Black River Falls

The town of Black River Falls is the county seat of Jackson County, Wisconsin. It is here that the falls of the Black River cut through a region of granite. The town was established to utilize the waterpower of the river.

Roaring Creek as it joins the Black River, site of the first sawmill used by Latter-day Saints in Wisconsin.
Roaring Creek as it joins the Black River, site of the first sawmill used by Latter-day Saints in Wisconsin.

Previously, the Saints had purchased a share of a mill located on the confluence of Roaring Creek and the Black River below the settlement of Black River Falls. The mill was in poor operating condition and there was strife between the involved parties with regard to when and for how long they could use the mill. The amount of lumber output from Roaring Creek was minimal. The Mormon loggers pulled out of that struggling arrangement and moved upriver.

Hydroelectric dame, where Mormon loggers operated sawmills at Black River Falls, WI.
Hydroelectric dam, where Mormon loggers operated sawmills at Black River Falls, WI. Photo by Kenneth Mays

The Latter-day Saints worked out an agreement with Jacob Spaulding to utilize three sawmills in Black River Falls to prepare the fallen trees which had been floated down the Black River from Neillsville and other logging settlements. The mills would have been open-sided with a single up and down blade. Circular saws would not come to Wisconsin for about another decade. Presently, the falls are covered by a hydroelectric dam.

The Black River below Black River Falls, WI working its way to the Mississippi River.
The Black River below Black River Falls, WI working its way to the Mississippi River. Photo by Kenneth Mays

Once the trees had gone through the mills they could be pegged together as rafts and floated down the Black to the Mississippi River and on to Nauvoo, a journey of some 400 miles from beginning to end. Small, temporary living quarters were set on the rafts for use by those guiding the rafts and their families. The journey took about two and one half weeks if all went well.

Historical marker at Black River Falls paid for by the Tabernacle Choir. The Choir sang at the dedication of the marker in 2013.
Historical marker at Black River Falls placed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Choir sang at the dedication of the marker in 2013. Photo by Kenneth Mays

WhiIe on tour in 2013, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir stopped in Black River Falls and performed at the dedication of a historical marker that members of the choir had paid for by personal contributions. They also stopped in the former Mormon logging settlement of Neillsville where they had lunch, a welcomed but logistical challenge for such a small town.

Map & Directions

The site of the historical marker at Black River Falls placed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Black River Falls, Wisconsin is located on I-94 at exit 116 (highway 54).

Photos

Historical marker at Black River Falls paid for by the Tabernacle Choir. The Choir sang at the dedication of the marker in 2013.
Historical marker at Black River Falls placed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Choir sang at the dedication of the marker in 2013. Photo by Kenneth Mays
The Black River below Black River Falls, WI working its way to the Mississippi River.
The Black River below Black River Falls, WI working its way to the Mississippi River. Photo by Kenneth Mays
A 1939 marker noting an early Mormon presence at Black River Falls, WI.
A 1939 marker noting an early Mormon presence at Black River Falls, WI.
A 1939 marker noting an early Mormon presence at Black River Falls, WI.
A 1939 marker noting an early Mormon presence at Black River Falls, WI.
The Mississippi River below its confluence with the Black River showing the route of the log rafts floating to Nauvoo.
The Mississippi River below its confluence with the Black River showing the route of the log rafts floating to Nauvoo. Photo by Kenneth Mays
Roaring Creek as it joins the Black River, site of the first sawmill used by Latter-day Saints in Wisconsin.
Roaring Creek where it joins the Black River, site of the first sawmill used by Latter-day Saints in Wisconsin. Photo by Kenneth Mays

Articles & Resources

Articles

Dennis Rowley, “The Mormon Experience in the Wisconsin Pineries, 1841-1845,” BYU Studies, Vol. 32, nos. 1-2, 119-148.