--Contributed by: Doug Cahow
Visitors from nearly every state in the
union and many foreign nations come to Clear Lake each year to share in the
rich cultural heritage of one of Polk County's oldest settlements. Because of the work
ethic and community obligations those early pioneers left as their contribution to the
development of Western Wisconsin, succeeding generations profited from their efforts and
established the fabric of patriotism which exists today in and around Clear Lake. It was
those early pioneers that acted as the vanguard of community, state and national pride.
Those early pioneers were the chief inspiration for building an All Veterans' Memorial!
However, an historic background will help the reader
to understand why a small community of 1000 citizens were prompted to make a community
sacrifice to honor veterans. With that thought in mind, let us look at some historic dates
and how they fit into the story about the Clear lake Veterans' Memorial.
Indian relics and other prehistoric evidence
suggest there are numerous opportunities for any person willing to
dig and look for cultural finds of the past. Some of the most prominent
artifacts are arrow heads, spear points and peace pipe (s) which were
found in Black Brook Township by Clarence Mara and a number of
other early settlers. These Indian artifacts are today in the possession of Mr
Mara's daughter, Margaret, and are regarded by her as being priceless. But today most of
the forests are gone being replaced with rich farmland and small, thriving villages
As time marched on into the early 15th century,
European explorers penetrated the rich wilderness of the Mississippi Valley looking for
gold and other treasures. But instead of gold and silver, French fur
trappers found a rich bonanza of animal skins and furs and with them came Christian
Missionaries who were looking for ways to convert Indian Natives to their Christian
Settlements sprang up along the great lakes and major
rivers.. As early as the 1600s adventurous explorers and entrepreneurs
were developing animal fur trade enterprises through this part of Wisconsin. But
their (trappers) need for uninhabited forests was negated as other
adventurous entrepreneurs seeking lumber and fertile farmland forced the trappers
further west and north into Canada.
By the early 1800s, our nation was expanding westward
and with that growth came a need for building supplies to build the prospering
cities of the Middle West. In the northern states of Michigan, Wisconsin and
Minnesota were huge forests of coniferous trees and the abundance of those
forests drew the lumber boom to build sawmills along several major
rivers in Northern Wisconsin. White pine was abundant in the Polk-Barron-St. Croix-Dunn
County region and presented an opportunity of employment for hardy men
to harvest those behemoths of the north. Pine was noted for quality and
strength which made it suited for building homes, factories, schools, etc.
But at that time there were few roads and no railroads to get
lumber from the sawmills which had to be built where there was adequate water power for
sawing logs into lumber!. However, fast rushing streams and rivers were abundant because
of the humid continental climate which prevailed in Northern Wisconsin. To increase the
flow of these rivers and streams, hundreds if not thousands of log and earthen dams
were built all over the northern forested region. Millions of logs were hauled and dumped
onto the frozen ponds each fall and winter above the dams. When spring floods came,
the dams were opened wide and logs flowed freely to awaiting saw mills down stream
from the dams.
Even to this day, earthen works and log artifacts still
manifest themselves along nearly all Wisconsin streams and rivers. Near Reeve,
Wisconsin, the McDougall Dam has remnants of an earthen dam reinforced with
white pine logs with steel spikes driven into them which helped hold the logs in
place. These pine logs are as sound inside today as they were a hundred and fifty
years ago and still act as a deterrent for rushing Hay River floods. According to
historic records, the McDougall Dam stood over 20 feet in height and had a width of of
some 200 feet.
Even in the 21st century evidence of other earthen dams are
found along the Willow River as it flowed southward to New Richmond and later into
the St. Croix-Mississippi River system. The Willowville, Harmon and
Highlanding Dams are examples of those early lumbering landmarks.
However, not all of the pine and hardwood forests were on or near rivers and
consequently another method of hauling the logs to the mills was needed. One of the
fastest anc cheapest methods was the railroad.
Above the McDougall's Dam at Reeve was a spur line which
came from Pineville located 3 miles north of Clear Lake. The railroad's
length was about 8 miles and it connected with the main Omaha-Northwestern line
which ran between St. Paul and Ashland, Wisconsin. . Evidence of the abandoned
railroad may be seen (21st century) in many places by observing road cuts
and other railroad artifacts such as spikes and ties near Reeve.. The rail
line ended at the McDougall's Dam and one historic document states
there was a wye built on the west side of the dam to allow engines to "turn
around". Many stories still exist about the Reeve Railroad...but the one most
prominent story was told by pioneer - Dana Yelle.
Apparently the train brakes on the engine were not
too good! Sometimes, in order to help stop a train, brakemen were
needed on each car to assist the engine in stopping the moving train.
According to Dana Yelle, a steep rail road grade went right by their Vance Creek
Township home about 1 1/2 miles northwest of Reeve and as the engine was leading the
train down the grade, it derailed and turned om its side because of too much speed. One or
both crew men were badly burned by steam and had to be hauled by horse drawn wagon
to nearby Clear Lake for medical care. To this writers knowledge the rail road had no
other derailments in its short history of about 15 years.
Since Clear Lake was at the headwaters of the
Willow River, which eventually flows into the St Croix River, numerous sawmills were
built along it to take advantage of cheap water transportation. By
building numerous dams on these rivers, several hundred million board feet
of white pine and hardwood lumber was harvested in the Clear Lake and
surrounding areas.Eventually those sawed trees made their way down the
Mississippi River to build cities such as Chicago, St. Louis and a million other homes and
factories to meet the needs of a growing nation..
Clear Lake prospered and grew while the forests were harvested.
