Thanks for Asking | Aug. 12, 2010

answering your questions to the very best of Frank's considerable ability

Frank Smoot

What is the oldest known house in Eau Claire? I’ve been looking around on zillow.com, and have found a number of houses listed as from 1851, but was wondering if there’s anything older.

Thanks for asking! Not that zillow’s to blame, exactly, but there’s no Eau Claire house standing from 1851. That’s the default date the assessor’s office puts down when they don’t know the age of an old house. (Probably the date of the city’s first plat.)

As far as I know, the oldest house still standing is the Adin Randall house at 526 Menomonie St. from 1862. Randall built this modest “upright and wing” near his small planing mill (now gone), which stood on the bank of the mighty Chip at the foot of Ninth Ave.

It’s mostly no fault of the assessor’s office; they report what they’ve been given. However, it’s good to know that all dates on assessor’s records are suspect, and the 1851 dates are downright guilty.


I understand there was a hospital where Carson Park is now. Where exactly was the hospital?

In terms of West Side history, that’s forever ago, and the view is kinda hazy back there. I don’t know where it was in the park, or when it was built (1860s, just a guess). I know it served as a smallpox isolation hospital.

I don’t know the nature of this particular place (size, staffing, comforts), but this kind of place was usually a “pest house,” a shack where sufferers were pretty much abandoned to fend for themselves. (We like to complain about health care today, and we have a fond image of country doctors like Doc Baker on Little House on the Prairie, but really, truly, you’d rather be sick now.)

The smallpox hospital burned in May 1873 (not to worry; it was abandoned by that point). Some say authorities burned the hospital for the public health, but I’m thinking it was actually part of a blaze that ate up the entire “island.” (It’s not really an island, but that’s a discussion for another day.) That devastation actually saved the place. Up to that point, people avoided the area like, well, the plague. But afterwards, folks came up with one plan after another for the land, including a fairgrounds, horse track, fancy subdivision, site for the future UWEC – and, finally, decades later, the winner, a pretty city park.


I’m helping out at the 420 Cafe/Mission on Washington St. I grew up in the neighborhood; now I’m trying to remember what stores were in the building. (Also, one of Dick Feeney’s slideshows mentioned a small plane had crashed near there, maybe in the 40s?)

A federal survey plane crashed into that very building in October 1938. Four people died – all three passengers and a resident in an upstairs apartment. Thousands of Eau Clairians rushed to the scene and hampered police and rescue efforts for hours.

A spectacular tragedy, but otherwise your place has a fairly mild history. For at least four decades (roughly 1910-1950), Ole Anderson ran a grocery there. Next 15 years, Bob’s Cash Food Market. Then – yay, everyone’s childhood favorite – Gustafson’s Dairy. From the late 70s to late 80s, John Carroll ran Carroll’s Pasty Place, best hand-held food ever made in Eau Claire. A few short-lived shops after: gift store, guns-n-ammo. I think the owners of the new pasty place (“Third Shift” on North Clairemont) know someone who knows John Carroll. You should stop in, have a pasty and a chat.

  • Got a local question? Send it (17 S. Barstow St.) or email it (mail@volumeone.org) and Frank will answer it!  Frank has lived in Eau Claire for most of the past 41 years. He is an editor and researcher at the Chippewa Valley Museum, which is open all year just beyond the Paul Bunyan Camp Museum in beautiful Carson Park. You should go there.

 

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