The Mills of Waterford – Site No. 5

1845 Millsite#5 highlited
Mill Site No. 5 highlighted on 1845 Moses Vilas Survey Map. Overlay by R.E. Gariepy, Sr.

History

After Samuel Chapman and Levi Barnes located the river that was said to have a good fall of water, work immediately began to build the dam to control it. This is the original mill site in Waterford.

Water was harnessed to provide the necessary power to run the first mill – a sawmill. Logs were floated to the sawmill in the Fox River where they were hooked and dragged up to the loading deck of the mill. A large water wheel with cups to hold water was connected to a series of wooden wheels and gears to a thick, large tooth, vertical saw, which made it reciprocate up and down, while the log was fed into the saw. Click HERE to see a re-constructed sawmill in operation. A similar operation can be seen at Wisconsin Historical Society’s Wade House in Greenbush, Wisconsin.

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Sawmill at Wisconsin Historical Society’s Wade House, Greenbush, Wis. Photo by R.E. Gariepy, Sr.

Virgin timber stood in thick forests all around the Waterford area. Since wood frame buildings were needed to build homes and businesses, the sawmill was the natural first choice to harness the water power – and the wood was virtually free.

An early pioneer, Edwin Bottomley, from English Settlement, which is three miles southeast of Waterford, in March, 1843, tells of the available logs in the Fox River: “in Proof of which I can state that theire (sic) are no less than 4000 Logs lying at the Saw Mills of Waterford and Rochester and in the river ready for rafting down when the ice breaks up and the greatest part of these have been cut from government Land.”1

It is not known how long Chapman operated the sawmill.

From the time property tax records started for this Site No. 5; 1863, until 1871, a succession of owners included, James Kehlor, Ole Hedjford, Bronkhorst & Co., and Smith, Parks & Co.

Dan Thompson’s Boat & Sawmill Enterprise

Dan Thompson’s Sawmill – c. 1870’s. Wisconsin Digital Collection.

In 1867, Chapman recruited Daniel Thompson of Eagle Lake to move his operation to this site. Chapman was particularly interested in having Thompson’s little steamboat kept on the Fox River for cutting back weeds and taking excursions up to Lake Tichigan.

Letter about river boat and Chapman ca 1868 -wpl00639x
Letter explaining Dan Thompson’s excursion boat. Burlington Historical Society.
Steamboat Excursion ad 5-1868 wpl00640x
Dan Thompson’s excursion boat flyer. Burlington Historical Society.
Dan Thompson's Yankee Dan boat
Dan Thompson’s “Yankee Dan”Excursion Boat With Old St. Peter’s Church in the Background. Wisconsin Digital Collection.

Thompson’s obituary lists the following details of his move to Waterford: “In 1867, he sold his farm and moved to Waterford. The next winter he also moved his boat by means of horses and sleighs to the Fox River. The following spring, he built his saw mill on the banks of the river. Scarcely had he got settled in his new home, which was not completed, when his wife died after only a short sickness. In 1870 he was again united in marriage to Miss Hattie A. Hutchinson.

He at once opened up his saw mill and added in connection to this a little retail lumber yard which he conducted for nearly 30 years until failing health obliged him to retire. A few years ago, he pulled fo(sic) piece of his first steam boat and built another, which with later improvements and equipment still operated on the river.”2

Dan Thompson-wife ca 1870 -wpl00068l
Dan Thompson and Wife Hattie, c. 1870. Wisconsin Digital Collection, wp1000681.

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Dan Thompsons- The Daisy-excursion boat
Dan Thompson’s New Excursion Boat “The Daisy”. Wisconsin Digital Collection.
Thompson Lumber Yard
Thompson Lumber Yard Just Southwest of the Sawmill. Overlay by R.E. Gariepy, Sr. on 1911 Sanborn Fire Map.

Thompson died November 21,1900 from complications of an injury caused by a rolling log breaking his leg at the sawmill. He was several years in recovery, but eventually succumbed to an infection. The land remained in the Thompson name until around 1920.

Huening Bros.

In 1920, the Huening Bros. owned an ice house on the property. The site became a residence for Frank Huening where he lived for about 40 years. After that, Clarence Huening became the property owner until at least 1986.3

Frank Huening property1]
Huening Bros. Ice House on the North Side of the Dam.
Frank Huening property2
Frank Huening Home on old Thompson sawmill site. Wisconsin Digital Collection.
Huening Park - wpl00838l
Waterford Post Article, June, 1990

Today, a single-family residence and a boat launch facility occupy the site.

Dam site3
Looking north from the Waterford Dam. Photo by R.E. Gariepy, Sr.

Lead Researcher: Robert E. Gariepy, Sr.

NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through director@ExploreWaterford.com. We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared.  Credit will be given.

Sources:

  1. An English Settler in Pioneer Wisconsin, The Letters of Edwin Bottomley, March 17, 1843 p.41. Wisconsin Historical Society, 1918.
  2. Daniel Thompson Obituary, Waterford Post, December 20, 1900.
  3. Property Tax Records, UW Parkside Archives.
  4. Current Photos by R.E. Gariepy, Sr.
  5. Archival Photos from Wisconsin Digital Collection.