The old mill town

Kris Leonhardt

The old mill town

4 min
February 14, 2022

By Kris Leonhardt

In the late 1800s, as the transportation of logs by waterway began to phase out, pioneering lumbermen turned to railways to help transport logs and lumber in and out of their mills and lumber camps.

The Black River, once a resource for commerce to lumbermen,soon dwindled in importance as logging in the southern part of Clark County came to an end. Enterprising lumbermen looked for lands filled with white pine outside the river banks to supply their mills. Location of timber filled lands in proximity to the newly forged railroad systems became an important factor in purchasing acreage.

The mill grew to employ approximately 300 to 400 workers, with many of them housed in the company boarding house and company homes. Submitted photo

It was at this time, that John S Owen purchased 30,000 acres of land in the Owen-Withee area from pioneering lumberman D.J. Spaulding. Spaulding’s mill had been located near the Black River west of Withee. Upon purchasing the land, Owen moved Spaulding’s equipment to a location where the Brick Creek meets the Popple River east of Withee, near the right of way of the Wisconsin & Minnesota Railroad.

In 1893, the Brick Creek was damned to create a mill pond and the mill was constructed to the west of the pond. A “mill town” soon grew up around the newly created enterprise which included a company boarding house,company horse barns, lumberyards, a company store and office and company houses.

The mill grew to employ approximately 300 to 400 workers,with many of them housed in the company boarding house and company homes. As workers began to settle in, they soon began building their own homes to house their families. Soon the mill town expanded to the east side of Brick Creek on land that had been used as a pasture filled with trees and stumps.

In 1904, the mill town was granted incorporation as a village and given the official name of Owen. The petition for incorporation was signed by: CM Hall, FC Griffin, Florence (Mrs. AR Owen) Owen and GE Anderson. At that time, a census was taken by GC Anderson listing 315 people in residence in the village of Owen.

In 1905, the village was platted, the land was cleared, and the main street was laid out. New business was drawn into the village and the population began to expand.

The Owen family worked to entice commerce to the village,establishing a bank and building one of the finest hotels in the area – the Woodland Hotel.

They also worked to attract families to settle in the area,offering deals for land that had been cut over for a promise of permanent residence. This was done through a series of handbills, posters, and newspaper notices.

By 1924, the village had grown to a population of more than1,200 residents. The following year, the Owen was incorporated as the city of Owen.

As lumbering activities began to slow, the Owen family branched into other areas of business. Lower production in the mill meant less work for employees and mill workers began to look for other means of income.  By 1930 the population of Owen had dwindled to 1102.

In 1932 the John S Owen Company sawed its final log and the mill began to be sold off piece by piece. In 1935, the mill site was sold to Western Condensing.


This article was orginally reported by
Kris Leonhardt

Kris Leonhardt is a senior editor for Multi Media Channels and serves as general manager for the company's publications in Clark, Portage, and Wood counties.