Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Wausau

Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Wausau

Follow the history of Wausau from its milling origins to today's vibrant Central Wisconsin community, built on the ambitions and pride of its residents. Film, archival images and interviews with historians and residents tell the stories of Wausau's early settlement, the transformative impact of investors called "The Wausau Group" and the city's tradition of building local cultural institutions.

Premiere date: Jan 24, 2011

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TRANSCRIPT+

Intro

This program is brought to you by the combined resources of the Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Public Television.

On Wisconsin Hometown Stories a city founded on the Wisconsin River built up by the harvest of a great pine forest and strengthened by a strong spirit of community a city transformed by group investment and visionary efforts to put it on the map. On Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Wausau.

Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Wausau is made possible in part by the family of Cyrus Yawkey; the Caroline S. Mark Legacy Fund of the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin; the B.A. and Esther Greenheck Foundation; Aspirus, a comprehensive healthcare system serving north central Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula; Ruder Ware; the Dudley Foundation; the Walter Alexander Foundation; and for curriculum development the Judd S. Alexander Foundation. With additional support from these funders including the Friends of Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin History Fund, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

White Pine and Water Power

Narrator: 
In 1838, an eastern lumberman named George Stevens made his way up the Wisconsin River to see for himself whether the talk of a great pine forest was true.

Brett Barker: 
It's almost hard to imagine what he would have seen here in Wausau at the time really vast tracts of the white pine this great white pine resource one of the great resources in all of North America. And by about the early to mid-1830s white settlers had come to realize just how vast a resource this was and begun to think about exploiting it. And so, this is really the time the U.S. government began to take steps to sign treaties with the Indian peoples to take the land away from them. The land that is now Wausau proper was ceded by the Menomonie in 1836. It was land that was, at different times used by the Menomonie, the Ojibwe the Ho-Chunk.

Richard Durbin: 
It's called, informally, the Indian Strip. And this was a strip three miles on each side of the river starting at Nekoosa and going north to Wausau.

Michael Goc: 
And that opened that strip of land to logging but more importantly, it opened up the water power sites. Not only could the loggers log they could set up water powered saw mills so that the logs could be cut into simple planks, assembled into rafts and then sent down river to market. And that's 1836. It's really no coincidence that George Stevens shows up and begins to survey the area for lumber.

Durbin: 
Stevens came up with wagons clear from Illinois, got them to Portage transferred everything to dugout canoes and went up to sort of a staging area that received his name "Stephens Point."

Narrator: 
Stevens traveled north, and settled at a place called Big Bull Falls which he described as "the best mill site I ever saw or heard of."

Barker: 
When you really talk about the founding of Wausau it is above all else about the river. Big Bull Falls, which was the original name was a large drop in the Wisconsin River that created power. But at the time, it was wild. Supposedly, the falls could be heard from miles away, both Big Bull Falls here and Little Bull Falls in what's now Mosinee.

Durbin: 
The course of the river at that point was very complicated and in fact it's been changed dramatically. An old timer would not recognize it today. There were a number of channels so it was a place where people could build their own mill and dam without great deal of interference with others. And so, it became a very large operation there very quickly.

Goc: 
In addition, of course, to altering the river so you could better utilize its power you had to also move these log rafts on the river. And that was formidable.

Durbin: 
They would make what was known as a crib, to begin with. This was a structure of crossed boards. It was bound together by wooden pegs, which were made out of saplings. For steering, they would have oars one in the front and one in the back. The fellow in the back did all the work but the one in the front did the steering. And we're talking about oars of 40, 50 feet long very heavy. The currents weren't necessarily straight. There were a lot of rocks which there were attempts all the time to dynamite out. Wausau had a very large, famous one called Lumberyard Rock. You can guess where it got its name. But when these cribs would go over a rapids it would be quite common that the whole crib and the people would disappear for a few seconds that first time. In other words, it would cover up the top of their heads. They would bob up, hopefully, and carry on. A good share of them were young inexperienced people. They couldn't swim. In a period of about a week at Wausau 17 men drowned in the area of Big Bull Falls. (bell tolls)

Barker: 
In the early years, it's a very small place even by the time of the Civil War it doesn't have railroad connections yet. In some ways, except for the river it's extremely isolated. But, you have a lot of young men on the make. Men who realized the vast resources that the pinery offers and they're trying to make a new life and a better life for themselves.

