Although this area of Northwest
Wisconsin was originally inhabited by the Sioux and Chippewa
tribes, the person credited as the first settler of River
Falls is Joel Foster. Foster was drawn to the area in 1848
by its natural beauty and commercial possibilities. Soon
thereafter a number of other Yankees, attracted for the
same reasons, established themselves here. The settlement
was known by other names, such as Kinnickinnic and Greenwood,
before River Falls (downtown River Falls, 1880's) became the official name in 1858.
Milling played an important role
in the early development of River Falls. Harnessing the
areas natural resources, C.B. Cox erected in 1850 the first
flour mill in the area at Clifton and built his second one
in River Falls in 1854. The same year, Joel Foster opened
the first sawmill. The rapid settlement necessitated other
commercial activities, such as a dry goods store, a hotel,
blacksmith shops and other service establishments. [More in Early Commerce and Industry.]
The River Falls Journal began publishing
in June, 1857, under the editorship of Lute and Horace Taylor.
They moved to Prescott in 1861, and the River Falls Journal
was reestablished again in 1873. From 1874 to1883 there
was a second paper, the River Falls Press. There was also
the River Falls Times from 1894 to 1933.
Houses of worship flourished alongside
commercial ventures. The First Congregational church was
organized in 1855 and was soon followed by the Baptist and
Methodist churches in 1857, the Episcopal in 1859, and the
Catholic church in 1876.
the Normal School
Education has always been an important
part of the development of River Falls. In 1855, a school
district was officially organized. The Academy,
a college preparatory school, was opened in 1856. The building
was bought in 1865 by the school district for $1,200 for
use as a public school. The building burned in 1879 and
a new school building was erected on the same site in 1880.
In 1887, the first group
of students graduated from the newly established high school
program. This second building was destroyed by fire in 1926,
and rebuilt in 1927, and still serves as a school.
River Falls was selected as the site of the fourth Normal
School in 1872. The structure was begun in 1874, and opened
to students in September 1875. In 1897, this Normal
School (original South Hall building, ca. 1875) building
was ravaged by fire
(remnants of Normal School building, 1897). The economic
base of wheat growing and milling was gone and River Falls
was in danger of losing the Normal. Because of the generosity
of the businesses and churches in offering space to hold
classes, only a half-day of school was lost due to the fire.
This and the lobbying work of influential citizens convinced
the Board of Regents of the State Normal Schools to have
the school stay in River Falls. The present South Hall was
erected on the foundations of the original building. It
was ready for classes in September 1898. This has grown
into the present UW-River Falls.
Commerce and Industry
A large amount of wheat
(wheat field with farmers in River Falls, undated) was grown in the area around River Falls, in particular
Mann Valley. The readily available waterpower attracted
Yankee millers, who from 1850-1880 constantly rebuilt and
modernized their mills to produce high quality flour on
a commercial basis and reestablished River Falls as nationally
known milling center.
At its high point, five mills were operating in the city.
These include the Greenwood,
Mill, which burned in
1916, the Cascade Mill, and further down the river,
the Dayton Mill. This milling activity necessitated the
shipping in of additional wheat and shipping out the flour.
For this, a railroad service
(River Falls Depot, ca. 1880) was established, with the
opening of the River Falls-Hudson line, in October 1878.
The railroad line was continued to Ellsworth in 1885. The
use of automobiles and trucks
(Oligney trucks and drivers at Lunds Hardware, downtown
River Falls, undated) brought this railroad to an end in
The constant planting of wheat had depleted the soil, but
wheat growing continued until a combination of droughts
and cinch bug invasions, for three successive years, 1884-1886,
put an end to wheat growing in the area. Thereafter, the
ever increasing shipping cost from the westward moving wheat
growing areas made the large scale commercial milling in
River Falls economically unproductive.
Mill in its last years of operation had already used
hydro-electrical power for some of its operations. After
it burned, its location was the logical site for a municipal
hydro-electrical power plant. This was built in 1900 and
began operating on November 25th of that year. It expanded
with the continual need for more and more electricity. In
1923, it began using diesel motor power and in 1948 began
the purchasing of additional power. Today, it is still a
municipally operated power plant.
the demise of the milling industry, the residents of River
Falls and the surrounding area had to find other forms of
economic productivity. Two potato starch factories operated
briefly as did a sewing factory. A brick factory in the
1890s supplied the bricks for building South Hall and a
number of River Falls residences. Farmers
( in Pierce County farmers, unnamed and undated) who moved
here from Southern Wisconsin introduced dairying soon after
1900, which necessitated the establishing of a creamery.
