Rooted in history: 5 fascinating facts about Eau Claire’s past

Landmark Clock and path at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.Claire. Image via Shutterstock.

By UpNorthNews Staff

November 9, 2023

With a population of almost 70,000, Eau Claire is Wisconsin’s eighth most populous city. Today, many residents know it for its vibrant art and music scene and maybe even for being the hometown of the one and only Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. However, the area’s past is also just as fascinating. Here are five interesting facts about Eau Claire, plus five places around the city where you can go to learn even more.

A French-Canadian and the Fur Trade Started It All

The Ojibwe and the Dakota lived in the area long before European settlement, with some of the region’s tribal communities dealing with French-Canadian fur trader Louis De Marie. (Eau Claire is French for “clear water.”) In 1832, De Marie established a pivotal trading post at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers, strategically positioned for early commerce in the Chippewa Valley. (Fast forward almost 200 years and “the confluence” is shorthand for the area’s recent downtown development.)

Discover Eau Claire’s early history, including its fur trading legacy, at the Chippewa Valley Museum. The museum offers fascinating exhibits on the region’s Native American culture as well as insights into the fur trade and logging industry.

It’s Home to the First Mascot of the Union Army

During the Civil War, the Eau Claire area earned a unique distinction as the home of the first Union Army mascot, Old Abe, an eagle captured in 1861. Old Abe’s fierce spirit and ability to inspire the troops made him an iconic symbol of the Union cause.

Experience the story of Old Abe at four different spots in the Chippewa Valley, where you’ll find statues and plaques honoring this remarkable eagle.

It Was Once the “Sawdust City” of the World

In the late 19th century, Eau Claire gained the nickname “Sawdust City” due to its status as the world’s leading hub for sawmills. The lumber industry played a pivotal role in the city’s early growth and development as it shipped pine boards, beams, doors, crates, furniture, and other materials all over the growing nation.

Delve into Eau Claire’s logging history at the Wisconsin Logging Museum. The museum showcases exhibits on the logging process and the lives of the hardworking lumberjacks who shaped the industry.

A Revolutionary Machine Was Invented There

One of Eau Claire’s most groundbreaking inventions was the Phoenix Log Hauler, a machine that revolutionized log transportation. Invented and manufactured in Eau Claire by the Phoenix Manufacturing Company, it made moving logs exceptionally efficient. It’s why the public space at the confluence of the rivers is known as Phoenix Park.

In 2022, locals got to witness a restored Phoenix Log Hauler, along with other historical attractions such as a replica blacksmith shop and a sawmill, at Pioneer Days.

There Used to be More Than One Eau Claire

Originally comprising three separate villages — West Eau Claire, East Claire, and North Eau Claire — Eau Claire consolidated into a single city in March, 1872.

Embark on the Downtown Historical Walking Tour to gain deeper insights into the city’s early history and the merger of the three villages that gave birth to Eau Claire. The walking tour guides visitors past numerous historical buildings and sites.

Visit Eau Claire and Step Back in Time

Eau Claire’s early history is a tapestry of richness and diversity, beckoning history enthusiasts to explore its past. With its museums, historical sites, and informative walking tours, Eau Claire offers an engaging journey into the annals of time.

This story was generated in part by AI and edited by UpNorthNews staff.

READ MORE: MLB’s Most Clever Logo Was Created by an Eau Claire Art Major

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