Gary Gisselman: 
They came here to earn money. They also came here because they thought it was a new promised land. They were maybe coming from foreign countries like Germany or Poland. They were coming from the eastern part of the country. They were seeking new adventure. They were seeking freedom. They were seeking a new way of life. August Kickbush came from Germany, became a merchant. He owned some land, also in Marathon County. August Kickbush is important, because he went back to Germany after realizing that we needed a lot more workers here. So, he went back to Germany chartered a ship called the America and brought back 700 German immigrants into central Wisconsin. And thus, we start the vast immigration of Germans into Marathon County.

Narrator: 
A Scottish immigrant, Walter McIndoe ventured up to Big Bull Falls. And struck by the potential of the place decided to make it his home. He was one of the early people in the 1850s that decided they really wanted to make this rough and tumble place a community.

Mary Jane Hettinga: 
But what he did was to name the city change the name from Big Bull Falls to Wausau. And he did that because he didn't think it was sophisticated enough for this wonderful place. He also gave land for the first Court House. But he was also instrumental in bringing the railroad to the area. He tried very hard to make it a better place to live and connected to other cities by the railroad.

Barker: 
Well, when the first railroad, the Wisconsin Valley Line reached Wausau in 1874 it was a huge moment in the life of the place.

Durbin: This gave a great shot in the arm economically to Wausau because they saw the advantage of doing what we call today "value added." And that is they didn't ship down lumber. They shipped down doors, and sashes and all kinds of machined wood, finished wood.

Narrator: 
The railroads also opened up vast new areas of the north woods to logging. The rate of the harvest was extraordinary and created tremendous wealth that would carry the city of Wausau into a new era.

The Wausau Group

Narrator: 
As the harvest of the white pine went on Wausau lumbermen began to see that they would soon deplete the supply of the big trees.

Gisselman: 
Well, I think in the 1890s, they were starting to realize that the white pine would not last forever. Hettinga: And Alexander Stewart who was probably the wealthiest man he was very worried that the economy was going to go into a great decline if they didn't do something about it. And so he gathered all of these men lumbering men that had moved here. And they decided that in order to live here and have a growing economy, they would have to diversify.

Gisselman: 
That gave rise to the "Wausau Group." This group of investors poised to transform the local economy.

Gerald Viste: 
The Wausau Group was never a formal organization. It was basically a group of industrialists who cooperated and shared investments.

Narrator: 
Wausau Group members pooled their resources to invest in the growing lumber industry in states to the south. Walter Alexander, an early leader of the group helped form the Wausau Southern Lumber Company which built large sawmills and manufacturing plants to process the southern yellow pine. They continued lumbering particularly in Arkansas and Louisiana and later on in Mississippi.

Barker: 
Many of them began to have timber interest in places like the Pacific Coast. The Pacific Northwest was a growing lumber region. And yet, they decided to maintain this as their home. The fact that they continued to operate their businesses from Wausau made that possible for them to continue to cooperate. One of the factors driving them, the desire not only to promote their economic interest which was probably first and foremost but also their desire to be able to stay where they were and to have a future. And that, in turn, translated into a commitment to the future of the community.

Narrator: 
Though the white pine was running out there was still plenty of hemlock, spruce and other hardwood trees that were already being used in Wausau's sash and door companies in a large wood veneer plant, and in other factories that made toothpicks and wooden packing boxes. To take advantage of this resource the Wausau Group again pooled their money to make big investments in the new pulpwood papermaking industry. The process used in paper manufacture up to about the 1880s, or so had been primarily the use of rags and fabrics to manufacture paper. And by the 1890s the new wood-based technology had just begun to develop.

On the Map

Narrator: 
It was the first flight across the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh that created a new wave of aviation fever in Wausau. And Ben and Judd Alexander second-generation members of the Wausau Group leased land to build the city an airport. Another couple of businessmen imported a well-known flyer from the east. His name was John Wood. And they brought him here to kind of ramrod their aviation operation. And they became dealers of the Waco Aircraft.

