Milwaukee Road” was                National Railroad, successor to the aforemen­
the primary provider of passenger service, the                  tioned three lines.
other two lines did carry a coach on the rear of
their freight trains, offering mixed train service.             Incidentally, one of the original lines built
The service was limited to travel between                       through Port Edwards was named the Port
Marshfield and Nekoosa.                                         Edwards Centralia and Northern Railroad; nick­
                                                                named the PECAN line.
Rail passenger service continued until 1970,
when the last passenger train departed from Port                INTERURBAN LINE
Edwards. After that, freight service reigned on
these three lines, which were parallel from                     Shortly after the turn of the century in the early
Nekoosa to Wisconsin Rapids, their tracks being                 1900s, electric interurban, short line railroads
within a few yards of each other. It was only a                 became a popular venture. Port Edwards was no
simple matter of economics that it would be                     exception. In 1909, the Grand Rapids Street
The interurban street car stops for passengers opposite the Port Edwards school.

Railway built a line from Wisconsin Rapids to                what famous local site of entertainment was
Port Edwards, and on to Nekoosa. Hourly service              built on piers out into the river, while the floor
was provided. One could board the cars, which                was mounted on railroad car springs. Thus, a
ran down along the west side of Third Street, at             lively polka dance would cause the floor to
the school, at Market Street, and at the south               undulate, lending an added sensation to the
edge of the village at Edwards Avenue. Although              dancer’s delight.
there was a windbreak type shelter at Edwards
Avenue, it was more desirable to catch the cars at           The Grand Rapids Street Railway, later named
Market Street as one had the opportunity to wait             Wisconsin Rapids Street Railway, eventually came
in Ole Boger’s confectionery store, enjoying a few           under the control of Nekoosa Edwards Paper
pieces of his penny candy.                                   Company. Although the line carried nearly
                                                             600,000 passengers during the peak year of 1929,
To generate traffic, the interurban line built a             riders began to dwindle thereafter and, in 1930,
baseball diamond at the north limits of Port                 the line was operating in the red.Accordingly, the
Edwards,at a place known at Kipp’s Hill near Seneca          directors, in 1931, petitioned the Wisconsin
Road. By sponsoring ball games, additional rev­              Public Service Commission for authority to dis­
enue was generated by transporting passengers                continue service.
to the games. Likewise, a pavilion was built at
Moccasin Creek at the south village limit, provid­           The state said yes, provided that a bus service
ing additional income. Incidentally, this some­              would be started to replace the service offered by
                                                             the line.

                                                             Two of the cars were sent to Wausau, where they
                                                             operated for several additional years; one became
                                                             a storage shed at a local auto garage, and one
                                                             went to Cottonwood, where it became a summer

                                                             TRI­CITY BUS LINE

                                                             John Schenk purchased a bus from Nekoosa
                                                             Edwards Paper Company in 1931 and started the
Street care ticket for trip from Port Edwards to Nekoosa.    Tri­City Bus Line. The bus had been used by
Cost was 5 cents.
                                                             venture only survived a few years before being
                                                             taken over by Greyhound Bus Lines, who featured
                                                             Stevens Point as their closest stop to Port Edwards.

                                                             AIR SERVICE

                                                             Local village residents had the opportunity of
                                                             traveling to and from Chicago and Milwaukee, as
                                                             well as to Minneapolis for a few years. In the
                                                             late 1960s, one had the choice of four flights each
                                                             day to and from Chicago, offered from Alexander
This bus was used for tri­city passenger service after       Field via Mid State Airline. Later, American
the street car line was abandoned. It is shown here in a     Central and finally, Lakeland Airline, would take
scene at Alexander Field where it met the Nepco plane.       over the convenient service. However, the last air

NEPCO to connect with their Ford Tri­motor air­
plane at the local airport. The bus had become a
surplus item when NEPCO sold the plane during
the depression years of the early 1930s. The bus
line, like its predecessor, the street car line, provid­
ed hourly service to Nekoosa and Wisconsin

Schenk transferred ownership to a successor,
and the service continued until just after World
War II.With gasoline being no longer rationed, the
private automobile became a threat to the bus line
and, accordingly, service was discontinued in the
late 1940s.
                                                             The demise of the Ford airplane came during a tornado
Cardinal Bus Lines provided daily bus service to             in Iowa when the plane was picked up by the wind
Milwaukee for a few years in the 1950s, but this             and dropped, resulting in this sad mess.

To promote the sale of their paper, Nekoosa Edwards purchased this Ford Tri­motor airplane. It brought customers to
the mill for a first­hand view of papermaking.
operator, Lakeland, found out that selling his land­        of the village enjoyed the convenience of home
ing privileges at Chicago O’Hare Airport would              delivery of most of their needs.Tony Newman Jr.
bring in more revenue than passengers and,                  operated a drayage service for the general stores
accordingly, he sold his airport landing slots,             in Port Edwards. When Tony decided that there
thereby leaving the area without service.                   was more money to be earned in a tavern ven­
                                                            ture, the stores all acquired a truck and provided
Airplane service to Port Edwards really goes back           their own delivery service.
to 1929, when Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company
invested $50,000 in a “monstrous airship.” It was           Dry cleaning and laundry pickup, ice delivery, and
not to be a common carrier, but rather it flew              milk delivery supplemented the general store
around the Midwest, bringing potential cus­                 delivery.
tomers to Port Edwards to see the NEPCO mills.
Twelve passengers were carried at a speed of                So what do we have to boast about today in the
100 miles per hour in the all­metal plane built by          field of transportation? Nothing—except a well­
the Ford Auto Company. Sold in 1933 to the                  maintained road and street system and an abun­
chief pilot who used it for barnstorming flights,           dance of automobiles. Yes, the auto, a modern
the airship was finally broken in half during a             convenience that is available to everyone, had
tornado in Iowa, sometime in the 1940s.                     dealt the final blow to what was a convenient,
                                                            efficient system of passenger transportation.
DELIVERY SERVICE                                            We’ve regressed in this field, but we are not alone.
                                                            It’s happened all over the country. Someday it
Already alluded to in a previous chapter, residents         may all return.

Port Edwards streets were not as passable as today’s hard­surface roads.This summer photo depicts the road condi­
tions, even in that season of the year. Note the chains on rear wheels, evidently to get through the mud.
Chapter 10: Utilities
Making Village Life More Comfortable
There are hundreds of communities around the             ing equipment, but rather purchased its needs
country that do not enjoy the conveniences of            from the parent company, Nekoosa Edwards
full­service utilities. In most cases, Port Edwards      Paper Co.
had the advantage of these services long before
many other cities of our size had them.                  At first, the company was going to string their
                                                         distribution wires on the existing telephone
ELECTRICITY                                              poles, but the local telephone company, after
                                                         thinking it over, decided that electric lines and
The story of the electric light in this area dates       telephone lines were not compatible on the
back to 1896, when John Edwards Manufacturing            same post, and that the electric lines would
company built their paper mill. One of the river         interfere with good telephone service.
flumes which contained the water turbines for
powering the mill equipment was also equipped            To supply the electric needs of the mills and the
with a small water turbine for driving a direct­         village, as well as the street car line, the paper mill
current generator. The power generated was               operated water powered generators and steam
used for lighting purposes only in and about the         turbine generators. The electricity supplied to
mill, including the hotel and the main office of         the utility and passed on to the consumer was
the company.                                             220 volt direct current. However, this was
                                                         changed after just one year to the standard
A very short time later, company president and           110 volt alternating current. The reason for the
general manager, L.M. Alexander, had a line              change was twofold. First of all, as lines were
installed to his home from the mill. This line,          extended further from the mill, the direct current
about a block long, was the beginning of a public        had a tendency to drop in voltage. The further
utility venture on the part of the paper company.        one was from the source, the lower was their volt­
                                                         age. Secondly, it was just not compatible with
As additional homes were connected to the lines,         other electric systems.An inconvenience was put
NEPCO thought seriously of forming a public              on patrons who moved into or out of the area
electric utility. Incorporated in 1913, Nekoosa          since their appliances, lamps, etc., required
Edwards Light and Power Company received a               conversion from one voltage to another.
franchise from the village of Port Edwards to
service the village and surrounding area.                The 1914 annual report of the utility stated that
                                                         they were servicing nine customers who were
From that date on, the lines of N.E.L.&P. Co. were       not being metered! However, they promised to
pushed outward. Port Edwards, Nekoosa,                   correct this by connecting six of them, leaving
Cranmoor and the towns of Grand Rapids and               only three “charity” cases; the Community
Seneca all benefited by the company’s service.           church, the village band stand, and the street car
The utility company owned no electric generat­           waiting station.

                                                         An interesting side note is the fact that electric
                                                         street lights in the village were turned off at mid­
                                                         night. In winter months, they were turned back
                                                         on at 6 a.m.

                                                         With ever­increasing demands placed on it by the
                                                         utility and mill expansion, NEPCO found that
                                                         even with the addition of a new hydro­electric
                                                         facility in Port Edwards, the building of the
                                                         Centralia hydro plant, and the Nepco Lake unit,
                                                         there just was not enough electricity to meet all
                                                         these demands.Accordingly, in 1952, NEPCO sold
                                                         its utility franchise, all transmission lines, a few
A Nekoosa Edwards Light and Power utility truck, their   pieces of office equipment and seven motor
only vehicle, circa 1920s.
vehicles to Wisconsin Power and Light company,
now Alliant Energy Co. On January 2, 1953, the
39­year history of the utility came to an end when
they filed articles of dissolution with the state.


The days of the kitchen sink pump began their
demise in 1922 when the paper mill installed a
water collection system and began the distribu­
tion of water to the village residents. Although
some of those original lines are still in use today,
they have been deeded to the village.

Actually, an earlier system was installed in 1909.
At that time, water was taken directly from the
river and was used for fire protection only.

                                                             What appears as a rocket poised for take off is really a
                                                             new water standpipe under construction in Ripple
                                                             Creek Park. Karberg's old dairy barn is at the right of
                                                             the tower.

                                                             In 1922, a circular spring house was built at the
                                                             site now occupied by the new wood chip plant
                                                             just west of the mill. Two perforated pipes
                                                             extended out from the spring house, a distance
                                                             of several hundred feet. Collected water was
                                                             drained into a cistern inside the building from
The original supply of potable water for the village         where it was pumped through the distribution
came from this spring and well house located at the          lines. There was no standpipe, but the reliable,
southern edge of the village. Two lateral, perforated        constantly running pumps maintained a pressure
pipes extended from the round building, collecting           for the system to function.
water and draining it into a cistern in the building.

Treatment plant for the treatment of village water is shown under construction.The facility was abandoned before it
was even paid for! The spring and Nepco Lake water was no longer being used, and the new source did not require
the extensive treatment provided by this plant.
In 1945, a stand pipe tank was erected at the foot­   treatment plant. A new, enlarged treatment plant
ball field, and in 1969, a second such elevated       was built in 1970.
tank was built at Ripple Creek Park.
                                                      Garbage collection has been a village perk for the
In 1949, due to increased demand and the aban­        entire life of the village. The first service was
donment of one collector pipe due to high iron        provided by John Gavre and Tony Newman Sr.,
content of the water, Nepco Lake water was            and John’s two horses, Maude and Claude. In the
pumped into the system via a connection to the        summer months, they used a horse­drawn wagon,
filter plant at the Port Edwards mill. This           but switched to a sled in winter. The same two
increased use of surface water dictated that the      men and team of horses were responsible for
village look at more comprehensive treatment. In      grading the dirt streets of the village during
1964, a complete treatment plant was built near       summer months.
the original spring house.
                                                      Deposition of the collected trash, garbage and
In 1982, the village conducted a search for water     ashes was in a village dump located where the
and found it west of the village where five wells     school football field is located today. What
have been bored. As of 2002, three of these           treasures came from this dump. As a boy, I
wells operate daily, while the fourth one is on       made periodic trips to the dump to look for old
standby for emergencies and summer use when           buggy wheels, glass jugs to shoot at with a
demand warrants. The water from these wells is        BB gun, and boards to build a clubhouse.
of a quality that it needs minimal treatment and,
accordingly, the pump house and treatment plant       A dump truck and relocation of the dump to the
have been demolished. The treatment plant was         island replaced the “residential” dump. In subse­
de­commissioned and taken out of use even             quent years, the collection and disposal, includ­
before the loan taken out to build the plant was      ing a very successful recycling program, was
paid off.The water pumping, treatment and distri­     contracted with a commercial landfill service.
bution systems have been operated as a public­
owned utility since January 1948, when the village
made it a village­owned utility.


Prior to 1940, there was a waste collecting system
in the village, but the sanitary sewage and street
runoff water all traveled by a common pipeline to
the river. In 1938, the village took steps to treat
the waste before discharging it to the river.
With $15,545 from the Federal Public Works
Administration (PWA), along with a bond issue of
$15,000 on the part of the village, a new sewage
treatment plant was built just west of the Port
Edwards paper mill.

