Eau Claire City

Eau Claire County, Wisconsin

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Eau Claire City Hall is located at 203 South Farwell Street, Eau Claire, WI 54701.
Phone: 715‑839‑4902.

James Barber house


Located in Eau Claire County in the west central portion of the state, the site of the city of Eau Claire [†] is dominated by two rivers, the Chippewa and the Eau Claire, which meet in its center. The Eau Claire, the smaller of the two waterways, rises near the center of the state and proceeds in a westerly direction, intersecting the Chippewa at nearly right angles. The Chippewa, meanwhile, is listed as Wisconsin's second longest river, traveling over 180 miles and draining 9,573 square miles of land or approximately one-sixth of the state.

At Eau Claire, a community which is physiographically located in Wisconsin's Central Plain, the Chippewa has been dammed since 1878. The dam, at the time of its construction, was used to create a huge log storage pond (Dells Pond) in the oxbows of the river north of the city. According to Martin, the Chippewa in its path through the Central Plain was noted for its gentle grade, moderate slopes, and terraces carved in the outwash gravels.

These rivers, major natural resources in themselves as sources of power and transportation, were, in the mid nineteenth century, coupled with an "unrivaled" pine forest. One historian of the lumber industry reported that the Chippewa River valley contained approximately one-sixth of the pine timber west of the Appalachians. The pine,most notably the white pine, grew in a mixed conifer-deciduous forest, which spanned northern Wisconsin.

The community that emerged at this fortuitous site actually developed from three separate settlements. While individuals were active in the newly-opened lumber region in the 1830's and 40's, the first plats at the river juncture were not recorded until 1856. At that time the land south of the Eau Claire River and east of the Chippewa River was surveyed in grid fashion and named the Village of Eau Claire. The regular pattern of blocks was oriented to the northwest (following the direction of the river) and included two parks and a cemetery. Although the plat extended well to the east, the first settlement was effectively bounded by a river terrace. On the west side of the Chippewa River similar activity was taking place. The area between the river and Half Moon Lake, a former oxbow of the Chippewa, was platted in the late summer of 1856. Named the village of Eau Claire City, the level land of the plat was also arranged as a grid and contained land for a park, cemetery, and church. The third settlement, located north of the Eau Claire River and east of the Chippewa River, was platted by various parties in 1857. Within this tract known as North Eau Claire but never incorporated as such, a plat> of regularly placed blocks bordered the Chippewa River. To the east large rectangular blocks occupied a prominent terrace of the river, a natural feature which decisively bisected the area. The land adjacent to the Eau Claire River remained in large sections.

The three communities, first joined by ferry service and later by bridges, grew independently until 1872 when they were incorporated as the city of Eau Claire. Two additional centers, one opposite North Eau Claire on the west side of the Chippewa River and one to the west of "Eau Claire City" and known as Shawtown, were also distinct entities within the developing city. In each area residential, commercial, and industrial areas flourished. On the west side of the Chippewa River commercial activity centered on Water Street, which paralleled the river. Beyond Water Street to the west was the industrial area, actually the west side's lumber district. Lumber mills lined the west bank of the river, south of Menomonie Street and Half Moon Lake, which in the early years of development, had been converted into log storage. North of the business district, a substantial residential area stretched for several blocks. The earliest neighborhood, that which focused on Randall Park, contained a fine mixture of unpretentious, yet comfortable, frame dwellings and the more massive, picturesque residences of several leading lumbermen.

West of "Eau Claire City" a lumber dominated community grew. Originally platted as Westville in 1869, the area soon acquired the name Shawtown (a name in use today) in reference to the Daniel iShaw Lumber Company which operated at the outlet from Half Moon Lake. Only scattered businesses developed in this company town-like section of the city which featured a boarding house for Shaw's employees, the Shaw residence (subsequently destroyed by fire), and a residential area at the foot of Mt. Washington, a large bluff overlooking the Chippewa River.