Goc: 
But he was an air racer and he participated in long distance races. And up until this time aviation was in the barnstormer days you know, those magnificent men and their flying machine and wing walkers, and all of that. And that was fun. But it didn't do anything towards getting people who weren't flyers in the air.

Wylie: 
Ford Motor Company created what they called the Ford Reliability Tour to demonstrate the reliability of the aircraft of that day. They would leave from Detroit and fly a predetermined route over a period of days and weeks. They had some scoring system that they had developed.

Goc: 
By the time the tour had flown around the southern rim of the United States and gotten to Los Angeles it turns out that John Wood from the little city of Wausau, Wisconsin flying a plane called "WACO of Wausau." He was ahead on the points. So, the news kept coming back to Wausau, John is going to win. He's ahead as he's flying up the Pacific Coast across the mountains, and across the Great Plains back. Wausau, by coincidence was one of the stops on this tour. By the time the tour leaves its stop in the Twin Cities and the next stop is Wausau everyone knows that John Wood has won. And so he lands in Wausau. The other 30 or 40 airplanes of all kinds and stripes would land which would be quite an air show, believe me. And John Wood wins the Ford Reliability Tour. It is a tremendous victory for this little city of Wausau

Wylie: 
And so Wausau was put on the map aviation-wise, by that activity and by John Wood. Narrator: Wausau's aviation fever came to an end in the 1930s, as the city fell into the tough times of the Great Depression. Harvey Scholfield: They were tough. They were damn tough, I'll tell you that.

Narrator: 
The federal government set up a camp for the CCC the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put the unemployed to work developing the state park at Rib Mountain just outside Wausau.

George Jarntowski: 
So I went into the CCC Camp, and I got $30 a month. And $25 went to my mama, and $5 went to me.

Scholfield: 
They were looking for something for the CCC boys to do. So they said, let's have a ski area on the north side of Rib Mountain. So they got the CCC boys to clear the trees in certain areas to make trails. There's a lot of rock there. That's all rock. We had to level that off a bit. We had a sledge hammer. And you'd pound on a rock till you break it smaller and they could ski on that then when the snow come. And then they built the shelter house. We got all the stone and then the masoners did their work. We had to carry the rock to them. You worked pretty hard. A fellow from Milwaukee, Fred Pabst put what was called a J-Bar tow out at Rib Mountain. It was the longest one in the state, maybe in the nation at that point. A lot of tourists would come up in the winter. They'd run ski trains from Chicago go through Milwaukee and come up to Wausau on the weekends. They had weekend ski trains.

Narrator: 
But there was one area business that survived the Great Depression in style due to the popularity of fox furs. The Fromm brothers ran a large fur farm that drew nationwide attention.

Hettinga: 
There were four Fromm brothers who lived out in Hamburg in a little farming area. And they were just obsessed with the Silver Fox.

Narrator: 
In 1934, at the Chicago World's Fair large crowds visited the Fromm Brothers' exhibit. The idea for the business began in 1901 when Henry Fromm was only seven years old. In a magazine, his brothers saw the high prices paid for the pelts of the silver fox a rare mutation of the red fox. And they would pour over these catalogs. They knew that if they had to buy a pair they'd have to spend a lot of money. The children, Walter I think was 13. There was Walter, Edward, Henry and the youngest was 7, John. They were all just as obsessed with these silver fox.

Narrator: 
They began their fur business by capturing red fox kits in the forest and raising them in captivity hoping to earn enough money to buy some silver fox. Their father thought it was a stupid thing because he was not interested in it and he thought, how could they even think about this? But they kept on and on, and finally he said "Well if you want to earn some money you can raise ginseng."

Narrator: 
A plant that grew wild in the woods ginseng was highly prized in China as a medicine. The Fromms began by gathering plants from the forest. They pioneered new ways to shade the fields and developed new techniques to process the seeds and roots.

Hettinga: 
It wasn't as profitable right away so one day, when their father was out of town they went to their mother and asked, "How can we get this money?" And so, she decided that she would mortgage her part of the land for $6,500 and they were able to buy a pair of silver foxes.

Narrator: 
As they did with ginseng the Fromm brothers pioneered new ways to raise foxes, including releasing them into the forest to grow in a natural environment. One of the outstanding things I think they did was to give three dollars for every silver fox they raised, for research. Their researchers were able to come up with the encephalitis vaccine and also the distemper vaccine.