The plant was not designed to treat the volume of
street runoff that was being collected by the com­
mon collection system and, in 1940, again with a
PWA grant of $36,000, a separation of the sanitary
sewage and street runoff water was made. New          Port Edwards believed in recycling of waste materials
                                                      long before other communities.The first effort consisted
lines were laid about the village, and the old        of placing color­coded drums behind the municipal
system was converted entirely to a “storm” sewer      building. Village residents brought their recyclables to
system, discharging to the river, while the new       the containers. Often their enthusiasm caused an over­
sanitary system funneled its contents to the new      flowing of the drums.
TELEPHONE SERVICE                                      With the advent of a dial system about 1950, the
                                                       need for the friendly voice of the central operator
Our first lines of communication with the outside      was no longer needed. Today, the exchange
world came in 1873 when Western Union tele­            switching gear is located in a unit of the
graph lines were erected along the tracks of the       shopping center.
new railroad. The dots and dashes brought us
world news and provided a means of sending             GAS AND CABLE TV
personal messages when the added advantage of
speed was needed.                                      These two services operate under franchises
                                                       granted by the village. Gas, primarily for heating,
The Nekoosa Paper Company built their own              was installed as early as 1934 when the Wiscon­
telephone line to Grand Rapids in 1893. This           sin Rapids Gas Co. started tank service in the
private line most likely passed through Port           village. In later years, the business was sold to the
Edwards, making service available to the John          Wisconsin Gas Company, which installed a
Edwards Manufacturing Company office. At Grand         pipeline distribution system.
Rapids, the line connected with the Bell System.
                                                       Cable television came to Port Edwards in 1973
In 1895, to the annoyance of the Bell company,         and, at that time, the telephone company deemed
Wood County Telephone Company was incorpo­             it practical for the TV lines to be installed on their
rated, and their lines were already serving village    posts. Today, service is rendered by Charter
homes and businesses when the village was              Communications and Wood County Telephone
incorporated 100 years ago.                            Company.

Telephone connecting service was made by a             STEAM
“central operator” who connected your line to
the line of the phone being called. For several        A unique service in our village was the providing
years, the central office was located in a private     of steam from the mill to several businesses,
home, the family members taking turns in making        churches, the school and residences. When the
the connections. This necessitated one member          high school was built in 1932, a line was buried
of the family sleeping adjacent to the switch­         along Second Street from the mill boilers to the
board. Although telephone numbers were sim­            new school, where it was used for heating and
ple, often being one single digit, people did not      hot water. Another line ran along Wisconsin
have to know a phone number. All that was              River Drive, serving several residences there.
necessary was to tell the operator that you wanted
to talk to Mary Smith, and the operator knew           If you were fortunate enough to live along one of
the number and made the connection.                    these lines, it was a convenient means of heating
                                                       a home and providing hot water year round with­
In the late 1940s, the telephone company moved         out building a fire in a laundry stove during the
a small, garage­sized building into the village,       summer months. Many secondary lines branched
which would serve as their central exchange            off the main Second Street line.
office, as well as provide a small storage room.
Fires were reported to the operator who, in turn,      In 1956, deterioration of the pipelines, resulting
notified the mill to blow the mill fire whistle.       in a loss of steam, compelled NEPCO to look at
Another service provided by the operator was           the merit of continuing the operation.The mill felt
the task of calling all subscribers in the spring of   that repairs to the lines were not its obligation,
the year and advising them to boil their drinking      and the school felt that they could install their
water as the flood waters from the river had           own heating plant at a lower cost. Accordingly,
invaded the pump house!                                the service was abandoned. The pipes are still
                                                       buried where they were originally installed.
A post office can be considered a utility of a sort, and these two envelopes show a sharp contrast in the development
of postal service in the village. One from 1860 was rerouted to John Edwards at Frenchtown.The other is from 1938
and promoted airmail service from Port Edwards.
Chapter 11: Police and Fire
Protecting Life and Property
With the formal organization of the village,            by Dave Bubolz and Joe Zurfluh. Additional help
there came the enactment of laws and ordi­              is provided by part­time auxiliary officers.
nances. To enforce these municipal ordinances,
as well as state and federal laws, a police depart­     When the medical arts building in the shopping
ment was needed.                                        center lost its doctor, part of the quarters was
                                                        converted into a police office.
Although the appointment of a constable can
hardly be called a police department, the village
fathers, in 1902, did establish the position of
village constable. E. Burrows was appointed the
village constable, sometimes referred to as village
marshall. For some unknown reason (could it be
due to an outburst of crime in River City?), retail
merchant,W. A. Brazeau, was appointed as deputy
constable. In 1908, George Scott was appointed
to the position of constable,and he held the position
for over 20 years at a starting salary of $50 a year.

In 1907, the village authorized the purchase of a
gun for his use. However, it is doubtful that he ever
used it other than doing away with stray dogs.          Two pails, two lanterns and two ladders are the
                                                        standard equipment for Port Edwards’ first ladder
A jail facility was made available to the constables
for the benefit of their “criminals.” Yes, Port         Bucket brigades and barrels of water placed on
Edwards did have a jail. A room in the basement         roofs of the Edwards sawmill were the first means
of the town hall was outfitted with bars on the         of fire protection in the village. However, by
windows and a secure, locked door. Other than           1880, the Edwards enterprise had a steam­operat­
being used for rare overnight shelter for vagrants      ed pump that could pump water from the river,
and sobering up the village drunks, the facility        thereby protecting the wooden structure housing
was seldom used. Nevertheless, it lent an air of        the sawmill and the lumber piles. Evidently, a
mystique and speculation to the youth of the            few hydrants or outlets were installed at the
village as they cautiously looked through the bars      south end of the village, thereby protecting
of the window.                                          Edwards’ home, office and the Port Edwards
                                                        Hotel. Village records indicate that a hose cart
The village constable arrangement served the            was acquired in 1900 and, two years later, it was
village satisfactorily until 1961, when it was          placed under jurisdiction of the village Marshall.
determined that a full­time officer was warranted.      There was no organized fire brigade as yet.
Ted Stewart, who was a constable at the time,           Several of these hose carts were acquired over
accepted the position of police officer. Using          the next few years and were placed around the
their personal cars, Stewart and some part­time         village at strategic locations. There was one in
deputies maintained law and order in the                the log yard, one at the town hall where there
community.                                              also was a ladder cart, and one at the school
                                                        house at the north end of the village. Some of the
But as the village expanded in population and           hose carts ended up as playground equipment or
area, the police department expanded likewise. A        in less glorious service as sewer flushing equip­
car was purchased to be used exclusively as a           ment. One is preserved at The Alexander House.
patrol car. Two additional officers have since
been hired so that round­the­clock and weekend          It has been noted earlier in this book that a water
coverage can be provided. With more than one            distribution system had been installed in some
officer, it was only logical that one person be in      parts of the village in 1909 when a pressurized
command and accordingly, Stewart was named as           supply of river water was supplied via NEPCO’s
the first Chief of Police in Port. He was followed      new elevated stand tank.
                                                             Nekoosa Edwards Light and Power Company. It
                                                             served out its last days as a utility truck to be used
                                                             for the village’s mosquito abatement program.

                                                             Supplementing the original Rio truck was the
                                                             famous and somewhat notorious 1912 Model 66
                                                             Pierce Arrow truck. Famous because it had a rep­
                                                             utation of not starting in time of need. But once
                                                             started,its pump and engine would not take a back
                                                             seat to any other equipment in the tri­city area.

One of several hose carts that were strategically placed     It was notorious and famous in other respects.
around the mill and in the village.                          Originally purchased as a touring car for the L.M.
                                                             Alexander family, it carried its owners to many
Following the disastrous log yard fire in 1922,              a vacation around the Midwest and even as far
L.M. Alexander appeared before the village board             as Yellowstone Park. Local Boy Scouts, school
and outlined a proposal for the organization of a            groups, and other civic organizations were
badly needed volunteer fire department. The                  provided transportation by Alexander’s generous
group would be jointly sponsored by NEPCO and                loan of the car. Then in 1919, during the bitter
the village. In 1923, NEPCO donated a 1916 Rio               strike at NEPCO, it was used as a carrier for trans­
“Speed Wagon” truck, as well as a garage to                  porting non­striking workers to and from the
house it in. Outfitting it to fire truck status was          mill. It was nicknamed the “Green Scab Wagon”
done by the mill and fire department personnel.              and incurred many a flat tire during its infamous
The new department was named the Nepco Port                  role during the strike. Sold to an auto dealer in
Edwards Volunteer Fire Department. Alexander                 1922, it was purchased for the fire department to
suggested the use of the mill whistle as a fire              be converted into a fire truck. The village’s share
alarm to summon firefighters in time of need.                of the expense was $750, and that amount was
                                                             used primarily for outfitting the vehicle with
In 1924, a new truck chassis was purchased. The              proper equipment. Two soda/acid foam fire
Dodge vehicle was again rigged as a fire truck by            extinguishers were rented from Wisconsin Rapids
the mill maintenance department. It replaced the             at an expense of $25 annually. The truck was re­
original Rio Truck, which was given to the                   tired in 1947 and sold to an antique auto collector.

Village residents could sleep soundly at night knowing they were being protected from fire by the Reo Speed Wagon.
The famous Pierce Arrow poses for a formal portrait.

The Diamond T’s stream of water could easily reach the top of a house in Port Edwards, provided the young boy was
there to help handle the hose.
In 1937, a new Diamond T pumper with a 200 gal­                   2001* Dodge brush truck. 360­gallon­per­
lon tank on it was purchased. This unit was sold                  minute pump. 300­gallon storage tank.
to the Port Edwards Lions Club, who repainted it
from fire engine red to passion purple.                           (*) Denotes equipment in use in 2002

Other trucks that have been used or are still in               And in case you are interested in donating a new
use are as follows:                                            truck to the village, the cost of the 1996 Spartan
                                                               Darley truck was nearly $200,000!
   1948 Mack Waterous 500­gallon­per­minute
   pumper. Cost $10,148 shared by NEPCO                        In 1955, the fire department was severed from its
   and village.                                                ties with NEPCO and became the Port Edwards
                                                               Volunteer Fire Department.The department’s trucks,
   1961 Ford brush truck. 200­gallon tank.
                                                               which had been housed in a garage addition on
   Outfitted by department workers.
                                                               the rear of the mill office building, found a new
   1963 International American 1,000­gallon tank.              home in the form of a garage on Wisconsin River
   Purchased from the Town of Port Edwards.                    Drive.The garage was partially funded by NEPCO.
                                                               Then in 1987, a more spacious garage was built in
   1971* Ford Welch 1,000 gallon­per­minute
                                                               conjunction with a city garage on Letendre Avenue.
   1987* Chevrolet personnel carrier donated                   Port Edwards has contracts to serve portions of
   by Wisconsin Power and Light Company.                       the townships of Port Edwards, Cranmoor and
                                                               Seneca, since those townships have no fire
   1989* Ford Darley 1,000­gallon­per­minute
                                                               department of their own.
   pumper. 1,000­gallon on­board storage tank.
   1996* Spartan Darley 1,250­gallon­per­                      The first fire chief in the village was E.P. Gleason,
   minute pumper. 1,000­gallon storage capacity.               followed by R. Grode, R. Foth, and presently Jim

For years, the fire station was quartered in the mill office building. Here, the garages are being converted into a new
NEPCO laboratory. A new fire station was built about 200 yards west of this.
Chapter 12: Health and Welfare
Caring for the Babies, Seniors and Those In Between
A viable community has to be a healthy commu­               school nurse. Her office was in the school
nity. The pioneers of our village relied on the             building, and she was only a part­time employee,
doctors of Wisconsin Rapids and Nekoosa to                  but she made house calls!
make the horse and buggy trip to Port Edwards to
tend to a patient in need, but we did have the              New first­time mothers, students with sore
benefit of house calls.                                     throats, and old­age problems for the seniors
                                                            were some of the cases she dealt with.
The village enjoyed the security of a resident
practicing physician for a few years; the service           After several years of this convenient, dual
being provided first by Doctor Bigford, to be               arrangement, the position was taken over by the
followed by Doctors Backus and Glenn. What                  school, and the title is now referred to as the
served as their village “clinic” is now the Port            school nurse.
Edwards police department office.
                                                            In perusing the minutes of the village board, it
The incorporating fathers of the community, as              is interesting to note that in 1914, the village
one of their first orders of business, appointed            authorized money for the purchase of a supply of
a health officer. The honor was bestowed on                 “antitoxin.” Just what it was for is not stated, but
Doctor R.C. Aylward of Wisconsin Rapids. For                could have been for tetanus, flu, or scarlet fever;
several years thereafter, the position was filled by        all three being prevalent at the time. Many of
a doctor until the departure of Doctor Glenn,               our early serums were developed in horses and,
after which it became a function of the Village             accordingly, were sometimes called horse serum.
Board’s Health Committee. One of the duties of a
city health officer is to inspect taverns for proper        In the field of dentistry, the village blacksmith
washing of their beverage glasses. Port Edwards             was reputed to be the tooth extractor. Whether
not having a tavern is probably the reason why              this is fact or fiction is questionable, but Port
there is no health officer currently appointed by           Edwards had its first resident dentist in 1934
the village president.                                      when Dr. Oliver Koonz hung out a shingle on the
                                                            front of the drug store. His practice was confined
The paper mill had a nurse on their staff, and her          to a small room in the back of the drug store.
jurisdiction often extended beyond the confines             From there, the practice moved into the new
of the mill fence. She was often consulted by mill          shopping center in 1949. For a short time, the vil­
workers for diagnosis and remedies for minor                lage enjoyed the service of two resident dentists,
afflictions. Even members of families sometimes             Dr. Killoren and Dr. John Cronkrite, who is still
made a trip to visit the mill nurse. Perhaps that’s         practicing in a newly furbished office.
the reasoning behind the decision that the school
and the village made when they hired a village­             Although John Alexander was interested in estab­

Wood County's “poor farm” was located in the village of Port Edwards.The facility was replaced by the more modern
accommodation and the name changed to Home For The Aged.
                                                             The economic welfare of village residents
                                                             seemed to be a bigger concern for our village
                                                             fathers during two periods in our background
                                                             when there was a surge of village welfare cases.
                                                             One was during World War II and the other was
                                                             during the Great Depression of the early 1930s.
                                                             Accordingly, the village president appointed
                                                             a “poor committee” in 1912. One of the first
                                                             cases involved a family. The mother and her chil­
                                                             dren were given a dollar a day for food and
                                                             clothing, plus their rent and heating fuel was
                                                             paid for. The father was away at the war front
                                                             or may have been a victim of the war.

