Thanks for Asking | October 29 2009

Why was Lake Hallie Park called “Electric Park?”

Frank Smoot

Why was Lake Hallie Park called “Electric Park?”
    Thanks for asking! Eau Claire, so they say, was the fourth city in the U.S. to get electric street rail (after Boston, Columbus, OH, and Janesville). 1889. By 1898, the Chippewa Valley Electric Railway Company had expanded its service to include Chippewa Falls.

This commuter line stopped at Lake Hallie, and the rail company, generously enough, built “Electric Park” at the stop, so that picnickers could sojourn, rail patrons or not. In its heyday, the park offered a domed shelter, dance hall, outdoor movie screen, amusement rides, and paddle-wheel boats. Resort-quality really, and all powered (at first) from a steam generator on Starr Avenue.

Some of the Eau Claire guys you’ve heard of – Ingram, Buffington, Owen – were investors in the 19-aughts. Sold to the Minnesota-Wisconsin Light and Power Company by the teens, and finally NSP. By 1932, motor bus service replaced all electric rail in Eau Claire, but the Hallie service was already gone: last “interurban” stopped at Lake Hallie August 7, 1926. A sad day for area transit.

Any info on the Red Row housing area, and how it got its name? Seems one of our relatives once lived there. My only guess is that, if it was on the river during the late 1800s, the river would be red from blood from the meat packing plant upstream …
    An excellent and creative guess! But no.

First, while Drummond Brothers provided local meats pretty early, their upstream “Packing House” (where Indianhead Foods is now) opened only around the turn of those centuries, and by then our Red Row was already well-established and on its way out. Second, there was (or still is) “red row” housing in dozens of U.S. locales, almost all blue-collar blocks associated with a railroad or other industry: lumber mill, mining company, ironworks.

The only Eau Claire red row I know was Upper Red Row (oddly suggesting there ought to be a “Lower Red Row” or a plain “Red Row”), where the houses were called out by letters not numbers – so you might live at “C” or “K.” All very modest side-by-side duplexes with nearly identical footprints.

Became Ball Street. The Career Development Center – which, incidentally, offers all kinds of cool stuff such as offset printing, custom can coolers, and chair caning – rides the bluff along Ball: directly north across the street you would find Upper Red Row, except it’s not there anymore. Ball Street just plain peters out: gets narrower and woodsier until it’s just woods.

Why “Upper?” The row houses sat perched above the Eau Claire Lumber Co., which became the Mississippi River Logging Co., which became the Northwest Lumber Co., those same but succeeding businesses stretched along the Eau Claire River more or less where Banbury Place now sits.

Why “Red?” Can’t be sure, never having seen it or a photo. But most “red rows” were literally red. Folks used to use linseed oil as paint. One common (and thrifty) way to color it: drop in some rusty iron filings (especially plentiful, of course, around industrial yards). Ferrous oxide (rust) is a mold killer, so together linseed oil and rust make a cool ruby-hued duo and provide passable protection against both rot and mold. I’m sure there’s an element of tradition as well: as more railyards and mills had Red Rows for their workers, more yet followed suit.

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.