Narrator: 
In good years the two enterprises, ginseng and fox fur generated millions of dollars in sales. And the brothers kept expanding their operation employing hundreds of people.

Hettinga: 
Their operation of ginseng became the largest ginseng operation worldwide.

Narrator: 
Their fur operation would grow to cover around 20,000 acres also the largest in the world. In 1936, the popularity of Fromm Silver Fox was at an all-time high. And the brothers persuaded fur buyers to move the world fur auction from New York City to their farm in Hamburg, Wisconsin.

Jon Mason: 
Buyers from around the world came. A lot of the buyers they stayed at the Hotel Wausau and they would bus them out every day. They would inspect the pelts here.

Narrator: 
At the FoxTale and Silver Fox Retreat on the site of the Fromm brothers' farm the buildings tell the story of the world fur auctions. During the auctions, they would have 700 people up here. They had the buyers who would sit up front, naturally. They had Fox Movietone, I believe it was came and recorded some footage here for the newsreels. WTMJ in Milwaukee had a live feed of the auctions.

Narrator: 
The Fromms put up a special building for the buyers called the Clubhouse.

Mason: 
The original intent of the building was to entertain the fur buyers. It includes a four-lane bowling alley. A lot of the buyers that came here were from New York City. That was the hub of the fur industry. They catered to these people. And it turned out that they just loved it. I mean, some had actually referred to the whole property as the Fromm Resort.

Narrator: 
While the Fromm brothers were putting nearby Hamburg on the map Employers Mutuals of Wausau continued to grow from a regional to a national insurance company.

Jim Van Eyck: 
We were mixing it up with the giants in the industry. We were insuring some of the nation's largest corporations. Narrator: But the company's advertising no longer matched its reputation and it hired the firm of J. Walter Thompson to develop an ad campaign they called "The Wausau Story."

Van Eyck: 
They came back to the company, and said you suffer from somewhat of a corporate inferiority complex because of the location of the company in a small Midwestern town far from the big financial centers. So, J. Walter Thompson and the company set out to turn that perceived negative into a positive and began promoting our heritage as a small Midwestern company located in Wausau, Wisconsin. The very first ad in "The Wausau Story" ran in the Saturday Evening Post in 1954. The artwork itself was Wausau at night stars up in the sky two or three people on the platform waiting for the train. And across the roof of the depot in big, bold letters was the name "Wausau." The depot illustration was never intended at the outset to be a corporate logo. But very quickly the company and the depot almost became synonymous. Employers Insurance of Wausau has to make some pretty touchy decisions...

Van Eyck: 
And they turned to television in 1968. There was a new news magazine, they called it starting up called 60 Minutes. It was the audience we were looking for. The word is "Wausau," a small town in Wisconsin... As one of the first advertisers on 60 Minutes and one of the most consistent advertisers on 60 Minutes Wausau Insurance essentially owned Sunday night as far as insurance advertising was concerned. And that was huge. (buzzer) W-A-S-A-H (buzzer) 60 Minutes made Wausau Insurance famous. And in the process, 60 Minutes made Wausau, the community, famous.

W-A-U-S-A-U It's a USA in the middle, a W-A up front and another U in back. That's Wausau, as in Wausau Insurance Companies the business insurance experts.

The Wausau Spirit

Narrator: 
From the beginning Wausau residents showed a strong spirit of community. There were a number of efforts to build community organizations and develop a community in the wilderness.

Hettinga: 
Well, Mary Hazeltine met Dr. William Scholfield when he came to this area. He came here actually to buy some lumber for his farm in Mineral Point. But then he decided that this was such a great opportunity and such a beautiful area to stay. So, he bought a mill on the Eau Claire River. But then in 1863, he died. And Mary, with her brother Charles ran the Scholfield Mill. It was very unusual for a woman to run a company in those days. But she had strong leadership abilities. And after about ten years of doing that she moved back to Wausau and built a huge house. She bought the whole entire block. Now, the house that she built had ten bedrooms so it was very large. But that became the center for the women. That's where many of the organizations were started and founded. One of them very early on in 1877 was the Ladies' Literary Society. There were only three of these in Wisconsin. One in Milwaukee, one in Green Bay and one in Wausau. They did study, art, music, philanthropy. It was a wide range and they took these things very seriously. But the Ladies' Literary Society also did things like ask the city to provide street signs so people could find their way. And also, they were encouraging the city to hire the first policewoman, which they did.