                                                             Here are some other examples of what the village
Dr. O.A. Backus attends to a patient in the mill first aid
                                                             did for those less fortunate citizens. Remember
room. The attending nurse often weighed babies and
handed out medications for sore throats.                     that amounts reflect the monetary values of the
lishing a hospital in Port Edwards after World
War II, his dreams shifted to endowing Riverview             1915: Village payment of grocery store bill for the
Hospital instead. However, Edgewater Haven                   (blank) family in the amount of $29.13. Money
Nursing Home has been a village reality since 1885.          to be taken from Pauper Fund.

Originally built on Seneca Road, the large white             1915: Request from a widow for money to move
house, plus several adjacent farm buildings, was             to Cornell, Wis. Village president authorized to
called the “poor farm” for a number of years.                make decision.
And a farm it was, for they raised their own crops
and dairy products, selling what they could not              1916: A request by a woman of village for child
use internally to support the home.                          support was denied until the poor committee
                                                             could investigate the case.
The poor farm built a new building in 1928, and
the name was changed to the “poor house.”                    1917: Village will rent a house for family but
However, in subsequent years, the name was                   will compel the older children to help support
changed to Edgewater Haven Nursing Home.                     the family.
Two major additions have been made to the
original building, and the facility provides                 1918: Village agrees to pay father’s hotel bill
residential living for elderly, as well as rehabilita­       while his family is quarantined due to scarlet fever.
tion services.
                                                             And finally, the case of where the village presi­
It is interesting to note that back in the 1920s             dent and the poor committee took it upon them­
and 1930s, the home maintained a zoo for the                 selves to find a sanitarium for a father, a home for
entertainment of the residents, as well as village           the mother, and an orphanage for two children.
residents. Among the animals on display were a               Let us reflect upon our blessings!
couple bear, deer, monkeys, pheasants, wolves
and squirrels. With a little persuasion, Edge­               Here are a couple entries from the depression
water’s custodian, Jim Case, would enter the bear            years:
cage and wrestle the bear. It was a popular
pastime for village residents to take a picnic               1932: An interest­free loan is made to a family
lunch to Edgewater and enjoy the antics of the               for their needs.The family is allowed to work off
bear and monkey.                                             the payments by doing school or village labor.
NEPCO Court Apartments are under construction as shown here.The building is being erected on the former site of
the village band stand, Randrup’s root beer stand, and the village hall.

1931: A village “milk fund” was set up with
Karberg Dairy to supply free milk for children of
needy families of the village.

Most of these responsibilities have been taken
over by the county through their social service
programs. But let us never forget that there are
less fortunate people than ourselves who need
our help.

One might question the health and welfare of mill conditions as portrayed by these pictures. Drinking water was
dispensed from a barrel and served to mill workers from a common cup. And certainly a barefoot mill employee
doesn’t speak highly of a “healthy,” safe working condition.
Chapter 13: Government
Bringing It All Together
Port Edwards was 62 years of age before it was                  President        O.W. Dodge
decided that it had been a part of Centralia and,               Treasurer        E.B. Garrison
later, the Town of Port Edwards long enough. So,                Clerk            H. Miscoll
in May 1902, W.A. Brazeau, Ernest Eichstead,                    Trustees         Mundinger, Bradner, Brennen,
E.B. Garrison, George Brazeau, and A.E. Gurdy                                    Boyle, Shellhammer, Noel
signed a petition that was sent to the Wood
County board indicating a desire to incorporate                 For many years thereafter, the village president
as a village. With a population of 404 people,                  would be a“mill man”and was unofficially chosen
which included 19 residents of the “poor farm,”                 from mill management. Village presidents that
the area to be included in the village limits was               have served their community throughout its exis­
1,874­1/2 acres. This area would be increased in                tence include the following. How many do you
later years when the property surrounding                       recall?
Nepco Lake was annexed to the village. It is inter­
esting to note that 415 people were included in                 O.W. Dodge; W.G. McNaughton; C.A. Jasperson;
the original census in June 1902. It appears that               N. Nash; L. Sigler;W. Laidig; C. Guelcher; R.Aubey;
11 additional people were enrolled between the                  M. Buehler; M. Clement;W. Karberg; G.Allworden.
May census and the June 9 roll.
                                                                Of these, Jasperson served the longest, while
The county appointed H. Miscoll as a clerk and                  Buehler served only three months to fill a vacan­
charged him with conducting a village referen­                  cy upon the death of R.Aubey.
dum vote on the matter of incorporation.
Accordingly, on June 1, 1902, said vote was held.               A town hall was built facing the river on
The notice of voting was posted in the office of                Wisconsin River Drive, on property owned by
the John Edwards Manufacturing Company, the                     L.M. Alexander. In 1907, the building was moved
corner of the boarding house, on the side of the                to First Street, near Market Avenue. In 1940, it was
Brazeau store, and on the telephone post outside                sold for $110 and moved once again to Eighth
the Jarvis house. Only 64 votes were cast, and the              Street in Wisconsin Rapids, where it became
results showed 57 people in favor of the proposal               Johnny’s Rapids Inn. With the loss of their
and 7 against incorporation.                                    council chambers, the board met in the school
                                                                Community Room or in the office of NEPCO.
A charter was granted by the state, and the village             Efforts to build a new community hall were
of Port Edwards was born.The next thing was to                  brought forward in 1918, but war conditions
elect officers and a board to administer the                    made it inadvisable to undertake the project at
village’s affairs. The following were elected and               that time. A municipal office would become a
without opposition:                                             reality in 1949 when the shopping center was built.

Wisconsin River Drive.The building on the left is the village hall. After two relocations, it now serves as a pub.
A very early map of Frenchtown.The first sawmill is at the end of Market Street.
                                                        The election board poses outside the town hall in Port
                                                        Edwards. Left to right: Carlson, Hinkley, Ross, Boland,
                                                        Madden, Deyo and Brazeau. (1925)

                                                        funds were made available to assist with the
                                                        financial burden of the project.Washington Street
                                                        was the village’s boulevard that ran up to the
                                                        front door of the new school building.

                                                        Each summer, a carload of flake calcium chloride
                                                        was purchased by the village and made available
                                                        to the property owners, without cost, so that they
Everyone had a good time except the pig. (1922)         might sprinkle it on the dusty roads in front of
                                                        their homes. The chemical absorbs water from
With good government comes taxes. The new               the humidity in the air, thereby keeping the sand
village board levied a tax rate to raise $900 for the   and dust moist and preventing it from blowing
year 1904.That’s all it cost to run the village that    around.
year. But one year later in 1905, the village budget
went up an unheard 11.1 percent as the village          John Edwards Manufacturing Company’s teams
decided that $1,000 was needed to operate effi­         pulled the grader/snow plow that maintained the
ciently. It would be nice to have that village          streets. Even after the retirement of teams and the
budget today! But then, all things are relevant.        debut of trucks, NEPCO still took care of the vil­

Nothing has been said about streets, an important
subject in any municipal government. Port
Edwards had streets surfaced with dirt and dust
until the late 1930s when a blacktopping
program was undertaken. Up until then, the
only hard surface streets were Market, Edwards
Avenue, Third Street, Letendre, and a few blocks
on the extreme south end of Wisconsin River

Third Street and Edwards Avenue were paved
with concrete since they carried traffic for State
Highway 13. Washington Street and Wisconsin
River Drive were the first streets to receive atten­
tion in the blacktopping program. Wisconsin             The NEPCO“cat”was used to plow village streets when
River Drive because it would become the new             horses and a grader could not cope with the drifts.
Highway 73 through the village. Hence, state
                                                          spray the exposed water in swamps, marshes and
                                                          catch basins. The first attack was to drain wet­
                                                          lands, of which there were several acres right in
                                                          the residential portion of the village. Then what
                                                          could not be drained by ditching was sprayed
                                                          with the oil and insecticide mixture. In 1952, a
                                                          fog applicator was purchased and every other
                                                          week, and sometimes every week if conditions
                                                          warranted, the fog “crept like little cat feet,”
                                                          (Frost – The Fog) over the village.

                                                          Eventually the swamps were dried up, the marsh­
                                                          es were filled in for homebuilding lots, and a ban
                                                          on the use of DDT insecticide brought an end to
                                                          the program. Yes, this was all done under the
                                                          watchful eye of the State Board of Health, the
                                                          forerunner of the DNR.
Mosquitoes beware! The fogger and its crew are out to
get you.                                                  In 1946, the village engineering and administra­
                                                          tive workload became more than the mill cared
lage streets up to 1940. A company Caterpillar            to handle and, accordingly, a village engineer was
tractor did the snowplowing when snow became              engaged. Harry Sands was hired, and he was fol­
too much for the trucks to handle.                        lowed by Don Krasny and now, Joe Terry.
                                                          Gradually the supportive work that had been per­
Mosquito control was a village project that was           formed for many years by NEPCO started to
unique to Port Edwards. The controversial pro­            diminish.The mill whistle was silenced except for
gram was begun in 1946 and was jointly financed           fire calls, and, eventually that would be replaced
by NEPCO and the village. The program had its             by sirens. Port Edwards was coming of age. No
supporters, such as those who considered it a big         longer did all of the mill workers live in the
relief from the pesty insect. “Be sure to slow            village, and likewise, no longer was the mill being
down when you drive the fogger past my house.”            operated by all Port Edwards residents.
But there were also the opponents who claimed
it was a detriment to birds and fish. “You are            To condense six volumes of village board minutes
killing all the insects and, as a result, the birds are   into a single chapter does not do justice to the
leaving town due to lack of food.”                        works and activities of the village boards. But
                                                          those minutes are available in the municipal
The program started out by inheriting the old             office. They are public information, and the
Dodge fire truck. Each morning, with its crew and         village staff in the village office will retrieve them
its load of oil and insecticide, the men would            from the vault.
Chapter 14: Parks
Have Some Fun in a Village Park
Our little village of roughly 2,000 inhabitants can            But John Alexander was not completely satisfied
take pride in offering six parks to the public, and            with the outdoor pool concept and dreamed of
one of them is a county park no less. It is not the            an indoor pool. In 1957, his dreams were realized
purpose of this chapter to describe the many fine              when he undertook the financing and construc­
features or locations of these parks, but rather to            tion of the YMCA facility.
acquaint the reader with some Port Edwards park
history.                                                       His father, Lewis, also envisioned an extravagance
                                                               of a park for the village. His dream incorporated
It is quite obvious how Edwards­Alexander                      tennis courts, baseball and football fields, floral
Memorial Park received its name.The entire four­               gardens with walking paths around them, picnic
city­block area was the L.M. Alexander estate. It              area, and a separate playground for boys and girls.
was given to the village for park purposes upon                It was all to be located on the island across the
the death of Mrs.Alexander. In subsequent years,               mill pond.A pedestrian bridge was built at Island
part of the property was made available to the                 Avenue, connecting the island with the mainland.
John E. Alexander YMCA Community Center for                    There it connected with the park area that includ­
their facilities. Incidentally, the swimming pool              ed the school and a library building. A landscape
that is located in the park was originally planned             architect from Milwaukee was engaged to pre­
as a natatorium, an indoor year­round pool. Initial            pare a design. But alas, this was in 1931. The
cost estimates necessitated some modifications to              famous depression was not treating Alexander
the plans, and the resulting pool was the out­                 and the paper business very well, and he was
come. The pool was paid for by the Alexander                   forced to put his plans aside until better times
Foundation and the NEPCO Foundation.                           came. Unfortunately, he died in 1934 before the

Although ice skating is provided on safe ice ponds             Nepco Lake Park was built when Nepco Lake was built
today, the danger of thin ice did not stop children and        in the mid 1920s.This is the first recreation area just off
adults from ice skating on the mill pond.                      the present highway that crosses the lake.

