Colfax Sesquicentennial 2014: Nearly 50 businesses in 1901

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  In honor of the Colfax Sesquicentennial celebration July 17-20, 2014, the history installment for this edition of the Colfax Messenger is from a “souvenir” edition of the Colfax Messenger published by A.C. Chase in 1901.

Part 9: Businesses galore …

In 1901, Colfax was a bustling town full of retail businesses, several professional offices and a new crop coming on the horizon for local farmers in the form of tobacco.

In his souvenir edition, A.C. Chase listed the businesses in town that included six general stores and three hotels.

“Time has rolled by, and after thirty-three years, we find our village completely transformed. We now have six general stores, two hardware stores, one drug store, two blacksmith shops, two barber shops, two tin shops, two doctors, one dentist, two milliner stores, a livery stable, three hotels, two lumber yards, a paint shop, a shoe shop, three confectionary stores, four warehouses, one veterinary surgeon, one general news and job printing office, one jewelry store, two furniture stores, one harness shop, two butcher shops, a bank, one undertaker, a grist mill, a wagon shop, a starch factory, a three-room graded school and a well-equipped post office.”

It is interesting to note that out of all of the businesses operating in 1901 — 113 years ago — only one business, the Colfax Messenger, is still operating under the same name.

Early businesses

J.D. Simons built the first house in Colfax in 1867. It was not long until more houses were built and businesses began to operate.

“Among early business ventures in the village, we note J.B. McKahn of Menomonie, who established the first store here, hauling his goods across the country from Menomonie, as there was no railroad running to our village until 1884, when the Wisconsin Central Lines reached here on their direct route from Chicago to Minneapolis and which now affords us excellent transportation facilities, both as to freight and passenger service.

“W.R. Culbertson acted as manager of Mr. McKahn’s business here and was appointed as first Post Master at Colfax.

“The first physician to locate here was Eli Monteith, who practiced here for many years. The first blacksmith shop was operated by Holver Erickson.

“The first barber shop was operated by Thomas Leach.

“Among other early settlers was Cyrenius Baldwin who moved his family here from Waukesha County in 1864 and whose aged widow still lives in our village (in 1901). Her son, D.C. Baldwin, owns a fine farm adjoining the village where he resides.

“The first plat of the village was made in 1874, and again in September 1884, when a new survey was made.”

First born

A.C. Chase’s Souvenir Edition also included this information about the first baby born in Colfax.

“The first child born within the limits of our village was Lulu Maud Culbertson (daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W.R. Culbertson) who as born October 21, 1870. She early displayed a talent of art and became an artist of no small merit. Her paintings have always taken first premium wherever exhibited. She was married at Menomonie October 18, 1893, to Oscar Knutson, a bright young man, who aspired to law, but for the sake of health, assists on his father’s fruit ranch at Santa Clara, Cal., where they now reside.”

Farming

Farming also was a good business around Colfax in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

A.C. Chase had this to say about farming —

“As a Farming section, Colfax is unsurpassed in the Northwest, which fact is plainly evident by the immense amount of Farm Products annually exported from our market.

“Farmers in the immediate vicinity of Colfax are an unusually thrifty class of people, as exemplified by their tact in taking up new and approved ideas along the lines of improvement.

“The principal crop of this locality for years past has been Potatoes — some farmers raising as high as eighty acres per year. Hay, oats, corn and other crops have also been cultivated to considerable extent.

“But the past two seasons have witnessed the introduction of a crop hitherto almost unknown in this latitude, but one that bids fair of becoming one of the staple crops of the future. We refer to tobacco.

“Two years ago D.J. Danielson of Stoughton, Wis., located on a farm near the village and the first year planted a field of four acres of tobacco. This yielded him $150 per acre and thus started the present tobacco craze in this locality.

“The past season over one hundred acres of the weed were raised in this immediate locality. So great is their faith in the crop that many have invested large sums of money in sheds necessary in caring for the crop. The present outlook is that the season of 1901 will see an increase of the acreage of that crop to the extent of hundreds of acres.

“Thus it will be seen that as a farming section, there is none better than Colfax and vicinity in the Northwest.

“The ox team and log cabin of a few years ago have been supplanted by fine teams of horses, fine farm buildings and broad acres under cultivation yielding abundant harvests.

“Farm land that a few years ago sold at $10 per acre, now brings $50 per acre, and it is only a question of a few years until all available farm lands will have been taken up and put under cultivation.”

Market town

For the farmers raising crops to sell, Colfax was an important part of their business model in 1901 and provided a railroad they could use to ship what they had raised.

A.C. Chase provided this information about what farmers shipped from Colfax.

“From actual figures and comparisons with those of surrounding towns, it is evident that we have an established market that it would be hard to beat if even to equal in the Northwest.

“Our buyers have studied the situation carefully and have paid good prices thereby drawing the produce of the farmers from all directors for many miles.

“As a potato market, Colfax is not to be excelled in Northern Wisconsin — billing out in the potato season as high as 37 (rail) cars in one day, with an average shipment of 20 cars per day for a number of weeks during the season each year for many years past.

“The Starch Factory, erected during the past season of 1900, used up to 80,000 bushels of potatoes for their first run and promises to be a lasting benefit to the farmers of this locality, by establishing a market for a class of potatoes otherwise not salable.

“Hay and grain are also shipped from Colfax in large quantities every year, and as a means of increasing their income, farmers in this locality have discovered that tobacco can be raised here with a profit, which has been proven by a number who have given it a trial the past two years, and some have reported a yield of $150 worth per acre with their first experiment.”