University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The State of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

Curtiss-Wedge, F.; Jones, Geo. O. (ed.) / History of Dunn County, Wisconsin

Chapter VII: Some economic aspects of 1846,   pp. 43-49

Page 44

1837 to 1839, at the time when John H. Fonda says he worked here for Lockwood.
The existing conditions did not seem to warrant an investment, in 1846, in a
sawmill at Menomonie but business men often forecast future conditions and invest
on what they think they foresee, rather than on those things which have become
established in the past and are continuing at the present time. John H. Knapp and
William Wilson probably, in 1846, invested, believing that future favorable condi-
tions in the Mississippi River Valley for a lumber trade would so on exist, as did
Lockwood in 1829. (See article on the Knapp, Stout & Co. Company).
The river towns may, as reported, have "languished," but there was a large
rural population, yearly emigrating into southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois and
Iowa. The hard times of 1837 and other adverse economic factors operating in the
eastern states, set in motion a stream of westward emigration. Men came, with
and without families, each eager to secure cheap lands. This rush was in full push
in 1845 and continued well into the fifties. This farm settlement beckoned trade
in lumber but local conditions at the mill at Menomonie were adverse to purchase.
From Jan. 1, 1841, to June 1, 1846, there had been four successive proprietors of
this sawmill, clled the upper mill, located at the mouth of Meadow River, now
known as Wilson's Creek. Four changes of ownership in five years does not present
a situation indicating that continuity of action necessary to the stability required
for the prosperity of any permanent business enterprise. The court records of the
time show the last three of these proprietors each to have been bankrupt or nearly
so when he quit business here.
It was not a fully prosperous and well established enterprise that Mr. Knapp
and Mr. Wilson bought in May, 1846. .Mr. Knapp although somewhat fore-
handed had his money invested in business at Ft. Madison. Mr. Wilson, had no
ready money to invest and in fact had heavy obligations as the result of an unfor-
tunate steamboat venture. Mr. Knapp paid the money required to be paid down
on the purchase and his financial standing supplied the credit necessary to start the
These men were cautious. They bought only a one-half interest, but to secure
some stability of action, entered into a contract with David Black, from whom they
bought and who retained the other one-half interest, by which for five years they
were to have full and unquestioned control of the entire business.
They were at Menomonie in conference about June 1, 1846, the time set for
them to take full possession of the property. It was agreed they should divide
supervision. Capt. Wilson was to attend to the manufacture of the lumber at
M1enomonie, and start it on its run as far as the mouth of the Chippewa, at that
point, Mr. Knapp was to take charge of running it down the river and selling it
at any river towns where he found a market.
This decision served to make Capt. Wilson a resident partner at the mill. He
soon saw what this meant to him in social life. He was to be separated from his
family, to live with a crew of mill men, they equally deprived of the social influence
of family life. Connected with this social situation is an incident told by Henry
E. Knapp, the same having been told to him by his father, John H. Knapp.
At the end of the conference here mentioned Mr. Knapp started on his journey
home.   At the mouth of the Chippewa River he found the steamboat on which he
was to take passage on its way up the river instead of down, as by schedule time
it should have been going. Rather than wait ashore he went aboard and made the
trip up and back. On the return, at the Chippewa, MIr. Wilson got aboard. Mr.
Knapp, surprised, said, "Why, Capt. Wilson, what has happened? You were to
stav at the mill."  The captain replied: "Mr. Knapp, I concluded it was not the
best thing for me to stay there without my family. I am going to Ft. i\Iadison
and -make arrangements for my family to move to the mill."  The captain's wife
and his family did arrive here on the ensuing fourth of July.
A man ordinarily considers the city, town or country community where his
family resides as his permanent abiding place and all other human settlements
where he may chance to be mere temporary living places. Here was an instance
of the application of this principle or theory of living. Capt. Wilson now sought

Go up to Top of Page