Air view of Nepco Lake Employee Recreation Area shortly after opening.The park is still in use today, but its facilities
have been greatly enhanced.
Lewis Alexander’s dream of landscaping and parks for Port Edwards.The park was to be located on the island.
                                                          recovery from the depression, leaving his benev­
                                                          olent plans for the village to his son, John.

                                                          John approached the park situation in a slightly
                                                          different manner. At the new Nepco Lake, only a
                                                          half­dozen years old, John developed a swimming
                                                          beach, changing houses, picnic area, playground
                                                          equipment and a shelter house.The shelter house
                                                          was really Gus Giese’s old farm homestead. This
                                                          was a NEPCO park just for employees of the mills
                                                          and village residents. It was not open to others.
                                                          Many an old timer will recall the fun­filled fire­
The train that became a piece of playground equip­
ment at Nepco Lake Employee Recreation Area. This
                                                          men’s picnics and family reunions that were held
view shows the equipment as a working unit, before it     at this park, and how Gus Giese, the caretaker,
was remodeled to a play unit.                             would sit for hours on his wooden bench and talk
                                                          about anything and everything. Then, when you
                                                          were ready to depart, he would open the cyclone
                                                          fence gate and stand there on the roadside and
                                                          advise you when traffic would permit you to safe­
                                                          ly pull onto the busy highway.

                                                          Because this was a restricted park, a public facili­
                                                          ty consisting of a beach, boat landing and picnic
                                                          area was made available to the public. It was
                                                          located just across Highway 13 and is the Nepco
                                                          Lake County Park today.

                                                          The NEPCO employees’ park at Nepco Lake was
The Nepco Lake Limited, built from the construction       popular and enjoyed by those privileged to use the
train shown above.
                                                          facility, but John Alexander wanted something

The original proposal for a swimming pool in Edwards Alexander Park was suppose to be a year­round natatorium.
However, when cost estimates came in, the plans were modified to just an outdoor pool.
Port boys dare to swim in the river using an old logging structure as their pier.

Construction of a swimming pool is under way in this photo.

                                                               better and, accordingly, the area at the north end
                                                               of the Highway 13 bridge was closed down, to be
                                                               replaced by an enhanced recreation area located
                                                               about 300 yards to the west. The new employee
                                                               recreation area was opened in 1955.The popular
                                                               park offered running water and flushable toilets,
                                                               stone fireplaces, life guards, and enhanced play­
                                                               ground equipment, which included a popular
                                                               train to play on. Incidentally, that train saw much
                                                               practical experience as construction equipment
                                                               for the building of several dams on the Wisconsin
                                                               River, as well as the building of Nepco Lake and
                                                               Lake Wazeecha. With a few cosmetic modifica­
                                                               tions, it is spending its retirement entertaining
The afternoon train brings a load of Wisconsin Rapids          would­be railroad engineers.
youth to the Port Edwards pool on a summer after­
noon. The train schedule was conveniently arranged to
allow the children a swim for about three hours.
Chapter 15: Service Clubs
We Say, “Thanks”
Service groups. Those organizations that take it              LIONS CLUB
upon themselves to make some part of our
community a little more attractive. Some are still            The village owes a big THANK YOU to the Lions
strong and continue their efforts, while others               Club. Not only have they provided vision dogs
have disbanded, but not without leaving their                 for blind residents and summer camping activities
mark on the village. Here are some of those dedi­             for the physically handicapped, but they have also
cated clubs, and if I missed a group, I apologize.            funded community projects,sometimes committing
                                                              their club to expenses in future years. Ripple
BAND MOTHERS                                                  Creek shelter house and the ice pond warming
                                                              house in that park were funded by the Lions.The
Just as it indicates, the Band Mothers was a group            all­weather shelter building in Edwards Alexander
of mothers whose sons and daughters were in the               Park was an accomplishment of that group. Pieces
school’s music programs.They provided funds for               of playground equipment and a gazebo are still
the purchase of instruments, music and funding                other projects endowed by the local Lions Club
for student trips to music tournaments. Providing             since their organization in the village in 1965.
chaperones for these trips was also an important
function of the mothers. A lesser­known task per­             BOYS AND GIRLS CLUBS
formed by the band mothers was the alterations
and repairs to band and choir uniforms.                       Originally started in 1940 as a Boys Club, a sepa­
                                                              rate Girls Club was organized a year later. The
PTA                                                           program was directed toward providing summer
                                                              activities for the community youth. This was
The Parent and Teacher Association met monthly                accomplished by camping at Nepco Lake, bean
in their effort to foster better relations between            growing for a local cannery, newspaper publish­
parents and teachers. The organization is best                ing, handicraft sales, sporting activities, and doing
remembered for their elaborate theatrical pro­                odd jobs around the village.
ductions, which included such renditions as
“Oklahoma,” “The Merry Widow,” “Harvey,’’ and                 The program was financed by the village, the
“Abie’s Irish Rose.” The Broadway shows were                  club’s self­generated profits (beans, newspaper,
adapted to hometown talent, and the profits                   jobs, etc.), but largely through an endowment
generated were used to benefit school programs                from Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company. Both
such as playground equipment and stage improve­               clubs were abandoned in 1958 when the John E.
ments. Booster clubs have replaced the PTA and                Alexander YMCA came into being.
provide funding for athletic and music programs.

The fall harvest of flowers is displayed in the old school anteroom.The Port Edwards Garden Club sponsored the show.
                                                                               organization of a YMCA pro­
                                                                               gram in the village, the Boys
                                                                               and Girls Clubs came to an end,
                                                                               their programs being succeed­
                                                                               ed by the Y’s programs.

                                                                               The Y’s building is unique for a
                                                                               small village and was a dream
                                                                               of John Alexander since his
                                                                               childhood. It was built on the
                                                                               site of his grandparents’ home
                                                                               and was dedicated in the sum­
                                                                               mer of 1958. Financing was
                                                                               shared by the Alexander
                                                                               Foundation, Nekoosa Edwards
                                                                               Foundation,Consolidated Papers
                                                                               Inc. and Preway Company. A
                                                                               physical exercise building was
                                                                               erected in 1991. A restaurant,
                                                                               The Paper Inn, was located in
                                                                               the basement where the Y’s
                                                                               child care service now functions.

                                                                                 A technical innovation that is a
                                                                                 rarity today exists at the Y. In
                                                                                 order that John Alexander
                                                                                 might better project his
                                                                                 movies of his world travels, he
                                                                                 bought and had installed a car­
                                                                                 bon arc,16 mm movie projector
                                                                                 in an overhead booth in the
Above Top: Port Edwards Boy Scouts Father and Son Banquet program and menu.
Above: Port Edwards Boy Scouts proudly stand at attention in their new uniforms, Consolidated meeting room.
circa 1920s.                                                                     Another unique innovation
                                                                                 was the provision of subsi­
A camp, consisting of a central lodge/dining hall             dized bus services from Nekoosa and Wisconsin
and five sleeping cabins, was built on the shore of           Rapids so that youth might take part in the Y’s
Nepco Lake and named Camp Ocpen. Funded by                    programs.
the paper mill,the construction labor was provided
by Port Edwards men who worked evenings and                   HOMEMAKERS & MEN’S CLUBS
weekends to build the camp buildings.Their only
payment was a bottle of beer or two during the                The ladies had the afternoon free and the
evening.The logs used for the construction of the             men wanted a night out on the town, so the
main lodge were cut on the land where the camp                Homemakers Club was organized as well as the
was built.                                                    Men’s Club.The Homemakers lasted the longest,
                                                              but both clubs have fallen by the wayside, probably
YMCA                                                          due to time being spent in front of the television
                                                              and an active church social program provided by
The “Y” is best recognized in the community by                our community churches. Both organizations were
their elaborate physical plant in Edwards Alexander           primarily socially oriented. However, the Home­
Memorial Park. Officially, it is known as the John            makers were involved in the sewing of bandages
E. Alexander YMCA Community Center. Upon the                  for the war effort as well as for cancer patients.
PORT EDWARDS EDUCATION FOUNDATION                        alternative activities that are drug­free. For
                                                         instance, school parties, post­prom parties, school
This education foundation was founded in 1996.           lock­up night parties and weekend camping
With a treasury built up through public solicita­        retreats, plus an extensive education program, are
tion and subscription, the foundation has funded         all aimed at providing a good time without resort­
a host of school projects that are outside the           ing to drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
scope of the school budget.Teachers or students
make application to the foundation for a grant for       HOME IMPROVEMENT CLUB
a project or piece of equipment. The foundation
has dispersed several thousands of dollars since         Started in 1914, this club’s goal was to beautify
its founding.                                            the village houses, yards, streets, alleys and river
                                                         banks. The bylaws made special note of improv­
SCOUTS                                                   ing the railroad depot’s grounds in order that
                                                         arriving passengers would be impressed upon
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Brownies and Cubs.           arrival in Port Edwards, and passengers just pass­
They are all active in the village, but the Boy          ing through on the train would remember the
Scouts trace their roots back the furthest. There        neat, clean village.
is record of a Boy Scout troop having been func­
tioning in the village as early as 1920.                 In 1915, the club sponsored the first of several
                                                         annual flower shows.The initial show was held in
ALEXANDER FOUNDATION                                     the new school house, but moved to the school
                                                         auditorium when that building was completed.
Founded by John and Dorothy Alexander, this              The evening’s program started with several wel­
foundation funds the Alexander House and scores of       come talks by local government officials, fol­
other charitable causes, many of them in the village.    lowed by a reminiscence delivered by Francis
                                                         Edwards, wherein she described the village as it
PACE                                                     existed when she came to town in 1858.
                                                          A black­and­white silent movie,“Sheridan’s Ride,”
Port Edwards Alcohol And Other Drug                      was shown, and then L.M.Alexander awarded the
Community Education is a group of teachers, par­         prizes for the best of the show flower entries. He
ents, students and concerned citizens who have           personally contributed the $100 prize purse.
banded together to fight the misuse of drugs.
Through their programs, students are offered             And for all this, we say, “thank you.” You have
                                                         made this a better community in which to live.

Flower show sponsored by the Port Edwards Home Improvement Club.The flowers were soft and beautiful, but the
wooden seats were hard and uncomfortable.
Chapter 16: Entertainment
The Pre­Television Era
Imagine a dark winter evening. The sun sets at               So much for winter. What about summer? Weekly
5 p.m. What’s there to do? Dad read Bible pas­               band concerts featuring the White City Band
sages to us last night, and the previous night, Mom          were held at the village bandstand. The 25­foot,
read poems from Mrs. Edwards’ book,“Leaves of                elevated and roofed structure was located at the
the Almond Tree.”Perhaps the neighbors will come             corner of First and Market Streets. The village
over and spend the evening discussing local events.          provided funding of $25 a month for the band.
                                                             This was divided between director, members and
There were some alternatives to this routine. So,            music, although one old pioneer of the village
how about going ice skating? We’ll build a big fire          questioned whether they used any music. He claims
on the riverbank and skate on the mill pond. But             that their performance sure did not sound like
watch out for the thin ice below the guard locks             they were following any musical arrangement,
where there is a current, and also where they                assuming that they could even read the notes. In
have been cutting ice. Realizing the dangers asso­           1937, the village offered the bandstand to anyone
ciated with skating on the river, the village created        who would tear it down and clean up the site.
an ice rink on the vacant lot at the corner of
Market and Second Streets. In 1945, the rink was             Swimming, which replaced a weekly bath, was
moved to Edwards Alexander Park and eventually               done from a beach on the island just below the
to Ripple Creek Park.                                        dam. It was in 1947 that a gift of $50,000 made

A picture of the first White City Band taken about 1890. Members wore their Sunday best suits as uniforms.

Winter also brought great expectations for chil­             possible a swimming pool for village residents.
dren and adults as they looked forward to the
stupendous Christmas party held in the new                   Library service was available in the village at a
school house. The village, the school and Lewis              very early date, when a branch of T.B. Scott Public
Alexander all shared the expense of throwing a               Library was established in Port Edwards. Once a
party to usher in the holiday season. Mrs. John              week, a wooden box, about the size of a small
Alexander continued this yuletide party up to her            trunk, was filled with books at Wisconsin Rapids’
death. Dorothy’s parties at the YMCA were                    main library and placed on the train for Port
even more stupendous and were directed toward                Edwards. A village librarian was paid $50 a year
providing Christmas cheer for needy children of              to check out the books and get them back to
the area.                                                    Wisconsin Rapids. Frank Brazeau was the appoint­
                                                             ed librarian. Frank was also the village postmaster
One of these earlier parties was described as                when the post office was located in the office
including welcome talks, carol singing, a silent             of the John Edwards Manufacturing Company,
black­and­white movie entitled, “Moses’ Flight               later the original NEPCO main office. From this,
Into Egypt,”and a visit by St. Nick. Finally, a 20­foot      it might be assumed that the distribution of
Christmas tree was lit up outside the school                 books took place in the post office or from the
building, and everyone walked home with a bag                general store located on the opposite side of
of candy and an apple.                                       the building.
There were several White City Bands over the years.This one was performing about 1910.

