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Town of Day, 101 years

Down through history,   pp. 6-10

Page 10

And the public was the loser.
During the years before 1870, travel to Marathon
County was in two forms. The first was the stage lines,
serviced by prairie schooner type wagons, from the
settlements in the south and east. The second was the
occasional river steamer, or the private boats and canoes
that traveled the streams. The stage lines made regular
runs from Milwaukee, through the Fox river Valley to
Plover, Grand Rapids, (Wisconsin Rapids) New Lisbon,
Mosinee, and finally Wausau. In 1850 a post office was
established in Wausau. These stage lines brought freight,
passengers and mail. In 1858 a regular daily stage
traveled between Stevens Point and Wausau, as the city
was named when Marathon became a county.
There were, however, entire sections of Marathon
County that were uninhabited by permanent settlers,
principally in the areas away from the Wisconsin River.
Mostly, the land was unsurveyed and it was not until 1862
when the Homestead Act was passed, that the federal
government made provisions to pass the lands in their
domain to the public.
Most of the settlers in this land were Americans,
people from the east, veterans weary of the Civil War, and
southern Wisconsinites who felt they needed a new
start, and more room.  Unfortunately, especially for
people from outside the state, they had little experience in
buying farm land in Wisconsin.
Seeing an ad in an eastern newspaper that showed a
platt map of a town with a navigable river, stores,
churches, and a school, people bought land, spending
their entire savings, often, leaving only enough for the
fare to get to Mosinee.
Imagine their feelings as they arrived at the end of the
stage line. A few inquiries made it clear that there were
no roads to get to the land. The town they had seen on
paper was just that, a paper town, existing only in dreams
of the people who had bought the land to sell. The
navigable stream was only navigable by canoe, if they
could find an Indian willing to take them. Often, those who
could, gave up in disgust and went back. Others had little
choice but to hire a canoe, or walk, cutting out a trail for
themselves in the wilderness.
One poor fellow, a tailor by trade, decided that he
wanted to keep a few cows, and that he would need some
land outside of town for that. So he decided to buy land
eight miles east of "town".
Nor did they have the experience to know what was
needed to survive in the wilderness they found in
Wisconsin. The land was covered with dense forest, and
farming could only be done when the trees were cleared.
Another family arriving at Mosinee found that the only
way to get from there to the land they had purchased was
to walk, no easy task for the women and children. Luckily,
they found a shanty on their property, probably the work
of a logger. With their last cash, the settler, then returned
to what he expected was a town. He found a settler who
was willing to sell him nine bushels of dried peas. And
this they lived on for the entire winter. Although game
was plentiful, they did not have the money to buy a gun.
Clearing the land was painfully slow, because the farmer
had to work out for part of the time in order to earn a small
amount of cash or perhaps a cow, in order to survive.
In 1871 the Wisconsin Central Railroad was organized.
They consolidated several earlier lines, and constructed
the first railway to cross from Menasha, through Stevens
Point to Ashland. This qualified the company for 837,000
acres of government land in alternate sections along the
railbed.  Gardner Colby, a Boston capitalist, put
$9,000,000 into the construction, while its first president
was Edwin H. Abbot. Later this became part of the Soo
It was these same lines that caused some towns to
grow. Landowners, realizing that the value of their lands
would increase with the railroads, bribed, tricked and
cheated to get the railroads to locate in their settlements.
When the railroad came to Wausau, businessmen,
remembering the plank road that was unfinished, said
they would put up $25,000 to finance the railroad, but only
if the track did not go through Stevens Point. Thus, the
railroad was built from Junction City.
Towns in Marathon County that were built as a direct
result of the location of the railroad in 1871 and 1872 were
Spencer, Brighton, Hull, and Holeton. As soon as the trail
was cut, and the line surveyed, the railroad invited settlers
to buy the land, but still settlement was slow. Under the
Homestead Act, settlers were required to live on the land
they obtained from the government, and few were willing
to risk that. Those that did settle, took up land right along
the right of way. Even with the railroad, freight costs
were high, and provisions that could be purchased were
The lands owned by the railroads were extensive, and
the budding communities hoped to obtain some revenue
from taxes. But the railroads obtained exemptions from
the state, and the money did not come in, so the settlers
had to pay heavy taxes to obtain the services they needed.
But eventually, all the land along the railroads were
purchased by private individuals. And people had to move
away from the railroads, building roads, so that eventually
the entire area was settled. It was a slow process, the
settling of Marathon County.
Austin, Russell H., The Wisconsin Story, The Building of
the Vanguard State Journal Company, Milwaukee,
Marchetti, Louis., History of Marathon County, WI and
Representative Citizens. Richmond-Arnold Publishing
Co., Chicago, Illinois c1913
Rosholt, Malcolm, Our County, Our Story, Portage
County, Wisconsin.
Worzella Publishing Co., Stevens Point, Wisconsin c1957
Straub, A. G., The History of Marathon, Wisconsin,
Marathon Times, Marathon, Wisconsin 1957.
June 28, 1918, SJ: C.N. Hansen and Mrs. F.I. Nelsen of
Altia, Iowa who were called to Rozellville by the death of
their brother P.H. Hansen, returned to their homes
Aug. 20 1953 SJ: Jerry Nikolay, member of the Willing
Worker's 4-H club received several ribbons for his
exhibits at the Wausau fair.

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