Several pickle and sauerkraut factories lasted into the
of significance was the Tubbs
Medicine Company (Tubb's price listing, ca. 1906), started
in 1881, by Thomas E. Tubbs. The company sold patent medicines
regionally, shipping thousands of bottles to customers each
The influx of more
settlers enabled a larger and more varied business community,
with more hotels, the Gladstone with a wholesaler sample
room, haberdasheries, barber shops, hardware and drug stores,
(employees of the Carisch Garage, downtown River Falls,
ca. 1928) bakeries, millineries
(storefront downtown River Falls, ca. 1900), butcher shops,
laundries, saloons and livery stables.
After six major fires
in four years, this prompted Editor George Merrick of the
River Falls Press, to urge a volunteer fire department as
early as 1878. Finally, on June 5, 1885, the new Common
Council established the Pioneer
Hook and Ladder Company (ca. 1939).
Land to establish a park was purchased
in 1898. Over the years, it received the popular name Glen
Park because of the beauty of the Glen created by the South
Fork coming into junction with the Kinnickinnic River, and
enhanced by the waterfall created by the high dam of the
Cascade Mill. Large halls, including the Opera House, made
it possible for the presentations of traveling entertainment
groups and later the showing of moving pictures. The present
movie theater was built in 1927. In 1923, the River Falls
Library Association was formed and a library was opened
in the city.
The advances in the practice of medicine
and surgery made the need apparent for the hospital. Various
private hospitals were operated between 1916 and 1925, when
the citizens voted to establish a municipal hospital. The
city rented various vacant houses until 1928, when the city
was given the Coggeshall
house and surrounding land on Lewis and Maple Streets
for that purpose. The Coggeshall house was used, until the
city hospital, now the Ingram Center, was finished in 1938.
Of business established
before 1900, those surviving in 1993 are the Freeman Drug
Store, opened in 1872 by R.S. Freeman, and Lunds
Hardware Store (1890), established in 1873 by A.W. Lund
as a carriage and harness shop.
River Falls – 20th Century
The schools saw many changes over the years. The original
school building, which was located on Fremont Street on
the west side, burned in a spectacular fire in 1926. The
building was rebuilt in 1927 on the same site. It would
serve as the one public school building for the community
until the 1950’s. At that time, post-war growth of
the town brought crowded conditions to the school. In 1955,
Greenwood Elementary School, on the east side of town on
8th Street, was opened. It was located on land that would
be developed mainly by Herbert Cudd into the Falcon
Heights addition. Further crowding occurred in 1960 with
the closing of the one-room school houses in the area. It
was too expensive for the small outlying districts to provide
primary education for their students, so the schools closed
and the students were then bused to bigger towns. The consolidation
was to occur in 1962, but in order to secure bonds for a
new high school, it was advantageous to have the outlying
districts attach to the River Falls School District earlier,
so they did so in 1960. A new high school, on 9th Street,
was dedicated in 1962. Additional schools added to the district
would be Westside Elementary School in 1970 and Rocky Branch
Elementary School on the south side in 1991. Continued crowding
in the 1990’s necessitated building a new high school
on the south side, which opened in 2001. The old high school
building on 9th Street was then converted to a middle school.
The Renaissance School, a charter school that offered an
alternative learning environment for students, was begun
in the summer of 1998. It was initially housed at the Ames
Teacher Education building on the university campus, but
with the opening of the new high school in 2001, it was
switched to the old middle school building on Fremont Street.
Technical education in River Falls was tied in with the
public schools in terms of funding and structure. For several
years, technical education courses were offered at the high
school, usually in the evenings or on weekends. In 1965,
vocational technical education in Wisconsin was revamped,
resulting in various Vocational, Technical, and Adult Education
(VTAE) districts. Pierce and St. Croix Counties were part
of the VTAE District One out of Eau Claire. Pierce County
then split off on its own, but then rejoined the Eau Claire
district. Various counties in NW Wisconsin were also split
off into other districts, which then eventually formed the
Wisconsin Indianhead Technical District in 1971. That district
would include St. Croix County. VTAE District One would
later change its name to the Chippewa Valley Technical College.
