Jordan, A Pioneer Village

Jordan Wisconsin, Pioneer Village
As it appeared in the March 1969 Pinery
by
Mrs. Win Rothman

With the time very near for the dedication of the Jordan marker, which the Portage County Board and the Wisconsin Public Service Corp. have made possible, a backward look at this history filled area seems timely.

In 1836, one-hundred and thirty-three years ago, the 6-mile strip, three miles on each side of the Wisconsin River from Point Bas (Nekoosa) to Big Bull Falls (Wausau) was opened to settlement. To the east lay Indian land to which clear title had not as yet been secured by the U. S. Government. In this area lay the choice water power which we today know as Jordan.

Four years later, venturesome men had built and were operating a sawmill at that point, the first one on the Plover River. To the early pioneers in this vicinity it was known as Bloomer and Harper. A deed at the Court House in Stevens Point, apparently executed in Brown County, documents the sale of Robert Bloomer’s share as early as October 6, 1840. The deed confirms that lumbering activity had begun on the Plover.

Newspaper stories and oral tradition next identify Hugh McGreer as part owner (later full owner) of the mill and mill site. A comment in Malcolm Rosholt’s Our County, Our Story, in connection with McGreer’s application for citizenship says: ‘The signature of Hugh McGreer is done with a flourish, apparently a man of great confidence and self-esteem”. His name was connected with the mills operating there (both saw and grist). Long known as McGreer’s Mills, the name of “Jordan” did not appear until the middle 50’s, at which time McGreer sold a half-interest in the water-power as well as a sizeable section of land on the east bank of the Plover below the present highway 66. The date of sale to William C. Wells and George Mason, with description of the land may be found in the Grantees Index under the date of May 3, 1855. The patent to the land had been obtained by McGreer from the U.S. Government on July 16, 1853.

With that sale begins the growth of the village of New Jordan. In the May 12, 1856 issue of THE PINERY a column capitalizes ‘NEW JORDAN’ in bold type and goes on to say:

“Where is that? About 5 miles N.E. of Stevens Point on the beautiful Plover River. It is the same as has been formerly known as McGreer’s Mills. One of the finest water powers of all the region. being now well improved by the erection of some two or three good saw mills, and a small grist mill. Business is centering there, and a village is springing up almost before the owners themselves are aware of it. It is a good point, and cannot fail of a population herewith”.

Wells and Mason, new owners of the east half of the power site, enthused with the possibility of a village developing, laid out a plat for the town, located just south of the wayside beyond the present bridge at Jordan. The plat was drawn by C. P. Jackson in May 1856 and notarized by G. M. L. Park (later Circuit Judge) in June of the same year and finally recorded by John Stumpf on Feb. 20, 1857. A sketch of the plat, with its 50-foot wide streets is given below. Village of Jordan Plat 1857

That there was an honest-to-goodness village there is further proved by this comment in General A. G. Ellis’ Handbook of Stevens Point and the Upper Wisconsin, written in 1857. He says: “Jordan is the name of the new village on the Plover River. At present there are some forty buildings of which 23 are dwellings. The rest are out-buildings, barns and mills. It has a population of 165. Here is located the extensive sawmill of the Wisconsin Lumber Company (Wells and Mason) There is a grocery store, blacksmith shop, and match factory. The mill cuts five-million feet of lumber and 45,000 bundles of lath a season. The logs are cut from nine to fifteen miles up the Plover and the supply is said to be inexhaustible. On the opposite side of the river is located the mill of Hugh McGreer.” And that last statement should be the answer to a moot point which has perplexed present generations - just how many mills were operating at this site?

Twenty-three dwellings means men, women, and children. THE PINERY relates the Sunday-school up-bringing of the children under Anselm Vaughan and Alonzo Streeter - describes the fervent patriotism of the community when the Civil War was hardly a year old notes “a brief but eloquent speech(??) by Wilson Muzzey, who presided at a Civil War Nite as ‘the best of the occasion” and tells of a prize-fight to delight the rough and hardy men that worked and lived there, ‘the best we have ever witnessed (??) said the sports-reporter (the editor of THE PINERY) though it was all over in 54 minutes. Such personal stories clothe with flesh the people whose names we know - the MeGreers, the Muzzeys. the Vaughans, the Robert Maines, the Wadleighs, the Walkers, and later the Van Orders.

While there apparently is no formal record of a platted area on the west side of the river, both dwellings and business places were established there. It is quite possible the residence of Hugh McGreer was there. Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors, Vol.1, note: ‘The first Town meeting (Hull) to be held at the house of Hugh McGreer on the 1st Monday in April. 1857’. The first school was located in the southeast corner of this forty and Our County Our Story states that a grocery store operated by F. W. Muzzey who was the first postmaster for the Post Office of ‘Hull’ was in the very southeast corner of this same forty. These buildings were later owned by the Marchels.

Chryst Marchel serving as the last postmaster in 1903. These buildings I well remember as many Spring picnics were spent at Jor-dan, when the arbutus was in flower, driving out in the Democrat wagon, savoring the fried chicken in the picnic lunch, smelling the unforgettable fragrance of the trailing arbutus and driving back in the evening in the late Spring twilight.

It was almost 30 years that the village existed, gradually declining as the lumbering, which was its life-blood, ceased. But with the disuse of the water-power for milling purposes its value for the development of electrical power became apparent and title to the water-power was secured about 1904 by the Stevens Point Lighting Co., from the then owner, Arthur Van Order. The Stevens Point Daily Journal of March 4, 1905 reports “the current is turned on... the incandescent lights shone more brilliantly than they have for some time under steam power”.

By 1916 the facilities were sold to the Wisconsin Valley Electric Co., which also absorbed, at that time, the Stevens Point Power Co. In June 1933, the Wisconsin Valley Electric Co. merged with the Standard Gas and Electric Co., becoming the Wisconsin Public Service Corp., which operates Stevens Point’s light and power facilities today.

‘The construction of the water-diversion plant at Jordan was greeted with a great degree of excitement around the turn of the century, says the Dai1y Journal of November 1, 1965, in reporting the closing of the historic power plant. “Though the plant once provided electricity for a large portion of Stevens Point’s northeast side, its principal use in recent years was to feed a small rural area around the plant”.

The Public Service Company’s generous gift of this land to the Portage County Park Commission has made possible a recreation area of natural beauty wit ts pines, river, and rapids easily reached by all Portage County citizens.

     

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