5 Historical Nuggets From the New WPT Show About Eau Claire
1. Three Confluences
The city of Eau Claire grew up around the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers, but that’s not the only confluence that was vital to the community’s early history. The new Wisconsin Public TV documentary, Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Eau Claire, notes that the city was at the crossroads of two ecosystems: hardwood and pine forests to the north and east and buffalo- and elk-filled prairies to the south and west. It was also along the disputed border of lands inhabited by the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes.
2. Lots of Lumber
Eau Claire was ideally located to take advantage of all those trees. The Chippewa River was only navigable up to Eau Claire,which made it the logical place to build sawmills. At least one-sixth of the white pines in the United States were in the Chippewa Valley, and the river served as a superhighway to float those logs to the Mississippi River and beyond.
3. Living Relic
Old Abe was a bald eagle adopted by Eau Claire’s Company C, 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, when they marched off to the Civil War in 1861. the bird accompanied Company C in at least 34 battles before retiring from active duty. He was declared a war relic by Gov. James Lewis and was given a two-room apartment – complete with a swimming pool! – in the state Capitol’s basement.
4. Rolling Along
The Gillette Safety Tire Co. built its first tire in 1917, and was soon a major employer. At one time, the plant produced one-third of the tires for new General Motors cars and was the nation’s biggest maker of bicycle tires. Eventually owned by Uniroyal Goodrich, the plant closed in 1992.
5. Hammerin’ Hank
Baseball hall-of-famer and longtime major league home run king Henry Aaron famously played a season with the minor-league Eau Claire Bears in 1952. At the time, Eau Claire had about 36,000 residents, only about three of whom were African-American. Yet the 18-year-old from Alabama was embraced by the community and went on to be the league’s rookie of the year.