In 1937, the village appropriated $200 to pur­
chase new books for the library located in the
new school, and village residents were invited to
use the school library for their reading needs.

Summer activities for children were initiated as
early as 1928 when the village approved spend­
ing $150 for a summer program for youth. Miss J.
Fritz, a teacher in the village school, was engaged
to provide an entertainment program for the
youth, using the town hall as the center of her

The street car company provided two sources of
entertainment for residents of the village, which
at the same time provided increased revenue for
their coffers. This was accomplished by the ball­
park they laid out at Kipp’s Hill, where there
already was a motorcycle climbing hill. Kipp’s Hill
was at the extreme north end of the village. The
other attraction was the Moccasin Creek Pavilion
located at the extreme south edge of Port

In 1938, a root beer stand was erected by Wm.
Randrup at the site where the old bandstand had
                                                           A hometown production is described in this advertise­
been removed.A root beer stand in itself was not           ment for an evening of entertainment at the Port
a big source of entertainment. But Randrup                 Edwards town hall. Why the new auditorium was not
resorted to free movies on Tuesday nights to draw          being used is somewhat a mystery.
business to his concession. About dusk, a large
bed sheet was attached to the outside of the near­
by town hall, and people started to arrive right
after supper in order to stake out a good place to
spread their blanket for the best viewing.And all
the while, the popcorn was popping and the root
beer flowing. When the root beer stand was
moved in 1947 to make room for the apartment
building, the village appropriated funds to contin­
ue the popular program with the movies being
shown at the school.

The excellent entertainment facilities of the
YMCA have been discussed elsewhere in this
book.A Port Edwards Men’s Club, a Port Edwards
Recreation Club and a women’s Study and
Recreation Club were organized to help pass the
time in the pre­TV days.The Study and Recreation
Club (S&R Club) is the oldest social organization
in the community, and it is still healthy and meets
on a regular basis.

But nothing boosted community entertainment
for the village and the surrounding area more
than the Port Edwards Auditorium. Spearheaded               Newspaper advertisement for grand opening of the
and partially financed by the Alexanders, the               Port Edwards Auditorium.The event was a total sellout.
brick building was constructed as an addition to

One of the three drop scenes in the Port Edwards auditorium. Side wings and appointments added to the setting.
the school.The grand opening was in June, 1920,
and amounted to a three­day celebration. With a
full capacity of 700 people, the first of the three­
day event included a school student pageant enti­
tled, “A Golden Day.” The second evening was
graduation night for 11 eighth­grade students.We
had no high school at that time. L.M. Alexander
was the master of ceremonies and led the group
through songs, speeches, and musical selections.
Finally, on the third day, a community dance was
held on the spacious 4,000­square­foot floor.The
orchestra performed from the balcony overlook­
ing the main floor. Between 10:30 p.m. and mid­
night, a supper was served in the adjoining
school hall. General admittance was free, the
dance was a dollar, and the supper was 50 cents.

For a little village of 1,000 people to have a the­
ater and sports complex of this magnitude was
unheard of.The auditorium would hold the entire
adult population of Port Edwards and still have
room for many of the children! The stage was
reputed to be the second­largest theater stage in
Wisconsin, outdone only by the Davidson Theater
in Milwaukee.

On the stage, there were three 40­foot­wide can­
vas drop scenes. One was a villa/garden setting.
Another was a Dutch interior foyer setting, and
the third was a spectacular Lake Como and sur­
rounding mountain scene.The homes painted on
the canvas had cut­out windows through which
light from behind the drop created the effect of
homes at twilight.

Two new carbon arc projectors, each capable of
holding 3,000 feet of film, were capable of show­
ing full­length feature films without interruption
for reel changes.

A novel treat for the audience at the first non­
school performance was the filming of guests
arriving at the auditorium. At the end of the
evening’s program, the film was shown to the
guests. Processing was done on site while the rest
of the performances were taking place.This was
quite a feat for those days when the VCR hadn’t
even been dreamed of. Eleven other numbers
supplemented the special movie. They included

Right: A hometown production if there ever was one.
How many members of the cast do you remember?
The Nepco baseball team of 1937 evidently won the game judging from the smiles on their faces. Left to right: Hinz,
Driscoll, Gavre, Surprison. Front Row, left to right: Lampe, Osberg, Fairfield, Grayson, Parvin, Zurfluh.

the following:                                               staffed by local boys who assumed that danger­
   Pathe Weekly News Reel                                    ous spot behind the pins. If you were really fast
   Concert by Rupp & Linden Symphony Orchestra               and had the ambition, you could set up pins in
   Feats of Magic                                            two alleys simultaneously. The Paper Inn was a
   Songs by Vaudeville Singers,The Loos Brothers             concept of John Alexander, and he saw to it that
   Classic and Interpretive Dances                           the restaurant was recommended by Duncan
   A Headline Comedian                                       Heins. No, not the cake mix company. Duncan
   A Duet of Jazz Dancers                                    Heins was a traveler who wrote a book about his
   Moving Picture Comedy                                     “Adventures in Good Eating.” The building was
                                                             demolished when the NEPCO administration
The auditorium wasn’t just a theater for first­class         building was built in 1961. However, the restau­
traveling shows. Local talent played there for               rant continued operation for several years there­
many years.These included the P.T.A., school dra­            after, operating from the basement of the YMCA.
matic and musical events, proms, and even the                This has been a lengthy chapter, but it bears out
annual Boy Scout minstrel show. For years it was             the fact that there was always something to do in
the school gymnasium. The balcony is gone and                Port Edwards.
the orchestra pit is now part of the main floor.At
least one of the drops was repainted.The dressing
rooms of the stars (there were three) are now
storerooms, and bats have inhabited the catwalk
above the scenery rigging.

I do not want to be accused of neglecting one
other place of entertainment, a place where most
Port Edwards boys earned their high school
spending money, so a few words about the Paper
Inn.The bowling alley, billiard hall, soda fountain
and restaurant were located in a building that
originally was built as a barracks for mill workers          The Port Edwards Boys Club takes to the road for an
                                                             afternoon at Nepco Lake.Transportation was furnished
during the 1919 strike. Six bowling alleys were              by NEPCO.
Top:The Paper Inn was a conver­
sion of the old barracks at the
Port Edwards mill.

Left: Known as the Fountain
Room, this dining room at the
Paper Inn overlooked an outdoor
rock garden and pond.

Bottom: Six bowling alleys
accommodated several leagues
and teams. Just about every adult
in Port Edwards belonged to at
least one team.
Chapter 17: Schools
A Romantic Beginning
Prolog                                                 riage to Edwards in 1861, when she retired from
This chapter turned out to be the last episode         active teaching. Thus, we had a school and
that I wrote. It is the longest of chapters and yet    Edwards had a wife.
it leaves much to be told. In fact, a book could
be written on just Port Edwards’ school history.       Although Francis Edwards exited the education
                                                       arena at this time, John Edwards continued to be
But it was not just the amount of data that was        involved with education, serving as school board
available, but the difficulty of trying to sort out    treasurer, during which time he would have a
the governmental entities of the school district       financial hand in school expansion. It is interest­
over the years. It seems like the local school         ing to note that in 1886, Edwards had to cope
administration was bouncing around in the geo­         with a school budget of $400.51; but then, some
graphic arena just like the ownership of the           things become irrelevant.
Edwards sawmill did in its formative years.
                                                       The first of these expansions came about in 1878,
After studying the meeting minutes books of the        when increased attendance (32 students in 1872)
school districts, I came to the conclusion that I      warranted a larger school house. The John
was not really sure that I could accurately report     Edwards Company was paid $1,420.18 to supply
on the district history. So, feeling that you won’t    the materials and to erect a new school. The
really care whether we were a joint district, dis­     Edwards business donated an acre of land at the
trict number 4, 6, 1, or whatever, I decided to con­   west end of Edwards Avenue for the site of the
centrate on the more human interest side of our        new school. Incidentally, the building cost includ­
schools’ backgrounds. However, I will include          ed the cost of a wood shed and a privy.
some background on the district organization.
Minutes in the formative years are sometimes
sketchy, being only a single paragraph to cover an
entire meeting.

One thing seems quite certain, and that is that our
village had its first school in 1858, and it came
about under a somewhat romantic circumstance.
Children of Frenchtown (now Port Edwards)
were attending school in Centralia (south side of
Wisconsin Rapids), which was located near the
hydroelectric plant. The settlement of
Frenchtown was District #2 of Centralia School
District.The Centralia school was being taught by
Francis J. Morrill, whose family had moved to
Wisconsin in 1856.                                     Port Edwards’ second school house before it was
                                                       moved and converted into a chapel.

John Edwards took note of the Frenchtown stu­          In exchange for the property, the school district
dents trudging their way on foot in the cold of        agreed to give the old building to John Edwards
winter to attend school in Centralia. He also took     Company, which moved it 100 feet east to put it
note of the young, attractive woman who was            in line with other buildings in the area and con­
teaching there. His heart played a dual role as he     verted it into a residence. It should be pointed
pitied the students while at the same time admir­      out that the school board at first authorized sale
ing the teacher. Accordingly, Edwards offered to       of the building for $40, but reconsidered this
build a schoolhouse in Frenchtown if Miss Morrill      action later, giving up the old building in
would move here and teach in it. She agreed, and       exchange for the property. After all, Edwards had
Edwards’ mill personnel built a one­room school        already paid for it originally! The residence was
located about 200 feet west of the riverbank,          moved to 970 Second Street, where it still
between LaVigne and Washington Avenues.                remains.
Francis Morrill taught in this school until her mar­
In 1874, Port Edwards severed its connection          The city of Nekoosa withdrew from the district in
with the Centralia school district and became         1895, and Port Edwards followed in 1902.
District No. 1 of the Town of Port Edwards school     Cranmoor and Seneca also separated from the
district.                                             Town of Port Edwards district; the Seneca resi­
                                                      dents voting on the issue at the “Poor Farm.” Thus
In 1876, nonresidents of the district could enroll    in 1902, the joint district of the Town of Port
in the Port Edwards school upon payment of a 25­      Edwards and village of Port Edwards was recog­
cent weekly tuition fee.A practice that continued     nized. Cranmoor would rejoin the fold in 1941
well into the 1900s made it possible for nonresi­     and eventually close their 1926 school. However,
dent students to attend the Port Edwards school       it did offer elementary classes for several years
if their parent worked in the sawmill or, later, in   after rejoining the Port Edwards joint district.The
the paper mill.                                       Green Grove School and Pine Grove School were
                                                      two rural schools west of the village that were
In 1874, there were three Turley women listed on      closed after joining the joint district.
the district payroll. One was the regular contract­
ed teacher; the other two, Ann and Sarah, were        By 1898, the need for a new schoolhouse in the
substitutes. What would we have done without          village (still a part of the Township of Port
the Turley ladies? In 1877, the first male teacher    Edwards) was realized. The John Edwards
was hired, although females were preferred. For       Manufacturing Company donated land just north
several years, the principal was authorized to hire   of block eight in the village; the present site of the
the teachers but to give preference to female         high school complex. A building consisting of
teachers. This practice continued well into the       two classrooms and a common anteroom was
1900s. Some of the prerequisites for teachers was     built. This wooden structure experienced a bad
to have a background in orthoepy, orthography,        case of growing pains, resulting in several addi­
(look them up in the dictionary—I had to) pen­        tions over the next 30 years of its use. The old
manship, mental arithmetic, written arithmetic,       schoolhouse was sold to L.M.Alexander and Mrs.
U.S. Constitution, and state constitution.            Edwards for $1400.They, in turn, moved it to the
                                                      corner of Letendre and Wisconsin River Drive.
In 1882, the school tax levy was $315.56, which       After enlarging it,adding a basement,and decorating
was noted as even less than it was ten years          the building, it was presented to the community
earlier in 1872. In spite of this favorable school    for use as a community church.
budget, non­resident tuition was raised in 1886 to
33 cents per week.