Narrator: 
A member of the Ladies' Literary Society Helen Van Vechten ran a publishing business called The Philosopher Press and became widely known as a printer and binder of handcrafted books.

Hettinga: 
One of the things that Helen did was to hand-do all these beautiful classic books. And they did wonderful work in the arts and crafts style. Helen was like a magnet and all of the really intelligent people in Wausau would come to the Philosopher Press building and they would sit around and discuss philosophy or the latest book that she published. They were called "The Philosophers."

Narrator: 
Van Vechten served on the library board helping to raise money to build the city's first library. When Wausau Group leader Walter Alexander donated land for the building, the project became a reality.

Ralph Mirman: 
When the old lumbermen came here originally and decided that they were going to continue to live here they weren't going to move just have businesses and live someplace else. Once they made that decision they developed this philanthropic philosophy geared on the idea that whatever we needed to make this a better community, we would do. And every project that we started we would finish up successfully.

Hettinga: 
They set up foundations. And that money is still providing a lot of help to different nonprofit organizations. And it's a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Narrator: 
Carrying on the spirit of community-building the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum began in 1972 when Alice and John Forester decided to convert their home into a community art museum. The daughters of Wausau Group member A.P. Woodson Alice Forester and her sisters wanted to dedicate the museum to the memory of their mother, Leigh Yawkey Woodson who inspired them with her love of beauty and the arts.

Kathy Kelsey Foley: 
Mr. and Mrs. Forester knew the great Wisconsin painter, Owen Gromme through the wonderful Birds of Wisconsin project and other painting work that Mr. Gromme did. They called Owen, Mr. Gromme, their good friend. They told him about the museum that would be opening in some months time. And they said, "We need an exhibition, what do you think?" And Mr. Gromme said "Well, I could call a couple dozen of my friends and ask them to send a painting or two under the theme of the Birds of the Lakes, Fields and Forests. And that would just make a wonderful exhibition for the fall in north central Wisconsin." The hope was that well, if a few hundred people came wouldn't that be marvelous. And some eight weeks later, 8,000 people had come. And so, you know, it's not rocket science. Our visitors like this, let's do it again.

Narrator: 
Now in its fourth decade, the exhibit "Birds in Art" draws artists from around the world. (indistinct talking) And with its founders' commitment to free admission the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum helped make Wausau a regional and international center for the arts. The Wausau spirit of community-building continued in the 1980s with an effort to renovate the Grand Theater an aging movie house and performance center in downtown Wausau.

Jim O'Connell: 
There were movements to break it up. There were movements to tear it down. But the community rallied behind it, raised $2.2 million to restore the plaster work re-do the rigging and electrical systems. And they re-opened it in 1987, as a performing arts center. It became very popular as a performing arts center. People wanted to see more and more ambitious plays and touring productions going on here in Wausau but we didn't have the restrooms or the concession facilities. At the same time, we didn't have the dressing rooms. We didn't have the loading facilities. We didn't have the backstage that the artists needed to put on the shows that they were carrying on their trucks. So, all of those things focused our attention on expanding and renovating this facility so that it could survive for another 75 to 100 years. When we announced this arts block project the community took hold of it and saw it as a way of renovating the entire downtown. There had been buildings across the street that had been there since the '50s '50s big box retail buildings. They had been under-utilized. The city said, let's take down those spaces. The owner of three of those buildings donated them to the city so that this could become an open space highlighting the fact that we were expanding the arts in downtown. This block was the most intact historic block in downtown Wausau. Those three buildings were separated by two alleys. And what we did was fill-in audience amenities into the two alleys expand the backstage into a parking lot and create what we now know as Artsblock in downtown Wausau. The block includes two gallery spaces. It includes an entry lobby. Welcome to the Grand Theater! This is a community that has had a great deal of citizen involvement. It's not just the foundations. The foundations were an inspiration to individuals to be involved in their community. We had 1,150 separate gifts, almost all of them local which raised $13.2 million and we were able to bring in this project on time and under budget.

