Black River Falls, the Black River and LDS/Mormon lumber colonies
Black River Falls was once the site of a sawmill constructed by the LDS/Mormon church and operated from 1841-45. Once lumber was harvested in other colonies such as in modern-day Neillsville, WI, the lumber was floated down to the sawmill before then continuing to Nauvoo, Illinois. In Nauvoo the lumber was used for both the booming Mormon city and for their temple. Once the temple was constructed and the church was forced out of Nauvoo, all lumber operations in Wisconsin ceased. The entry is located near where a marker was placed in 2003 and dedicated to the Mormon sawmill and the church's impact on the community. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang at the dedication of the marker. In place of the sawmill sites a hydroelectric dam. Also along the river is a small series of rapids called "Mormon Riffles".
Backstory and Context
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
*Information on the Black River also from Mormon Historic Sites:
"During the period of 1841-1845, logging settlements in Clark County, Wisconsin harvested lumber to supply the needs of building projects in Nauvoo, Illinois, some 400 miles downriver.
Once a tree was down, it was floated down the Black River some twenty-five miles to Black River Falls in Jackson County where the Mormons operated three sawmills. The tannin content in the water gives the river its name.
White pines were the trees most frequently harvested. As they grew, these trees would often self prune leaving the wood with few knots. Moreover, white pines floated well for something so massive. Some trees were first floated down a tributary, such as Cunningham Creek, and on to the Black River. One of the challenges of sending such large trees down the river was a combination of rocks, snags, and rapids which could block the massive logs as they floated."