In the 1980’s-1990’s, the technical school in
River Falls would have an administrative office housed in
various commercial buildings, including a professional building
located at 314 North Second Street and at a location at
715 North Main Street. With expanding programs and enrollment
from this area, the need was evident for a stand-alone facility.
This was accomplished with the opening in 1999 of the Chippewa
Valley Technical College campus in River Falls, located
on South Wasson Lane by the current location of the Moody car dealership.
The University of Wisconsin-River Falls would see tremendous
changes in structure and growth in the 20th century. One
of the biggest would occur in 1925, when the Regents would
authorize the granting of the 4-year degree. This necessitated
the name change to the River Falls State Teachers College.
During World War II, enrollment dropped to just a few hundred
students. However, the post-war boom years would swell enrollment
to over 1,000 by the early 1950’s. The need for the
state teachers colleges in the state to expand their educational
offerings brought about the change in 1951 whereby the school
could now award liberal arts degrees. Thus, the name changed
to the Wisconsin State College-River Falls. In 1964, the school
name was changed again, this time to the Wisconsin State University-River
Falls, to reflect the addition of graduate degrees to the
curriculum. The final name change would occur in 1971, with
the merger of the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin
State University campuses into the University of Wisconsin
System. The name then became the University of Wisconsin-River
Falls. Enrollment in the 1980’s would top 5000 students.
With the growing university, several new
buildings were added to the campus over the years. At the
turn of the century, the main building was South
Hall (South Hall, ca. 1875), which had been rebuilt
in 1898 after the 1897
fire (remains of South Hall building) destroyed the
original building. In 1914, a second main building would
open on campus, North Hall
(undated). A training school addition to North Hall
was added in 1928. The first dorm for students, Hathorn
Hall, would open in 1951. The Chalmer
Davee Library (south view, 2006) would be completed
in 1954 and dedicated in 1955. The 1960’s and 1970’s
saw an explosion of new buildings, including several dorms,
Hagestad Student Center, Karges Gymnasium, Rodli Commons,
the Wall Amphitheatre, Hunt Arena, Kleinpell Fine Arts,
and the Centennial Science Hall.
Irma Hathorn placing cornerstone in Hathorn Hall.
December 11, 1950
One building that went up during the growth spurt of the
1960’s was a new campus school, the Ames Teacher Education
building. It would house a K-9 school on the campus, as
a companion to the teacher education program the university
offered. The program was scaled down to K-6 in the early
1970’s. The school would close in the early 1980’s,
the last of its kind in the state. The building itself was
razed in 2004, to make way for a new student union.
For more on UW-River Falls campus buildings, visit What's in a Name?
Transportation would change dramatically
in River Falls in the next century. The automobile would
be to the 20th century what the train was to the 19th century.
In the early 1900’s, various automobile dealerships
would start up, including the Ramer Garage, which was a
Ford dealership. Moody’s would open in 1940, on the
corner of Main and Maple Streets. It would relocate to its
present site on Cascade and Wasson Lane in 1971. The train
would faithfully serve the city up through the World War
II era. After that time, passenger service would be stopped,
with just freight service continuing. However, with decreased
need, the freight service was discontinued in 1966 and the
tracks were ripped up shortly after that.
school bus, 1944.
Mead Special Collections, ca. 1955.
Truck Transfer Company, undated.
Special Collections Photograph, ca. 1910.
There were several civic improvements in the city during
the 20th century. Glen Park had been established in 1898.
A beautiful suspension footbridge over the South Fork of
the Kinnickinnic River would be built in 1925. A pool would
be added to the park in the 1930’s. The original construction
of the pool started as a Civilian Works Project in 1933.
Funding under the WPA would come and go, so the pool’s
progress would start and stop. The pool was finally completed
Another civic improvement was the establishment of a public
library. In the early 1900’s, the River Falls Tuesday
Club, a social and civic group composed of area women, helped
to establish a library in the city. The quarters of the
library were not ideal, and in 1958, a beautiful new library
was opened, as part of a new city hall complex on Elm St.
The library would stay in that location until 1997, when
the library would move to a beautiful new building on North
Main Street, in the location formerly occupied by the River
Falls Area Hospital.
In 1971, the first subsidized housing for the elderly,
Riverview Manor, would open on North Main Street. Additional
elderly housing would be built later on in this same location.
