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Goc, Michael J. / From past to present : the history of Adams County

Introduction,   pp. [6]-[7] PDF (1.8 MB)

Page [6]

Every community has its own story, unique unto itself. The 
chore of every community historian is to research and tell that 
story as accurately and clearly as possible in order to convey a 
sense of the place as it has developed over time. 
The Adams County story is certainly unique. The plot was 
outlined by a series of incidents related to time and place as well 
as natural and human action. For example, the pioneer lumber 
industry was the leading force for development in the Wisconsin 
River Valley in the 19th Century. Because of lines drawn on a 
map by treaty negotiators and by legislators with no more than a 
vague idea of the geography of the territory, Adams County 
became only a marginal participant in the lumber industry. None 
of the major water power 
sites where the lumber- 
men located the mills 
that were the foundation 
of cities such as Wiscon- 
sin Rapids, Stevens Point 
and Wausau were 
included in the borders of 
Adams County. The 
builders of the sawmill 
village of Barnum tried to 
be part of the Wisconsin 
lumber industry, but they 
lacked access to logs, had 
no suitable water power 
and went out of business 
after about ten years of 
operation. As a result, the 
Adams County portion is 
one of the longest 
stretches on the Wiscon- 
sin River without a city of 
at least a few thousand 
where the lumber industry 
made jobs and created    "Rocky Rock, near Easton" 
In part because of the absence of a sawmill town, Adams 
was the last county in Wisconsin to have a railroad within its 
borders. It is difficult to underestimate the impact of the railroad 
in 19th Century America. The railroad delivered the mail, 
carried settlers, shipped farm products, hauled manufactured 
goods, made jobs and built communities. In sum, it was the most 
important social and economic force in the country and Adams 
County suffered for its absence. Without a railroad, Adams 
County was harder to reach and more isolated than neighboning 
counties. It cost more and took longer to travel to the county, to 
ship farm products out and to bring manufactured goods here 
than to places served by the Iron Horse. 
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the power of the railroad is 
to look at what happened when regular rail service began in 
1911. Since the 1 850s, the largest village in the county, Friend- 
ship, could not muster a population much larger than 300 souls. 
Less than five years after the Chicago and North Western 
Railroad arrived, the largest village in the county, Adams, had a 
population of 1200 and Friendship itself grew beyond the 500 
mark. The totals were still small, but the rate of growth was 
phenomenal. What might have happened in the county had the 
tracks been laid fifty years earlier at the start of the railroad age 
instead of near its end is anyone's guess. As it happened, the 
railroad arrived at the dawn of the automobile age, which also 
gives Adams the distinction of being the only county in Wiscon- 
sin to have autos running on its roads before it had railcars 
running on tracks. 
The final and more fundamental fact of Adams County 
history is the poverty of its soil. The sandy loam, bare sand and 
blow sand comprising the bulk of the earth beneath the feet of 
county farmers sit high 
on the list of the poorest 
agricultural soils in 
Wisconsin. As a result, 
farming here was more 
difficult, more costly and 
less profitable than in 
other parts of the state. 
A    The poor soil limited 
settlement and, in many 
cases, attracted farmers 
of last resort-people of 
limited means who 
purchased inexpensive 
ground, no matter how 
infertile, because that 
was all they could afford. 
Consequently, the 
history of Adams County 
is dominated by three 
negatives: no water 
power on the Wisconsin, 
no railroad until 1911, no 
k  soil except infertile sand. 
These facts shaped the 
Adams County of 1900 and that of the year 2000. 
Despite its discouraging fundamentals the story of the 
county is not entirely negative. In fact, much of the history of 
Adams County is the story of people who, when confronted with 
negative facts, struggled mightily to overcome them. Crops were 
raised, homes built, schools established, churches founded, laws 
enforced, families made, communities created. This story of 
quiet heroism is the story told in From Past To Present. 
Of necessity, the book focuses on the first century of county 
history. For, along with the other omissions affecting its story, 
Adams County has not had a comprehensive history book of its 
own. Gauging its small population and potential market for their 
wares, publishers either bypassed the county or lumped it into 
bulky volumes that covered six, ten or twenty other counties as 
well. Therefore, we felt it necessary to dwell on the basics and 
concentrate on the period from about 1830 to the 1960s because 
no one else has. 
The decision is practical from the editorial and the histori- 
cal points of view. The 1960s witnessed an end to what might be 

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