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Mosinee History

mosinee history

Mosinee’s history is celebrated each August

Little Bull Falls LogJam Fire over the Wisconsin

Back in the “really old days,” native people and fur traders paddled up and down the Wisconsin River, portaging their canoes around the falls they called Little Bull Falls. The falls was named for the roaring of the river as it swept down over the rocks. The landscape at this time was that of a huge virgin forest with white pine so large in girth it took several men putting their arms together to circle a single tree. In 1836, a series of events led to the opening of our great Pinery for settlement and development.

In 1839, John L. Moore was the first to utilize the power of the river at Little Bull Falls. He built a sawmill on the west side of the river and commenced sawing the logs that had floated down the river to him. Hardworking men and women followed Moore into the area to make their fortunes. A tannery, a gristmill and a blacksmith shop were soon added to Mosinee’s early industries.

On October 4, 1844, a man arrived at Little Bull Falls who would shape Mosinee’s history. That man was Joseph Dessert. Upon arriving at Little Bull Falls, Dessert went to work at Moore’s sawmill and in his logging camps. In 1849, Dessert found himself a partner in the sawmill. By 1856, Dessert and his partners succeeded in building a series of bridges that gave passage over the river at Little Bull Falls. A village was platted on the west side of the river and lots were put up for sale. Dessert was successful in having the post office moved to the new village and his partner named postmaster. Now came the question, what to call the post office and new village?

Mosinee...the name for the new village. Mosinee had been one of the leaders of the Wisconsin River Band of Chippewa that camped at Little Bull Falls as they moved from summer to winter grounds. In the late 1790s, Mosinee had saved the lives of several trappers. And so the new post office was officially named Mosinee on July 22, 1857, and the name was also given to the new town.

By 1866, numerous small businesses had been established up and down Main Street, giving rise to a strong united business district. J. R. Bruneau had opened a grocery store; William Gilbert, a shoe shop; Frank Beste, a saloon; Nathan Blake, a general mercantile shop; Frank Demers, a fruit and confectionary shop; and Alexander Erwin, a grocery store and post office. There were many others. These early businessmen established a long tradition of providing support for education, religion and social activities in Mosinee.

Periodically, floods swept down the Wisconsin River. The great flood in June of 1880 swept away the sawmill, the tannery, the gristmill, a storehouse building, several smaller structures and many board feet of lumber, leaving Joseph Dessert nearly ruined. Dessert, with the backing of the townspeople and local businesses, held on, rebuilt and brought the sawmill back.

mosinee sawmill

Joseph Dessert believed that an educated workforce was a better workforce. Early on he began a traveling library for his workers, buying books and sending them around to his logging camps. In 1898, Dessert built a library out of his own funds to house this book collection, and opened its doors to the public. In 1906, he deeded the library over to the citizens of Mosinee for their use not only as a library but also as a center of culture and entertainment. We invite you to visit that library today. The upstairs of the library hosts plays, concerts, community meetings and many other events.

In 1907, businesses included the stores of Hanowitz, Worthing, Ladu and Berneir, and Robert; the state bank of Van Berg; the pharmacy of Blair; the tailor shop of Hanus; the barbershop of Lamere; the saloons of Beste and Blake; the tonsorial practice of Rosine; and the local newspaper of Barker.

Pulpwood was littering the landscape and the sharp eyes of those such as Louis Dessert saw the potential for papermaking. Louis Dessert convinced a group of fellow businessmen to support the building of a sulphate paper-making mill at Mosinee.

Construction of the paper mill began in 1910 and Mosinee’s shopkeepers were optimistic. Then, on Tuesday evening, May 10, 1910, fire swept through a large portion of the Mosinee downtown business district. Several shop owners lost not only their buildings and content, but their homes and personal possessions as well. The town united with its businessmen and they set about rebuilding the heart of Mosinee.

The paper mill was finished in 1911. There were two distinct industries housed in this mill – pulp making and paper making. The first pulp was produced during the first week of September 1911. The paper machines were started up on Saturday, November 10, 1911.

With a successful industry in place, the Mosinee business district flourished. Mosinee’s future looks very bright. They had a strong industry to employ and support the families of Mosinee, and a strong business district to provide them their necessities and a few of the finer things in life. Our Mosinee Paper Mill (Wausau Paper) celebrates 100 years in 2011.

historic mosinee

Those who have called Mosinee home before us have survived many hardships and many joys of life. All who have come to Mosinee have worked diligently to keep this community strong. While other communities vanished from the map, Mosinee’s commitment to home, community, area businesses and our industry brought us the great community we live and work in today.

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