The year 1893 saw the district building an
18' x 24' schoolhouse at Bearse Marsh (Cranmoor).
Although $250 was appropriated for the building,
the actual cost came in at only $92. School term
at Bearse Marsh was conducted on a six­month
term basis instead of the usual nine months in
other schools of the district. Perhaps a cranberry­
rich diet enabled those students to learn at an
accelerated pace. Incidentally, during a month in
the fall, school was recessed for one month to
accommodate the cranberry harvest.
                                                      The third school in Port Edwards looked like this at
                                                      its dedication.There were two rooms.
School in the village school started on the first
Monday of November and continued four months          A third classroom was added to this school, and
with a month off at Christmastime. A summer           then two more classrooms were added. In 1915,
semester started on the first Monday of May and       an assembly room and office were attached and,
continued “until funds were exhausted.”               in 1920, a gym and auditorium completed the
                                                      complex. Electric lights had been installed in
                                                           month, and she was required to do the janitor
                                                           work and build the heating fire each day. A miss­
                                                           ing dictionary was the subject of a board meeting
                                                           in 1889, and the board authorized the teacher to
                                                           purchase a new dictionary, but only after first
                                                           making a diligent investigation as to what hap­
                                                           pened to the old one. In 1892, two new privies
                                                           were built. John Edwards Company had the build­
                                                           ing contract, and the outlay of capital was $13 for
                                                           the two of them.Two bags of lime were an add­on
                                                           at a cost of $1.60. Epidemics, most likely influenza,
The third school in Port Edwards looked like this after    closed the school in 1873, 1920 and 1921.
several expansions.
                                                           As an accommodation for its single teachers, the
1911 when a line was strung from the paper mill
                                                           district purchased a house at the southwest cor­
to the school.There was no meter and the school
                                                           ner of LaVigne and Third Street, remodeled it and
paid a flat fee of $1 per month, a practice that
                                                           made a boarding house for teachers.The home is
lasted for several years.
                                                           still referred to by old­timers of the village as the
                                                           “teacherage.” A new principal’s house was built
In 1912, a basement was excavated under the
                                                           by the district in 1923 at the corner of Second
building. Therein was placed a coal furnace for
                                                           and LaVigne Streets. It has since been sold to a
central heating. Plumbing was installed at the
                                                           private owner.
same time with water from the new village line,
and the sewer discharged directly to the river two
                                                           In 1917, the school board decided to pay street­
blocks away. Also, in 1911, the school board
                                                           car fare for students attending the closest high
decided to contribute $1 per year for each
                                                           school. In almost all cases, this was Lincoln High
teacher’s retirement fund.
                                                           School at Wisconsin Rapids. When Nekoosa
                                                           added a four­year high school, it became the closer
In 1903, a used foot pump organ was purchased
                                                           school and, accordingly, students completed their
for $25. Five years later it was replaced with a
                                                           schooling there.
new foot­operated organ at a cost of $61.
                                                           The year 1919 was a milestone year in Port
Let’s take a look at some more human interest
                                                           Edwards school activity. People were experienc­
facts. A teacher’s salary in 1883 was $30 per
                                                           ing post­war inflation. Education costs were ris­

A 1930 view of the Port Edwards school and the auditorium.This building had only two more years to survive when
this picture was taken in 1930.
Port Edwards Junior High School band. Members still wore their homemade capes and caps.

ing. L.M. Alexander was not in a position to sup­         was sufficiently lighted and the temperature in
port the school in his old ways.And to culminate          the classrooms was known to vary as much as 30
it all, a $25,000 expansion to the school was             degrees during the course of a single day.The vil­
being proposed.The new addition would include             lage school, which in 1902 had been boasted as
a gym and a recreation center or auditorium. It           being comparable with the finest in the state, was
became a public issue, and at the annual meeting          now taking a rear seat to the rest of the state. But
in 1919, it was put to a vote. Eighty­six people          not only would the deficiencies of the old build­
voted, but Harlow Schinn’s vote was tossed out as         ing be eliminated, but two more grades (11 and
he was not a resident taxpayer of the community.          12) would be added to create a complete high
Harlow was the chauffeur for L.M.Alexander. Men           school program.
and women voted separately, and during the
voting and tally, the time was spent in community         The bond issue was supported by the district vot­
singing. The dedication of this new facility has          ers, and a new building was dedicated in 1933.
been covered in another part of this book.                The first graduating high school seniors received
                                                          their diplomas in 1935.
The next big step came in 1932 when a proposal
was made to district residents to build a brand           Incidentally, a junior high school band was organ­
new school. Selling this idea to a depression­            ized during the 1930­31 term.The group of ardu­
affected community required a super sales job.            ous musicians attended their first tournament in
But it was presented to the voters in a referen­          1931, wearing homemade capes and caps. After
dum, and they approved the issuance of                    an exceptional performance at the tournament,
$125,000 in bonds to support the building of a            Mr. and Mrs. L.M.Alexander and Mr. and Mrs. John
colonial­style building. The new facility was             Alexander decided that the new high school band
absolutely necessary since it would permit the            should have proper uniforms and, accordingly,
district to round out its education program by            they personally purchased a West Point style
incorporating a four­year high school.                    black­and­orange uniform for each band member.

A junior high school (grades 9 and 10) was being          Two recent attempts toward consolidation have
conducted in the basement, where they were                surfaced. The first was initiated by the City of
flooded out in the spring and following heavy             Nekoosa and was aimed at cost cutting for the
rains. A state survey determined that the present         city. At that time, Nekoosa needed additional
facility was operating at only 68 percent efficien­       school space, and Port Edwards had an excess of
cy. There was no laboratory nor library. No room          space.After a public meeting at the YMCA, a hand
vote indicated that the village residents wanted to         1961 saw the addition of a new gym, music
preserve their independence and, accordingly, the           department, manual arts classroom and laborato­
proposal was not pursued. Some years later,                 ry. Then, in 1969, a new building was added to
another attempt was made to consolidate with                house the elementary grades. The building was
Wisconsin Rapids. The motive this time was to               built three blocks west of the high school.
enable Port Edwards students to partake in a
broader class and sports curriculum. Again, the             A personal note: After having served as a member
residents of Port Edwards district accentuated              of the school board and the village board, I have
their overall preference to remain independent.             often stated that being on the school board was
School pride appears to be the motivating factor            much more demanding than being on the village
to make Port Edwards people react as they did.              board.The school board required more time, more
                                                            research, and had more people registering their
This chapter has rambled on long enough. So let             concerns. Now, after going through the minutes
me quickly bring you up to date. In 1955, a                 of both boards as well as supporting documents, I
$10,000 addition added six classrooms to the                am even more convinced that school government is
school on Second Street. Another addition in                much more complicated than village government!

The John Edwards High School band poses in the new uniforms provided by the Alexander families.

Operettas were always popular at Port Edwards schools. Usually the entire junior high student body was involved as
in this production of “Miss Cherry Blossom.”
Chapter 18: Churches
We Thank Our God
Four religious denominations have established              who treated them with religious awe.
worship edifices in our village, and it is at these
places of worship that the majority of our                 The geographic description not only fits the tri­
residents gather to say, “Thank you, God, for the          city area, but also an area near Merrill,Wisconsin.
blessings you have bestowed on Port Edwards.”              So, there exists this dual mystery. Was Father
                                                           Menard the first member of the clergy to pass
The first clergyman to visit this area was probably        through this area, and secondly, what happened
a Jesuit priest, Father Rene Menard. But alas, he          to him?
did not come here (if he did come here at all) to
establish a church. Father Menard had an air of            So much for speculation. Now for some facts.
mystery surrounding him. In 1661, he came down             Several missionaries, representing several reli­
the Wisconsin River from a mission on the shore            gious denominations, may have passed through
of Lake Superior. Having heard that the Native             Frenchtown, stopping off long enough to offer
Americans along the Black River were in need of            services for the rough and sometimes rowdy lum­
help, he set out from Lake Superior in company             bermen. These included Rev. James Miner (1829),
with a companion. Somewhere along the journey,             Rev. Cutting Marsh (1849), Rev. Von Don Brock
he dismissed the companion, sending him back to            (1837), Rev. J.S. Hurlburt (1842), and Rev. Jesse
Lake Superior along with his journal. His last             Edwards (1856). But the scope of this chapter is
entry stated that they were spending the night on          to shed some enlightenment on the established
a high bluff along the river, about 50 miles from          churches in Port Edwards.
the Black River. He recorded that they had passed
through a series of rapids that day, and in the            Our first church structure was unique in that it
morning he would set out for the Black River,              was formerly a schoolhouse in the village. When
across a very marshy terrain. He was never heard           the school population outgrew the building, it
from again, but his cassock and breviary were              was purchased by Mrs. John Edwards, who donat­
later found in the hands of the Native Americans           ed it to the village, moving it from a site on

The Community Chapel in Port Edwards shortly after being converted from a school building.
Edwards Avenue to the riverbank at the corner of       one final clang as it hit the ground. Then came
Wisconsin River Drive and Letendre Avenue. At          silence and the feeling of sadness.
this location, it became the Port Edwards
Community Church.This was 1898.                        It was 1 a.m. by the time the firefighters had the
                                                       fire extinguished. By then, the roof had collapsed
Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists took advan­        and the walls were gutted. However, the base­
tage of the chapel, each group conducting servic­      ment survived and it was roofed over, converting
es in the church at a different hour each Sunday       it into a sanctuary to be used until a new church
morning. Ministers came from Wisconsin Rapids          could be built. And even after the church was
or Nekoosa.                                            complete, the basement served as a social hall for
                                                       many years.
                                                       Ground was broken for the present church on
With the completion of the interurban line in          August 27, 1948, and the cornerstone ceremony
1910, Lutherans and Catholics moved out as they        was held on October 24, 1948. Dedication of the
now had a convenient means of traveling to             $151,000 church was completed in October of
Nekoosa or Wisconsin Rapids to attend services.        1949. A Hammond organ, carillon bells, and the
However, the Lutherans would return some years         large stained glass window were given by the
later. The chapel in Port Edwards was presented        Alexander family in honor of Lewis and Lida
to the Methodists and became the Community             Alexander.
Methodist Church.
                                                       A parsonage was added in 1963, and a few years
Through a gift on the part of L.M. Alexander, the      later a church addition was added. It included
church was enlarged, a used organ was acquired         education facilities, social lounge, a dining room
from Milwaukee, new pews were installed, and a         and a kitchen. It is interesting to note that the
stained glass window made it really look like a        addition cost $185,570, or $34,000 more than the
church.                                                original stone church!

The very active congregation of Methodists             In 1968, the name was changed to United
was happy with their little church, but on             Methodist Church of Port Edwards.
December 14, 1946, the members had a setback
when their church was demolished by fire. A            CATHOLICS
faulty oil burner was the cause of the fire. Intense
heat was noted when choir members entered the          Catholicism enjoyed the advantage of using the
building around 4 p.m., so authorities were called     community chapel until about 1910, when they
and the burner was turned off. Noting excessive        began riding the streetcar to attend services in
heat in the chimney area, members carried water        Nekoosa. But after 21 years of travel to Nekoosa,
from the downstairs kitchen to help cool the           the “Porters” decided that there were enough of
chimney upstairs until the volunteer firemen           them to support their own congregation. After a
arrived. Plaster surrounding the chimney was           general meeting in March 1941, the group voted
torn off as a thorough inspection was made.The         to petition the Bishop of La Crosse to designate
bricks were found to be red hot, but there was no      Port Edwards as a parish and assign a pastor to
evidence of fire or smoke. After cleaning up the       the new church. Rev. Thomas Mullen filled the
building, the members left. An hour later, when        post and immediately set about to build a church.
the building was checked, smoke and flames             This was begun in December 1941, and the cost
were discovered in the attic.The fire department       was $47,000. Saint Alexander’s, named in honor of
was again called, and the fire whistle sounded for     Bishop Alexander McGavick (a coincidence?), is
the second time. The Nekoosa department was            remembered for its gigantic picnics that were
summoned to help quell the flames, and the com­        held for years in an open lot at the south end of
bined forces pumped water from the river.As the        the village. Over 1,000 guests were served a ham
fire attacked the steeple, the bell fell and sounded   dinner at a cost of 50 cents for adults, and chil­
                                                       dren at half that price.
At first, Sunday services were conducted in the         bers used this facility until 1953 when the church
Port Edwards school until such time as the              proper was built over the basement.
church was completed.
                                                        Due to experienced growth as well as projected
A parsonage was added to the church in 1947,            growth, it was deemed feasible for Trinity to con­
and in 1976, an education building was added.           sider an expansion. The project was begun in
Saint Alexander’s church has since lost its resi­       1969. The parish complex includes a matching
dent pastor and now operates as a part of the           stone rectory for its pastor.
Catholic church in Nekoosa.
                                                        TLC not only identifies Trinity Lutheran Church,
LUTHERANS                                               but also Tender Loving Care Nursery School, a
                                                        program offered by the church and used to good
The history of this congregation goes back to           advantage by residents of the area.
1947 when a meeting was held in Immanuel
School in Wisconsin Rapids, the purpose which           CHRISTIAN LIFE FELLOWSHIP
was to discuss the advisability of forming an
organized church in Port Edwards. In March              Christian Life Fellowship celebrated its initial
1950, followers met in the basement of the              service in November 1979. Gayland Hendrickson
Community Methodist Church and decided to               was the founding pastor and served the congrega­
adopt the constitution of the Northern Wisconsin        tion until 1991. The church began in the little
Missouri Synod. Pastor Lloyd Goetz of Nekoosa           stone building in Nekoosa that had previously
was issued a call to serve the new church as part       been Bethlehem Lutheran’s building. Because of
of his Nekoosa congregation.                            continual growth, CLF outgrew the building in
                                                        Nekoosa and selected Port Edwards for a new
In 1950, the members began conducting regular           structure in 1986. In 1994, the church purchased
weekly services in the basement of the                  one of the units in the Port Plaza shopping center
Community Methodist Church. In May, Pastor              and converted it into a Teen Center to serve the
Goetz was installed as the official pastor of Trinity   youth of the community. Dean Anderson became
Lutheran Church. Goetz and his energetic follow­        the pastor in 1991, and still fills that capacity today.
ing immediately started planning for their own
place of worship and, in June 1950, bids went out       Christian Life Fellowship’s church is well known
for construction of a basement only. This was           for its theater­like nave and, as such, has been the
completed about five months later, and the mem­         scene for many musical programs. Some of these
                                                        are produced by the members under the direc­
                                                        tion of a Minister of Music, while others are pro­
                                                        fessional groups that have been subsidized for a
                                                        performance in our village.