Hmong Journey

Narrator: 
Wausau's sense of community was tested in recent decades with the arrival of thousands of Hmong refugees who fled from Laos after fighting for the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Back then, Laos is just a big push people were dying left and right. 3,000 dead or wounded every year, every seventh man. After 1975, United States pull out of the country. So, the Communists come to take over Laos did not follow the peace.

Chungsou Her: 
After that, we continue to get everyone together and fight the Communists. And we fought until practically 1978 or 1979 until they ran every area over. Everyone was leaving to the U.S. to Australia, to everywhere else. They went to a third country. So I figure that we have no future here. If I live over there, I have no money. Then I cannot go back and get my family. Then we moved to the United States. This is a story cloth. This is the life and history of the Hmong in Laos. This is our story cloth for America. Our stories here are just beginning.

Narrator: 
Church groups in Wausau began to sponsor Hmong families bringing them from the refugee camps in Thailand to Wausau. You know the people of Wausau there are so many welcoming hearts here and that really want to work with the Hmong and to see the Hmong succeed. Teacher: Page 14...

Chungsou Her: 
The City of Wausau put together some plan to help the refugee out. And all the churches around, they all got together. They taught us how we are going to have to do to survive. And they said that you will be just like a little child thrown into the pool. You are going to have to learn how to either, you know, float or sink. They told us that you have to promise yourself that you will learn three words a day. And in a year, 365, you multiply that and that's how you should do.

Ya Yang: 
At that time, the majority of the Hmong people is still on welfare. So I think there's a lot of misperceptions. The assumption is that, well, the Hmong people are on welfare they're lazy, dah-dah-dah... Therefore, they will not become productive.

Peter Yang: 
You know, once they started hiring Hmong people they found that Hmong people are very hard working people. And they are very productive workers.

Houa Vang: 
Both my parents were working. One was working first shift, second shift so pretty much, there was nobody home to have that family structure there to be able to pass that on down to us to teach us who the Hmong people are and where we came from. Because at that time, everyone was trying to assimilate just build a new life in America here. (children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance)

Peter Yang: 
There are positive things but there are also negative things. Wausau, before the Hmong move here, was one of the whitest Congressional districts in the nation.

Narrator: 
As the Hmong themselves began to sponsor more refugees and family members in other cities moved to Wausau the population grew quickly and tensions in the city escalated.

Zoua Yang: 
I think it wasn't until around fifth or sixth grade that I started experiencing any kind of racial tension. One my best friends she just, out of nowhere told me "Why don't you just go back to your own country?" And I sat there and I thought, okay all my life, I've grown up in the U.S. That's all I've known. What do you mean, go back to my own country?

Vang: 
The older generations, such as my grandparents they still have this feeling that they will go back to Laos one day. My parents kind of accepted that they're not going to go back. For us, the younger generation, we don't want to go back.

Ya Yang: 
I always tell the community at large I say the Hmong is no exception. It's probably just like the rest of the immigrations the German, the Polish. That initially, when they first got here they still live in a very close-knit Polish community or German community. Their grandma and grandpa still speak German or Polish. But with time, that's not going to happen.

Narrator: 
As the Hmong celebrate their heritage at the annual New Year Festival they now make up 12% of Wausau's 38,500 residents the highest percentage of Hmong in the nation. And from the community's standpoint when they go to the hospital, they see Hmong physicians. When they get stopped they get stopped by a Hmong police officer. When they go to a bank, they see a Hmong banker. So I think with this time for the last 15, 20 years the whole community grow together with the acceptance.

Vang: 
Right now, Hmong people are just pretty much the same as everybody. We've been here for 35 years. We're into, right now, probably the third or fourth generation. I grew up doing almost the same thing as everybody else. And that mentality of us being refugees should no longer exist just because we're out working, going to school teaching the next generation. But we're pretty much dealing with the same problems as everybody else is dealing with money, job, family structures, the older generation. We're pretty much in the same boat as everybody else right now. (applause)

