Fisherman's Wake

Fisherman's Wake

Highway HH (old U.S. 10) parallels the Wisconsin River and the still waters of the Stevens Point Flowage to the west of the city offering several beautiful vistas.  This image is from a boat landing at a local entertainment establishment shrouded in early morning fog.

I was attracted by the contrast of the buoy against an early morning colored sky and glass like water. I stood quietly for some time admiring the scene and enjoying the calmness. Off in the distance, I began to sense the gentle chugging of a small horsepower motor that became increasingly louder. I began to anticipate a boat arrival at the landing but the chugging gently faded into the distance.  I never saw the boat but a resulting wake left good memories and this image.  After capturing the image the wake faded back to the original stillness.  Photography captures an instant in time that quickly becomes what has been, fading into what becomes the historical past.

This landing reminded me the Wisconsin River has been a major highway for peoples of Wisconsin, a transporting route for supplies, a waterway bringing logs to sawmills and a route getting products to market.  Many of the major cities along the river originated as sawmills processing logs felled in the north and then floated down the Wisconsin to be milled.  Early lumber and shingle mills attempted to harness the power of the river but were hampered by irregular flows caused by seasonal change and variable precipitation.  Dams were built to establish a series of flowages used to even out the flow of water first for a variety of water powered mills and later for hydroelectric power and paper mills.

Stevens Point as adapted from 1878 map published by Snyder, Van Vechten & Co. Milwaukee. The red circle is the approximate location of the image.  Note the log booms just upriver from Stevens Point.

In 1839 George Stevens purchased a log shack built by James Allen to be used for supply storage for a sawmill he planned to build upriver. The shack was on the Wisconsin River at was to become Main Street in the community of Stevens Point. You would have seen George Stevens paddling his canoe up the Wisconsin River past this location in 1840 after launching from his storage shack loaded with supplies for his sawmill in Wausau.  A year later he drove his first raft of lumber from Wausau past this point bound for the Mississippi River. By 1855, each spring day you would have witnessed over 3 million board feet of lumber passing this location.

Starting in 1854, you would have watched the aside-wheel steamer The Northerner making its nine hour trek between Stevens Point and Mosinee.

During the 1870’s you would have watched lumbermen and “river hogs” working the Stevens Point Log Boom. Consisting of logs strung together by chains and anchored to the shore, booms were used to corral logs coming downstream. An owner’s mark on each log allowed lumberman to sort, grade and send to downstream sawmills as needed.  The Wisconsin was a single channel at the time requiring the river to be divided into boom and navigable channels. As you might imagine disputes arose regarding how to access the boom from shore and how much of the river could be taken up by the boom.  One such dispute was resolved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The ruling has since been cited in numerous court cases across the country.

During the late 1800’s, the small steamboat “Lillian” owned by Dr. Jesse Smith made pleasure trips up/down the Wisconsin River north of Stevens Point. Photo from the Portage County Historical Society.

n 1880 you would have witnessed very high Wisconsin River floodwaters breaking the log boom and subsequently flooding Stevens Point. 

In 1918, Consolidated Papers, INC. built a hydroelectric dam at Stevens Point creating the Stevens Point Flowage. Although no longer the thoroughfare of the past, the upper Wisconsin River is still a hard-working river with 26 hydroelectric dams and 21 storage reservoirs supporting industry and the peoples of Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin River – Stevens Point Flowage adapted from The red circle is the approximate location of the image. The hydroelectric dam can be seen just above the railroad bridge in Stevens Point.