175th Anniversary of the Founding of Merrill
TINA L. SCOTT
Before Merrill was settled, it was forest. Virgin timber, ripe for the logging industry, covered the countryside, and Chippewa tribes traveled through the area. Fur traders and lumber scouts also came to and through the area.
Most Merrill residents know that prior to being Merrill, our community was known as the town or village of Jenny, and some even know it was referred to as Jenny Bull Falls, but did you know that even prior to that, the area was known as Beaulieux Rapids, named after an early French trader, whose last name was known by various spellings [depending on the source] including the Americanized spelling of Bollier.
Various historical accounts dispute the date of that French trader’s arrival, with one source citing 1831 or 1832, while another claims he arrived in 1818 and built a log cabin about a mile below what became the site of Jenny.
The area was also settled by John Hogan, who filed under a squatter’s claim in 1843. Logging scouts came to the area and established a logging camp near what is now the foot of Center Ave.
Articles in various newspapers indicate Hogan’s claim was sold to Andrew Warren in 1846, who constructed a 500-foot-long and 9-foot-high dam across the Wisconsin River in 1947, and then constructed the area’s first sawmill at what is now the foot of Mill Street, establishing a permanent community here. Thus, 1947 is heralded as the beginning of what is now Merrill.
A Mayoral Proclamation celebrates 175 years
This year, 2022, is the 175th Anniversary of the founding of Merrill, and Mayor Steve Hass signed a Proclamation to celebrate that 175th Anniversary on June 6, 2022. The Proclamation detailed much of the history of our Merrill community and how it came to be and also encourages the community, local businesses, and organizations to join in observing this occasion and incorporating it into their own programs and activities.
From Jenny to Merrill
The small fledgling community was initially called Jenny Bull, or Jenny Bull Falls, consistent with the names of many communities along the Wisconsin River that ended with “Bull Falls.” In 1851, the Town of Jenny was officially formed, but a state map of Wisconsin from 1853 shows the name as “Virginia,” and not “Jenny.” As such, there was speculation that the town was named after an actual person, however, there are no records to substantiate this. When formed, Jenny was a part of what was then Marathon County, a huge tract that includes all of what is now Lincoln County and the land north to Michigan [including most of Oneida and Vilas Counties and portions of present-day Langlade, Taylor, Price, Iron, and Ashland Counties], as well as the existing Marathon County.
Three Town Supervisors were selected to oversee the Town’s business: W. Wilson, Chairman; John Cooper, Clerk; and Joe Snow, Side Supervisor. Andrew Warren was also chosen to be one of four Road District Superintendents for then Marathon County, with Warren representing the area of the County that included Jenny.
A story about an Indian princess named Jenny surfaced years later, suggesting that she was the origin of the town’s name, but that story has been dismissed as quaint folklore and some accounts say a newspaper reporter from Milwaukee concocted the story in 1892. There is other speculation about the source of the name, but there are no facts to determine the true origin of the name Jenny for the town.
From just a few people and families in 1855, the community grew steadily and then drastically once the railroad reached the area. “Jenny’s growth was advanced by the building of a permanent bridge across the Wisconsin River in 1871, the growth of the original mill under the ownership of T.B. Scott, increased logging, and expansion of travel routes north of Jenny, and the arrival of the railroad in 1879,” the Mayor’s Proclamation reads.
The original paper mill built by Warren changed ownership a few times and by 1880 was owned entirely by T.B. Scott and became known as the T.B. Scott Lumber Co.
In 1881, the Village Board passed a Resolution to rename the town Merrill, after Sherburn Sanborn Merrill, who was the General Manager of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Co. The original plat survey of the corresponding area took place.
In 1883, the City of Merrill was incorporated, and T.B. Scott was elected as the City’s first Mayor.
Celebrate 175 Years of Community Pride
The Merrill Historical Society History & Cultural Center, 100 E. Third St. in Merrill, will have a special exhibit commemorating the community’s 175th Anniversary on display until Oct. 1, 2022, entitled “Celebrating 175 Years of Community Pride.” The Merrill Historical Society History & Cultural Center is open to the public Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and visitors are also welcome to call in advance to set up a time to visit. They are happy to open if volunteers or staff are available, said Pat Burg, Merrill Historical Society Treasurer. Call 715.536.5652 or email: [email protected] for more information.