Connections

Narrator: 
In 1937, in a special ceremony the last of the area's big white pines was cut down. The first cut of the 400-year-old tree now lies on display at Marathon Park a symbol of a bygone era. Little remains of the lumber mills that sawed the trees and built the city. The remnants of a foundation are all that's left of a major sawmill on the riverside. Many of the old woodworking plants are gone like the Curtis Sash and Door Plant once one of the biggest, torn down in 1963. A few of the old companies remain, like MBX still making shipping crates and wooden packing boxes one of Wausau's pioneering industries. The ginseng industry, begun when the Fromm brothers harvested wild plants from the forest continues today. Marathon County harvests most of the North American crop. Its quality still draws the attention of buyers from East Asia. The work of the Civilian Conservation Corps carving out the first ski trails on Rib Mountain created a new industry. Their work became the foundation for a huge expansion in recent years... Which added 60 more runs on the biggest vertical drop in Wisconsin. The legacy of the lumber raftsmen who dared to ride the rapids at Big Bull Falls today is carried on by whitewater kayakers maneuvering the eddys and holes of Wausau's world-class kayaking course. The power of the Wisconsin River continues to be harnessed by the hydro plant at Wausau part of the legacy of the Wausau Group and its efforts to rebuild the community. The three paper mills funded by the Wausau Group continue to produce high-quality specialty papers throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. These were joined by new industries that started up after World War II like Wausau Homes, and many others.

Lorence: 
After the War there is a kind of a burst of new economic activity to complement the ongoing work of the Wausau Group.

Narrator: 
As new industries expanded so did Wausau's hospitals and healthcare facilities which grew to become what is now the city's largest employer. Over time, the Wausau Group's control of local industry has slipped away, as businesses merged or were sold. But the group's spirit of cooperation and community-building lives on.

Gisselman: 
If this group of people weren't here Wausau would've been a different city.

O'Connell: 
There's been an extraordinary amount of foresight here and a tradition of reinvestment in the community.

Barker: 
When they made their fortunes they were generous with their money. They gave to cultural institutions. That's part of the story of them keeping the money in their community. And there's no question that it is unusual for a town of this size to have a symphony orchestra the Grand Theater, the Performing Arts Block and the Art Museum it does. I think that that spirit of giving continues to this day. You can see it in the community. So it's the best of all worlds.

Foley: 
What happens here that first weekend after Labor Day, when we open "Birds in Art" and artists come from around the world and artists that have developed friendships and relationships with people in the community, from Holland, from Japan I think says a lot about the community.

Gisselman: 
This whole arts, music, cultural advancement was just something that was really part of our community almost from day one and it continues.

O'Connell: 
There are involvement activities. The choir, children's theater, community theater. Two dance companies, a number of commercial dance studios. There are ways for kids to get involved in the performing arts. We're able to bring in touring attractions from around the country and around the world that really make this for a community it's size as well-rounded an arts scene as you could possibly find.

Narrator: 
The Wausau community continues to take on big projects like improvements to the public square downtown.

Foley: 
We profile like a much larger community. We dream, and think, and want and make happen things that are much more typical of a larger population. And maybe that, perhaps, defines the Wausau Group that they were doers. And they recognized needs and they determined how to satisfy those needs. I think that's still happening.

Narrator: 
The spirit of the Wausau Group can be seen in the parklands they left for the community some along the river that first gave rise to their wealth. Changes in Wausau's skyline reflect new growth on the riverside as new uses are found for the old industrial sites that once lined the banks.

Gisselman: 
One of the things that really anchors, I think the history of Wausau is the Wisconsin River. It still tells the story of 1839 when George Stevens came up and started his first sawmill. It still tells the story of a variety of other people that have come and made Wausau what it is. And I think that anchor is the Wisconsin River that continues to flow down this wonderful city.

* Teachers *

Wausau: Teacher Resources

Hometown Stories-Wausau Teacher Resources were developed to meet the needs of Wisconsin educators by a team of teachers and curriculum specialists.

Galleries

Historic Views of Wausau

Since 2005, the Wisconsin Historical Society has been scanning and cataloging its collection of images of Wisconsin places. Consisting of over 10,000 items, the collection highlights main street views, prominent buildings in each community, local monuments and other features of interest.

Wisconsin Bird's-eye Maps

Over 200 panoramic drawings of Wisconsin cities and towns from the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society are now available to browse and purchase.

Resources

Visit our Wausau Resource Page

Explore the following articles and Web sites for more insight into the history of Wausau.