THE FIRST DECADE
OF
PORTAGE COUNTY

From the Pinery February 1979

Editor's Note: The following is re-printed from Badger Postal History (Feb, May 1964) through the Courtesy of the Wisconsin Postal History Society.


THE FIRST DECADE OF PORTAGE COUNTY
By
George Crowell

Portage County, formed in 1836 from part of Brown County, which included the great portage connecting the Wisconsin and Fox Rivers, initially extended northward for more than 100 miles.  Its boundaries were changed several times. In 1844 Columbia County was organized, from a region that included the great portage.  By 1845 Portage County contained today’s Marathon, Portage, Wood and Adams Counties.

The postal history of Portage County got a start with establishment of three post offices on January 14, 1845 -- the only post offices in the Pinery Region of the Wisconsin River in Wisconsin Territory. Early stage routes brought the mail from Gill's Landing on the Wolf River, Berlin on the Fox, and New Lisbon.

 1. Point Bas (sometimes listed as Point Baussee) across the Wisconsin from present Nekoosa, took the site of the Indian village where Chief Oshkosh was born in 1795.  Here an early trading post was set up and in 1831 Whitney's sawmill, one of the first on the Wisconsin River. Robert Wakely was the only postmaster Point Bas ever had.  He served until the office was discontinued January 17, 1850.  No Point Bas markings or covers are recorded.

 2. A few miles upstream was Grand Rapids, which later joined its twin city of Centralia. In the 1920's it became Wisconsin Rapids. E. S. Miner, the first postmaster, served until December 12, 1850. John Werner came next.  Then on August 5, 1854 came Eusebius Savigne, who held the office some while after Wood County was set off from Portage, on March 29, 1856. Early postal history material from Grand Rapids survives, including a fine PAID-3 of the year 1855.

 3. Plover Portage, officially shortened to Plover in 1850, was some 25 miles upstream.  It still is there, just south of Stevens Point.  Plover was the first seat of Portage County, which is hard to believe when one looks at it now. George Wyatt was its first postmaster.  Following the first county election, in autumn of 1844, he became Clerk of Court, Clerk of the County Board, as well as Register of Deeds!

Second postmaster of Plover Portage was James S. Alban. He  took office Sept. 19, 1845. A lawyer, he came from Jefferson County, Ohio, in 1844 and became judge. Alban commanded 18th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry and was killed at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6, 1862 Eight other postmasters served this office in the decade ending 1854.

Seven post offices followed Plover Portage in the county's first decade. Their dates and first postmasters were:
 

Shaurette 9-18-1849 John Strong
Stevens Point 12-12-49 William Griffen
Almond  7-8-50 James F. Moore
Buena Vista 9-25-50  Wellington Kollock
Eau Pleine 4-1-51 John B. Dubay
Lake Sarah 10-1-52  Cyrus D. McCaughey
Iron Creek 12-22-54 Shubel Lewis

Stevens Point and Almond remain the only offices in continuous service to today. Shaurette (disc. 2-6-1850) probably was near to present day Whiting. The Buena Vista post office (disc. 1900) was at Liberty Corners; James F. Moore, Almond's first postmaster, was Buena Vista postmaster during the Civil War.  Lake Sarah (disc. 5-26-1854) was on the Buena Vista and Plover stage route. On the Hancock--Grand Rapids stage route was Iron Creek post office (disc. 5-19-1857), probably situated in the town of Pine Grove.

Eau Pleine post office (disc. 5-26-1853) was at Dubay's Trading Post. John Dubay, who served until 5-26-1853, was certainly one of the colorful postmasters of early Portage County.  About 1790, Louis Dubay of Montreal, father of John, had spent the winter, and set up the trading post on the Wisconsin River a few miles above the present site of Stevens Point.  John was born in Green Bay in 1810.  Gov. Cass commissioned him lieutenant colonel, and he served briefly in the Black Hawk War that was fought in the summer of 1832. John Dubay married one of the daughters of Chief Oshkosh.  John spoke the Indian language, served Cass as an interpreter. John Dubay was instrumental in laying out the road from Madison to Wausau, and was prominent in early county affairs.

Portage County again lost area, as other counties were set off from it: Adams on March 11, 1848; Marathon in early 1850.

Letters from early Portage County medical men have come to light. The first to practice in the county, in 1846, was Dr. John Bristol; he died at Plover Portage in 1848.  Dr. John Phillips settled at Stevens Point in 1848.

The earliest known hand stamp -- as distinct from manuscript -- postal marking from Portage County is the straight-line box from Plover, the county seat.  This was in use in late territorial time and continued in use up to 1851.

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