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Rhonda's View Rendezvous: A lot was happening here in 1846

11:06 AM, Jan. 7, 2013  |  Comments
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On Facebook, I have a page called Vanished River Cities - Central Wisconsin, where I post information and photos about things, places and even people long gone. There are 110 members on this page, and some of them also contribute photos and information.

A recent discussion about the beautiful "White House" built by Francis Biron in 1865, led me to review information on that historic building and revisit some of the history of our area at that time. I decided to share some of that with you loyal readers - not so much about the gingerbread house that sits in front of the mill, but rather about the man who built it.

1846 was an important year in the history of Wisconsin Rapids, although the city was not called that back then.

Joseph Wood, after whom Wood County was named, arrived in Centralia that year. While many others like Whitney, Kline, Hasbrouck and Baker preceded him here, it was Wood who made the biggest impact on this area.

When Wood County was carved out from Portage County 10 years later in 1856, Judge Joseph Wood wished it to be named Greenwood County, but his contemporaries insisted on naming it after him.

Back in 1846, the population of Grand Rapids was listed as 130 men and 17 women.

It was that same year when the first known burial place took place at the top of the hill at the north end of 10th Street North. The man was a canoeist who died while accompanying Bishop Lavenchey on his way through here up the Wisconsin River. Two years later, this same land was donated to Grand Rapids by John J. Kruikshank, although in 1934 the town had all remains removed to Forest Hill cemetery, and this plat was deeded to the city to become a public park.

Depending upon which historical document you read, it was either 1837 or 1839 when Harrison Fay and Joshua Draper built the sawmill along the Wisconsin River in what is now Biron, and the following year, the first fleet of lumber rafts traveled down the river from that mill.

Getting back to the beginning of this column though, it was also in 1846 that Francis X. Biron, who arrived in the area in 1840, saw its potential, buying it from Fay's widow, and so was born the "Biron mill" as we now call it.

When Biron died, his three children, Francis Jr., George Severe and Laura, inherited the sawmill.

The sawmill would continue until the lumbering days ended, and it was between 1894 and 1897 that the Grand Rapids Pulp and Paper Company was incorporated by Francis' son, George Severe Biron, J.D. Witter and others, and the Biron papermill was built on the site of the sawmill.

Eventually, the village would be named for Francis Biron. Surveyed in 1895 and the plat recorded in 1896, it was 1910 when the village actually was incorporated, many years after Biron's death in 1877.

As you can see, so much of our local history began in 1846 with the arrival of Wood and the vision of Biron - fully two years before Wisconsin even became a state in 1848.

Rhonda Whetstone is a columnist for Daily Tribune Media, News-Herald Media and Stevens Point Journal Media. Rhonda's Twitter ID is TribRendezvous, if you wish to follow her musings there. You also can get previews to upcoming columns by clicking "like" Rhonda's View Rendezvous on Facebook. If you have story ideas of a historical nature, email her at Rhonda.Whetstone@gmail.com.

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