A story of Cornell, from memories of its people
Back at the turning of the 19th century to the 20th century, in what became northern Chippewa County, Estella was a flourishing community of Scandinavian and German immigrants, with a school, a business or two, and logging. Among the settlers in the area, were the Burns, Hendrickson, Butler, Stoll and Olmstead families.
Jean Brunet and Ezra Cornell, had come and gone, leaving their impressions on the territory. Cornell, in fact, had designated the area for logging, with the proceeds of the industry going to the New York university named after him.
Farming, along with logging, also became a prosperous industry – crops, cows and children, expanded the area which grew to the west.
Logging continued, starting from Tomahawk to the Chippewa River. A natural waterfall provided the setting for a dam to be built and a small company started up, above the dam, entrepeneured by the Osbournes. A population was needed to provide the labor for what became Cornell Wood Products Co., a paper mill.
The name of the community was changed to Cornell, and from there on, everything changed. A railroad was built, with tracks laid from south to north, so the product could be sent out of the area, where the demand was high, and the money rolled in.
Housing was now needed for the population moving into the area. The paper mill owners built small houses for their workers to live in, as rapidly as the population grew. Most are still in existence and for years, have been privately owned.
Another builder moved into the territory, a man named Arthur Fox. Fox saw the growing need for housing and also put up structures. The paper mill’s houses were above the hill, on what is State Hwy. 27. The Fox “shacks” were below the hill, in what became known as Hungry Hollow.
The people living in those houses were poor and had to eke out a living, doing whatever it took to survive. They hoped for jobs at the mill and some did land positions with the company.
At its height, Cornell grew to a population of almost 2,000 people, creating a history and many memories. Businesses grew up in the center of town, private homes were built, and schools and churches arrived.
During that early time, World War I called many men from the community, among them George Hinton, Einar Woll and Morris Selmer, whose family came with the loggers. Gena and Christian Selmer arrived as cooks for the big logging camp, where brother, John, ran a logging business.
When they returned from the war, Hinton opened a tavern on Main Street, M. Selmer joined the growing Wood Products Co. and Woll opened a tailor shop, where he’d sit in the window of the store, doing his sewing.
Woll then worked for the post office, delivering mail on Route 2, which later became Riverside Drive. A small, two-lane bridge crossed the Chippewa River, overlooking the newly built dam and paper mill.
The mill company erected a large, tall, metal structure called the stacker (now a historical structure), which had three major woodpiles beneath it, which were sent across the road to the mill, in underground water chutes, where they became pulp for the paper mill.
Woll’s family lived in the big gray house straight up from the (now) blue bridge, raising eight daughters there with his wife, Thelma, while M. and Margaret Selmer’s house was next door. The Sadlers lived just south of Woll. Two of those early houses still have descendants living in them.
Dominic Reali lived in the house where Kent Pickerign lives now, in a new house built by writer Wilson Rawls. The next house at the time, belonged to Howard Melville, where yet another descendant, Gene, still lives.
Woll’s brother, Ole, had only one eye, as he lost the other in an accident, and because he could no longer work at the mill, E. Woll built a small house for him on the property; first, up in the woods (which later became a playhouse for the kids), because the rest of the land served as pasture for E. Woll’s three cows. Later, a new house was built down by his garage, where O. Woll spent his final years.
Three supper clubs were built on what became State Hwy. 178, following the river toward Cobban. Robert’s Supper Club, owned by Louis and Elva Robert, was south where the big campground along the river is now. It was destroyed in a fire years later.
The Ranch, owned by Frank and Adeline Krall, also was destroyed and another campground grew up. To the north, was yet another supper club, known as Foster’s, last owned by Kevin and Bobbi Meistad. That property is now for sale.
When these clubs thrived, people used to drive up from Eau Claire, and other areas farther south, and one had to be dressed to the hilt to go to them to eat.
Another old Cornell family, were the Rivers, beginning with George I and Jenny. The original family was large and their children re-located around the country. One son, Roy, traveled around the world, building dams. Once, he and his wife, Delia, came to visit and she brought a pet ocelot with her. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of excitement.
