Thanks for Asking | April 25, 2013

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

Frank Smoot |

Do you have any information on a large derelict house 12 miles north of Chippewa Falls on Highway 124 at the junction of 182nd Avenue? I believe it is known as Twelve Mile House and was used as a stop for stagecoaches and lumbermen many years ago. I saw a painting of it in the Chippewa Falls Museum and I drove to the location and am saddened to see that it is being neglected and appears to be falling down.

Thanks for asking! As far as I can tell (which might not be far enough) the building is owned either by Hilger Farms, one of the biggest dairies in Chippewa County, or Joseph Hilger, one of the Hilger brothers, who has a complicated relationship with the dairy and his brothers. Like, civil-court-suit complicated. It’s on an awkward 3-acre parcel, which I doubt they have much time for or interest in.

You’re right, though: it has a beefier history than your average abandoned house. The Chippewa Trail — sometimes called the Pinery Road — ran north from Chippewa Falls into the giant forest that built the Midwest. The trail roughly followed present-day Highways 124 and 40 past Bloomer, Bruce, and Radisson to a trading post (historic even then) just east of Lac Courte Oreilles. It meandered some, skirting swamps and finding river-shallows easier to ford.

Among the stopping places going north: Nine Mile House, Twelve Mile House, Campbell’s, Larrabee House, the Lake House, Big Bend, Allen’s, Oak Grove, Johnson’s, Pinkham’s, Murray’s, Hermon House, Hall House, Sarrow’s, and West Bend.

Although some were called “houses,” a term of the day for motel, no one today would mistake them even for a Motel 6. On the Chippewa Trail, the term simply meant a place letting travelers — and more importantly horses or teams — stop, eat, and sleep. The teamster often bedded down with the horses in the open-sided “loafing barn” the place offered, called a “hovel,” which is part of how that word got its reputation.

In the early 1870s, most pinery workers walked the 80 miles, or whatever portion of it led to their particular camp. One 1873 traveler passed 200 men on foot. A couple of fellows from Chippewa Falls — Amos Stiles and Peter Lego — saw a need and started a stage. The fare from Chip’wa to Big Bend, about a third the way up the Pinery Road, was $2 (about $45 today), and the stage ran every other day: the driver needed one day to get to Big Bend, one day to get back.

“Nine Mile House” (not coincidentally nine miles north of Chippewa Falls) might have been the best-known because it offered dancing. But the “Twelve Mile House” was pretty famous, too, partly because the trail split there, the main (western) fork heading to Radisson, and the other fork called the “Flambeau Trail” heading to the confluence of the Flambeau River and the mighty Chip north and east. The Twelve Mile wasn’t actually three miles from the Nine Mile, so the arithmetic was a little sketchy. But I’m sure it felt like three miles when you were walking.

Among the owners of the Twelve Mile House: Peter and Alphia Pinkham (I’m guessing Peter was related to Cy Pinkham of “Pinkham’s” stopping place further north), and John D. “Jack” Bell and his wife Lillian. The Bells sold it to E.M. Ladd and some “partners from Stoughton,” and after the lumbering days, it was owned for many decades by one of the Chippewa Valley’s billions of Nelson families.

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.