                                                        Other religious groups have followers in the vil­
                                                        lage, and I respect those faithful members. They
                                                        are not included in this chapter since they have
                                                        not as yet built an edifice in the village. Perhaps
                                                        when the sequel to this book comes out in 2112,
                                                        this chapter will be much longer.

                                                        Village residents can take well­earned pride in
For several years, Trinity Lutheran Church goers used   these four beautiful churches and the healthy
this entrance to enter the basement chapel of their
church. Meanwhile, the church was being built right     congregations that stand behind them.
over their heads.
Chapter 19: War Years
The Effect of War on Port Edwards
War is hell! We only have to look at the Middle              four officers (is there a difference?) took training
East turmoil. We have been very fortunate in our             at Fort Custer, Michigan.The men were equipped
community. No destructive devastation has                    with four French 75mm cannons and 32 horses
occurred here. But that didn’t mean we did not               to pull their equipment.The three stable sergeants
become involved in war efforts.                              were paid $80 each per month to care for the ani­
                                                             mals and clean out the stables.
Archival papers at Alexander House indicate that
during the Civil War (1861­1865), 124 Wood                   Although the group was phased out in the late
County men were recruited for military service.              1920s, there is indication in the village board min­
Of these, 20 were from Centralia and, at that time,          utes that the original Company G of the First
Frenchtown (Port Edwards) was a part of                      Wisconsin Cavalry was reactivated in 1945. The
Centralia, the west side of the present Wisconsin            National Guard unit at Wisconsin Rapids seems to
Rapids.That’s a pretty impressive response to the            have replaced these Wisconsin Guard units.
military call, whether it was voluntary, drafted, or
paid subscription. The Centralia population was
only 800 in 1859.

Wood County passed a resolution that paid wives
of servicemen $3 a day and $2 for each child
under the age of 12. In 1863, nearly 200 people
were receiving such payments. One source states
that half of the men did not return.

World War I brought about the formation of a
Wisconsin National Guard unit. The First
Wisconsin Cavalry was organized early in the
post­war years. Since practically all the members
saw active duty during the 1914­1916 skirmishes,
there was little interest on their part in rejoining         Most cities have a memorial cannon in their park and
an army unit on their return from overseas.Thus,             Port Edwards was no exception.This one was alongside
                                                             the flag pole in the mill park. It was built in the mill
the group was disbanded. However, in 1920, the               machine shop. However, its barrel may be authentic. It
Service Battery 120th Field Artillery of Wisconsin           was moved to a site at Nepco Lake and then given to a
National Guard was organized. Fifty­nine men and             veterans organization.

The Port Edwards contingent of the National Guard boards a special train at the Port Edwards station.
And that brings us up to the war of wars, World              parts for submarines and bombs, a security fence
War II.This little dispute seemed to have a more             was erected around the property with a 24­hour
noticeable effect on the local citizens. The mill            guard at the gate.
was affected by shortages of raw materials, primari­
ly chlorine gas and dye stuffs, the latter being             Many men left for service, far more than the 20 in
predominantly a product of Germany. Since the                the Civil War. A gigantic victory sign was erected
mill machine shop was engaged in producing                   on the lawn at the mill. Each person who left
                                                             their employment in the mill for military service
                                                             had their name enrolled on the sign, and NEPCO’s
                                                             president, John Alexander, took it upon himself to
                                                             write letters to these service people and send
                                                             them cigarettes when they were available.

                                                             Whether there was a threat or not, the village
                                                             board deemed it advisable to establish a civilian
                                                             defense unit with a village coordinator. Twenty­
                                                             five dollars was deemed sufficient to train these
                                                             air­raid wardens. One village­wide practice black­
                                                             out was conducted in 1943.
Headquarters of 38th Division of Air Corps just prior to
United States entry into World War II. Scene is at           Since food was rationed in the stores, the paper
Alexander Field.                                             mill encouraged its employees to raise a victory

U. S. Air Force training base located at Alexander Field.The tents would be replaced with barracks to make it a year
round facility.
This mammoth victory sign had listed on both sides all the men and women employees of NEPCO who entered
military service during World War II.
                                                         garden. To promote the program, the mill made
                                                         land available after first plowing the plots, all as a
                                                         courtesy to their employees. In order that the
                                                         local gardeners might better preserve their boun­
                                                         ty, a village canning center was started in the
                                                         school kitchen. By appointment with its director,
                                                         one brought in their harvest where it was placed
                                                         in cans, cooked and sealed. Started in 1945 as a
                                                         war measure, the village canning center survived
                                                         for several years after the war, but eventually it
                                                         was replaced by the home freezer.

                                                         Port Edwards Boy Scouts conducted periodic
                                                         waste paper drives while the school concentrat­
                                                         ed on scrap metal drives, piling the scrap in front
                                                         of the school, surrounding the flag pole. Students
                                                         were encouraged to help support the cost of the
                                                         war by their weekly purchase of defense stamps.
                                                         The 10 cent stamps were pasted in a folder and
Application for a garden spot submitted to NEPCO         when full, it could be redeemed for a war bond.
during World War II.                                     School classes were recognized for their efforts in
                                                         purchasing enough stamps to equal the cost of an
                                                         army jeep. Accordingly, the army sent a jeep to
                                                         Port Edwards in 1944, offering rides through the
                                                         woods that is now the center of the sports track.
                                                         The two accompanying GIs couldn’t give rides to
                                                         students, but it seems that some of the younger,
                                                         more attractive feminine teachers had the privi­
                                                         lege of experiencing this thrill.

                                                         There were wars after World War II, but they did
                                                         not seem to affect the village to the same extent.
                                                         There was no personnel draft, no rationing, no
                                                         shortages of raw materials in the mill, and no vic­
                                                         tory gardens. The plots all had homes built on
                                                         them now.There were no bomb threats.

                                                         Oh yes, there was a threat of a possible bomb, and
                                                         that was during the so­called Cold War with
                                                         Russia in the 1950s.Thank God that nothing ever
A typical victory garden in the village. The depot can
be seen in the background.                               came of it, but the mill basement and parts of the
                                                         school basement were designated as fall­out shel­
                                                         ters. At least two village residents built their own
                                                         shelters, stocking them with food, blankets and
                                                         booze. But over a span of many years, the food
                                                         spoiled, the blankets rotted, and the booze—sup­
                                                         posedly it gets better with age.
Chapter 20: Catastrophes
We Have Been Fortunate
Communities that have their roots in lumbering,        The southern portion of our village is protected
at some time or another, experienced a devastat­       from high water by a somewhat simple facility,
ing fire.With piles of lumber, frame buildings, saw­   but one that has proved effective over the years.
dust piles and ever­burning refuse burners, it is      At the Port Edwards dam, the structure that con­
no wonder that fires broke out, often destroying       nects the mainland with the island is referred to
entire communities or at least large sections of it.   as the guard locks. By means of four­inch­square
Marshfield, Sherry, and well­publicized Peshtigo       timbers, about ten feet in length, the flow of the
are examples of some of these cities.                  river into the mill pond can be restricted.
                                                       Referred to as needles because of their tapered
A second threat that Port Edwards was vulnerable       end, these flow retarders are inserted into special
to was flooding. Being located on a major river of     frames in the guard locks. These needles have
the Midwest, we could have been devastated by          kept the southern extreme of the village dry in
floods as were many such cities along rivers.          many a high water. However, there have been
Although controlled very effectively today, there      instances when men worked throughout the
was not always this rein on the high water. One        night under floodlights, placing the needles in
only has to go to our neighbor to the north to         position, all because of an unpredicted flash
hear about the effects of a major flood; a catastro­   flood.
phe that they experienced in 1880.
                                                       Only one tornado is on record as doing extensive
Oh, there were inconveniences, but hardly any­         destruction to our village.Again, there have been
thing that could be called a citywide flood. We        trees downed, sometimes on a building roof. But
already read about the river flooding the village      the only storm classified as a tornado occurred on
water wells, and water in basements was quite          a July afternoon in 1883. The newspaper record­
common when the river rose above the sewer             ed the event as follows:
outfall to the river.
                                                       “At Port Edwards, the destruction to property
High water has besieged the paper mill since its       was great and the life of one man was taken
inception, the worst being in 1880, when John          and three others escaped death miraculously.
Edwards and Company lost about $1 million              The work of the storm was complete. It passed
worth of logs, booms and dams. A river flow of         through the village in a northeasterly direction,
100,000 cubic feet per second was recorded.            destroying the John Edwards and Company
Normal river flow is about 3,000 cubic feet per        planning mill, uprooting the store, blowing
second.                                                their piled lumber into the river, and destroying
                                                       many thousand feet; also demolishing their dry­
In 1912 and 1925, severe flood conditions pre­         ing house and a fine lot of choice lumber.
vailed, and again in 1938 flood waters caused          Mr. Edwards’ private residence was considerably
considerable damage.The groundwood pulp mill           damaged by wind and rain and his shade trees
had 54 inches of water standing on the floor.          were completely destroyed.
Two paper machines were out of service for two
days. High water had been an annual spring and         “The actual loss to the company will be about
fall occurrence. As the river rose, it was often       $8,000. The death of Frank Fey and the injuries
necessary to suspend operations due to the mill        received by others, who were piling lumber, are
basements being flooded. Boats were often used         the saddest misfortunes which occurred.
for getting around in the basement of the mill.
From these boats, the electricians would discon­       “The storm crossed the river, passing over
nect motors and electric switch gear and move          Barker Town and demolishing about everything
them to higher places. However, the improved           including the Barker mill and his little hut.”
dams, the building of reservoirs on the river, and     (Barker Town was a small settlement at the
the redesigning of mill sewer systems have prac­       mouth of the Four Mile Creek, now within the
tically eliminated the annual spring damages due       village limits.)
to flooding.
In the fire category, once again we have been for­                soon ablaze, being fanned by a strong wind out of
tunate. Homes have been destroyed, barns, of                      the south. Sparks and burning embers were
which there were several in the village, have                     blown northward where they settled down on
burned because of the storage of green hay. Each                  the village. Some 20 houses and other buildings
was a blow to the owner, but the village was                      were set afire by the flying embers, most of them
spared.                                                           resulting in minor roof fires.Village residents took
                                                                  fire watch vigils, sitting on the roofs of their
A consideration made to unfortunate families                      homes with a pail of water, waiting to quench a
who were victims of a house fire was to permit                    live ember that might land on their roof. Port
them to move into the village town hall. Here                     Edwards had no effective fire protection at the
they set up housekeeping until they had replace­                  time.Thus, firefighting equipment was dispatched
ment accommodations. In at least one case, the                    from Nekoosa, Wisconsin Rapids, Stevens Point
privilege was extended to a family that resided                   and Marshfield, the latter two cities sending
just outside of the village limits.The breadwinner                equipment by train.
of the family was a loyal employee of the paper
mill in Port Edwards. L.M. Alexander became the                   One other fire worthy of mention is the blaze that
intermediary between the village and the family,                  destroyed L.M. Alexander’s garage. The result of
with the result that these fire victims spent a sum­              gasoline vapors and a blow torch caused a flash
mer in the town hall while building a new home.                   fire in this structure.Although the destruction to
                                                                  the building was not a complete loss, there was
But now we come to the conflagration that Port                    the complete destruction of five automobiles,
Edwards can claim as its worst: the log yard fire of              including a Lincoln, a Buick, a Cadillac, a Rolls­
1922. It’s believed to have been started about                    Royce, and a Pierce Arrow.The event was report­
noon one hot, dry summer day by sparks from the                   ed in the NEPCO BULLETIN as follows:
steam switch engine. The pulpwood piles were

Although this is a drill, it is the scene of the west log yard fire at Port Edwards. Not only logs burned, but several homes
in the village incurred damage due to wind­blown burning embers.
Five luxury autos pulled out of L.M.Alexander's garage the day after fire had partially demolished it.

“The alarm was quickly turned into the mill,
but it seemed a day of obstacles. The old green
Pierce Arrow fire truck, warrior of many a
historic battle, refused for several minutes to
respond to any kind of an alarm. She seemed
to take the attitude that her days of service and
excitement were over, for she called for more air
than could be given her, and only after frantic
cranking did she overcome her crankiness and
begin to roar.

