Half Moon Lake is the ancient remnant of the meandering Chippewa River carved right through bedrock. Eventually cutting itself off from the river, Half Moon Lake is now officially called an Oxbow Lake. Because it is so close to the Chippewa, this lake gave many entrepreneurs the inspiration to create one of the largest holding ponds in Wisconsin.
The Chart above shows the production in millions of board feet from 1859-1885. This was the trend for almost all mills in Eau Claire and in the Chippewa Falls region. After a slow start production began to increase only to plummet due to drought and depression in the 1870's. After that Eau Claire experienced it's peak production numbers in the late 1880's and early 1890's. After the 1890's production steadily decreased into the 1920's before ending all together. This chart shows the trend that Sawmills followed in their life span from the mid 1800's into the 20th century.
The Early Start:
Eau Claire was once known as "Sawdust City" because it hosted numerous sawmills all along the Chippewa River, the Eau Claire River and Half Moon Lake. Starting in the 1830's Eau Claire had the physical geography to set the stage for massive production in the Lumber Industry. However, the beginning stages and it's people in Eau Claire were not "mature" enough to begin settling down and establishing a name for themselves. Most of the men in the area were traders, hunters or nomads moving up and down the Chippewa at their own will. A few mills began in the area, but none of consequence and none on Half Moon Lake.
The Beginning of Sawdust City: 1856-1867
This era marked the beginning of Eau Claire's and especially Half Moon Lake's sawmill history. The effects from this are still seen today with a bark bar that runs through the eastern arm of Half Moon Lake from where logs were stripped of their bark in the holding pond. This era brought in loggers from the east with hopes of making a successful business in Eau Claire.
Eau Claire had a very fast start, with 9 mills located on or adjacent to Half Moon Lake. Three of these mills would not last long at all, but some such as the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company would last into the 20th century. At this time mills in Eau Claire were extremely dependant on the Chippewa for Survival. The Chippewa River brought logs down the river, gave power to the mills and allowed the logs to be taken to the customer. The map below shows the location of mills along or near Half Moon Lake.
The mills on the east edge of Half Moon Lake were small mills that did not last long. The mills at the inlets to Half Moon Lake consisted of Daniel Shaw's (5), Ingram and Kennedy (6) and Pinkston (7), Bangs and Company (8), Smith and Buffington, (9), Marston Mill (10) who later sold to I & K, Wilson and Foster (19, became Badger State Lumber), McVicar and Pond (20 Shingle only), and Wilcox, Burditt and Parker (21, shingle).
Daniel Shaw owned not the biggest, but one of the most respectable mills in Eau Claire. He, along with Adin Randall (who left saw mill industry early) were the financiers behind the Half Moon Lake Canal. Daniel Shaw began his business in 1857 and ended in 1912, which covered the great majority of Eau Claire's saw mill legacy. He died in 1881 and his son Eugene took over.
Photo of Daniel Shaw
Depression Hits: 1868-1874
This marked the beginning of hard times for Eau Claire, and many Wisconsin mills. Depression, drought had hit the states in the Great Plains area and it was affecting all of Wisconsin. Lumber prices were driven into the ground ($12.00 per 1000 feet) and many mills couldn't afford to keep up. Numerous mills closed down and many saw mill workers couldn't find work. Low River levels all along the Chippewa simply hardened the times. The photo below shows the decline of the number of sawmills in Eau Claire and especially on Half Moon Lake in 1874.
The map shows mills in 1874. Notice the mills along the eastern bank of Half Moon Lake are already gone. The remaining mills were: The Daniel Shaw (4), Ingram and Kennedy (5), E.Tarrant's mil (6), and the Eau Claire Lumber Company (7, and 2nd largest in area, eventually moved away from Half Moon Lake.
This photo shows a log jam at the old Dells Dam around this period of time. Log jams like these, caused by low river levels were devastating to the mills. Most likely this log jam was fixed by using dynamite.
This period marks where good times began to return. Many of the mills that survived were beginning to increase production. Lumber prices were rising to $15.00 per 1000 feet and better times loomed ahead. The depression and drought had ended, but by this time only a few mills remained on or near Half Moon Lake.
Technological innovations were also increasing at this time. The use of the railroad to bring in logs and transport lumber caught the eye of the mill owners. Telecommunications such as the telephone and telegraph were increasing efficiency and production. Overall production was still down however due to the smaller number of actual mills still in operation.
Only three mills remain near Half Moon Lake. The lake was still used as a holding pond however. The mills are: Daniel Shaw (2), Ingram and Kennedy (3), and the Valley Lumber Company (4).
The Golden Years: 1878-mid/late 1890's
This period brought the highest level of production from the mills and also the peak of the industry (which, inevitably, also marked the decline). Improving technologies, high river levels, the Dells Dam Improvement Project and large quantities of resource materials provided the increase. Small mills still had to "drive" logs down the river but many larger mills relied on the railroad. The larger mills controlled 90% of the sawmill business.
Everything did not go smoothly though. Another labor strike for 10 hour days (instead of 11) threatened the industry. It was solved before anyone quit, but things did get tense in Eau Claire. River levels rose too high at times with the floods in 1880 and 1884. Many small mills were unable to stand against the floods and were destroyed. The photo below shows the number of mills around Half Moon Lake at the time.
Production was at its highest by all the mills on or near Half Moon Lake. The mils are: The Daniel Shaw Lumber Co. (3), The Empire Lumber Co (4, previously I & K), The Valley Lumber Company (5), and the Sherman Lumber Company (6) located directly on Half Moon Lake. Later on the Westville Lumber Company built a planing mill on the north end of Half Moon Lake in 1888.
Photo shows how Half Moon lake was used as a holding Pond. The Sherman mill is located to the left and the Eau Claire Manufacturing Company to the middle.
The End of Sawdust City: 1900-late 1920's
Declining timber resources and having little means to secure new supplies hastened the end of Sawdust City. Mill owners were quite aware that their industry was only temporary and were preparing to close down. Over the years, many fires had occurred and waste matter had built up. Even the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company burned in the 1880s. The Flume and the Canal were drying up and new businesses were beginning to take over the sawmill properties. Overall, Eau Claire held title as having the most prolific sawmills in Wisconsin for half a century and now that time was over.
The Daniel Shaw Lumber Company in 1906, only 6 years before it became the Kaiser Lumber Company.