Economic development in River Falls would become a focus
after World War II. In 1950, the River Falls Industrial
and Civic Development Corporation was formed. A main purpose
of the group was to increase the business base in the city.
The group had been formed after the Lang Overall Factory
was destroyed by a fire in March of 1950. The Lang factory
had been in River Falls since about 1930. Seeing how one
large employer’s disaster can affect a community,
the group’s purpose was to help the Lang factory rebuild
and to attract new businesses to town. The Lang factory
did rebuild, on a site on the west side of town, where it
would be known as Langwear. The group was also successful
in getting Erickson Industries to relocate from Roberts
to River Falls in 1956. A new building was built on the
north end of River Falls to house the Erickson Industries
plant and they moved here at the end of the year. The plant
would later be called Vollrath Refrigeration and then Kolpak.
The plant would close in 2005.
Other major manufacturing interests in River Falls included
Smead’s and UFE. Smead’s, based in Hastings,
Minnesota, opened the River Falls plant in 1945. It produced
office supplies, such as folders. The original plant was
on Main St. in the business district. The plant moved to
a site north of the city in 1978, in a new industrial park
area. It closed its operations in River Falls in 2004. Another
company that came in the mid-1960’s was the St. Croix
Corp., which would later be known as Kroy Industries and
then UFE. The parent company was and still is based out
of Stillwater, Minnesota. It operates plants in that location,
as well as the River Falls plant, and one in Dresser. The
company manufacturers plastics.
Medical care in River Falls would be greatly
improved in the 20th century. The City Hospital, situated
on a hill just over the Maple St. bridge on the west side,
was built in 1939. The River Falls Medical Clinic was established
in 1942. The clinic originally had a spot on Main St in
the business district- 106 South Main Street (now Bo's N Mine). The clinic would move to its new
facility on the corner of Spruce and Locust streets in 1963.
It would remain there for close to 30 years. St. Joseph’s
nursing home, built in 1961, would add a hospital onto its
structure in 1962. In 1975, the hospital would change from
public to private ownership and thereafter be called the
River Falls Area Hospital. The nursing home was operated
as the Kinnic Home. The old City Hospital on the west side
of town was closed and all services merged into the facility
on Main St. in the later 1970’s. The City Hospital building was razed in 2008 to make way for the new City Hall. In the early 1990’s,
the need was evident for more space for these facilities.
In 1991, the new River Falls Medical Clinic would open on
East Division St. In 1992, the hospital would also move
to this location, as part of a shared facility. A new Kinnic
Home was also attached to this group of buildings.
|Farnsworth (or Oligney) House on
SE Cedar and Winter Streets, served as city hospital
||Nurses from River Falls Clinic,
The 1970’s saw growth continuing in the city. Several
new residential developments went in, including Falcon Heights
4th edition on the east side and River Hills on the south
side. A new bridge over Maple St. across the Kinnickinnic
River would be completed in 1974. In 1976, Heritage Park
was dedicated, next to the bridge. This was done at the
time of the nation’s bicentennial, which was quite
A large, new grocery store opened on the south side in
1980 when Applebaum’s came to town. It switched to
the IGA affiliation in 1982. The Erickson’s store
on the northern end of Main St. would relocate to southern
end of Main St. in 1984. It reopened in a whole new mall,
called Riverside Square. The store changed its name to More
4, to reflect the new and improved store. The new stores
though would signal an end to others in the 1980’s.
The Malmer’s Red and White grocery, which had stood
on the corner of Main and Walnut streets for decades, would
close in 1982, along with Isaacson’s Super Valu (closed 1985) and the Red
Owl store (closed 1990).
Two major banks in town would move to new, larger buildings
in 1974. The First National Bank would relocate from the
middle of Main St. south to a new location next to the Holiday
station store. The River Falls State Bank would relocate
from the corner of Main and Elm streets to Second St., between
Elm and Walnut.
River Falls has had various community festivals throughout
the years, such as Town and Country Day and Old Fashioned
Bargain Days. River Falls Days, the festival that includes
business sidewalk sales, royalty coronation, a street dance,
and other events, got its official start in 1974. The yearly
festival continues into 2005.
[Compiled by Ursula Petersen and
Stephanie Zeman, 1993; 20th Century compiled by Stephanie
Zeman, 2005; corrections and additions by Dan Geister, 2009]