“The captains and lieutenants ran around in
circles giving orders to one and another. Water
pressure was not sufficient to brew a cup of tea.
The fire truck headed for the town pump but
ended up on a branch section of the water
main. Our chief was off somewhere. The fires
always occur when he is gone. All in all, we                   The Community Methodist Church the morning after a
resembled a fire company about as much as                      fire did considerable damage to the structure.The base­
Cox’s army.”                                                   ment was salvaged and used for a few years until a new
                                                               church was built.
Some other fires that were very serious in the
eyes of the victims were the Bruener lumber yard
fire, the burning of Roger’s gas station, and the
loss of the Community Methodist Church.

All catastrophes are serious and resulted in hurt­
ing someone. We are fortunate that our entire
village has been spared, at least to date, from dev­
astating floods, fires and tornadoes.
Chapter 21: Facts and Fotos
Last­Minute Notes of Interest
In 1912, the village board had to deal with the              As late as 1946, the village had to deal with pigs
problem of village residents along Wisconsin                 running loose in the streets.This was most likely
River Drive throwing their garbage in the river.             a carryover from the war years when people
                                                             raised chickens, pigs, and even a cow to supple­
                        ******                               ment their meat ration.
John Alexander, to his dying day, worked to get a                                  ******
state highway bridge across the river at Port
Edwards,either at Letendre Avenue or Seneca Road.            NEPCO is an abbreviation of Nekoosa Edwards
                                                             Paper Company. The letters that appear on the
                        ******                               mill smokestack are actually white bricks inserted
                                                             into the stack masonry, and that is why they have
Ice cutting was an annual winter activity carried            survived several corporate name changes.
out by John Gavre and his sons. The ice was
harvested from the mill pond and stored during                                     ******
the summer packed in sawdust in a black
tarpaper­covered building located at the corner              Port Edwards’ only saloon was located near the
of LaVigne and Second Streets.                               dam and supposedly offered “Goodhue’s
                                                             Damnedest.” It was short lived and the village
                        ******                               became a dry town for many years.

Stock certificate from Port Edwards' namesake railroad, the PECAN line.
Mr and Mrs. John Edwards enjoy a pleasant day in front of their 1866 home, now the site of the YMCA parking lot.

After many renovations made by L.M.Alexander, the Elm Court residence of John Edwards looked like this. It was
later converted into apartments prior to demolition.
Lover's Lane was really Highway 73 between Port Edwards and Nekoosa.The road has since been relocated.

The state of Wisconsin established a fish hatchery at Nepco Lake just to stock the lake with fish. It was located near
the present Nepco Lake pumping station.

The bus line that connected Wisconsin Rapids,                 Avenues in the village were named in honor of
Port Edwards and Nekoosa was partially subsi­                 village pioneers:
dized by the village and NEPCO. Forty­five dollars            Edwards – Builder of the original lumber mill
a month was jointly paid to the bus line by the               Alexander – Builder of the paper mill
two supporters.                                               Morrill – Wife of Edwards and first teacher
                                                              Letendre & LaVigne – French lumber raft pilots
                        ******                                Bruener and VerBunker – Early landowners

There was a butcher shop at the corner of
Second and Island Streets. It was later converted
into a duplex home.


Only two women have ever served on the village
board, Dorothy Lichty and Rita Schneider. The
police department and the fire department have
each had one woman on their roll.


What would John Edwards think if he could see
Port Edwards today, and what would Francis                Originally a horse­and­wagon barn, there were a dozen
Morrill have to write about her village if she            of these structures in the village in the pre­auto era.
could see it now?                                         Note the small overhead door for throwing hay into the
                                                          loft. Some still stand, converted into garages such as
                                                          this one.

Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company main office just before being replaced by the modern administration building.

                                                         Port Edwards had a railroad that bore its name for
                                                         about five years.The Port Edwards, Centralia and
                                                         Northern Railroad connected Port Edwards with


                                                         The John Edwards statue across from the YMCA
                                                         was originally a memorial monument on the
                                                         Edwards family lot at Forest Hill Cemetery. Brass
The Carrivou House was a boarding house located at       plates cover the usual engravings in the base of
the end of Edwards Avenue. It was later converted into
                                                         the statue.
two apartments.

A 1927 village ordinance banned all slot machines
from the village and, in 1925, a $5 license fee was      A White City Store and a White City Band identi­
invoked on any provider of soft drinks. I wonder         fied the tradition of buildings being painted
if this applied to the lemonade stands where             white. Even the three railroads abandoned their
young children sold Jiffy Julip for a penny a glass.     tradition of painting their stations with the rail­
                                                         road’s identifying colors and instead painted the
                        ******                           buildings white.White paint was sold by NEPCO
                                                         at a reduced price to encourage people to keep
A late 1920s building program sponsored by               their buildings neat­looking.
NEPCO proved a lot, $35 toward a sidewalk, free
fill and top soil, grading, fertilization and seeding.                           ******
Engineering and contracting service was avail­
able from the NEPCO engineering department.              John Jones lies in the grave located at the Port
Materials could be purchased from the mill store         Edwards dam. He was a teamster for John
department which reflected the advantage of              Edwards and appears to have died a pauper. He
bulk purchase prices.                                    was buried on riparian land and marked with a
                                                         standard war department marker.
In 1929, over 3,000 people experienced their first
airplane ride when NEPCO gave free rides to
employees and their families, utilizing their new
12­passenger Ford Tri­Motor plane.


Moonshine was available during the prohibition
years in the attic of the building located at the
corner of _____ and _____ Streets. (Names delib­
erately left blank!)


Twenty dollars provided a supply of candy Easter
eggs for a village Easter egg hunt in 1951.The vil­      John Jones was a teamster for Edwards. His grave is
lage paid for the eggs.                                  located on riparian land along the river near the Port
                                                         Edwards dam.
Some day this would become Nepco Lake. Land has been cleared, but the dikes and dam are not yet finished in this
1923 view.

A mill whistle directed the lives of village resi­
dents. The schedule of whistle blasts was as fol­
6:55 a.m.         Get ready to begin work.
7:00 a.m.         Beginning of the day shift.
12:00 noon        Lunch hour starts.
12:55 p.m.        A warning that afternoon work
                  was about to start.
1:00 p.m.         End of lunch hour.
4:00 p.m.         End of the day shift.
8:45 p.m.         Curfew. Children under 18 years
                  of age to be off the streets.
Firemen were summoned to fires by blowing the              High water at Nepco Lake in 1938 resulted in closing
mill whistle. A series of short blasts and wailing         the road since the bridge was partially washed out.
shrieks made up a code that told the firemen
where the fire was.


Alexander Field was the scene of an Air Force
training base prior to World War II. During the
war, it was converted into a German prisoner­of ­
war encampment.


Garbage was still being collected and streets grad­
ed by horse­drawn equipment as late as 1940.The            Carriage house for John Edwards' Elm Court estate.
first village dump truck was purchased that year           Later, renovations incorporated an office for L.M.
and the horses were retired.                               Alexander, a library and a ball room.

It’s dedication day for the shopping center.A parade preceded the formalities of the day.

                                                              A “canker worm” epidemic broke out in 1940.
                                                              The nasty insects fell off trees without respect to
                                                              where they landed. Trees in the village were all
                                                              banded with a sticky concoction called Tangle
                                                              Foot. The glue­like substance entangled the
                                                              larvae as they migrated up the tree from their
                                                              soil hatchery.

It’s moving day in the village, as several homes located      John Edwards had the first indoor running water
along Second Street are moved to new locations.               in the village. His home had an enclosed windmill
House moving was more common years ago than it
is today.                                                     alongside the house with an elevated tank at the
                                                              top.This tank provided gravity feed to his home.
                                                              Attractive fixtures were hard to find, however.

In 1893, an act was passed by the Wisconsin
Legislature granting a permit to L.M.Alexander to
construct a toll bridge across the river at Port
Edwards.Alexander did not exercise his option.


A post office was established at Port Edwards in
1859, with John Edwards being appointed as
postmaster. The office was located in the office
of the John Edwards Company.
                                                              The Army Air Force sent a squadron of planes to
                         ******                               Alexander Field for the dedication of that airport in
                                                              1928. The safety of our county was vested in aircraft
                                                              such as these.
Lots of open space west of the mill would eventually be filled with buildings.This view shows a steam log loading
crane on the track, the original laboratory building under the water tower, and the intermill railroad caboose.

Edwards Avenue, looking east toward the river. The entire area on the right of the road is now the Domtar paper
distribution center.
A swamp area at Third and Jefferson Streets was
deep enough for local youths to float a small
beach boat and paddle around. Lack of a boat
prompted the ingenious use of a wash tub and an
old broom for a paddle. Considered a wetland by
today’s standards, the area was a nuisance and
mosquito breeding area then. Hence, it was filled
in and homes built thereon.


An artesian spring flowed out of the hill on the
west side of Wisconsin River Drive, about 100 yards
south of Seneca Road. Piped across the road, it
provided cool, refreshing spring water for village                The village owned this waste treatment plant when it
residents. It still flows today, but it is piped direct­          was built. A municipal bond issue by the village
ly to the river. A tall clump of overgrown grass                  financed the cost. The bonds were then paid off by
indicates where the tile basin was located.                       Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company over a period of

Tri­City Flying School operated for several years at Alexander Field, right after the airport was built. Here is the student
Chapter 22: Closing
What's Next?

Well, this concludes the history of Port Edwards        second 100 years. It would have been nice if John
during its first 100 years as an incorporated vil­      Edwards might have had the benefit of a camera
lage and the years that preceded incorporation.         to record the views of buildings and sites in
Many things have not been told. But, alas, the          Frenchtown!
number of allotted pages has been used up. One
of the hardest tasks of a writer is to try and decide   I strongly recommend that the village govern­
what information is of major interest to the            ment, the schools, churches, and individuals start
readers. There is always much more that could           recording village life, using their video, digital
be included, and that is certainly the case here.       and film cameras. Start taking notes in your
For the interested reader, you are referred to          diaries, journals, and scrapbooks.
the Alexander house archives, where there is
enough information to prepare a set of history          Let’s hope there will not be any catastrophes to
books. The minutes of the village board are a           record, but rather lots of civic improvements and
valuable source of information and are public           expansions. After all, Port Edwards will not die
information.                                            and become a ghost town!

Now we have to look forward to the next 100 years.      We are fortunate to have the Alexander House
Come the year 2102, I hope that someone will            located in our village. It has become a depository
come forth and offer to bring this history of our       for village history. Visual and graphic articles on
village up to date. It should be an easier task for     local history can be left there where they will be
two reasons. First of all, the history for the first    preserved.
100 years is contained herein and will form the
groundwork to build upon. And secondly, equip­          So let’s all lend a hand to that unknown author of
ment exists today that will enable pictures to be       2102 who is going to be responsible for writing
made of the village as it progresses through the        the second 100 years of history for Port Edwards.
                                A Tribute

This community has sometimes been referred to as a company town. It may be that, but
one can add that the paper mill was a community­oriented company.
This is best illustrated by the many efforts expended by Lewis and John Alexander and
what they did for the village.

John Alexander told me once that he was a dreamer, and when he dreamed of something
often enough, he just wanted to make it become a reality. And making it become a
reality was usually done on a grand scale. John’s dreams that became realities were
the following:

                 Creation of Nepco Lake and Recreation Area
                 Development of Alexander Field
                 Establishing a Boys and Girls Club and Camp
                 Spearheading the building of the school auditorium
                 Construction of the Port Edwards Shopping Center
                 Building of an eight­unit apartment building
                 Financing a municipal swimming pool
                 Providing uniforms for the school band
                 Causing a stately adminstration building to be built
                 Building a YMCA Community Center
                 Guiding NEPCO to prominence in fine paper production
                 Donating land for village parks and churches

These are the major items that John dreamed of. There are scores of lessor important
things that John caused to become realities. Accordingly, I believe that the village of Port
Edwards owes a debt of gratitude to John Alexander and his father, Lewis. It is to them
that I dedicate my efforts in writing this book.

Publishing a book is no easy task. No one person can claim the credit for completing the project.
                   Therefore, I would like to acknowledge the participation of
        the following people and organizations that helped to make this project a reality.

                                     FINANCIAL SUPPORT

                                    Alexander Foundation
                          South Wood County Community Foundation
                                Terry and Judy Paul Foundation
                                Port Edwards Business Council
                                 Vulcan Chemicals Company
                                    Village of Port Edwards
                                   Port Edwards Lions Club
                                 Aid Association for Lutherans

                                        MEMORIAL TO

                  Samuel A. Casey      John P. Melsen      Gerard E.Veneman

                                        Stephen M. Hill

                                      IN­KIND SUPPORT

                                     Domtar Industries Inc.

                                    PRODUCTION SUPPORT

                                       J. Marshall Buehler
                                         Virginia Johnson
                                        Gretchen Buehler
                                    Fey Publishing Company

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