Wisconsin Public TV Previews New Documentary About Eau Claire

Samantha Kobs |

OK, EVERYBODY SAY, “TIMBER!” The Daniel Shaw Lumber Co. shingle mill, circa 1880. Eau Claire’s logging history is part of a new Wisconsin Public TV documentary.
OK, EVERYBODY SAY, “TIMBER!” The Daniel Shaw Lumber Co. shingle mill, circa 1880. Eau Claire’s logging history is part of a new Wisconsin Public TV documentary.

As an Eau Claire “transplant,” I could try to justify my lack of local historical knowledge by saying that I’m not originally from here. I know that “Eau Claire” means “clear water” in French. I know that Banbury Place used to be a tire factory. Is it still a tire factory? I really don’t know, and I’m ashamed of how little I’ve learned in the seven years I’ve lived here. Clearly, it’s time for me to indulge in some of those sweet, sweet archival facts so that I can better understand the place I call home. Chances are you, too, may be overdue for a local history lesson.

When planning a vacation somewhere, many of us make sure to really do our research first. What can I do for fun? Is the water safe? What’s the price of a beer? All of these things are important, but what’s arguably more important is the history behind the place. Knowing how a city came to be and what influences have helped build it are some of the best questions to research before buying those tickets and packing those bags.

So how come we don’t put as much effort into researching the places in which we are working, raising families, and spending a good majority of our daily lives? Seems a little strange.

Luckily, the research has already been done for you. As part of a partnership between Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Hometown Stories will feature Eau Claire in an upcoming episode. Neenah-Menasha, Door County, Oshkosh, and Wausau have each been the subject of Wisconsin Hometown Stories episodes. Now it’s our time to shine. The release of the hour-long documentary is sure to make any local or transplant feel proud (and even knowledgeable), and it comes at a time when our city is at the height of its “cultural renaissance,” as some might say.

On June 22, the State Theatre (316 Eau Claire St.) will screen Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Eau Claire for the community to enjoy. The program features archival images and film as well as interviews with historians and locals to paint an image of Eau Claire over the past century. The documentary begins with Native Americans who originally inhabited the area, then moves on to the lumber mills that sprung up and the eventual tire manufacturing that brought in many workers. It also discusses the importance of the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers and the roles that each of these rivers has played. Other fun tidbits include looking at Eau Claire as a global manufacturing hotspot and a place that fosters creativity through visual art and music.

As my seventh-grade students would say, “This place is LIT!” And they wouldn’t be wrong. Eau Claire has more history that most of us know, and as contributing members of this community, it sure seems like understanding a bit of where we come from might not be asking too much.

The June 22 screening is first-come, first-served. Doors open at 6:30pm for light snacks and refreshments. At 7:30, the documentary will begin. There is no need to RSVP – simply show up with all of the Eau Claire pride you can muster.

For those who can’t make it, the documentary will be broadcast just a few weeks later on July 16 at 8pm on Wisconsin Public Television. Over the air, that’s WHWC-TV (Channel 28) in the Chippewa Valley. It will also be available online at and for purchase on DVD at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire.