A HISTORY OF ADAMS COUNTY
Composed by Ernest Klicko
Courtesy of the Office of the Adams County Clerk
The original boundaries of Adams County were set out in 1848. At that time the boundaries reached west of the Wisconsin River to include most of what is now Juneau County. In 1849 they were changed and the county was enlarged. In 1853 it was again enlarged and organized for county and judicial purposes. In 1855 the question of dividing the county went to the voters in the November election. The issue was fought with spirit and some bitterness, but friends of the division won and the county was divided at the Wisconsin River. A probable reason for the division was the isolation of the halves of the county caused by the Wisconsin River. Even today only two bridges connect the two counties. The division left Adams County without a seat, as the old county seat remained west of the river in newly formed Juneau County. Luther Stowell and his son Frank, early settlers of Friendship, were instrumental in the passage of an act by the Wisconsin legislature in 1858 which placed the county seat in Friendship. The first courthouse of the present Adams County was constructed there and remained in use until 1913. It was removed them to make room for the present courthouse which was built in 1914 at a cost of $15,000. A large addition was constructed in 1975.
In 1854 H. M. Whitney staked out 80 acres just south of a mound and a creek and filed a claim on it in Stevens Point. In 1855 J. Whaley and A. Betts settled in the same area. In 1856 Luther Stowell, J. Davidson, L. Hecock, J. Olin, and a Mr. Wize came from Friendship, New York (hence Friendship, Wisconsin) with their families. In 1857 Mr. Stowell bought H. M. Whitney's 80 acres and settled the village of Friendship there.
L. Hecock erected the first residence in Friendship. The first building, however, was a hotel, which was later added on to and became the Atcherson House which burned in 1914. In 1857 or 1858 Luther Stowell and W. Burbank erected a grist mill on the Little Roche-a-Cri Creek, which is just north of Friendship. The site has also been occupied by a sawmill and a hydroelectric plant. There was also a mill at Fordham on the Little Roche-a-Cri which was later moved to Arkdale where it burned some time later.
In 1858 J. C. Chandler established the first newspaper, the Adams County Independent.
About this time quite a village had grown up on the Little Roche-a-Cri about four miles east of Friendship on the old “Pinery Road”. This road ran between the two nearest cities, Portage and Grand Rapids, which is now called Wisconsin Rapids. The new village was called Fordham. All that remains of Fordham today is the Fordham cemetery. Preston was another ambitious but since-disappeared settlement two miles east of Friendship.
It is claimed that every able-bodied man in Friendship responded to the call at the outset of the Civil War. War records show that this was also the locality with the greatest percentage of killed and wounded.
The rest of the county was settled in small villages between 1848 and 1875. The history of each settlement is almost chronologically the same. First a sawmill or grist mill was built on a stream. A hotel and sometimes a store followed. A schoolhouse was erected as soon as there were enough children in the area. Some of these settlements remain today, others have been washed away by the waves of history.
The coming of the railroad in 1911* brought its own settlements. One of these is Adams, which is located just south of Friendship. The rails were supposed to pass through Friendship, but they happened to end up over a mile south because the proposed right-of-way had been bought up by realtors who hoped to make a profit by selling land to the railroad. Finding cheaper land to the south, however, a bend was put in the tracks, missing the expensive land and also Friendship. Men who worked on the railroad were the first settlers of a village that began as South Friendship. The story goes that a shorter name was desired to be placed on the depot. After being called by several names, the town was finally called Adams. Adams was the midway point of the run of the famous “400” passenger train which ran between Chicago and Minneapolis.** Today Adams and Friendship touch each other at a point near where the tracks were to have been originally laid.
Electricity was installed in Adams and Friendship in 1914. The power was produced by a small hydroelectric plant located on the Little Roche-a-Cri at the north end of Friendship.
In 1949, one of the twin Petenwell and Castle Rock dams was dedicated. These dams were constructed on the Wisconsin River by the Wisconsin Power and Light Company and the Wisconsin River Power Company and were fitted with large hydroelectric generating plants. This damming of the river produced the Petenwell and Castle Rock Lakes which now make up most of the county’s western border. The two largest county parks are located on these lakes.
In 1957, the Village of Friendship celebrated the centennial anniversary of its founding. Many activities went on during this three-day event, among them a street fair and a parade of over 130 units that lasted nearly three hours. The proceeds of this festival and other community projects went toward the construction of a hospital which was dedicated in 1959.
The county is almost completely rural with farming and pulp cutting the main industries. The loose, sandy soil of the area makes it ideal for irrigation farming. There are also several small factories in the county. Among the products manufactured are corrugated board containers, pallets, sheet metal products, and cheese.
The landscape is studded with sandstone outcroppings, some of which are precipitous, while others are rounded and covered with trees. One of the sheer outcroppings is the center of interest of Roche-a-Cri State Park, which is located just north of Friendship. Some of the most beautiful sites of the famous Wisconsin Dells are located along the Wisconsin River in southern Adams County .
Adams, with 1440 inhabitants, is the largest settlement in the county. Friendship is next with 640 people. None of the other settlements is incorporated. The population of the county is increasing. The construction of the Federal Correctional Institution near Grand Marsh has brought many men and their families into the area. The county’s rural atmosphere and the nearby tourist sites such as Wisconsin Dells have made the area a popular place for summer homes in recent years. Two recently developed lakes, Sherwood and Camelot have also increased the population with their shoreline lots, some of which are summer homes while an increasing number are being inhabited year-round.
*In 1909 when the Chicago and Northwestern railway laid tracks a mile south of Friendship and set up a division office there, they started what became the City of Adams (different from the town fo Adams, a rural township). The first trains began to roll through Adams County when the railroad bridge over the Wisconsin River was completed in 1911. Brooks was formed soon after that, and Grand Marsh moved closer to the railroad. The train station at Holmsville became a popular summer tourist destination and Holmsville became known as Dellwood. (submitted by Joan Benner) **The C & NW's "400" passenger train covered the 400 miles between Chicago and St. Paul in 400 minutes, at 60 mph. Adams-Friendship was close to the halfway point. (submitted by Joan Benner)
Composed by Ernest Klicko
Courtesy of the Office of the Adams County Clerk
This site is maintained by Joan and was last updated April 2005
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