Thanks for Asking | Jan. 31, 2013

our local Jack-of-all-Facts tells you how it is

Frank Smoot |

There is a place I have always wondered about, Mount Hope Corners. Its location on old county maps was just south of where we live in the town of Brunswick. I haven’t been able to find any info about it.

Thanks for asking. The ghostly place, spreading southwest from the corner of State Highway 37 and Eau Claire County Highway Z, owed its short life to another ghost town, Porter’s Mills. It owed its name to a Methodist minister. But let’s talk about the United States Congress.

Originally, the Continental Congress didn’t have the power to tax. So in 1785, it passed an ordinance allowing the government to sell land in order to raise money. To sell land, we needed to survey it, so the ordinance set up the grid still familiar to rural landowners today (“southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of section 26,” etc.). It also created a mechanism for funding public education. Section 16 in each town was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Well — it didn’t always work out that way.

The children around this crossroads had to walk for miles, to Sunnyview, Little Red, Fair Oak, Maple Drive, or Candy Corners schools. Harry Wright, who grew up there, said carrying lunch pails on winter walks to school is where the concept of frozen dinners originated.

The other “school districts” in Brunswick resisted building a new school (if they lost students, they’d lose money), but about 1895, the town agreed with the Hiram Churchill family to lease a corner of their farm for a new school building. It opened in 1896 with Miss Sally Hart as teacher. I don’t know if it had an official name at first, but locals called it the Owl Cage. A neighborhood whittler carved an inkwell in the shape of an owl. It sat on the teacher’s desk with the whole building as its cage.

Meanwhile, Porter’s Mills – a booming town of 1,200 three miles south of Eau Claire along the Mighty Chip – died with the lumbering industry. In 1901, neighbors with horse teams, capstans, and logging chains moved the mill town’s Methodist church to a spot just north of the Owl Cage. The story goes that at a meeting to name the church, the minister (whose home church was Eau Claire’s Lake Street Methodist) said, “We’re all so full of lightness and hope tonight, let’s call the church ‘Mount Hope.’ ” The school shortly hitched itself to that name too.
Dying Porter’s Mills also lost its Woodman’s Hall to Mount Hope Corners. Once set in its new place, the huge building held Fourth of July celebrations and Thanksgiving night balls. With church, school, and hall in place, the crossroads became a social center.

The school was wired for electricity in 1942 and remodeled (with an addition) in 1958. But by that point the writing was on the wall. In 1959, the state Legislature required all Wisconsin school districts to attach themselves to a high school. At a special meeting in 1961, the “Mount Hope district” consolidated with the Eau Claire Area School District and, in doing so, dissolved. To its last day, June 7, 1963, Mount Hope School used a pump and bucket for its water supply. The next fall, seventh and eighth graders were bused to Eau Claire’s Central Junior High, and its nine younger students went to Little Red School.

There is no trace today at Z and 37 that would remotely suggest a bustling little Mount Hope Corners. You could tell a similar tale about Candy Corners and other Eau Claire County crossroads.

Got a local question? Send it (205 N. Dewey St.) or email it ( and Frank will answer it!  Frank has lived in Eau Claire for most of the past 44 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.