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Timber Trails in the Chippewa Valley

Timber Trails in the Chippewa Valley, Eau Claire, WI

Tall stands of timber, eventually producing billions of board feet of lumber, brought settlers to the Chippewa Valley. Now, more than 150 years later, this area is a colorful combination of legacies left by wealthy lumber barons, hard-working immigrants and persevering pioneers.

The Chippewa Valley opened for lumbering following the treaty of 1837 between the U.S. and the Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indians. As Americans moved across the Mississippi and onto the treeless prairies and plains, the enormous white pine forest of the Chippewa Valley became an acknowledged resource, not for Wisconsin itself, but for Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas. The Chippewa River system became a natural assembly line for the production of lumber; a 46 billion board feet of white pine became rough-sawn lumber, ready to float downstream to market towns.

Lumbering dominated the economy of the Valley for 40 years, creating opportunities for lumbermen, speculators, carpenters, blacksmiths and shopkeepers. The nature of the industry determined where towns formed. Proximity to the pinery marked the birth of Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire and Menomonie. Capable of holding huge quantity of logs, these towns grew to be the largest in the Chippewa Valley.

A winter's cutting in the woods ended with the spring log drive, and the shrill whine of saw blades filled the towns. Mill hands pulled planks directly from the giant saws and assembled them into rafts more than 200 feet long. Chippewa Falls boasted the largest sawmill in the Valley, capable of cutting 400,000 board feet of lumber in one 12-hour day. Knapp, Stout & Company dominated Menomonie and by 1873, Eau Claire alone had 11 active mills.

Thousands of settlers poured into the Chippewa Valley, drawn by opportunities in lumbering; Yankees and Canadians came first, followed by Germans, Irish and Norwegians. Villages grew into towns. Large and small fortunes were made, lost and sometimes made again. But the boom was only part of the story.

By 1884, the "inexhaustible" pinery had largely disappeared. Loggers retraced their steps, cutting trees previously considered too small. Speculators looked elsewhere, stump pullers replaced the crosscut saw and residents wondered how they would survive the loss of the forest.

In the aftermath of lumbering, no single industry dominated the Valley. Leaders touted their railroad connections, skilled workers and cheap hydroelectric power. In Chippewa Falls, existing companies like Mason Shoe and Leinenkugel's Brewery survived by changing with the times. In Eau Claire, Phoenix Manufacturing and McDonough Manufacturing found faraway markets for their products. Scores of others went bankrupt.

Where one generation cut logging trails and rafted lumber, the next paved highways, managed creameries and manufactured products to ship all over the world. As the 20th century dawned, changes were evident. Boarding houses gave way to modest homes in new neighborhoods, washing machines replaced scrub boards and log homes no longer announced the arrival of spring. An education became an investment in the future.

In the 1920s, more women entered the workforce, children stayed in school longer and tourism proved to be very profitable for the Chippewa Valley.

Today, there are no holding ponds; no sawmills; no loggers braving the winter in the woods. But from the past, springs the future. The lumber industry in the Chippewa Valley provided roots from which our unique heritage grew. Evidence of this era exists even today, leaving timber trails for everyone to follow.

For the history buff, “Timber Trails” features the Chippewa Valley Museum, Paul Bunyan Logging Camp, Mabel Tainter Theater, Russell J. Rassbach Heritage Museum, Wilson Place Museum, Cook Rutledge Mansion and the Leinenkugel’s Brewery. Performing arts include the Fanny Hill Victorian Inn and Dinner Theatre, The State Regional Arts Center, Country Fest, Rock Fest, IGA’s Country Jam USA and the Chippewa Valley Blues Festival.  Visitors can experience captivating theater performances, historic museums and grand mansions that all offer a a peek into the past of the Chippewa Valley.


Chippewa Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau
3625 Gateway Drive
Eau Claire, WI 54701

Visiting hours: 

Monday – Friday:  8 am – 5 pm
Weekends: 10 am – 3 pm

Contact Info:

Timber Trails in the Chippewa Valley
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Phone: 715-831-2345
Toll Free: 1-888-523-3866
Fax: 715-831-2340
Website: http://chippewavalley.net/