Thanks for Asking | July 23, 2009

Adin Randall. What was he like – and how do you pronounce his first name?

Frank Smoot

So Smart
 
So Smart

I’m a big fan of Randall Park and was wondering if you could tell me a bit of the background history. The main thing I’m curious about is the statue of Adin Randall. What was he like – and how do you pronounce his first name?

Thanks for asking! Adin (pronounced AY-den) came to Eau Claire in 1855. Originally from New York, but arrived here from Madison. Became a land contractor, builder, and lumberman (but then, everybody was a lumberman). He built a very early hotel – the Eau Claire House – operated a very early ferry and a very early sawmill, and built our first jail. He held a mortgage on much of the land around Randall Park and had that parcel platted as “Eau Claire City.” In that way, he helped give our town its name. The surrounding neighborhood was informally called Randalltown for years.

Although he was one of our city’s first promoters – and involved in many ventures – Adin never got rich. Poor fellow died at 37, shockingly young even for the time, leaving a wife and six kids. Lumberman Orrin Ingram donated the land for your favorite park, dedicated it to Randall, and paid for the statue, which has been there since 1913.

The statue has an interesting pedigree itself. Sculpted by Helen Farnsworth Mears, originally from Oshkosh. As a little girl, she worked on sculptures in her family’s woodshed, won her first prize for sculpture at 9. While she was a student at the Chicago Art Institute, her statue “Genius of Wisconsin” was chosen for exhibition at the World’s Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair) in Chicago. Her work is in the collections of the Metropolitan, the Smithsonian, etc. Like, whatever.

Mears’ statue of Randall (which was once graced with a reflecting pond) is one of only two public works she created. The other, a statue of Frances Willard, leader of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, is Illinois’ contribution to Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capital building.

And to think, the college kids put a trash can on Adin’s head each year.

If you take Highway 37 out of town, past where I-94 runs, you go around a curve at the base of a cliff. In the rock wall there is a door ... Where does it go? What is it for? It looks old. Who puts a door in a rock wall?

You’ve found the door to Beckey’s Spring. Unfortunately not romantically named for Tom Sawyer’s girlfriend or any other pretty girl from the fiction of my childhood, but for timber cruiser James Beckey. (Cruisers scouted choice tracts of pine, then “flipped” them to lumbermen for a profit.) Perhaps no other natural spring refreshed so many weary walkers in our neck of the woods.

Millworkers built rafts out of the white pine sawn in Eau Claire, then raftsmen rode them downriver to Reads Landing, a thoroughly depraved den of iniquity on the mighty Mississip. Then, no doubt hung over and exhausted from their libertine exertions, the raftsmen walked back the 50 miles to Eau Claire to ride the next load downriver. Cool drink of fresh Beckey’s spring water would sure hit the spot. In the 1920s the Eau Claire County Board made an effort to preserve it – the door dates from that era, I think – and, you know, it’s still there, so hey. Rumor says it was called Silver Spring for a while, giving our famous horseradish its name.

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