By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
It all started after the Great Menominee Treaty of 1836. Northern and central Wisconsin mainly consisted of some Native Americans, a few settlers, lots of trees, and the Wisconsin River.
George Stevens, a hearty soul, and his lovely wife lived somewhere up north. George looked around one day and said to the wife, “You know, dear, a guy could really do something with all these trees. I’m gonna chop one down.”
So he did.
The next day, George and the missus packed up their canoe. They put some furs into the canoe, and also loaded up on homemade rum. They hopped into their big canoe and started paddling south down the Wisconsin River. They were looking for opportunities to somehow sell their huge log.
Two hours into their trip south, Mrs. Stevens said to George, “Honey, I don’t mind all these stinky furs, and the rum has its place. But seriously, we gotta get this dang log out of the canoe. Darn thing almost sunk us back there.”
Then George came up with an idea. In an excited voice, he said, “I got it; let’s tie a rope to the end of the log and put the log right into the river and we’ll just drag it behind us.”
So they did.
The Stevens family eventually pulled into shore. They hauled their canoe and log onto solid ground and were ready for business. They wrote a sign that said “Tree log for sale” and waited for someone else to come by in a canoe. Eventually, another settler pulled up, saw the sign, and bought the log.
George suddenly had a nifty gig going. He brought out his just-invented chainsaw, cut a ton of trees down, put ropes on them, and floated his logs down the river. He was now a stud in the growing timber industry.
This time, he continued to float a hundred of his logs down the river. However, George and his wife were getting exhausted. They decided to halt their journey upon coming up to something called the Clark Street Bridge. They brought their canoe on shore and got all the logs into order on the beach. Then they rested.
They continued to make journeys up and down the river. They were making good money selling their logs. Then George said, “You know, that one area off of the river makes a great stopping point. Let’s build a grocery store and supply business. Lord knows we got enough logs.”
So they did.
One must remember that all this was happening in 1838. Our own Civil War was still twenty years away. There were no roads. Just a bunch of woods. The river served as the main method of transport. The Wisconsin River was the “Gateway to the Pineries”. Immigrants from England, Norway, and Poland started pouring in. The timber industry dominated the area and business was thriving.
George continued to make many trips up and down the river. He kept going back up north for furs, nails, and groceries. He hired someone else to run the grocery store and bait shop.
Pretty soon, the river was full of floating logs and little boats. The people needed somewhere to stop. They saw George’s store and figured, “Well, this looks like a good place to use as a stopping-off point.
George was right when he said: “If we build it, they will come”. Someone else also said that about a baseball field, but George said it first.
The stopping-off point grew bigger every year. Immigrants crowded into the area. Many were potato farmers. They created a “market square” where folks could sell their stuff and have social gatherings. And bars sprung up like dandelions.
Neat things were going on all over the place in this new area. The Point Brewery opened in 1857, just before the Civil War. Stevens Point Normal School (now UWSP) opened in 1894. It became the first university in the nation to offer a major in conservation. In 1895, Lullaby Furniture invented the self-rocking cradle. In 1896, Jack Frost sold homemade fishing flies in the new town. “The Fly-Tackle Capital of the World”.
And one day, George Stevens unloaded some more supplies and was approached by a stranger. The guy said, “Man..look at all these people! What a nifty store! Look at all of these logs! Hey, what’s the name of this place?”
George scratched his head and answered, “Beats me. I live in Wausau.”