North Eau Claire, although similar to its counterparts, contained an expanded industrial zone, which was serviced by the railroad. The mills of the Eau Claire Lumber Company, one of the Chippewa Valley's largest lumber firms, and a number of other manufacturing concerns were situated on or near the north bank of the Eau Claire River. The business section, focusing on North Barstow, Galloway, Wisconsin, and Madison Streets, featured small hotels and boarding houses that accommodated the large population of single men working in the lumber mills. A residential area, largely working class in nature, developed north of the commercial and industrial districts. Simple frame homes typified North Eau Claire where streets named Erin, Germania, and Norsk (now Franklin) indicated the neighborhood's ethnic composition.

Opposite North Eau Claire on the west side of the Chippewa River, another nearly independent community prospered. Although this area developed somewhat later than the other four parts of the city and was not separately characterized by the local histories, it included a number of business establishments along Bellinger Street, a modest residential section west and south of the commercial center, and a lumber district stretching along the west bank of the Chippewa River. (Oxford Avenue now runs through the former district.)

The general land use pattern described here has survived, to a remarkable extent, to the present. The most significant change in the landscape has occurred as the economic base of the city shifted from primary extractive industry (lumber) to diversified manufacturing activity. The lumber mills, prominent landmarks which were closed and dismantled in the decades immediately before and after 1900, left large sections of land along the river banks that were filled by various manufacturing and commercial establishments. By the mid twentieth century the city's industrial firms were concentrated in four areas. On the west side of the Chippewa River industries expanded along Menomonie Street between Half Moon Lake and the river and in the northern section along Oxford Avenue. In North Eau Claire (north, that is, of the Eau Claire River) the city's industrial core of the nineteenth century has continued to develop. Containing the Uniroyal plant (formerly the Gillette Tire Company) and adjacent manufacturing concerns, the compact region has remained a conspicuous feature of the city's center. The final industrial/commercial region, a product of late twentieth century growth, is a strip of development that frames the main highways (U.S. 12 and 53) bypassing the city.

Barstow Street, the business center of the city's original plat, has emerged as Eau Claire's central business district. Embracing the major banking and governmental institutions as well as various business houses, the city's commercial "heart" is characterized by a number of nineteenth century structures; however, a majority of them have been significantly altered. Water Street, on the west side, has also remained a viable business center. Serving now the needs of a university population, Water Street, most noticeably in the 400 block, retains (to a degree) its nineteenth century quality. (Note: A Water Street historic district is a future possibility. At this time, not one structure in the block is intact architecturally.)

Residential expansion has accompanied the city's development in the twentieth century. Encircling the inner, river-oriented city, the housing tracts reflect various periods and types of growth. The addition to the east took place in the early decades of the century. Attached to the original plat but located on what is referred to as "Eastside Hill", this residential area features long, tree-lined blocks of narrow lots filled with owner and contractor-built bungalows and other simple dwellings. These homes, owned largely by middle income families and retired individuals, are well maintained, forming a complementary addition to the city's older residential sections, (See the district survey form for Emery Street Bungalow District.) The growth north, west, and south of the central city was a result of post World War II suburban expansion. Small to medium sized homes predominate in the northern and western areas, while larger homes are more common in the developments platted in the southern portion of the city.

In the older residential areas, expansion, sometimes meaning demolition of significant properties, has also occurred. The city's Third Ward area, now extending south to the border of Putnam Park, has in the past twenty years suffered the growth of both the city's business district and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. A number of homes have been destroyed, mainly those located at the river's edge; however, a distinct core of late nineteenth century residences remains, complemented by fine period homes. (See the district survey form for the Third Ward Historic District.) On the city's westside, residential development has enlarged the neighborhood that focused on Randall Park to west and to the north, meeting at that point the residential area associated with the growth of the Bellinger Street section of the community. This development, occurring primarily in the early decades of the new century, was an in-filling process. Immediately adjacent to Randall Park a cohesive remnant of the nineteenth century neighborhood survives. The recognizable district embraces the open space of the park, the dwellings of the early lumbermen and their neighbors, and three churches. (See the district survey form for the Randall Park Historic District.) In the northern part of the original city (North Eau Claire), in-filling was also a feature. Extending north to Mt. Simon and east to Mt. Tom (the "mounts" are river bluffs), this residential section of Eau Claire retains its working class flavor.

Adapted from: Mary E. Taylore, Preservation Consultant, City of Eau Claire, Eau Claire Multiple Resource Area, 1982, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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