Evidence of early logging is prevalent in and around Clear Lake today including
several abandoned railroad beds, numerous saw mill sites, old logging tote roads, railroad
ties, spikes, dams and hundreds of other artifacts just waiting for any visitor to
discover. But as the forests dissappeared, other uses were being made of the fertile
The first farm settlers appeared in the Clear Lake area in
the late 1840s. Population growth was slow until the railroad came into Clear Lake
from Deer Park in 1875. In that year Clear lake became a town and in 1975 celebrated
its Centennial Anniversary. From that date on, Clear Lake has enjoyed a slow but steady
growth. Today evidence of two (2) saw mills may be seen at the end of Main
Street in Clear Lake. Other large mills in the area were at Pineville, 3 miles north on US
63 and at Graytown which is 4 miles south of Reeve on Highway K. There were many
other mills too in neighboring towns...but except for an occasional portable mill, that
era of logging has passed in the Polk county area.
Now most of the mills are gone...but a lumbering lore lingers
yet. Frequently members of the older generation tell stories of their fathers,
grandfathers and themselves about life in the logging camps and show some of the
artifacts that earlier generations used to harvest those giant sentinels of the Primeval
Forest. And when the final groves of hardwoods and softwoods were cut off,
large sections of land was opened to agriculture. Consequently another wave of
settlers came to plant and harvest crops on this rich and fertile soil.
Suitable climate and soils conducive to hay and grains encouraged the dairy industry to
thrive in all of Western Wisconsin.
In the late 1800s a small band of farmers formed a dairy
cooperative in Clear Lake and by 1950, Clear Lake became site of one of Wisconsin's
largest Cooperative Creamerys. Butter and milk products were shipped all over the nation.
Clear Lake sweet cream butter won many state and national prizes and was always the
first choice of butter users.
Schools churches and other civic groups flourished too.
Those early pioneers gave stability and roots to succeeding generations of
hardy, patriotic people. These were folks who understood hardship and
dedication...and their efforts were rewarded by raising children who loved their
family, community, state and nation. Such were the folks who gave our nation men and
women who fought in every war from 1848 to the present.
With that thought in mind a few dedicated people decided to honor the more than 3000
to 4000 men and women from the Clear Lake Area who have served in our Armed
Forces during peace and war time.
Standards such as thrift, hard work, love of
family and country are criteria on which the Clear
Lake Veterans' Memorial was founded in 1997. Frugality, loyalty
and principled people were and are the stuff that make folks of all nationalities
with ties to Clear Lake, so proud of their Veterans' Memorial which includes the
young people of our schools.
Each spring, hundreds of students from neighboring schools visit
the Memorial. May 19th, 2006 will mark the sixth visit by Clear Lake Schools.
Other schools that appeared in the past were Turtle Lake, Clayton, Prairie Farm,
Amery and Glenwood City.
A visit to the Memorial is always a wonderful experience for our
young people. The teachers from each and every visiting school always prepare their
students by teaching units on American patriotism and why we should
honor our Veterans. It goes without fail that when students from those schools
talk about their experiences of visiting our Memorial, the
subject of sacrifice and honor by our Veterans is most often mentioned. Our
students recognize that without the willing sacrifice of our brave men and women,
our freedom wouldnt last long. They know that American troops have selflessly served
to defend the freedom we so often take for granted.
It is never too early for our young people to learn more
about their heritage. In 2006 the Memorial Committee will focus on the words
of "honor, trust and integrity." Visiting students will be reminded
our Memorial is not a church
but it is not a playground either. For that reason the
students will treat all parts of the Memorial with reverence and respect.
The program for each visit is simple. After saying our Pledge
of Allegiance and singing the National Anthem, a study guide will be given to each
student and an historic background is prepared for them to read. On the other side of the
guide are some simple questions about the Memorial. By answering those
questions, most students will begin to see some of the hidden aspects about the
Memorial. For example, students will want to know why there are 15
benches built around the Memorial; or why are there 5 gray stones and only one black
If time permits, a brief visit is made to the adjacent historic
graves of two W.W.II soldiers. One of the graves is for one of the first men killed at
Pearl Harbor in 1941. One government source indicates only 32(?) American soldiers
and sailors are buried in Continental United States; the rest are still in the USS
Arizona or in nearby cemeteries in Hawaii. This was an historic fact brought to our
attention after the Memorial was built and consequently places the Clear Lake
Veterans' Memorial in a position of national prominence. The second
nearby grave is for one of the last MIAs found from W.W.II. After nearly 57 years in
2001 an American soldier was found in a shallow, unmarked grave in Germany. He
too now rests next to our beautiful Memorial. Both of these soldiers and the stories about
them were not known when our Memorial was dedicated in 1999. If anyone knows of other
historic stories such as these two, please contact our Memorial Committee.
As students conclude their visit, time is taken to answer
questions and allow our citizens of tomorrow a chance to express their feelings. The most
often heard remark is the pride our young people have for a veteran they now know or of
a deceased relative. When the comments are over, each student is
given a Patriotism Certificate and a souvenir Commemorative Pen as a sign of
appreciation by the Veterans Memorial. Many students eventually visit
our web page and sign the guest book. It is always a delight to see the concern our young
people have for their veterans!
As a sign of last respect a selected student is given the honor of
placing a wreath at the foot of the Black Cenotaph. On this historic stone are the names
of 65 local men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice from previous wars
fighting for our freedom! Silently the floral procession moves slowly down the
walkway , reverent attention tells how each students feels about our Veterans as the
tender sound of the "taps" are played. Day is gone
all is well!
Please visit and sign our Guestbook.
And remember to thank a veteran!
In the past, Clear
Lake All Veterans' Memorial received the designated title of:
A Korean Commemorative Community from our Department of Defense for the years 2000
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