Thanks for Asking | Mar. 8, 2012
our local Jack-of-all-Facts tells you how it is
There is an old cemetery along O’Neil Creek just north of Chippewa Falls. I assume there once was a village or church nearby, and am curious to learn about this. Nearly all the family names on the grave markers are Irish. What’s the backstory on this place?
Thanks for asking. You’ve found O’Neil Creek Cemetery. Its oldest graves date from the 1860s, and a handful of the deceased were born in the late 1700s. Makes it a pretty old burial ground in these parts.
You assumed correctly that, in days of yore, there were two noticeable burgs nearby. A village of Eagle Point (sharing a name with the civil Town of Eagle Point surrounding it) had about 50 people, a post office, a lumber mill, and a cheese factory. You’ll find what’s left of the village on 130th Ave. just a tick west of Hwy 124. Not far to the east, off Hwy 178 on the banks of the Mighty Chip, promoters tried to build a place called Chippewa City, which was to be the regional metropolis, and maybe even the capital of the future State of Chippewa, to be broken off from Wisconsin. Didn’t work out.
But, wait, I digress. As I remember, you were asking about a cemetery, which in fact has nothing to do with either the village of Eagle Point or Chippewa City. From everything I know, this was the graveyard for an early rural neighborhood, not associated with any particular village or church.
It’s had several names over its many decades, Prairie View Cemetery and Greenwood Cemetery among them, each expressing (to me, anyway) its non-partisan appeal. In its very first years, that neighborhood was Irish, but – unlike the Town of Lafayette just to the southeast, where hearty Hibernians have remained for many generations – the early Irish of the Town of Eagle Point are either buried in your cemetery, or moved to nearby locales where their fame moved with them.
As early as 1913, a century ago now, the History of Chippewa County lamented, “The McCanns, Stanleys, McDonalds, Duncans, McKinnons, McGillivrays, Cobbans ... and a host of other names are identified with the Town of Eagle Point. With but few exceptions the heads of these families are dead. ... The land has gone into the hands of strangers, and new names appear on the maps.”
I live on E. Grand Ave. According to a map I found, the part we live on was Kelsey St. and a couple of blocks east it turned into Prospect St. I also saw that W. Grand Ave. on this map was Bridge St. Any knowledge on why Eau Claire changed the name(s)?
“Why” questions are always hard. I’ve only got a guess. On May 6, 1899, Missy McDonough (who won a popular vote to gain this honor) got to christen a new bridge across the Chippewa connecting Kelsey and Bridge Streets, by breaking a bottle of Champaign over some angle iron, I suppose. At that moment, it became the “Grand Avenue Bridge.” The streets on either side became Grand Avenues East and West, respectively.
So, my guess: In 1872, Eau Claire had officially incorporated, making one city out of three. But rivalries and jealousies remained, especially between the “east side” and “west side.” Turf was staked. Truces were negotiated. (This is why, for example, the County Courthouse sits on the west side and City Hall sits downtown.) Here was an opportune moment for another big civic gesture – one street, Grand Avenue, literally bridging the divide.
Got a local question? Send it (17 S. Barstow St.) or email it (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Frank will answer it! Frank has lived in Eau Claire for most of the past 43 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.