Their son, George II, continued to live in Cornell, and his four sons were raised there. Two of the sons – Mile and Dennis – live in Cornell, Mike in the original house. J. Rivers used to try to take long walks into town, along the old road, which at that time, ran below Selmers’ hill to Highway 64/178 (now called CC) and north as Highway 27, once it gets to the top of the hill, a.k.a. Bridge Street.
The Munz family moved to the area, when Oliver Munz trav- eled the world after World War II, building dams. They moved to Cornell, to oversee the construction of the Holcombe dam, and lived at the top of the hill on Bridge Street, with the Neimeyers living next door.
At this time, horses became the center of attention in the area, and a saddle club was formed. Members were the Munz, Johnston, Selmer, Reali, Smith and Albrecht families. Old Pop Mc-Mahon lived down on Highway 27 and his barn became a horse location. Across the highway lived another old man, a Texan named John Shieloch, who had about 20 horses; kids used to go there to ride.
Among other well-known families back in the day, were those with the names of Finses, Moen, White, Laughlin, Walters, Snider, Wilson, Brown, Lubach, Hakes and Zahner. Another well-known figure, was Lucille Johnson, who was the local telephone operator before dial phones came into existence.
At that time, Einar Wong owned the pharmacy and Cornell had three doctors: Jones, Foster and Mittermeyer. Jones had his office over what is now city hall, while the other two did “business” out of their homes.
The Cornell Courier (now Courier Sentinel) newspaper was owned by the Howard family and was located up farther on Main Street, about where the coin laundromat is situated. Bob Ash had a dry cleaning business on that block and Joanne Palmer opened a dress shop on the corner in the building that earlier, housed a tavern named Balliet’s.
Cornell had five grocery stores back in the day: the Red and White Store, owned by the Thorson family; Iver’s, in what is now Main Scoop Ice Cream; Marky’s Market, where Dylan’s Dairy is now located; and two on State Hwy. 64, Babbit’s and Olger Selmer’s.
Selmer opened several grocery stores in town, the first one where Sam’s Place is now. He sold that location to Jim and Bernard Flood, and that store later became a root beer stand. Selmer moved into the Iver’s building and ran a grocery store in that location.
He then had a concession stand at the state park for three years, finally opening his last store across the river on the highway. He finally closed that, and he and his wife, Alice, spent their remaining years in Cornell. All the buildings mentioned are still standing and are in use.
The city’s library came into existence in the early days, run by Marie Howard, who later taught school. She was followed by Marion Grotte for many years, then Delores Ellingson and finally, current library director Sharon Shephard.
As a side note, M. Grotte’s husband, Helge, owned a butcher shop on Main Street, and led Cornell’s large and active Boy Scout troop for many years.
Cornell also had World War II heroes who lived in the community, including Alvin Futrell and Marshall (Monk) Solie. Solie would have been in the major leagues, but the war intervened and he was injured. He received the Bronze Star and remained in Cornell to play, until the team “retired.”
The community had a very good baseball team, thanks to Solie, Shire Paulson, various Websters and Crosbys. In fact, some even tried out for the majors, with the support of the strong athletic community in Cornell.
The Cornell High School also had some talented athletes, among them Duane Helgerson, Cub Helgerson, George Rivers, Tom Webster, Gene Miller, Paul Miller, Tom Miller and David McChesney. The teams were so good, that in 1956, Cornell defeated Memorial’s Old Abes in a basketball tournament.
Pastor Elmer Prenzlow served what was then known as the German Lutheran Church (St. John’s) for many years. Pastor Melvin Miller served what was called the Church of God back then; Pastor Koch was at the Presbyterian Church; Pastor Alver served at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, followed by Pastor Campbell; and Father Tremblay was assigned to Holy Cross Catholic Church.
At that time, George Peterson was the general manager of what became Cornell Paperboard Products, then St. Regis Paper Co., and Morris Selmer was the production manager until his death in 1962.
The Cornell/Jim Falls area also boasted of their claim to the famous Civil War eagle Old Abe, cared for by the McCanns. In addition, Maurita Burns, who was a local student and resident, appeared on the cover of a major magazine.
It’s clear, Cornell was no slouch, when it came to producing great and good people. Perhaps there are others out there that this generation is unaware of, who have also made their mark on the small town by the river.
If so, people are encouraged to reach out and share their stories/ memories, so contributions are never forgotten.