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Steamboats helped grew Prescott from a town into a city

PRESCOTT - As the city of Prescott prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday this weekend, a closer look indicates that much went on in the city before 1857.

According to Prescott residents Mary Beeler and Dorothy Ahlgren, who wrote 'A History of Prescott' in 1996, the first recorded white person to come to Prescott was Philander Prescott in 1839. Prescott came to the area as he was helping lay a claim for the land on where the city now sits. Ironically, the group Prescott was with also had a claim for the land on where Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities sits.

By the following year, the first school and stores were established as settlers started coming from the east.

And since Prescott's location was right along the rivers, steamboats became the mode of transportation for delivering immigrants, supplies or whatever was needed. (Ahlgren noted that in 1858, 800 steamboats arrived in Prescott.)

It was noted, the pair explained, that after Prescott first became a town, explorers came fast and furious and swallowed up land quickly. That left the immigrants to travel further east once they arrived. Their choice of destination was surprisingly the land on where the town of Martell sits. The reasoning for that was that Norwegians who moved here fell in love with the land in Martell.

At the same time, what was the town of Martell was still called the town of Prescott back then. Matter of fact, what is today's Pierce County was the town of Prescott until immigrants started breaking off and forming their own towns, like Martell or Diamond Bluff, the village of Bay City and the city of Greenwood, which is now known as River Falls.

The pair also found out while doing their research for the book, Prescott can also lay claim to some other firsts within in the county:

• From 1853-1861 Prescott was actually the county seat. As a result the first county courthouse was in Prescott, located on what is now Court Street. The first jail was also set up at a hotel along the levee.

• It held the Pierce County Fair from 1859-1886. Sadly, they noted, they're unable to find any pictures from the Fair.

• A Joint School District that involved the county in 1852, on where the Middle School site now sits. The first public school came a year later. "That was the influence of the New Englanders," Beeler said. "They're well-educated."

As the town continued to grow, the progression into a city was the next step. It became a city on January 28, 1857 and was approved by the State of Wisconsin on April 6.

The idea for the book came from the matching of their interests. Beeler wrote for the local newspaper for 11 years and had done numerous interviews about Prescott's history, especially about steamboats and boxcars. Meanwhile, Ahlgren worked at the Hastings library and therefore did the research, which shows as about one-third of the book is genealogy.

It took the pair six years to write it and despite hard times, the book didn't dampen their friendship.

"We were friends before and were friends after." Beeler said.

When they first started writing the book, the pair initially thought they would reach 300 pages. It finished at 600.

"We're getting pictures from all over the place," Beeler said. "We're getting a lot of help from people in and out of town.

"We had a good time doing it."

The pair wanted to thank numerous groups for their help on the book, especially the Prescott Area Historical Society, an outlet of the Pierce County Historical Society.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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