This article was last modified on February 7, 2015.


Neenah in 1865

Neenah in 1865 was a drastically different world than the one we know today. This was a time before even the paper mills had begun operation, and flour mills were the dominant industry along the river. Eight flour mills were running in Neenah alone, including: John R. Davis’ Winnebago Rapids Mill, A. W. Patten’s mill, Smith and Proctor’s Winnebago Mills and W. E. Ford’s Fox River Mills. These were not the safest work environments; in February, a man named Luce was pulled into the machinery at Ford’s and barely made it out alive.

Other dangers were the constant threat of fire (railroad agent George P. Strong lost his house in March) and horses that would break loose from their riders.

William N. and A. K. Moore had their foundry running at full blast, making stoves, plows, kettles, barrel heaters, road scrapers, barn door rollers and bedstead fastenings. Aylward Plow Works, the main competition, won’t open its doors for seven years.

In the first half of the year, pro-Union sentiment was rampant, and merchants were not afraid to use it. C. J. Pettibone (the richest man on Lake Winnebago with $18,000 annual income) filled his ads with phrases like “Huzza for the Union!” and assured customers that he was knocking down prices the same way “Grant, Sherman and Farragut are knocking the props out from under the Rebellion”.

Medicine was still primitive (Lister had not yet proposed antiseptic). Such items as “Prurigo Lotio” were advertised as a cure for “Barber’s Itch” and “Illinois Mange”.

Railroads were the latest in travel. The talk of the town was where a new track would be laid to connect Milwaukee, Green Bay and Bayfield. Citizens were hoping the state assembly would choose Neenah’s Doty Island. And all year long the citizens pushed to have Neenah connected up with Omro, Ripon and Winneconne.

When soldiers came home in April, they experienced a thriving city. Edward P. Marsh had perfume, “Yankee notions”, wallpaper and liquor “for medicinal purposes”. Uri C. Wheeler had fresh lemons, canned fruit, pickles, etc. Green tea was $1.00 per pound, brown sugar $0.18 per pound. Manville sold photo albums, “the largest and best stock ever brought to Neenah”. E and H Smith sold dry goods, boots, shoes and crockery at the corner of Wisconsin and Cedar, as well as taking over the Jones saw mill in October. W. Pitt Peckham sold hardware from his brand new store on Wisconsin Avenue, with the Masonic Lodge renting his upstairs. Even the local churches were growing, with the First Presbyterian adding a new cupola in July.

A new city government was in place, too, with H.P. Leavens taking over as postmaster from Phil Verbeck and also serving as city supervisor. His first act was to sell druggist D.L. Kimberly a brick store on Pettibone Block for $3000 and move the post office into Kimberly’s old store.

From 1860 to 1865, the population had increased from 1,256 to 1,879 and there were new businesses booming: the First National Bank opened in April under the direction of Henry Hewitt, Robert Shiells, J.A. Kimberly, A.W. Patten and Alexander Symes. James Murray renovated Ike Doton’s shuttered hotel and reopened it as the Island City House.

Lt. C.B. Clark came home and joined Leavens’ hardware store, buying out the inventory of D.C. Trippe.Captain Ephraim Giddings joined Wheeler’s grocery business. And Paul Boushey of the 21st was released from Andersonville Prison, having been captured in September 1863. Life was good in Neenah, “the heaviest manufacturing city in Wisconsin” according to the Island City Times.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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